No Sins But Our Own

More and more I become convinced that the biggest problem we have in American culture is our obsession with any sin that isn’t our own.

Cecil the Lion. Planned Parenthood. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. The entire GOP presidential field.

I get caught up in the hysteria. I’ve tweeted out things about certain cultural phenomena in an haughty, contemptuous way that only serves to reveal my self-ignorance. It’s a human reflex to see clearly the issue in someone else’s life while ignoring the massive dysfunction in your own.

But lately I’ve come to feel disgusted with myself when I point out the fallibility in others. I think of funny things all the time and normally don’t hesitate to share them; but lately, I find myself thinking more and more about the targets of my jokes. I think about their humanity. I think about what made them the way they are. I think about the burden some of them experience, of living under the never-ending spotlight.

That gets me thinking about myself. How would I hold up under scrutiny?

Truth is, I’m not sure. I know there would be plenty of people happy to take shots at the way I spend my time or my money, plenty of folks happy to pick apart everything from my choice of wardrobe to my choice of restaurants. I know there would be plenty of people just waiting for their chance to point out my stumbles and shout their disagreement with venomous glee.

I know this because it happens in everyday life anyway.

“You let your kids eat a McDonald’s?”

“Personally, I think anyone who buys non-organic milk is just abusing their children.”

“I would never allow my children to play in a public pool. Too many germs.”

Once upon a time we were a society that focused more on personal development within ourselves. We honored self-improvement. We praised folks who worked hard and overcame obstacles. We held people up for achieving things we had not yet attempted because they inspired us to want more.

Now we just tear folks down to our level. We don’t celebrate successes, we celebrate sins, because if there’s one thing we all know how to do equally well it’s screw things up. So we watch others. We wait. And when they succumb to being human, we pounce and pull down the rafters.

It’s easier to tear down someone else’s home than build our own.

And in a perverse way, we end up taking responsibility for the sins of others. We end up enabling the very destruction we celebrate, all because we get a kick out of the whole cycle. It sounds trite, but it’s true: if we would quit watching the Kardashians, the Duggers, the whomevers, they would fade away.

The same is true of the people around you. If we’ll quit looking for the sins of others, those sins will fade from our awareness. That’s not to say those folks will stop screwing up (they are human, after all), but we will stop looking for it.

And it’s a funny thing: when you quit looking for other people’s mistakes, when you quit obsessing over other people’s sins, two things happen. One, you start noticing things in your own life that need work, and two, you start developing a sense of compassion for others.

And that’s the key: we can’t have compassion for others if all we look for are their mistakes. And we can’t live our own lives to the fullest if we are too busy obsessing over someone else’s issues.

We are responsible for no sins but our own. That’s not to say we ignore evil when we see, or don’t confront sin when it bursts into our lives; we should be outraged at things like Planned Parenthood selling the body parts of aborted children or a sudden resurgence in the KKK.

But that outrage will only mean something, will only have resonance, if it doesn’t flow from our mouths and keyboards in a constant stream. Think of it this way: my kids know when I’m upset because I don’t talk and act upset all the time. In fact, I spend most of my words encouraging them, loving them, asking them questions and letting them know how much I truly love them.

Thus, it is the rarity of my anger that provides it power.

Jesus was the same way. He didn’t hesitate to call out sin, and there’s only one instance of him flipping tables. Christ spent the majority of his ministry speaking truthfully in love, calling people to God’s best by living it out himself.

His, it would seem, is a much better way.

The Nakedness of Feet

ImageThis weekend, I was privileged to be the speaker for Crossroads Church of Walton County’s Hero Weekend, a two-day discipleship extravaganza complete with muddy obstacle course and hyper teens.

It was awesome.

Of course, it’s natural for me to feel that way – I love working with students. They’re exhilarating. They’re exhausting. They’re full of questions. They’re full of awkward silences. But it was also awesome for another reason: the theme lent itself to the perfect intersection of my nerd tendencies and my Christian faith. I simply cannot remember the last time I enjoyed developing sermons more. There was something so wonderfully fulfilling about writing messages that combined themes from superhero comic books and the life-changing truths of the Gospel.

I’ll post my first two messages tomorrow and Wednesday (I think they’ll translate just fine), but I wanted to take second tonight to write about something that happened at the closing service on Saturday night. The topic was serving people, and I took the kids to John 13. In that passage, the Lord of all the universe, the God who spoke man into existence, knelt down on his knees and gently washed the dirt from the toes of his creations.

I read that passage to them, and spoke only briefly. Then, I told them what the real sermon was going to be: the students would take off their socks and shoes, sit awkwardly in their chairs, and let their small group leaders wash their feet.

You’d have thought I asked them to naked mambo in the parking lot.

Some kids immediately grabbed their shoes. Others looked nervously around. Still others silently mouthed “I can’t do this” to me from across the room. I gently but firmly told them they had no choice: as Jesus says in that passage, “If you don’t do this, you have no part with me.”

Soon enough, there were naked feet everywhere.

Now, I know what a lot of people say about this age group being an over-sexed, over-exposed generation. I routinely shake my head at the stories about sexting, SnapChat, Omegle, and other horrible ways that teenagers put their private parts into the public domain. It certainly seems that they aren’t shy.

But when the rest of you is clothed, you’d be surprised at how vulnerable naked feet can make you feel.

Now personally, I’m not a feet man. I have a strong dislike for my own simian-inspired toes, so I rarely ever go anywhere sans closed toe shoes. So the notion of pulling my puppies out in public is stomach churning. It’s also not surprising.

But if this generation really is as sexual as we are led to believe, then the genuine modesty and shyness I saw on Saturday night was a sign of hope. Maybe it’s because of the group setting; maybe it’s because they’d just gone through a massive mud-covered obstacle course; or maybe it’s because this group in particular is more modest in all things, and so the showing of skin in any form is unusual.

Maybe it’s all of those things. But all I could think was this: when so much of you is exposed on a regular basis, it’s easy for your flaws to be hidden. People tend to focus on those parts that only interest them and you can hide in their selfishness.

Uncover only a certain part ourselves, especially a part that many of us think is ugly to begin with, and those flaws can’t hide. They are brought into focus. Magnified. Highlighted.

We are shown to be what we really are: imperfect.

That was the lesson I wanted the students to understand. We cannot hide in the sight of God. We cannot mask our imperfections. When the Holy Eyes of the Lord fall on our hearts and souls and lives, He sees everything. Each thought. Each desire. Each sin. We are unmasked.

And yet the beauty of this passage is that same God still bent his knees and washed the feet of undeserving sinners; he cleansed the nastiest places of their physical bodies as surely as he intended to cleanse the nastiest parts of their souls.

I think they got it. In complete and utter silence, fifty teenagers sat as adults – some much older than them, some near their own age – slowly made their way around to each one, cascading water over feet. One young person was so overwhelmed, it seemed like a breakdown; turns out, it was – the student had committed their life to Christ.

Sometimes, it’s the littlest things that get to us; sometimes, it’s the tiniest detail that brings our facade of pride and perfection crashing to the ground.

And sometimes, that’s a very good thing.

Thirty-some-odd years old, he sits on the back of a donkey, looking out at the gates of ancient Jerusalem. People throng the street before him, throwing their coats on the ground, waving palm branches, extolling him as Messiah and Lord. His closest friends dance alongside him as they lead the donkey ever closer to the towering entrance to the Holy City. Suddenly, overcome by some sentiment foreign to the jubilant hour, he begins to wail, his chest heaving as sorrow bubbles out of his throat.

The people stop cheering. The donkey halts its steps. The disciples grow silent.

Jesus weeps for his people: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that would make for peace!”


What were those things? What was the cost of our peace with God? The temple cleansing, the prophecies of Jerusalem’s destruction, the plot to kill Jesus; the Last Supper, the Garden, the betrayal, the mockery of his trials; the beating, the Via Dolorosa, Golgotha, the thieves; finally, “It is finished” and the death of the Son of God.

While graphic, this clip from “The Passion of the Christ” reminds us that the death of Jesus wasn’t just an isolated event. It was the culmination of our rebellion against God and His unfathomable grace to redeem us from our own sin. The things that make for peace were set in motion long before we drew our breath, long before Jesus went to the cross, long before Adam and Eve fell. That knowledge should sober us, give us pause – and lead us into a time of prayerful silence, a time of gratitude that the God who made us, against Whom we’ve all rebelled, chose to make peace His will instead of giving us over to the death we deserved.

The Things That Make For Peace

Too Much Accountability?

ImageThe other day, Rachel was talking to a friend of hers about church. The conversation flowed, touching on everything from music to children’s programs to their own personal involvement in the church’s ministry. Soon, the topic led to them discussing a mutual friend who went to still another church, and the following line was said to my wife:

“Yeah, they haven’t really been going to church lately because there’s too much accountability. 

When Rachel repeated that to me, I was floored. Too much accountability? Too MUCH accountability? Is that even possible?

Read through the Scriptures and you’ll find verse after verse telling us to keep each other accountable. We’re told to encourage each other (1 Thess. 5:11), rebuke each other (Gal. 6:1), correct each other (Colossians 3:16), teach each other (Rom. 15:14), pray for each other (James 5:16), and on and on. The idea is that our Christian lives aren’t lived in a vacuum; we need the community of believers, the fellowship of the church, in order to grow. As iron sharpens iron and all that.

But when I began thinking about the statement, I understood. Sometimes in church we have a bad habit of calling judgmentalism accountability. Under the guise of holding others accountable, we project our personal preferences and standards onto other people and then measure them accordingly. Didn’t wear a tie this Sunday? Didn’t raise your hands in worship? Read from the wrong translation? Said something too old fashioned? Asked for grace after breaking a rule?

To spoof off a line from The Brady Bunch, “Guilty, guilty, guilty.”

Jesus said that we would know our fellow Christians by the fruit that they bear, but He didn’t give us permission to critique the type. Accountability is something that flows from relationship: our relationship with Christ and our relationship with each other. Sometimes it gets ugly; sometimes, we have to speak frankly to someone who is living in direct defiance of God, and that can get unpleasant. That’s accountability at its hardest and its finest, and it takes a mature, humble, and seasoned believer to speak the truth in love.

But when our accountability is merely thinly disguised bullying, that’s not accountability at its worst, that’s just flat out sin in our own hearts.

When it comes to the proper attitude for holding others accountable, James E. Orr, in a hymn influenced by Psalm 139, said it best:

Search me, O God, and know my heart today,
Try me, O Savior, know my thoughts, I pray;
See if there be some wicked way in me;
Cleanse me from every sin, and set me free.

I praise Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;
Fulfill Thy word and make me pure within;
Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;
Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humbly plead.

May we be guided by God’s Word, prompted by His Holy Spirit, and loving with our hearts this week as we walk with our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we call sin, sin whenever we see it, but may we remember to offer grace as our Savior did – and does – with us.

We, Icarus

rubensfall-of-icarus-1637-grangerI assigned Ecclesiastes 1 to my Christian Learning Center class for homework. We’re discussing the four fundamental questions that every worldview must answer (Origin, Meaning, Morality, Destiny – thank you, Ravi Zacharias), and I thought Ecclesiastes would be a great place for us to begin on the Meaning question. They read it, and as we discussed it this morning, one of my students pointed out the last verse:

For with wisdom is much sorrow;
as knowledge increases, grief increases.

The student pointed out that when we’re young, we get to see the world through a limited lens, and thus we’re shielded from some of the great tragedy this is human existence. To wit, she pointed out that when her grandmother died, she didn’t know enough about death to really be sad; so when her family made a trip up to Canada for the funeral, she was super excited about getting to travel and see her cousins. That sounds crude, but from a kid’s perspective, it makes perfect sense: when you don’t know what you don’t know, not knowing it doesn’t bother you.

But once you know…it changes everything.

I think Solomon’s point with the statement wasn’t so much an appeal to ignorance (which would’ve been ironic) but an understanding of the burden of knowledge. The more you know, the more you realize that knowledge alone doesn’t solve anything; it’s what you do with that knowledge that really matters. Knowledge = Responsibility. But in our modern world, we can see that even those actions aren’t enough – we know what causes many of our societies gravest ills, and yet we still fall into them time and time again. Education helps to a degree, but education isn’t enough. Behavioral modification works to a degree, but as anyone who’s studied the recidivism rates amongst addicts and certain classes of criminals can tell you, changing behavior isn’t always enough. Brilliant minds have suggested countless improvements to the human species, but the one thing they’ve never been able to change is the depravity of the human heart. Knowledge, action, human effort never has and never will release us from the sin that saturates our souls.

We’re sort of doomed to being Icarus.

That is, we would be if not for something else, something beyond knowledge to which we can appeal. Or, more accurately, to Whom we can appeal. Solomon knew this. Being the wisest man in the world does proffer some benefit. At the end of Ecclesiastes, after taking his reader on a walk through the sheer insufficiency of human effort to satisfy the human soul, Solomon comes back to the One that gives this life its meaning, the One through whom we “all live and move and have our being.”

In the end, Solomon says:

When all has been heard, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body. When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.

We cannot save ourselves. Our brightest minds, our grandest notions, our best ideas are limited in their power to affect the change needed within the human heart. It’s why we see people running from one fad to the next, from one fix to the next – nothing we can do in and of ourselves will ever release us from our condition. And if anyone was in position to know the exhaustive nature of human gifts, it was Solomon. Having seen and thought and tasted it all, he came back to the truth of his childhood:

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.

Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Only God gives this life meaning. Not money, not power, not sex, not success, not any of the numerous vanities that Solomon and our human race have tried and found wanting. Only in God, only in His Son, Jesus Christ, do we find the fulfillment of our hearts.