The Trouble With Being True to Yourself

 

It is a phrase we have heard since we could understand words. Our parents, teachers and mentors of all shapes and sizes would tell us this to ensure that we grew up to be confident and individual people.

 “Be yourself.”

 Sometimes it is peppered with exhortations to “be true” or “don’t try and be somebody you’re not.” The combinations go on and on but the sentiment is always the same. I think there are some observations to be made about this expression.

 Yes. By All Means. Be Yourself.

 There is a problem in the church. Well, it just so happens to be a problem everywhere. However I see it in the church pretty often since I am a member of a church. I see people spending so much time trying to meet the standards of particular fads that they forget what it is to be a member of their society. In the case of church I see individuals trying so hard to align with the same pleasures of someone else at church that they forget why they joined church in the first place. It seems like if you don’t wear a particular pair of pants, cut your hair a certain way or enjoy the same obscure art that you simply aren’t going to be accepted by the crowd. 

 Let’s call the pursuit of social acceptance what it is; idolatry. You can try hard enough and wind up actually enjoying those particular things that the crowd says is cool. I’m not going to tell you it isn’t possible because it is. The issue here isn’t you being true to yourself. The issue is that you are trying so badly to be someone else that you have created a makeshift god out of what this person or group of people represents. Your pursuit of likeness and acceptance from them have replaced your pursuit of Jesus. 

 So yes, by all means, be yourself. Let’s not forget though, the yourself we’re discussing here is utterly sinful and broken. We can’t change that. No matter how much paint you put on the walls of your own personal temple can make up for the fact that the foundation is a fragmented version of what it was meant to be. 

 The wonderful resolve here? If you find yourself in the body of Christ you are more loved and pursued than you can imagine. Just as you are. When Jesus walked the earth in flawless demeanor and hung on the cross in remarkable surrender he didn’t have your social standing on His mind, it was your heart He died for. We are destined to pursue false concepts of acceptance and security. There is no getting around that. There is not one of us, even the most socially secure, that hasn’t let their heart rate climb thinking about what another individual thought of them. Jesus died knowing this is our inclination. It was with Him that our insecurity is nailed to the cross. Both the sinfulness of pleasing man and the comfort of being accepted by the Son of Man.

 My appeal? There is no amount of fads you can follow or people you can impress that will save yourself. Societal crafted ideals will always leave you hopeless. However, so will you. So be yourself…or don’t. Jesus has accepted you regardless.

Instruments of Reflection

Preface

 One of the things I have decided to do during this season of Lent is to write daily. Not just as a means to get a lot of material up here, but as a way to force myself to reflect on God and what He is teaching me during this season. Somedays I’m sure that will mean little more than a paragraph or two, and somedays I will be long winded. My prayer is that instead of going on about what I am fasting from (which I have decided to give something up as well) I will spend more time in devoted reflection.

 Where have you settled for the appearance of Godliness?

 My heart was heavy during our Ash Wednesday service. It wasn’t heavy with grief though. No, instead it was filled to the brim with joy. As I looked around the room I saw individuals who have been and are currently going through difficult seasons. Some people I have only heard their stories and others I have been invited right into. The truth resonated through all of the stories though; Jesus is changing people’s lives. He is creating a heart in individuals to hate and go to war against sin. The fact that broken people, who have a natural inclination to serve their desires, are choosing to object to sinful lifestyles and lean on the body of Christ, His church, to aide in their fight is nothing short of astounding to me. I’m not a crying sort of guy, but I got close as I reflected on that truth.

 That is precisely where I feel like I settle for the appearance of Godliness. I love saying those things about community. About how it is where you find broken people helping to point one another to the Cross. How it is in community that we bare ourselves and our sin to help one another. I love the idea of that. Too often though I disregard it. I don’t lean on my brothers to pray for me when I am feeling the weight of depression bearing down on me. Instead I self medicate with socially acceptable “introvert time.” I don’t disagree that as an introvert I need that time, but I’ll be the first to admit that I take advantage of it as well. I love putting on the appearance of community, but sometimes I hate how uncomfortable it is. 

 I think that is why community is necessary. It draws us out of our comfort zones and into the arms of the Father. This is accomplished because no one in your community has their crap together either. You are all relying on the strength and power of Jesus together. That is why community to point you to Jesus; because everyone is a walking reminder that we need Him. You will struggle to do something based on your own effort, and with enough practice you will make it look good to the public. It won’t be functional though. It won’t be authentic. I once heard a really wise teacher of mine say that an individual who refuses to use the interments given to him to make his job easier isn’t a purist, he is a fool. Community is a tool God has given us to be drawn closer to His heart. Rely on it.

When All You Want is a Blanket

“You don’t really know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.”

-Timothy Keller, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”

 It has been a long time since I’ve put anything up here. Almost a year in fact. It has been by far the strangest year of my life. I will get into all of it with more detail very soon. However, as a reintroduction I would like to open the door on something I have dealt with the last 6 months. To do so, I need to give a little bit of backstory.

In August, my mom passed away after a long hard fought battle with COPD, a lung disease. We watched her struggle with it for years, and one random day in August her body couldn’t fight anymore. The following weeks and months would shape some of the weirdest of my life. Feelings that I am still struggling to put a finger on would come out in the open and leave me floored. I thought I was in a good place to deal with anything. Really though, I was just prepared to deal with things the way I know best…by not dealing with them.

 “No matter what precautions we take, no matter how well we have put together a good life, no matter how hard we have worked to be healthy, wealthy, comfortable with friends and family, and successful with our career — something will inevitably ruin it.”

-Timothy Keller, “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”

 I have been dealing with depression the last several months. It was something for one reason or another I thought I was impervious to. I have never been someone who shows emotion much, so to deal with and own up to depression is a bit embarrassing. Like depression is some virus you catch from not taking care of yourself properly. One minute I’d be laughing at something on Netflix, since that was all I had to do without work or school yet, and the next I’d be standing outside with my dog in the cold. Just standing there. Depression is by far one of the strangest things I have ever dealt with. It is similar to an annoying bed sheet. It envelops you on all sides. It reminds you what warmth is like but provides little to none of it. It tangles your feet and arms and leaves you writhing for freedom from it’s annoying grasp. You lay there with just a bed sheet, freezing and tangled praying you had an actual blanket.

However, I found comfort knowing that depression represents things the way they weren’t meant to be. It represents a curse that has fixated itself upon our lives with nothing we ourselves can do about it. Depression feels like hopelessness, but it isn’t hopeless. I experienced depression because of an overwhelming sense of loss. Loss is the problem here because it lies to you and tells you that there was something you could’ve done differently to stop the loss you are suffering from. Our idea of loss must be redeemed. Here are some of the things I have learned in my battle with depression.

1.  My Time Off Wasn’t a Mistake

Too often depression often comes along with a heaping side dish of unemployment. Not saying you can get fired for being depressed, that would be absolutely awful and I think illegal. No, I’m saying too often you hear someone say they’re depressed because they’re out of work. This was a big part of my issue. However, what I learned in my time between jobs is that the time was exactly what I needed. Because I don’t deal with emotions very well I had spent all of my effort avoiding my feelings. My time sitting on the couch watching Netflix also gave me some time to be still, pray and let God deal with my heart. I think we always assume “time off” in a sense of a vacation or some glamorous trip. Sometimes the time off you need is totally out of your control and feels like a disaster. However God is in perfect control and is teaching us to trust Him in our circumstances.

2. Talking About Depression Can Be Harder Than the Depression Itself

I sat down for coffee with one of my best friends. I think it might’ve taken me about 10 minutes to start to spit out what was going on in my head. Instead all I wanted to do was talk about some of our friends and the weather. I was pissed at myself for initiating this conversation. Two weeks earlier I wrestled with myself the same way trying to tell my wife how I was feeling. Talking about how you feel sucks. Theres not enough practice in the world that can make it any easier, especially if your’e an introvert like me. It is however good for us to share how we feel with those closest to us. We practice living in community because God does as well.

3. Sentimentality is the Assassin of Hope

I know that when people told me things like “Your mom is in a better place.”, “We know we will see her again in Heaven someday.” or my personal favorite “She is dancing with angels.” they meant well. However, things like this don’t mean much to the depressed person. If anything these statements made things seem more bleak. Sentimentality is the worst because it comes in disguised as hope just to slaughter it right when it is within striking distance. What helped me defeat the hopelessness I found in sentimentality though is all in the power of Jesus. I don’t know what Heaven is gonna be like but I do know the focus of my attention isn’t gonna be finding long lost pals and my mom. My focus is going to be on Jesus. So I found hope in the power of Jesus to bring His children to Himself. My hope isn’t that I will see my loved ones in Heaven someday, no my hope is in the One that we will all be fixated on for eternity.

I am a long way from the end of this depression thing. Dealing with the loss of a loved one can honestly feel like you’re running as fast as you can but only getting about 30% of yourself. It is exhausting and really weird. But the hope we share is in the renewal of things. I don’t view my pain the last several months and something unfortunate either. Though it sucks, it is something that has drawn me closer to Jesus and has given me a deeper understanding of my dependence upon His power and not my own.

 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.” 

(Lamentations 3:22-24, ESV)

 

The New Prosperity Gospel

I have an Instagram account. Within that account I have uploaded 497 pictures. Many of those pictures are food or beer. Some of them are clothes…particularly sneakers I wish I could own. I post stuff about how much I like Texas Rangers baseball on Facebook and Twitter. I post pictures whenever I get a new tattoo. And every now and then I post some pictures of cool places Ive been able to go. I say this as a preface. I am no different from most people. I like to put on display the things I enjoy. Moving forward.

We live in a day and age where it is so simple to broadcast any little thing that entertains us.It is not uncommon for me to scroll through any one of my social outlets and see cross contaminated tales declaring God’s goodness, and the magnification of some “thing” that is evidence of that goodness. A new pair of jeans, a fancy meal, or a day off spent with friends. If this has become our billboard for the evidence of God’s goodness then we are promoting not the life changing gospel of the cross, but instead a trendier version of the prosperity gospel.

The book of Mark chapter 5 tells us the story of a woman who had dealt with a hemorrhaging  in her body for twelve years. Twelve years of continual pain both physically and emotionally. Imagine dealing with some medical ailment for that long. It depleting your finances to visit doctor after doctor, and only for the bleeding to continue. In faith and desperation this woman went to where Jesus was to be healed of her bleeding. In the middle of a great crowd who she was not supposed to come near, she ventured. In the presence of the son of God, she reached out and grabbed a hold of His cloak. Upon feeling His power being trusted in, He turned around and addressed her. In her fear and reverence of what had happened to her she told Him what she had done. Jesus then comforted her and told her that her faith has made her well.

Made her well. Not Well dressed. Not well fed. Well. Her wellness made her new. It transformed her life. What is it we believe our faith has made us? If our material experiences are what we look to be our evidence of grace, then our gospel is false because clothes will fall apart. Our good food, beer, and coffee will just wind up in a toilet within 24 hours of consuming it and our good looks will go away in 20 years (or less depending upon how much of that good food you’re eating). If the good news we proclaim is “Because God loves me I am enjoying this new crap.”, then Christians in financially devastated countries are hopeless because they will likely never touch a new pair of selvedge denim jeans.

The good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen frees us, calls us, and renews us to the joy of newness of life. That joy is what we should be broadcasting for the world to hear. New life. When we hear and trust in this promise everything is changed, including the importance we place on all of our stuff.

My prayer is not that we will all delete our Instagram accounts or throw out our new jeans. I don’t want any of my friends to start drinking crappy coffee and skipping the meals you enjoy. Instead I pray that the evidence of the cross in your life changes the way you receive and interpret God’s fulfillment of the desires of your heart. Desire Him and delight in His glory.

Gospel Centered Culture: Being The Church In a Snowstorm (and Beyond)

It snowed in Kansas City this week a lot. Were talking about 10-13 inches in certain parts of town. The city declared a state of emergency early in the day. People were staying home and taking Instagram pictures of their snowed in evenings filled with board games and soup. It was really cool at first.

Then we all woke up the next day to snow still on the ground and cars buried on the side of the road. We all met the impending reality of life that must continue in spite of our less than desirable circumstances. I went out for a walk and stumbled upon several people who had buried vehicles that I helped to dig out, including a city plow vehicle. About fifteen people gathered around the back of this truck and pushed him out.

This is what happens in our most desperate of situations; we help to dig and push one another because we are all in the midst of dealing with the same state of depravity.

An Illustration of the Church

This is a great insight into what the church should strive to be. It should be a group of individuals, all aware of their own depravity pulling one another out of the holes they find themselves buried in. Just like we help one another get unburied from the snow, the church should continue to help one another when the effect of sin in our lives gets overwhelming.

How We Push and Pull

We push and pull one another when we do life together. Sin has left an apparent blemish on our world that is evident in the issues we meet. When we experience, death, sadness, jealousy and the plethora of other crappy circumstances it is evidence of the vandalism of God’s shalom. However, when we fight sin in each others lives together through Bible study and intimate discipleship we are propelling one another to scriptural truth of who God is and what He has done for us.

Were Not Going To Fix Anything

The humbling thing here is to remember how little we can do on our own. When you dig someone out of the snow, the may drive somewhere and just get stuck again. You did not fix anything by digging them out, and you wont fix anybodies problems by helping them along in life. It’s not your job. Instead it is our job to help push and instruct one another to look to and trust in the One who has provided a fix to a desperate problem. Your bad luck is not the problem, but sin is. Jesus paid the debt sin left on your life when He was crucified and risen. That truth gives us hope.

Pick Up Your Shovel

I am not suggesting that the church operate this way out of some weird sense of duty, but instead we do this as a way to tell the story of how God sacrificially loved us first and more than we ever could. To know God is to know His mission, and His mission is His glory. God get’s glory when people come to trust him as the bridge to salvation. So church, show people how God has provided a solution to our depravity. Go dig someone out of the same hole you have been stuck in before.

 

What I Learned From Getting Shingles

“There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.” 

― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

 The last several weeks have been strange to say the least. This was mostly brought on by the fact that I was diagnosed with shingles a couple of weeks ago. If you don’t know what the shingles are or have never had them, all you need to know is they are basically nuclear chicken pox, and you most likely have them and don’t know it. The strange thing about my shingles is what most likely caused them; stress. You see, I don’t think of myself as an uptight person. Sure, things stress me out just like everyone else, but I feel like I have been dealing with stress in a really healthy manner lately. I guess not.

My little bout with the shingles caused me to ask myself a few questions about stress and how I let it affect me. Initially, the fact that I had developed some viral infection due to stress caused me considerably more stress than I already had. All the questions about how I handle myself popped up. Am I suppressing things? Am I taking on too many things? Should I talk to a counselor?  Thankfully, the answers were right in front of me.

Am I a Suppresser?

Yes, Chances are, if there is any amount of stressors in your life you are also a suppresser. Let’s face it. It is not only our habit, but our instinct to suppress the things that are stressing us out. If we didn’t hold all these things down to some degree, we would be sloppy messes all the time, wearing every emotion on our sleeve. This isn’t healthy and it makes people uncomfortable.

Am I taking on too many things?

I currently am in the middle of quite a few big things in my life. So are you. So is the person sitting next to you on the bus. This doesn’t make us special. If I were to take on just one responsibility in my life it would be too much to handle alone. So yes, if you feel like you are taking on too much it is because you are. However, Mark Driscoll puts it well when he says that people, “Are like trucks: they drive straighter with a weighted load.” Don’t be afraid of all that responsibility or how underprepared you are to handle it.

Should I talk to a counselor?

 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

 Emphatically, yes. You need to speak to a counselor very much. That is what Jesus is teaching me out of the shingles. You see friend, Jesus is the wonderful counselor who makes your weight not so heavy. When you bury those stressors down in your chest, it is on his shoulders you are to cast them. The negative stress you feel from all that responsibility and business are manifestations of sin in the world. It is the cancer that infests God’s violated shalom. The gospel, however, frees us from carrying the weight of that sin any longer. He bears the weight of all the stress, overwork, underwork, and business that your life can accumulate. Rest in Him, and enjoy His relieving work on the cross.

Culture: Unified

 “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

-MLK

 It was 50 years ago that Dr. King sat in a jail cell and penned his now famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Obviously we still have much to keep learning from the mind and words of Dr. King. I think we should deal with this letter and who it was written to. We should be wrestling with the fact that it was written as a response to Birmingham pastors who called King an “outsider” and accused him of causing division. I think we should also use this letter to challenge what we think about unity.

 How Does Unity Happen?

I believe we can only attain true unity when we lay down our personal agenda, and instead take up the flag of holiness. It is possible this is what King meant when he said the words quoted above. You see on the cross was God’s creative way of pursuing the good of humanity. It was not the popular, comfortable way. It was offensive and selfless. King wanted us to deal with the ways that we can go outside of what is comfortable to us for the sake of abandoning selfish pursuits that are destructive.

A Culture Unified

This is how a culture, shaped by the Gospel unifies us. It is the constant factor that we can continue to rally around. It beckons us to stop thinking and devising preferences, but instead calls us to feel what the weight of holiness looks like. We then can love our neighbors as God intended for us to; sacrificially. The Gospel forces us to sacrifice preference for the sake of the ultimate good. Our neighbors need Jesus before they need our hands.

So King?

So how does King apply here? Isn’t it possible that King didn’t set aside his preference and agenda? Civil Rights was very much an agenda based thing. True. However, in hindsight our nation is better off with the social advancements made by King and those who worked alongside him. When he said the words, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”, I don’t believe he was simply talking about the African-American struggle. I believe he was talking about the church, and how if one group of us fails to pursue justice somewhere, then our entire mission of justice is threatened. We as the church are tied together by the cross. Lets act that way.