The Church Culture of Compassion

If judgement looms under every steeple, if lofty glances from lofty people, can’t see past her scarlet letter, and we never even met her.

I love the Casting Crowns video above because it shows what the church can be and far too often is, but also what it’s supposed to be. Initially, the people at the church throw lofty glances at the woman or try to scoot away from her. But at the end, one girl approaches the main character with a sympathetic hand and sympathetic word.

I wrote a post a few days ago called “The Church Culture of Shame” describing my thoughts on how much the church seems to lack any sense of grace with some people, particularly those within the body of Christ. I’m flattered by the amount of people that read it and have complimented me on it. Thank you, to all of you. It means more than you know.

But as I was driving to get lunch today, I thought of a different phrase – “the church culture of compassion.” It may come across to some who read that last post that I don’t think such a thing exists. But as I thought about that phrase, some examples came to mind. Let me share them with you here. I hope you are encouraged.

Compassion is the emotion that one feels in response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help. Compassion is really the act of going out of your way to help physical, spiritual, or emotional hurts or pains of another. (Wikipedia)

XXXChurch – Jesus Loves Porn Stars

I first heard about the outreach ministry of XXX Church on the Bad Christian podcast a couple months ago when they interviewed founder Craig Gross. XXX Church has many different facets, but the one I want to focus on is their ministry to the pornography industry.

In 2002, X3 (for short) sent a team to a popular pornography convention “to love on both the consumer and the workers there. This approach was very different from other ‘religious’ organizations present outside of the convention with their posters and megaphones preaching a message of law and hate.” Ever since, X3 booths have been a mainstay at popular adult film gatherings, where teams hand out Bibles that say “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” on the cover while seeking to love and minister to those in attendance.

Why? To point porn stars to Jesus.

We believe that Jesus meets people where they are. We don’t subscribe to the belief system that God only loves those who live the way we or religion think they should live. We believe that it is when Jesus meets, loves and accepts us where we are, no matter that place that we are transformed by that crazy kind of love. – XXXchurch.com

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Ron Jeremy (left) and Craig Gross.

In addition, Gross has a close relationship with Ron Jeremy, described as “the world’s most famous porn star” in this story on ABC News. The two go around the country doing speaking engagements and debates on the topic of pornography.

“There are certain things I don’t like (about the porn industry), and having Craig around, putting things in check, or when girls want to get out of the business they might go to him, and a few have, who are actually friends of mine,” Jeremy told ABC. “And he ministers to them, brings them into the path of righteousness, and I think that’s great.”

Reppin’ the Misfits

And people call themselves Christians, with “God hates fags” written all over their pickets. They play the Holy Spirit and judge people because of the way they sin different. Social Club will always be the difference. I have gay friends and I’m not ashamed to say it, and I love ’em like Christ did and people are gonna hate it. They know what I believe and they might not agree, but I stand as living proof, look what God did to me. Social Club, “Grace Song”

The attitude that Christian rap group Social Club takes in their songs is not one of judgement or of condemnation, but of love. Their call is for the “misfits,” the ones who may not be accepted by the masses. In the “About Us” section of their Tumblr page, they define a misfit: “A misfit by definition is someone who is ‘different than their surroundings.’ Simply put, we believe in being who Jesus has called us to be and not who the world wants us to be.”

In a church culture that seems to care a lot more than we should about appearances, they don’t care.

“One thing we wanted to do is create an environment of openness and accountability…for the gospel,” group member Marty said in an interview with Rapzilla. “We do life music. We don’t do music that is centered around anything other than our lives…We focus on the misfits and the kids that feel like they didn’t fit in.”

The Christian rap genre as a whole does a great job of showing compassion to all, generally not taking a stance of “we’re better than you,” but seeking to be real and honest and showing compassion in that way. They’re also willing to go to the places others might not be willing to. A group of rappers from the label Reach Records visited Riker’s Island Prison in New York to do a concert and minister to the inmates.

From @reachrecords Twitter.

From @reachrecords Twitter.

“We were reminding people of their value and their worth, and it’s not defined by what society says about us but the intrinsic worth that we have in God, being made in His image,” Andy Mineo said in an interview with Wade-O Radio.

How many other Christian artists would take a trip to one of the most notably worst prisons in America? I don’t think many would.

A Guy Named Zacch

I’m going to share one more story of compassion that you can find in the church. It’s the story of a guy named Zacch.

See, Zacch lived in the city of Jericho working for the government. Something like the IRS. Except he was super corrupt. He stole money from people. Legally. He had everything he thought he needed. He was hated by the religious leaders of the day. Not unlike how some Christians these days view the government of the United States of America.

Then one day a teacher came along. He was pretty popular, almost like a rockstar. Zacch stood on a crowded street, trying to see this teacher. But he was short, so he couldn’t see him. Solution: climb up in a tree. Zacch sat in the tree like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Angels in the Outfield, peering out trying to see this guy he had heard about.

The teacher walked by and saw Zacch sitting in the tree. Now, this teacher was a Jewish one who talked about Yahweh, the God of the Torah. A religious guy. I don’t know for sure, but Zacch may have assumed that this teacher thought the worst about him. But, looking at Zacch, the teacher said, “Zacch, come on down, man. Let’s grab some food at your place.”

Joyfully, Zacch leapt down from the tree and practically dragged the teacher to his home. He was filled with joy. After talking with the teacher, Zacch made up his mind. He said: “Half of my goods, I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

And the teacher responded, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

I’ll end with a quote from Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love:

Jesus is not being cavalier about wrongdoing or suggesting that greed, and its fallout, is not a big deal. He shed tears over our sin; he came to suffer and die for it. No, this is Jesus identifying with the sinner and loving those who least deserve it. He knows that the only way to break the cycle of retribution and oppression and heartbreak is to demolish the ladder of deserving altogether…God lavishes His grace on the foolish, the weak, the despised, and the nothings so He alone will get the glory. (p. 131-132)

Lend Them Your Ear: My Top 10 Favorite Songs of 2014

Before I begin, an important distinction. There’s a difference between my “favorite” songs and my “best” songs. My “favorite” songs are ones I can relate to or I enjoy. The “best” ones are the songs that are well-constructed instrumentally and perfectly-written. These are my “favorite” for your reading pleasure.

1. “Fear” | Lecrae | Anomaly | Reach Records

There are so many lines in this song that I can 100 percent relate to. Lecrae raps about fear and how it can grip us, how it can hold us back from doing what God has called us to do, but also a reminder of how God is there the whole time, and all we have to do is call on Him. The line “Bible on my dresser that could teach my pain a lesson but I’d rather not address it” sticks out in particular.

I often find myself in that place when there’s things I’m struggling with. I use the wrong tools to deal with my issues, the wrong methods, the wrong paths, when instead, I should just go to the Lord, remember His Word, believe afresh in the truths of God. It’s like trying to drive in a screw with a saw: it won’t do anything positive and it will definitely hurt things. At least, that’s what I think will happen if you try to screw something in with a saw.

The beat of “Fear” is nice and the overall production is quite stellar. It didn’t get the Grammy-nomination-sized recognition that “All I Need Is You” did, but I think “Fear” is the best song on the album and my favorite song this year.

2. “Sweet Victory” | Trip Lee featuring Dimitri McDowell and Leah Smith | Rise | Reach Records

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Paul asks. “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerers through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35,37). Trip raps about the struggles that he’s faced from popularity and health issues and how we can only find victory in our circumstances through Jesus. I love this song because the message is true and it’s super-personal.

I love songs like this and “Fear” in which the artist is vulnerable and transparent, and it’s something that I’ve found is most beneficial in my life, when I’m honest about what I’m dealing with. It’s easy to feel overcome by life’s worries and circumstances, but we are more than conquerers through Christ.

The hooks from McDowell and Smith are killer, two great voices that contribute beautifully. I wasn’t a fan of this album as a whole, but this song went to my top list as soon as I heard it. Not even a question. And that’s why it’s here at No. 2.

3. “All of Me” | John Legend | Love in the Future | Columbia Records/G.O.O.D. Music

The soulful voice, the solitary piano, the honest, straightforward lyrics, I dig just about everything about this song. It’s well-written, something uncommon for a lot of popular songs today. It’s a unselfish look at love, with John praising his lady’s “perfect imperfections” and promising to “give (his) all” to her. The song is dedicated to his wife, which makes it even sweeter.

I’m a big fan of sappy love songs that are actually well-done, like this one. And I fell in love with chill music this year, and this fits the bill so well. And, as I said, it’s incredibly noble, especially when you contrast it with something like Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything.” When this song first got popular, two of my roommates and I had a brief heated debate about which one of us would claim it as our wedding song. I passed up eventually, but it wasn’t an easy decision. Plus, I imagine that stuff can change.

Also, check out this video with added violin by Lindsey Stirling. Just beautiful.

4. “Wanna” | Christon Gray featuring JGivens | School of Roses | Collision Records

This upbeat tune from probably my favorite Christian singer Christon Gray (no, not the one from 50 Shades of Grey) examines the dangers of succumbing to sinful desires, particularly with a seductive woman (which the video focuses on) and potential musical stardom. School of Roses just might be my favorite album from this year because Gray’s songwriting is a growing talent and his voice…good gracious, that voice.

The production is great and JGivens’ talent as an MC is super-evident throughout his verse. He appears once more on this list and is, I think, a rising talent in the CHH industry. Collision is putting out a bunch of good music right now – they’re one to watch for the future.

5. “Not a Bad Thing” | Justin Timberlake | The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2 | RCA Records

Last year it was “Mirrors.” This year, it’s “Not a Bad Thing.” JT just has a pulse on my sappy love song desires right now. Again, a reminder that you don’t need vulgar lyrics or super-selfishness to make a great song in the “secular” industry these days. Plus, I want his voice. One of six people in the world whose voices I want, along with Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Matt Thiessen of Relient K, John Legend and Sam Smith. And, according to the personnel credits, JT also played guitar on the track. Bonus points.

It’s a song about taking a risk on love. “Don’t act like it’s a bad thing to fall in love with me, ’cause you might look around and find your dreams come true with me.” It’s a song about making a lifelong commitment, uplifting the woman and sacrificing for her. Plus, it’s got a sick boy band vibe (which makes sense). Anything with that kind of vibe, I can dig it. Always a good thing.

Note: the album technically came out in 2013, but the song was released as a single in 2014, and it wasn’t until it was a single that I found out about the song, so it counts as 2014.

6. “Doubts” | KB | 100 | Reach Records

KB begins the song explaining how his life since 16 has been all about living for Christ doing full-time ministry. He’s lived unashamed, like it’s his middle name. “But sometimes I still feel like I’m in the dark/Let me explain the conflicts of Kevin’s heart/maybe the fact that my father left me plays a part/and why I’m so afraid that I could one day walk away and leave God.” It’s another song with a high amount of honesty and forthrightness about struggles, something that Christian music seems to either avoid or be super vague about the majority of the time.

When I first head this song, I instantly related to it (in other words, bonus points). It hit me square in the chest because I’ve been struggling with doubt this year, doubt of my salvation, doubt in Jesus, doubt that God loves me, a lot of things. And to hear a guy I admire be honest about his struggle on an open platform really encouraged me. Is this the best or most creative song I’ve heard this year? No. But it ministered to me on a Top 3 level.

7.  “Royalty” | Mali Music | Mali Is… | RCA Records

I can’t remember how I discovered this album, but it’s probably my favorite album this year. It’s not the best album, but it’s my favorite. The voice behind the hook on Lecrae’s “Tell The World” brings a mix of storytelling and powerful statements, none more pertinent to believers than the one on “Royalty.” We who are believers are sons and daughters of the king, making us royalty. 1 Peter 2:9 states, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The production is top-notch, with piano keys complementing tight 808s with the occasional guitar strum and strings coming in the background. And his voice is almost as beautiful as that beard on his face. He challenges people to know their identity and to live their lives based on that. “Mercy changed everything for me and you,” he says. It did. And continues to do, those of us who are believers.

8. “Awkward Pt. 2” | Social Club featuring Abiv | Misfits 2 | Self-released

So this is a straight-up silly addition to this list, as is the next one. I discovered the rap duo Social Club through their mixtape Summer of George last fall, and their 2014 album Misfits 2 did not disappoint. This song is about being awkward, which is the calling card of Social Club member Marty. The song isn’t what you would expect from a couple Christian rappers, but that’s what Social Club is about, doing the unexpected.

9. “Paisano’s Wylin'” | Andy Mineo featuring Marty of Social Club | Never Land | Reach Records

There’s a music video coming soon, apparently, that I can’t wait to see. Bring in Marty of Social Club, and you get Andy Mineo’s goofy side. There are a couple good theological points in here, but really this song is aimed at paisanos (“a peasant of Spanish or Italian ethnic origin,” here Italian) having a good time. It caps off with a Godfather-tinged punishment for “running your piehole” from Andy.

10. “#SameTeam” | Swoope featuring Yaves, Tedashii, Dre Murray, JGivens, John Givez | Sinema | Collision Records

10a. “#SameTeam Remix” | Swoope featuring Jackie Hill Perry, Taelor Gray, KB, JGivens, Alex Faith, KIDD

It’s hard to mention the original without including the remix. The song promotes community and unity in the body of Christ, particularly in the Christian rap industry, not competing but working together, being on the, if you will, #SameTeam. Killer verses from JGivens, John Givez, KIDD and Tedashii make this pair of tracks must-haves.

Honorable Mentions: