Embracing Awkward

  • Tweeting Myself to Death: The Rise & Fall of @prodigalsam

    “What is failure? Failure is what people do ninety-nine percent of the time. Even in the movies: ninety-nine outtakes for one print. But in the movies they don’t show the failures. What you see are the takes that work. So it looks as if every action, even going crazy, is carried off in a proper, rounded-off way. It looks as if real failure is unspeakable. TV has screwed up millions of people with their little rounded-off stories. Because that is not the way life is. Life is fits and starts, mostly fits. Life doesn’t have to stop with failure.” - Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome

    One of my friends is fond of saying that every person you meet is like a book: they have a spine and a story. If that’s true then the last six months of my life would make for an incredibly interesting chapter. Not everyone can say that the lead voice actor of Ratatouille called you a “piece of sh*t.” But I can. And I hope with all my heart that makes it into my eulogy somewhere. 

    I joined Twitter in March of 2009 (in my head I sound just like Morgan Freeman right now). My first two tweets ever were as follows: “Heading to [some friends' house] for our bible study cookout...hope the potato salad turns out alright. Good times hopefully to be had by all...” followed up by “Had a great time at the cookout. thankful for friends. good times had...” Slow down Ernest Hemingway! The Pulitzer committee isn’t ready for your gripping descriptions of bringing potato salad to a cookout.

    I quickly moved on from tweeting the mundane parts of life in painfully boring ways to set my sights on becoming the next big “gospel tweeter.” If you don’t know what that is, then you are a normal human being. Don’t get me wrong, I still love and follow a lot of guys who mainly use Twitter to share quotes and articles about grace. I love grace. I just sucked at tweeting about it, mainly because I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. Nothing betrays a genuine resting in grace like a desire to be widely known and heavily retweeted. Pretty glad Google hasn’t come out with a Hidden Motives Translator yet because all of those tweets would simply read, “Listen Jesus is great, but I really need this guys.”  

    Then something strange happened. Three things really. The first was a good friend straight up told me one day, “You should stop being so serious on Twitter and just try to be funny.” By this point I had found @JonAcuff (I think he was still going by @prodigaljohn at the time, the inspiration behind @prodigalsam in the first place). He was the first Christian I ever met on Twitter who was really funny; not “church youth group” funny, but “could write jokes for SNL” funny. So I listened to my friend and started trying my hand at writing funny tweets. I still remember my first attempt at a joke: “I’d trust a drunken Gary Busey before trusting someone who buys cheap toilet paper.” Probably should have just called it quits there, but I kept going, just like that jogging scene in Forrest Gump

    The second thing that happened is that we found out our youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare condition called Dandy-Walker. You should know that she’s doing great now. She’s 2.5, and to quote Shakespeare, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” I will never forget the day my wife came home in tears from a routine ultrasound, though. They told her that something was seriously wrong with our little girl's cerebellum. Then there were tests, visits to out of town doctors, and more tests. All they could tell us was that something was deeply wrong with the way our little girl’s brain was developing, and there were no guarantees how it would all turn out. 

    One of my favorite comics, Tig Notaro, likes to say that “comedy = tragedy + time.” I love that because that’s what comedy became for me, a way of holding on to a pocketful of light in a sea of darkness; a way of laughing at the (hard) days to come. It’s the conversation between Gandalf and Sam in The Return of the King: “A great shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then as sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.”  Twitter became an outlet for laughter. And if you listen to laughter closely enough you can hear the echoes of hope.

    The third thing that happened, and easily the most embarrassing, is I paid money to join this website called Favstar.fm. They should change the name to Internetcrack.fm, because I was irrepressibly and obssessively hooked. The short version is you pay $30 for a 6 month membership so you can give people a virtual trophy for the “Tweet of the Day.” It’s not as sad as it sounds; it’s way sadder. It’s the most successful World of Warcraft gamers in the world purposely throwing a party to make fun of you sad. But it was a great way to meet other funny people on Twitter, and I eventually ended up making it to the “Most Popular of Favstar” page, which, in the words of another funny person on Twitter, is “like being a best selling author in Narnia.” 

    The great thing about Twitter is that it's a safe place to say those things you often think, but rarely feel comfortable saying out loud. This is also the terrible thing about Twitter. Which is why one of the most profound parts of Louis CK’s most recent appearance on Conan is when he talks about the difference between calling someone fat to their face vs. online. When it’s face to face you’re forced to watch what it does to the other person. But when it’s online you're solely concerned about what it does to you. And it feels so, so good. It’s porn but with words.

    And even though he never mentions Twitter by name, part of his broader point is that the danger of being constantly connected is that we lose the ability to connect. This was the dark side of Twitter for me, being so connected that I gradually stopped connecting with the most important people in my life. Or to quote Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, “First we lived on farms. Then we lived in cities. Now we live on the internet.” The problem with living on the internet is that it’s not where your family lives, or most of your friends. They're at home. Waiting for you to come sit down, look them in the eyes and connect with them.

    “The central mistake of recent digital culture is to chop up a network of individuals so finely that you end up with a mush. You then start to care about the abstraction of the network more than the real people who are networked, even though the network by itself is meaningless. Only the people were ever meaningful.” - Jaron Lanier, You Are Not a Gadget

    I thought I knew what awkward was until a Sharpie handed girl asked me to autograph her tank top at the beach one day. No one ever tells you what the other side of this creepy exchange feels like, a tornado of flattery and embarrassment. Do you sign it, or respectfully decline? If you choose to sign it, what can you write to seem as less douchey as possible? All I know is somewhere in Texas a girl woke up today with a tank top tucked away in her drawer that reads “@prodigalsam” in all caps on the back. This is as close to feeling like Drake I’ll ever get. Unless you count that time I bought a pair of Wallabees with cash. Thanks Dave Ramsey. 

    This is the part of the story that could come across a little arrogant. So to keep it in perspective think of it as that party in Titanic before they all die. They’re dancing and drinking, doing whatever the 1912 version of grinding was, and they have no idea what’s about to happen. That was me. Minus the making out with Kate Winslet part. 

    In my wildest dreams I never thought I'd have as many followers on Twitter as I did. 130,427 to be exact. But who’s counting? I was. It was my self-worth stock market, and I followed it hard. Counting your followers on Twitter is like counting your money in Monopoly: you know it’s not ultimately worth anything, yet in that moment it feels like everything. Your card may have just been declined at Chipotle, but guess who owns Boardwalk and runs that town like Rihanna and Jay-Z?

    Becoming internet famous did buy some cool things. Brunch with Flynn Rider in LA. Texting with the Bachelor. Disney’s Jessie sending a birthday message to my girls. Dwight from The Office giving me a shout out. These are moments I will work into as many conversations as possible for years to come. "This rain is really coming down. Speaking of rain, did I ever tell you about that time Rainn Wilson defended me on Twitter?” 

    But it also cost me some things too. Namely my integrity and identity. Sometimes people ask, “How did you do it?” and I typically shrug my shoulders, give some important tipping points and say, “I honestly don’t know it just sort of happened.” What I should say is that all you have to do to get a lot of followers on Twitter is figure out who’s cool and desperately align yourself with them. Because it’s about perception, not reality. It’s the “he’s with us” of the internet.

    Jonathan Franzen warns about this danger in his recent essay “What’s Wrong with the Modern World.” He writes, “One of the worst things about the internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking.” Integrity is about being the same person, with the same convictions, in any and every situation, with any and every crowd. But it’s hard to have convictions when you’re constantly wondering if they’re cool. 

    The other danger is looking to the internet for your identity, instead of the other way around. That's why Jaron Lanier likes to say, “You have to be somebody before you can share yourself.” The internet cannot hold the weight of your identity; only reality can. Twitter became a place for me to be someone else, someone I struggled to be in real life. It’s what I call pulling a sad Batman. You change into your alter-ego at night, but instead of fighting crime you’re fighting for retweets. Also you don’t wake up in a mansion with an amazing car and a butler. 

    A wise person I know once said, “Fame is a great consequence but a terrible goal.” The problem of fame, even the internet kind, is that you sacrifice knowing yourself for being known. In turn you sacrifice friends for fans. And the reality is all the love in the world means almost nothing when it comes from people who know who you are but don’t really know you.

    “Looking foolish does the spirit good. The need not to look foolish is one of youth’s many burdens; as we get older we are exempted from more and more, and float upward in our heedlessness, singing Gratia Dei sum quod sum.” - John Updike, Self-Consciousness: Memoirs

    “Will my mom be able to read this and still be proud of me?” That was the only question I had for the reporter from our local newspaper as he called to let me know he’d put the finishing touches on his story. A few weeks earlier we had spent an hour or so sipping coffee, him jotting down notes as he listened to my story. It hadn’t dawned on me then that he might not actually believe what I was saying. Now it seemed disappointingly obvious. Like a twist in a M. Night Shyamalan movie. Somewhere M. Night Shyamalan is eating pretzels as I write this. He loves twists.

    They say that there are two sides to every story. More like three. Four even. This is the point Sarah Polley makes in her brilliant documentary, Stories We Tell. The film tries to piece together the tragic, mysterious story of her family, filtered through the lens of her siblings as they remember it. It opens with her father reading from Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace: “When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion, dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you're telling it, to yourself or to someone else." Our stories aren’t often as neat as we’d like them to be because we ourselves are messy.

    It’s a funny thing to read articles written about you, all by people who have never met you or talked to you. It feels a little bit like being robbed, except instead of your wallet being stolen, it’s your chance to tell your story. One of the most profoundly human things you can do is talk to someone instead of about them; to listen to them tell their story instead of telling your own about them. This is my attempt to tell a story that I feel rightfully belongs to me. It’s kind of like a burrito from Taco Bell in that it has 5 layers and made me a little sick to my stomach. As a pastor, naturally I love alliteration, thus the title, “Things that Start with P.” My apologies in advance that it sounds like it was written by a depressed Dr. Seuss. 

    1. Plagiarism. There is only one thing comedians hate more than other more successful comedians: plagiarists. Take it from Dane Cook, or Carlos Mencia, who both faced serious accusations of plagiarism in the course of their careers. This was an accusation leveled against me as well, that I was purposely stealing other peoples’ jokes and repackaging them as my own. Even though my initial reaction to these accusations was to be hurt by them, the more I’ve thought about it the more I think there was fair criticism in the accusations. To me, plagiarism has always been about a person’s intentions. While I can honestly say in my mind I never purposely ripped off another writer or comedian (lots of people I supposedly stole from actually followed me at the time), I do think it’s fair to say I repackaged jokes. At the time I thought I made them enough my own that it didn’t qualify as plagiarism. I know better now. I never should have repurposed a joke without first checking with the comedian or writer who originally wrote it. This was foolish and selfish on my part, and not the first time in my life I’ve been both of those things. Just ask my wife. 

    2. Parallel thought. A friend once described twitter as “3 million people all trying to make the same joke.” I was one of those 3 million. I felt like many critics minimized the possibility of parallel thought, or a common joke premise, leading me and other writers to a similar joke. This was exactly Rainn Wilson’s point when he came to my defense. Most people don’t know that whenever someone pointed out that a tweet I had done had been done by someone else before, I almost always took it down. The mistake I made was to apologize for it, which looking back people took as an admission of guilt, instead of a polite way of saying “we both had the same thought, but because you had it first you win.” When critics say people approached me time and time again about plagiarism, I assume this is what they mean. But to me this was always about parallel thought, never about plagiarism. As an introvert there are few things I hate more than being misunderstood, which is a problem since introverts typically hate talking, especially to human beings.

    3. Patton Oswalt. What Batman is to Gotham City criminals, Patton Oswalt is to comedy plagiarists. He has very little patience for anyone attempting to advance their own career based upon the work of others, especially his friends. I actually love this about him, that he has a strong sense of justice and honor. But I think when it came to me there were two major assumptions he made. One was to assume what everyone was saying about me was true. In reality, if you followed the chain of accusations all the way to the bottom, you would find a couple of peers doing everything they could to discredit me, to prove that I was a thief and a fraud. But some of those peers were Patton’s friends, and typically we trust what our friends say about someone. The other was to assume that non-comedians can’t be funny. Part of Patton’s critique felt like him basically saying, “leave comedy to the professionals,” which is similar to what @briangaar, the comedian behind the Borrowing Sam tumblr, tweeted the night he launched it: “I don’t care about Twitter but @prodigalsam is starting to f**k with my money and needs to be stopped.” All of this was in response to rumors that I was getting into stand-up comedy and had a book deal in the works, when in reality I’ve done stand-up once and am nowhere close to having a book deal. Patton Oswalt is a hilarious, successful, and beautiful human being. I just wish he had treated me more like one.

    4. Pastor. Did it matter that I was a pastor? Yes and no. No in the sense that it was more about the allegations than it was about my vocation. Yes in the sense that being a Christian pastor in the comedy world is like being a muggle at Hogwarts. People either hate you or are just generally confused and suspicious about why you’re there. It also mattered in the sense that the creative approach is vastly different in both worlds. In ministry the last thing you want to be is original. You want to see yourself as building upon the work of those who’ve gone before you. And you’re not afraid to take a thought or idea and put it into your own words. Not so with comedy. I think I brought what Kirby Ferguson calls “Embrace the Remix” into writing jokes. For me the tension was “Thou shall not steal” versus “There’s nothing new under the sun.” But I definitely made mistakes and now realize very few, if any, comedians hold this same position. And I understand that if my living depended on my jokes, I probably would feel much more protective of them too. 

    5. Pride. I was proud. Too proud to receive fair criticism. Too proud to not respond to unfair, or false criticism. Too proud to admit when I had been careless. Too proud to give up a platform that had become too much of an identity. As a pastor who loves to quote, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” I should have known better. But I didn’t. And for that I am truly sorry and ask forgiveness from family and friends, fans and critics. I am super thankful to know and serve a God of second chances. But I am also not naive enough to think the world works in the same way. And that’s ok. Because my life is much, much better than I deserve. 

    If you went back to Facebook around the time we found out the hard news about our youngest daughter, and when I started finding comedic solace in Twitter, you would find the following quote from Marilynne Robinson on my wall: “That is how life goes--we send our children into the wilderness. Some of them on the day they are born, it seems, for all the help we can give them. Some of them seem to be a kind of wilderness unto themselves. But there must be angels there, too, and springs of water. Even that wilderness, the very habitation of jackals, is the Lord's.” It was a line I desperately clung to for her. Now it’s become a line I desperately cling to for me. By the way, my mom read the article. She told me she has always been so proud to be my mom. The wilderness is still the Lord’s.

  • An Introvert's Guide to Surviving Christmas

    Very few times of year are harder on introverts than Christmas. So much small talk, so little access to a doctor friend who recklessly prescribes Xanax. Your mom doing that thing where she wraps a criticism in the form of a question. Your dad doing that thing where he confuses talking football with emotionally connecting. It’s all so overwhelming. But take heart, my introverted friend. Here are a few quick tips on surviving this Holiday season:

    1. Bathrooms make great panic rooms

    Your attackers? Upbeat people pummeling you with question after question, story after story. Your refuge? That glorious 8x10 foot space filled with old Southern Living magazines better known as introvert paradise. So lock the door, take a seat, and a deep breath. Worst case scenario your family thinks you have a sickness/struggle you haven’t told them about. This can actually work in your favor. 

    2. Reward yourself for eye contact

    Any personal trainer will tell you that the key to exercise success is rewarding yourself with food. Ok that’s not true. But it does make for a great eye contact motivator at a Christmas party. Here’s how it works. 5 seconds of eye contact = another cheese straw. 15 seconds of eye contact = another holiday cocktail. 30 seconds of eye contact = slow down Katie Couric, let’s take this one baby-step at a time. 

    3. Keep your phone out as much as possible

    Get some group messages about that recent friend drama going. Or start a debate about education on Facebook with friends who have radically different views. Pin some new workout routines/cake recipes on Pinterest. Snapchat yourself being bored. Anything to distract you from actual human interaction. An introvert’s iPhone is like Batman’s utility belt. Use it wisely. Use it well. 

    4. Bring a pair of oversized headphones

    Not those little earbuds that still make conversation a possibility. I’m talking those huge over the ear headphones that say, “I dare you to talk to me.” Slip on those cans and suddenly you’re Harry Potter donning his invisibility cloak, safe from all the extroverted Dementors trying to suck the life from your introverted soul. 

    5. Don’t leave the party. Just ghost

    All those awkward side hugs, and half hearted goodbyes can wait until next year. You've finally made it to your favorite part of every party: leaving. Go sink into the front seat of your Jetta/minivan, put on some Sufjan Stevens, and gently high five/weep to yourself because you just survived every introvert's worst nightmare: a Christmas party. 

  • 6 Ways to Love a Depressed Person

    Two things aren't easy: pimping and loving a depressed person. Whether you're depressed and want to passive aggressively send this to some friends, or whether you have a friend who's depressed and are about to throw your hands in the air like you just don't know how to care, here are six tips that might help you love a depressed person a little better:

    1. Keep the pin in the shame grenade.

    Depressed people feel tremendous amounts of shame. The voice they hear most often in their head is like the anti-Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting: “It’s your fault. It’s your fault. It’s your fault.” The problem is not that they don’t know what they should do. The problem is finding the strength to do it. They’re carrying a heavy load. Don’t be the kind of friend who adds to it. Be the kind of friend who helps lighten it. Don’t patronize, empathize. In the words of Brene Brown, “Shame cannot survive empathy.” 

    2. Don’t be simplistic.

    Depression is like a bruise. Sometimes you know how it got there, and sometimes you genuinely don’t. What makes it hard is that it’s “like a bruise in your mind” (Jeffrey Eugenides, Marriage Plot). Nothing is worse than treating it simplistically. It’s not always as simple as “Take medicine,” or “Go see a counselor,” or “Repent” (usually all three will be part of the healing process). To make one of those the “end all be all” is extremely unhelpful. Help them simplify things, yes. But don’t be simplistic. 

    3. Take the physical as seriously as the spiritual.

    Don’t give a depressed friend a book. Give them a steak instead. Preferably an expensive one. And pair it with a loaded baked potato, a bottle of merlot, and if you want to get really spiritual, a whole pan of Sister Schubert rolls. That’s what God did for Elijah when he was depressed to the point of wanting life to be over. He didn’t give him a lecture, or even a devotional. He gave him a meal and then let him sleep (1 Kings 19:4-7). He didn't Jesus juke him. He took the physical as seriously as the spiritual. Because sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap (or a walk, or a meal). 

    4. Embrace awkward silence.

    If depressed people could take a book title for a life motto it would be More Baths, Less Talking (Nick Hornby). If they’re really depressed, the last thing they want to do is talk about why they’re really depressed. Don’t take this as a sign that they don’t want you around. They desperately do. They just want you to embrace the awkward silence with them. It shows them that sometimes it’s ok to sit in silence because life is hard and we don’t have all the answers. 

    5. Help them take themselves less seriously.

    One of the best things you can do for a depressed person is to help them take themselves less seriously. Sometimes when Martin Luther would get depressed to the point of spending entire days in bed, his wife Katharine would dress herself in all black and put on a veil. And when he asked her whose funeral she was going to she would say, “God’s, because the way you’re acting so hopeless he must be dead.” She had a great sense of humor. Humor is actually a vital part of dealing with depression, because if you listen closely enough to laughter you can hear the echoes of hope. Which is why an incredibly wise pastor once told a struggling friend the most important thing he could do for his depression was to watch an episode of Seinfeld with friends every night before bed. “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly” (GK Chesterton). 

    6. Give them grace by giving them space.

    Depressed people need the space to be alone, yet the security that you’re not going anywhere. Don’t get all up in their grill. Be content to hang out on their back porch while they’re inside on the couch watching their seventh episode of New Girl in a row. They need the space of you leaving them alone, with the grace of knowing you’ll never leave them. It’s the Lord saying he won’t “break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax” (Isaiah 42:3) Even though our depression is hard, he’ll be gentle. Even though our depression may never go away, he promises he’s not going anywhere.

  • 3 Words That Change Everything

    You don’t have to be alive very long to realize that life is hard. Really hard. To quote one of my favorite theologians,“To live is to suffer. To survive, well, that’s to find meaning in the suffering.” Ok that's actually DMX ("Slippin'"). Deep gospel truths up in here, up in here. 

    It’s not a matter of if we’ll suffer, but when and how long. And when suffering comes so does the question "Why me?" It plays on a loop in our hearts, tempting us to doubt God and to lose hope. Just the other night my 7yr old son woke up bitten by the stomach bug. As he was lying on the bathroom floor he asked my wife that very question: “Why did I have to be the one to get this?” We asked ourselves the same question cleaning up later. 

    There’s something about suffering that makes it a profoundly lonely experience. Well meaning friends inevitably try to connect with us, especially if they’ve gone through something similar. And it helps. Some. But the reality is that no two people’s suffering is ever exactly the same regardless of how similar it might be.

    This is why God rebuked Job’s friends. They tried to understand the reasons for his suffering instead of quietly entering into it with him. In the words of the older church women in the beloved indie film, Lars and the Real Girl“We brought casseroles...We came over to sit. That’s what people do when tragedy strikes.” More of this in our Christian communities please

    But God also rebukes Job because it’s easy to get stuck in “Why me?” and lose perspective in our suffering. If God is big enough for us to be mad at him for our suffering, he’s also big enough for us to trust him with our suffering. That’s why David Powlison article, “God’s Grace and Your Sufferings,” is so helpful. How can we move from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” Here’s what he writes: 

    “So often the initial reaction to painful suffering is Why me? Why this? Why now? Why?...God comes for you, in the flesh, in Christ, into suffering, on your behalf. He does not offer advice and perspective from afar; he steps into your significant suffering. He will see you through, and work with you the whole way...This reality changes the questions that rise up from your heart. That inward-turning “why me?” quiets down, lifts its eyes, and begins to look around. You turn outward and new, wonderful questions form.

    • Why you? 
    • Why would you enter this world of evils? 
    • Why would you go through loss, weakness, hardship, sorrow, and death? 
    • Why would you do this for me, of all people? 

    But you did. 

    • You did this for the joy set before you. 
    • You did this for love. 
    • You did this showing the glory of God in the face of Christ. 

    As that deeper question sinks home, you become joyously sane. The universe is no longer supremely about you. Yet you are not irrelevant. God’s story makes you just the right size. Everything counts, but the scale changes to something that makes much more sense. You face hard things. But you have already received something better which can never be taken away... 

    Finally, you are prepared to pose - and to mean - almost unimaginable questions: 

    • Why not me? 
    • Why not this? 
    • Why not now? 

    If in some way, my faith might serve as a three-watt night-light in a very dark world, why not me? 

    • If he sanctifies to me my deepest desires? 
    • If he bears me in his arms? 
    • If my weakness demonstrates to the power of God to save us from all that is wrong? 
    • If my honest struggle shows others how to land on their feet? 
    • If my life becomes a source of hope to others? 

    Why not me? 

    Of course, you don’t want to suffer, but you’ve become willing: “If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” 

    • Like him, your loud cries and tears will in fact be heard by the one who saves from death. 
    • Like him, you will learn obedience through what you suffer. 
    • Like him, you will sympathize with the weaknesses of others. 
    • Like him, you will deal gently with the ignorant and wayward. 
    • Like him, you will display faith to a faithless world, hope to a hopeless world, love to a loveless world, life to a dying world.”
  • What Zach Galifiniakis Taught Me About Shalom

    Chicago, Dallas and the leather chair from Sam’s Club that rests its legs on my living room floor. Besides being places I visited in the last few years (some much more frequently than others), they are also places where little light bulbs went off for me. At first they went off independently of one another, but then they became like a string of lights you might wrap around your Christmas tree. Thought led to thought, which led to this idea that’s been hanging around in the back of my mind like the cat we started feeding who now sleeps on our bed, Kitty. That’s what our kids creatively named her. Cats are the perfect pets for Presbyterians because you don’t choose them, they choose you. 

    Chicago is where I took a group of college students to work with an urban ministry in the heart of the south side of the Windy city. It was spring break, and the weather was surprisingly warm for Chicago. Our days were spent working with neighborhood kids & our nights were spent listening to the director of the ministry talk about the thinking that goes into their doing. The night that stood out to all of us was the night he talked about Shalom. 

    I’d only ever seen that word on a piece of art hanging on the wall at a friend's house. It simply read, "Shalom Y'all!" I pretended to get the joke, something I do a lot. That night, though, he worked out for us what Shalom actually means. As we sat on those cold aluminum chairs our hearts were strangely warmed as he said things like this: “The gospel is more than about simply having peace with God. It also brings peace with self, peace with others, and peace to the world.” Reminds me of my favorite line in my favorite Christmas carol, "Joy to the World." "He comes to make, His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." It makes me want to dance like the kids in Charlie Brown Christmas, which oddly enough is actually exactly what I look like when I dance.

    In about 30 minutes he had undone our American individualism, and in its place gave us this biblically rich view of what it means to work for Shalom, which means rightness and wholeness, with our neighbors, and in our communities. He expanded our view of the gospel to that of Paul’s where he says in Ephesians 1 that God in Jesus Christ is reconciling all things, things in heaven and things on earth. The guy in Jaws needed a bigger boat. We needed a bigger gospel.

    Which brings me to Dallas. Every December about 120 other campus ministers and I head there for a week of staff training. Each year we invite someone to come speak to us about a topic with which we want/need to wrestle. A few years ago we invited someone to come speak with us about James Davison Hunter’s book, To Change the World

    In this helpful book Hunter essentially argues for a new concern for and approach to culture. He calls it “faithful presence,” which includes taking all of the resources God has given us (money, time, gifts, etc.) and plowing them into our communities to the glory of God and the growth of his kingdom. 

    In that time together our guest speaker demonstrated how even the way we greet one another can add to, or take away from, Shalom. On the one hand, a warm smile and sure handshake is dignifying, therefore works toward Shalom. On the other hand, if I walk up to you and pretend to shake your hand only to rip it away from you, it’s degrading, and breaks down Shalom. My every action is either part of the Shalom Jesus is bringing back, or part of the breaking down of Shalom that made his coming (and coming again) so necessary. Justin Timberlake is bringing sexy back, but Jesus is bringing back Shalom. 

    Which finally leads me to my favorite place to visit, the leather chair in my living room, where I watch (probably too much) TV. One of the best things I watched in the last several years was when Zach Galifinakis hosted SNL. His monologue in particular was so genius. In that monologue, as he moved to the piano where he is a master of delivery, he told a joke that I absolutely love. It goes like this: Sometimes I do something and think, “That is so Raven.” Then other times I’ll do something & I’ll be like, “That was not very Raven.” The collision of these three thoughts led to this idea: We can say about our every action either, “That is so Shalom” or, “That is not very Shalom.” 

    The beauty of this is that it applies to every aspect of our lives, from the way we treat the opposite sex, to the way that we approach our work, to the way we spend our money, to the way we relate to our neighbors, to the way we update our statuses on Facebook. Take for example the two things we need to talk about the most yet seem to talk about the least: money and sex. 

    John Wesley once preached a sermon on money. Like any good sermon, it had only three points. 1. Make as much as you can. 2. Save as much as you can. 3. Give as much as you can. The reality is we like number 1 & 2, but number 3 is a little harder. Giving out of excess is hard enough, but giving sacrificially seems practically impossible. Yet it is very Shalom when a college student sacrifices a few White Mochas from Starbucks a week to sponsor a Compassion child. Or when a family cuts back on their budget so they can have more families from their neighborhood over. 

    If giving sacrificially is hard, being sexually faithful can be even harder. When the Psalmist asks who can ascend to the Lord’s presence and answers, “he who has clean hands and a pure heart,” we certainly know he’s not talking about us. Jesus, yes. But not us. Yet the way we do sex and sexuality is either Shalom, or not very Shalom. It either leads to human flourishing, or takes away from it. Part of why the Bible is so for married sex is it ensures promises being made with your body have already been made with your life, which far from taking away from sex, enhances it with layer upon layer of security. It’s also why porn take so much Shalom away. Sex goes from being fundamentally other centered to fundamentally self centered, and the person on the other end of the screen goes from being a person at all to simply the means to a selfish end. 

    Donald Miller once wrote, “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.” The most difficult truth we’ve ever struggled to accept is that life is ultimately as story about Jesus, about how he’s restoring Shalom. Because we made it about us it led to the breakdown of Shalom. Because he made it about us, dying the death we deserved to die, living the life we could never live, Shalom is possible again. And not just for us. The "earth trembles with his love," waiting like a kid at Christmas for the day he finally makes it whole again. And that is very Shalom. 

  • DC Talk or Girl Talk, What's a Christian to Do?

    In the fall of 1996 two tragic events occurred. D3: Mighty Ducks went from being an idea to an actual movie, and I sold an incredible CD collection. 200 some quality CD’s that included everything from Siamese Dream to The Chronic, all for a measly couple hundred bucks which I used to buy their depressing Christian counterparts. Bands like Plankeye, MxPx, The Supertones, and DC Talk, which if you’ve never heard of them think the Beastie Boys if they had been home schooled. 

    Back in those days my friends and I often made trips to a bookstore an hour away that carried this warmed-over, newish Christian sound (I like to imagine Chuck Berry saying that like in Back to the Future). Just above the CD racks was a chart comparing Christian bands to the secular bands they sounded most similar too. That’s like having a chart that compares different vegetables to your favorite donuts. In the end there’s no way around being really disappointed.

    I remember telling a non-Christian friend about how I’d sold all my “secular” CD’s to follow Jesus, and him looking at me with equal parts confusion and eagerness to get over to CD Switch to gain from my loss. One man’s misguided discipleship is another man’s treasure. But he brought up a fair point. Was this something Jesus really wanted me to do? 

    On the one hand I think my heart was in the right place. I wanted to “put Jesus first,” however misguided the application. The sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and believe me my heart was broken when I listened to DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” for the first time. Christian rock feels like the musical equivalent of shotgunning a six pack of O’Doul’s.

    On the other hand, there was a huge, faulty presupposition at work. The one that says everything neatly divides into the sacred and the secular. If people are genuinely made in God’s image, then the things those same people create have to reflect that image on some level, however poorly. Nothing is “secular.” Everything is sacred, which means there is beauty and brokenness running through every square inch. The temptation for Christians is to miss the beauty in mashup artists like Girl Talk, or rappers like Lil Wayne, and the brokenness in Christian artists like DC Talk.

    I don’t want to put words in John Calvin’s mouth, but I think he might have enjoyed some Lil Wayne, or at least appreciated him. He wrote about enjoying the gifts of “secular” culture: “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise it wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn and reproach the Spirit himself. As it is, much of the evangelical world is in serious danger of ingratitude to God for his good gifts.”

    Yes, there’s brokenness in Lil Wayne’s music. But there’s beauty too. Very few artists can put words together in a way that not only delights the ears, but the mind too. If good art causes the mind to quietly beam in inaudible delight, then Lil Wayne is a great artist. 

    And, yes, there’s beauty in DC Talk’s music. But there’s brokenness too. Not just with DC Talk but with lots of “Christian” music. Sometimes it’s musically or lyrically broken (just Google The Newsboy’s “Breakfast in Hell”). Most of the time it’s broken in that it misses the brokenness of life. Good art always captures what life in a broken world feels like. That’s often why movies like Fireproof or Facing the Giants ring hollow.

    Russell Moore, a pastor with a passion for country music, was once asked how he justified listening to certain songs around his children. This is what he said: “I know there are some who would tell you the way to avoid the problem is to do away with “secular” music. But what is secular music? Does the Bible anywhere command us to limit artistic expression only to “spiritual” things? There are songs and poems in the Scripture itself that speak of things ranging from murder to marital sex to the beauty of nature, and so forth. Moreover, the “Christian” music industry is often, I think, more damaging to children than some secular forms of musical expression. Much of what plays on commercial Christian radio presents an antiseptic view of life, and often as well a trivialized vision of Jesus and the gospel. Too often, what people want is not a more Christian vision of life but a happier, sanitized vision of life. These are the people who would think the Song of Solomon to be obscene, if it weren’t safely sequestered in the pages of the canon where they can’t get to it. And they’re the people who complain to the pastor that his David and Goliath message was “too violent” for little Connor’s sensibilities.”

    Saying only music made by Christians glorifies God is like saying only food made by Christians glorifies God (which would explain why we eat so much Chick-fil-A actually). It reminds me of the time my friend requested Derek Webb’s “Wedding Dress” on their local Christian radio station. The DJ said they couldn’t play that song because it had the word “whore” in it, and that wasn’t very “family friendly.” I wish with all my heart they had said, “You know who else isn’t very family friendly? Jesus. Because he said he came to divide them.” Besides, isn’t there an entire book in the Bible about a prophet marrying a prostitute? Hosea was the original Pretty Woman.

    Of all the things that now me wishes I could say to then me, the biggest is to let then me in on a secret: life will never be as black and white as you want it to be. But grey is a beautiful color because it means we actually have to search our hearts, seek wise counsel, and prayerfully follow Jesus. 

    The reason I wanted Jesus to say, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself Dr. Dre, and take up his Jars of Clay and follow me,” is because it made my life easier. Jesus’ whole problem with the Pharisees wasn’t that they didn’t take his laws seriously. It was that they reduced them to something much more manageable than what they actually required. It made them feel like they were keeping the law, instead of knowing they hadn’t and feeling their need for a Savior. 

    And that’s the point. We want to sell some CD’s, but Jesus wants us to rend our hearts. We want 12 Simple Steps, but Jesus wants us to grow in wisdom. We want self-control to mean fewer margaritas, but Jesus wants it to mean a growing refusal to let anything or anyone define us but Him. We want life to be easy, but Jesus keeps trying to tell us it’s going to be hard, something Lil Wayne can perhaps teach us more about than DC Talk. Out of the mouths of babes comes strength and praise. Yes. And rappers too.

  • Why God Weeps (It's Not Because He's Been Listening to Bon Iver)

    “What in the world am I going to say?” That was the question racing through my mind as I waited in line to speak with a friend whose dad had just died. The visitation was packed, men and women all awkwardly trying to figure out what to do with our hands as we patiently waited our turn. When mine came there were no words spoken. My friend simply burst into tears and we hugged for what seemed like 5 minutes. Death is the worst.

    And it’s also what moved Jesus to tears in John 11. The scene of course is Jesus showing up late to the funeral of one of his best friends, Lazarus. The sisters, like most of us when tragedy hits, are shaken not stirred, a cocktail of sadness, madness and confusion. It’s not helping that Jesus misses the funeral. But as he takes the scene in, he begins to weep. Like my friend the night of his dad’s visitation, he bursts into tears.

    What moves Jesus to tears? On the one hand they aren’t sentimental tears. He hasn’t been listening to Bon Iver's cover of "I Can't Make You Love Me," gently sobbing to himself on the way to Bethany. And they aren’t regretful tears. It’s not like the end of Schindler’s List where Schindler sadly realizes all the good he could have done. 

    On the other hand they are angry tears, because Jesus hates death. Sorry Elton John but no one sings “Circle of Life” from Lion King at a funeral. Why? Because deep down we know death is not our friend. 

    They are also compassionate tears. Jesus isn’t like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, where he just wants you to get it perfect and if you don’t then he’s fed up with you. One time I used this illustration and found a student’s notes cleaning up afterward that simply said, “God isn’t the Soup Nazi.” That's all he wrote down. Top ten worst teacher moments ever. 

    But thankfully he isn't. Because Jesus was more than Facebook friends with Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He didn’t just love them; he liked them. Brennan Manning is right when he says this so often is our struggle: to believe that God doesn’t just love us, but actually likes us, enjoys us even. That he deeply feels what we feel. 

    There’s a scene in The Magician’s Nephew between Digory and Aslan as Digory’s mother is dying. He begs Aslan, “But please, please - won't you - can't you give me something that will cure Mother?'” Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.”

    These are the kind of tears that Jesus cries, as if he must really be sorrier about the painful events of our lives than we are ourselves. Losing a parent, yet still waiting to hear their voice on the phone. Losing a child, yet so badly wanting to hug them close again. Carrying the shame of abuse, yet being paralyzed to talk to anyone about it. 

    Last year I was telling part of my own story to a counselor over coffee at Starbucks, about how my dad had gotten addicted to crack cocaine and eventually left our family when I was 12. He listened, waited and then finally said, “Sammy, if you’re ever going to be healthy, 33 year old Sammy is going to have to go back to 12 year old Sammy, look him in the eye, and say to him, “I know this is hard, but dad’s not coming home.” 

    And as I began to cry in the middle of Starbucks (not from listening to Bon Iver), I could almost hear Jesus saying, “Yes. But I want to go with you, hold you by the hand, and weep with you there.” 

    Sometimes we sing, “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God woulds’t die for me.” Yes. But we can also sing, “Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my God woulds’t cry with me.”

    In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus, he’s the only one “Who cries, yet causes tears to cease.” 

    Where does Jesus want to take you by the hand back to a painful place in your life and simply weep with you there?

  • Identity Crisis

    For a moment envision yourself standing in front of Alex Trebek (vintage Trebek with 'stache hopefully). You’re a contestant on Jeopardy (don't worry you still have friends unlike real Jeopardy contestants), and the category is “Who Said It.” Three quotes. Buzzers ready:

    1. “My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody, I still have to prove I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.”

    2. “I’m here to tell you that the fear of failure is the engine that has driven me throughout my entire life...not wanting to disappoint my parents, and later my coaches, teammates and fans, is what pushed me to be successful…I wasn’t the most physical or the fastest receiver in the NFL, but they never clocked me on the way to the end zone. The reason nobody caught me from behind is because I ran scared.”

    3. “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”

    #1? Madonna. #2? Jerry Rice. #3? Ryan Gosling. Not really. That would be incredible though. Obviously it's the Apostle Paul. And when you think about the three quotes there is a common theme: identity. What are you looking to for your identity? 

    Madonna is saying that being Somebody is what she’s after. This is why she constantly reinvents herself, and does crazy things like make out with Lady GaGa on Saturday Night Live.

    For Jerry Rice it’s being a NFL Hall of Fame receiver. But isn’t it always a little uncomfortable watching a Hall of Famer hang up their sport? Brett Favre is a case study.

    For Paul it was being in the Religious Person Hall of Fame. Knowing more and doing more than his peers. And he was good at it. Until he met Jesus. Kiergegaard liked to say that sin is building your identity on anything other than God. The moment you get around Jesus that identity you've been building begins to crumble.

    The word Paul uses for it is “rubbish” in the ESV, a strong Greek word for what your dog leaves behind in the grass. And he says all the things we build our identity around are ‘ish compared to the new identity Jesus can give us. 

    Mark Twain wrote a book called The Prince & the Pauper, a simple story with a great twist. A pauper (think beggar) finds himself at the palace gates and the next thing you know the prince invites him in. The pauper is dressed in filthy rags and is admiring the prince’s clothes. The prince, being kind and generous, allows the pauper to put on his clothes. At this moment the palace guards come in and, mistaking the prince for the pauper, they kick him out on the streets. The pauper and the prince have traded places. The pauper finds himself feasting like a prince. The prince finds himself treated like a pauper.

    Paul says that’s actually what it feels like to become a Christian. At the cross Jesus Christ traded identities with us. The Prince truly became the pauper. He put on the filthy rags of our sin that we could wear the fresh pair of clothes of his righteousness, clothes that rightly belong to Him, but that He freely gives to us. We already wear his clothes. That’s justification. We’re starting to get comfortable in them. That’s sanctification. 

    The problem is that instead of living FROM our identity, we tend to live FOR it, still looking for ways to set ourselves apart as better-than, cooler-than, more important-than people. We'd still rather make our own clothes than accept the ones we've been given. 

    In my 33 years I’ve gone from the guy who prided himself on never having cussed, to the guy who loved to tell people he only listened to Christian music, to the guy who loved to remind everyone of his deep roots in the South, to the guy who thinks because he watched The Wire somehow he "engages culture" more. In the words of Lewis Smedes, “My wife has been married to five different men and all of them are me.”

    Still living for my identity. That's the ever present temptation

    Long after John Newton had stopped preaching in England, and was so old he could barely read, someone read him the texts, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” After being quiet for a little while, almost just speaking to himself, he said, “I am not what I ought to be—ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be—I abhor that which is evil, and I would cleave to that which is good. I am not what I hope to be—soon, soon I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection! Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be—yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan! I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge, "By the grace of God, I am what I am!"  

    Living from my identity because Jesus already lived for it. That's the ever present invitation.

  • Why Satan Loved 7th Heaven More than Breaking Bad

    Before Walter White ever lost his moral compass in Breaking Bad, there was 7th Heaven, a family-friendly drama that aired on the WB from 1996-2007, about 10 years too long some would say. Eric Camden is the friendly minister of Glenoaks Community Church, a protestant congregation whose denominational ties remain frustratingly vague and unclear.  

    And the show was about his family, Annie, his wife, and their 7 children, Matt, Mary (played by Jessica Biel), Lucy, Simon, Ruthie & then those blessed little accident twins, Sam and David. Apparently Lucy got the shaft on being biblically named. Maybe it was because she looked 60 from birth.  

    And each show was like a moral lesson, usually ending with some vague inspirational thoughts from Pastor Camden’s sermon that week encouraging us to be good, or kind, or self-controlled, etc. Like when Ruthie got addicted to gum. Remember that episode? She needed to show more self-control with her Juicy Fruit. There's a whole lot about being good, but not so much as a whisper about Jesus.   

    This is why Satan loves 7th Heaven much more than Breaking Bad: it lies. Walker Percy once said that "Bad books lie, and they lie most of all about the human condition." So does bad TV. It deals with the world not as it really is, and with people not as they really are.

    In the case of 7th Heaven, it tells people to be good instead of wrestling with their badness, their need for good news. This is what we call moralism. And the Apostle Paul said if you could be good enough to be worthy of God's love then Jesus totally died in vain. Christianity is always good news before it's good advice.

    Donald Gray Barnhouse was once asked what he thought it would look like if Satan were to ever take complete control of a city. He pastored and loved the city of Philadelphia for many years. And his answer may surprise you:

    “All of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," and churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ is not preached.”

    In other words, it would look like 7th Heaven.  Nice, clean, moral, and totally Christ-less.  

    Think about those who plotted and worked for the death of Jesus. They read their Bible and prayed. A lot. They never missed church. They didn't cuss. They were virgins. They didn't get drunk. They took theology seriously. They took worship seriously. They took holiness seriously. They were moral. Yet they couldn't stand Jesus. Why? Jesus said that though they honored God with their lips, their hearts were far from Him. In other words, they did all the right things for all the wrong reasons.  

    What about us? It raises some tough questions:

    • Are we more about being good, or believing the Good News about Jesus (which leads us to real goodness)?
    • Are we pursuing lust-free (or insert your struggle of choice) lives because we deeply love Jesus, or because we want to tell others that we’re lust-free? 
    • Do we think Jesus loves us because we’ve never gotten drunk, smoked weed, cheated on a test, or "given it up"?
    • Do we think God loves us because we’re good, or do we know that He will make us good because He loves us?

    A few years ago I came across these videos that were parodies of how we often think about Jesus.  In one video Jesus goes around, disciple by disciple, telling them about how their specific sins have upset him. He ends by saying to them, "You are all evil. There is no hope.”  It's hilarious and worth watching.

    And it's exactly what we tell people when all we tell them is to be good. C.S. Lewis once said that we never really know how bad we are until we try really, really hard to be good. Only then do we come face to face with the bad news: that we are worse than we think.

    But the gospel tells a different story. That Jesus, the only truly good person, came for the bad. That he gave himself not for those who have it all together, but for those who know they don't. That he loves not Mr. and Mrs. Perfect, but messes. Not Eric Camdens but Walter Whites. 

    So woe to us if we are all law and no gospel, if we are all demands and no comforts, all good advice but no good news. Satan rejoices wherever goodness is preached minus the Good News of Jesus Christ. For as Charles Spurgeon liked to remind his congregation, “Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell." 

  • This Here Is Real

    Real is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days. From the Real Housewives of You Name the Place, to more common phrases of our everyday lives like, “Let’s be real” or, one of my favorites, “This here is real!” (hopefully said like from the SNL “Scared Straight” skits). 

    But as I was watching the kids on the playground the other day, trying desperately to avoid awkward parent small talk, the thought dawned on me: “My struggle with sin is about things that aren’t really real being more real to me than Jesus, who really is real.” My heart, and your heart, too easily settle for mirages instead of Water, for stuffed animals instead of the Lion of Judah (took everything in me not to say Aslan), for the unreal instead of the Real.  

    This is why Scripture tells us not to be unaware of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Because it seems that one of those schemes is to pull a Ponzi scheme on our hearts, making the short term pleasures of sin far outweigh its lasting consequences. In other words he makes things that aren’t real, not only seem real, but seem better than real. The Bible calls these things idols. And when it comes to getting us to invest in our idols, Satan makes Bernie Madoff look like Michael Scott. 

    The problem is that our idols aren’t real. The psalmist in Psalm 135 tries to tell us that they’re “the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.” In other words, our idols can’t save us; don’t love us; won’t ultimately give us anything worth keeping. But Jesus can; Jesus does; Jesus will.

    The insanity of sin is seen in the way that we believe the unreal to be real, and the real to be unreal. We believe lust will give us life, and doubt that Jesus really cares for us. So porn has more power over us than the cross. Yet which one is real? Any married man or woman can tell you. One never actually happens that way, and the other actually did happen that way. Sadly we’re still so prone to trade the beach for the sandbox, life for pseudo-life.

    Yet Jesus really is real. What he did really is real. He really did take on our flesh, therefore really does know what life in a broken world, full of sad things and hard temptations, feels like. The cross really did happen, which means he really does love you, even on your worst days. He really did wake up after being dead for three days, which means he really is beginning to break the curse, to make the sad things come untrue. He really is working every little and big thing that happens to you throughout your days, and weeks and years for good. He really is going to throw a party as we finally come into the New Heavens and the New Earth, that will make the best wedding reception you’ve ever been to seem like a 7th grade dance. 

    This is why I’ve always loved the way the Apostle Paul talks about the Thessalonians when he says they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” This is the great, daily invitation of the gospel. We serve our idols, but our idols don’t serve us. The gospel invites us to serve the only One who has served us, the Son of Man who “did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

    When I was a sophomore at Carolina I took a trip with my family to NYC. One of the things we did was make a stop by the street vendors on Canal Street, you know, the sketchy ones that sell fake Louis Vuitton and Gucci. For $20 I got a “Rolex.” It looked so real and I felt so rich. Until I was walking to class the next week and all of the springs and screws suddenly fell apart. My parents then gave me a real Rolex they’d been keeping for me until I had gotten old enough. I could close my laptop, hit that watch with a hammer right now, and it would still keep ticking. Why? Because it’s reliable. It’s trustworthy. It’s solid. It’s real.

    How much more Jesus vs. our idols. They will disappoint us. Jesus won’t even when it seems he has. So pan the crowd of idols that clammer to sit on the throne of your heart. Then take a deep look at Jesus, the King. And as your eyes fix on Him, the only One who can fulfill and forgive you, whisper to your heart, “This here is real.”