I’ve always loved to sing. I come from a family of singers. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mom singing hymns to me to help me fall asleep. You could say music is in my blood. I’ve transferred that love of singing to my local church as well. As long as I have been a Christian I have looked forward to congregational singing. Finding out the songs on Sunday morning when I open my bulletin is like Christmas morning every Sunday. Musical worship stirs my soul and readies my heart for the preached word.
The subject of race has been a polarizing topic in our country for longer than any of us have been alive. In many ways, the lasting effects of the racism that divided us are still entrenched in many communities. If we move into the church, we find that even among God’s people, diversity and freedom from race divisions is still a longed for reality.
Abortion on demand was legalized ten years before I was born. I don't even know a world where abortion is not part of our national conversation. I don't even know a world where abortion is not an option for a pregnant woman. I pray that one day that is no longer the case.
Earlier this week Her.meneutics published a post I wrote called "Are You Pro-Life Enough?". Taking a statement from a pro-choice writer I try to show how some of our language in the pro-life community sometimes comes across as less than pro-life, especially when it pertains to miscarriage and IVF embryos. To my shame, I have been party to such thoughtless comments. Here is part of the article:
We have all been on the receiving end of insensitive comments from well-meaning people. In fact, I know I have even been the communicator of such comments. The truth is it is hard to know what to say to someone when they are hurting and even harder to know how to respond to the awkward comments. Yesterday, I tried to tackle the issue of our response to hurtful comments in a blog post on the CT women's blog. Here is how I set it up:
As I've reflected on my first semester as a teacher this verse has been rocking my world lately.
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Hebrews 4:12
I've heard it said a number of times from young people (and old people), "I really love doing ministry for Jesus, but I just don't see the importance of being super involved in my church." It's really easy to separate the two, especially in a world where there are many really good organizations out there that, while not connnected to any particular church, are doing things in the name of Jesus.
“Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” –Proverbs 18:1
No man is an island. This proverbial statement graces everything from church signs to educational material. I’ve heard it said so many times. So have you. But it’s true. Left to ourselves and our own opinions we can make anything seem right, can’t we? We can make any sinful tendency normal. We need people. We need people to provide companionship, but more importantly to provide the balance of sound judgment.
Outside input from godly friends and family provides a necessary safety net for us. When we isolate ourselves all we have is our own desire. We get what we want when we want it. We always look out for ourselves. We have our best interests at heart, don’t we? But if we are truly honest what we desire most might not always be the best thing for us. Left to the mirror of our own consciousness we can all too easily begin to see our own opinions as ultimate, and worse, our indwelling sin as minimal.
That’s what this proverb is getting at. Without the counsel, companionship, and correction of others we would spiral out of control, even to the point of spurning sound judgment. This is not a foreign concept in the Bible. In fact, it’s a common theme woven throughout the pages of Scripture. It was not good for Adam to be alone, and while this was “pre-fall,” after the arrival of sin he needed Eve all the more. The very fact that God instituted the local church, a body of redeemed sinners, to spread his glory throughout the world shows us that he never intended for it to be just me and Jesus. Let’s be honest, it’s easy to be a lone ranger. Relationships are hard. People aren’t always nice, fun to be around, or even that interesting. And sometimes we would much rather it be just us and Jesus. He’s nicer, more gracious, doesn’t ever say the wrong thing, and doesn’t get all up in our business like the people closest to us.
And that’s exactly why we need people.
The people in your local congregation are people for whom this Jesus shed his blood. Building relationships with one another is part of his perfect plan to change us and make us more like him. Sure, it’s hard work. Sure, people will hurt us, misunderstand us, and sometimes say the wrong thing to us. But that’s all part of it. They chisel us. They make us more aware and sensitive. And more importantly, they help us see sin that we didn’t even know was still there.
Regardless of your personality, the truth still stands. Even the most outgoing person can miss the principal the proverb is trying to make. We have to be willing to open our lives to people and let them see inside—even if it’s not pretty at first. Thankfully, we have a perfect example in Jesus. Of all people who could live an isolated life, he would have been the one to do it while on earth. He was God. In him was complete perfection and holiness. But he came to earth and opened his life up so we could be cleansed, forgiven, and no longer live in sinful isolation from everyone else.
So when you feel tempted to hide and live in isolation from the ones who love you and know you, remember the Savior. Not only did he obey perfectly, but he has made a way so you no longer have to live in fear of condemnation for your sins. The sound judgment you deserve was paid for by the holy, precious, and victorious Jesus. He bought you with a price and adopted you into his family.
So the saying really is true for us. In Christ, no man is an island.
Yesterday, Her.meneutics (the Christianity Today women's blog) ran a post I wrote about the hype surrounding whether or not Kate Middleton will have a baby this year. It seems to me that our cultural obsession with a little royal is an exaggerated snapshot of our comfort with asking people we hardly know when they will have kids. Sometimes our lack of knowledge about their situation, coupled with questions about their plans, can bring more pain to their situation. Obviously, this doesn't pertain to everyone, nor is it the same thing as asking good friends about their plans for children. It's more of a general observation and some thoughts on how to think through the questions we ask people we don't know very well.
Before God saved me my life was similar to this woman. I loved my sin and enjoyed it lavishly. But if my story was different, and I had trusted Christ at an early age, my testimony would be no less amazing. In fact, it might even be more compelling. It’s easy to sin. It’s not out of the ordinary to engage in sinful behavior and be proud of it. What’s hard is to follow Christ whole-heartedly when the world is pulling you to jump in and enjoy the “fun.” A life that is protected from the outward manifestations of blatant rebellion towards God should cause us to worship and rejoice in God’s good work in the life of this believer.
So why do we gravitate towards, and praise, the “crazy” testimony? We are products of the entertainment culture. We like the sensational and the interesting. Reality television alone is evidence of this. But as true and Christ-exalting as these testimonies can be sometimes, I think they can almost do more damage than good in the lives of those who hear it.
In high school I heard a number of testimonies of people who were saved out of sinful lifestyles, and even though they gave glory to God for their salvation, what kept ringing through my mind as they talked was “I want a testimony like that.” As sinful as they made their former life sound, it had a forbidden allure. In my mind, they lived life to the fullest and lived unscathed to tell the story. Plus, sin always looks more enticing than the gospel to an unregenerate person.
But I was so wrong.
I now have their story, and I would give my life to take it back. And I don’t think I’m alone. Countless kids hear shocking testimonies and think that it would be really cool to have a testimony like that. It’s not. One of the ways we can help counter the overwhelming interest in the “sensational” testimonies is to not cater to the hype surrounding them. Don’t believe the myth that if they just hear all the sordid details about the wild life you, or someone else, lived they will suddenly fall on their face and proclaim Jesus as Lord. They might not. And even if they do, for every kid who follows Christ because of the story there are a dozen who it has the counter effect on. This doesn’t mean we aren’t honest about who we are and who Christ saved. It just means we don’t put all of our faith in the story being the means of salvation.
The next time you ask someone to give a testimony at a youth event consider asking the girl or guy who was saved at the age of 5. I remember one of my pastors saying, often with tears in his eyes, “God saved me from a life of drinking, sex, and debauchery—all before I turned 6.”
Grace is amazing not because of the recipient of the grace, but because of the One giving the grace. In reality, even the most righteous act we do is like filthy rags before him. No amount of good behavior can please him, so why do we so often think that the “good” testimonies are so boring? That a perfect and holy God would save any of us is cause for celebration. But he does. And that’s why it is so amazing—from the former prostitute to the six-year old praying by her bedside. No one is righteous, but God sent his Son to save sinners like you and me. It’s all undeserved and all free.
The woman who wept before Jesus wasn’t overcome with emotion because she sinned more than everyone else; rather she was overcome with thankfulness because she finally grasped the magnitude of her sin. If you are in Christ, your testimony is just as amazing. That a good God, perfect and right in all of his ways, would send his righteous Son to die for sinners like us is a story worth telling. And it makes even the most “boring” testimonies in the eyes of the world glorious because of what he has done.