Wednesday, November 27, 2013


It's true what they say--God does work in mysterious ways! If you had asked me just a few years ago where I would be right now, I certainly wouldn't have painted a picture like the one I see today. Scratch that; it's not a picture at all, but an ever-evolving story. While the beginning and end have been written, I get the pleasure of co-creating the plot-line with my Creator. Through the ups-and-downs, the twists-and-turns, the story we are creating is one of adventure and hope. While life may not go as planned, and circumstances aren't always ideal, I have discovered I still have the ability to choose. Above all, I can choose which path my life will take. I can choose to get bitter or get better; I can choose to give up or get up; I can choose to hold on or let go; I can choose to "forget" or forgive. And while I have found the latter of each is always a much better way to live, that doesn't mean it's always my default choice. 

The story I'm about to tell you, as do all stories, begins with a choice.

I just graduated from college and before me were a limitless number of choices. However, the $20,000 in college debt loomed above like a dark cloud ready to release a torrential downpour if I didn't take shelter soon. In this case, soon was a 6 month period of deferment before I had to start repaying the loans. Seeing as how I had no money, and the only things I owned were a Dodge Intrepid inching toward 200,000 miles, a few pieces of dilapidated, dorm room furniture--purchased at Good Will--and a plastic set of drawers containing all my clothes, the number of choices I actually had seemed a bit more limited than I originally thought. 

So, the first choice I made was the same anyone in my shoes would make. I took up rent-free shelter in my parents basement. Considering I was getting married in a few months, it seemed the most prudent choice. Its' not like I had a job or any money that would afford me the ability to make a different choice. Besides, this way I could save money and start planning out my future. At least that's what I told myself.

Then came the choice to get a job. Due to the fact that church jobs I was qualified for were few and far between, I made the next best choice. With the help of my brother, I landed a job at the telecommunication company he was working for. While there wasn't necessarily anything wrong with the job, working at the help desk, doing Internet tech support wasn't part of my 5 year plan. The hours weren't that great, and most mornings I dreaded waking up and heading off to work. I'm sure being at my desk in the call center by 5 in the morning had something to do with it. Even the sun had enough sense not be up by then. But the paycheck made up for all that. Which was good since I wanted my choices to prove that I was financially stable.

Which lead to the next choice I made--to marry the woman I had been dating. Although you could argue this choice came almost seven months ago when I bought the ring and planned the details of my proposal over Christmas break. Either way, the wedding was soon and I would no longer be taking care of one, but two. Which meant there were many more choices I would have to make. Like trying to start a family. Buying a house. And eventually getting a divorce.

The problem with all of this is that I was unsure. I was unsure about what to do with my life or how I even wanted it to look. And when you're unsure, you don't normally make the best choices. However, due to the ever increasing responsibility, the choices I had to make seemed to become more and more urgent. For that reason, most of the choices I made were uninformed and haphazard, without any regard to the effects they would have years to come. In other words, the choices I made lacked a sense of desire and had little direction.

Over the years I had become accustomed to the belief that this is how life was meant to beThat pursuing my dreams was no longer an option. That my wants and desires were required to take the back seat to responsibility. That somehow, being an adult meant joy and fulfillment always had to be secondary. That growing up meant I had to choose between living a life and living a life of significance.

Looking back, I see that many of the choices I made were for the wrong reason. I can't begin to tell you how many choices I made out of necessity. Moving in with my parents. Settling for a job I didn't particularly care for--not just once, but three times (that I can currently remember). Then there were the choices I made out of obligation. The choice to get married--because that's what you do when you've been dating someone for an extended period of time; especially right out of college. The choice to try to start a family. The choice to purchase a house. Each of these choices I made required other things to be put on hold. Things I wasn't ready to let go of.

Inevitably, all these choices lead to resentment. I didn't like where my life was headed. Every morning consisted of a Starbucks run--where uttering a word was no longer necessary for my grande white-chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso to be made. Pulling out of the Starbucks parking lot, I finished my 3 minute commute to work where I would spend the next 8 hours, my fingers mindlessly pecking the keyboard while my glossy eyes stared at the screen in front of me. From there I would go home, eat dinner and sit in front of the television to unwind before heading off to bed. Just so I could get up and do it all over the next day. Because I now had to pay for all the wrong choices that had enslaved me.

I felt trapped. Trapped at my job. To quit would spell financial ruin. The loss of income would result in the loss of the house, the car and my excellent credit score. To take that new job was risky. Packing up and moving was irresponsible--even though it was my dream job. At least that's what I was lead to believe since it came with a much smaller paycheck and required moving across the country. Then there was my marriage. If I'm at all honest with myself, I had some doubts about this marriage. Nobody knows this, but I almost broke it off after we were engaged. I was unsure marriage was the right choice at the time, but I chalked it up to a case of 'cold feet' and trudged forward. From the beginning, there were indications it wasn't going to work out; I was just too blind and too stubborn to see them. But again, I made the choice, so I lived with the consequences--good and bad. Which eventually lead to the choice to get divorced. While it was a tough choice, it was a choice that, according to her, needed to be made to 'right the wrong we made five years ago.' Then there was the house. It walled me in--literally and figuratively. To sell after the market went south would be a financial disaster. And uprooting myself in the middle of the divorce would essentially be giving up and she would win. So, I continued to make choices I didn't want to make, but felt I had to.

I have a feeling that's where most of us find ourselves. Feeling trapped. Trying to make ourselves believe this is what life is all about. That these are the responsible choices to make. Please understand, I'm not saying every choice I made was wrong. I'm not suggesting that getting married right out of college is a terrible idea (but it might be). I don't think buying a house because it's cheaper than rent is a bad choice. Neither am I advocating for skipping out on responsibility. Sometimes taking any job is the best choice because bills have to be paid. But that choice starts long before the bills are even due; and begins with choosing not to incur that debt in the first place. All I'm saying is those weren't the choices I was ready to make. And they weren't the right choices for me at the time. For where I was at in life. For where I wanted to go. And for what I wanted to do. 

I believe there is a different way. That life can be much more. That we can find joy and fulfillment. If only we would have the courage to make different choices. To take our time, assess the outcome, and make good, informed choices. To stop allowing others to dictate the way our lives need to be lived. Because, in the end, the choice is ours. We can continue to make choices out of necessity. We can keep letting society dictate the trajectory of our life. We can continue to buy into the lies the media tells us. We can always settle. Or we make the difficult choice to do what is right--for us. Where we have been. Where we are. And where we want to go. That's what I'm doing. And I have to tell you, it's much more enjoyable making these kinds of choices.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Obviously, Jesus has a great disdain for hypocrites. Reading between the lines isn't necessary, because he makes his angst for them quite apparent. He says things like: "You hypocrites!" "You whitewashed tombs!" And my personal favorite, "You brood of Vipers!" And just in case you are wondering, that's not a term of endearment. I'm certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I'd be sleeping on the couch (at the very least) if I referred to my wife in that manner.

Just as obvious, is the world's belief that all Christians are hypocrites. Like Jesus, they don't pull any punches. They confront us. And they call us out. I can't begin to count the number of times I've heard the term thrown around in a discussion about Christian morality. I know for a fact a number of individuals have accused me of being a hypocrite. And I'm certain I've even made the same accusation about some of my fellow believers.

But this raises some important questions.

How do we define hypocrisy? Is this the same manner Jesus defines it? Or, when Jesus uses the term, to address the religious elite, is there a nuance we don't quite see? And of course, the question that begs to be answered, are all Christians really hypocrites?

Let's begin by clarifying what we mean by the term hypocrite. But, before we do that, allow me to tell you a story. A story about an individual whose hypocrisy was blatantly obvious.

After hours of studying for my upcoming finals, I decided a study break was in order. I made my way across the parking lot, got into my car, started her up and began the short trip to Quik Trip. I took a right turn to pull off campus--I tell you that so you know I had the right-of-way. At the same time, across the street, making a left-hand turn was a blue Ford Taurus. Of course, the driver was in a hurry. I know this because he rolled through the stop sign, made a left-hand turn and cut me off. Being a ministry major, I reacted appropriately by tailgating him. By the end of the first block, I was so close that I could read all the bumper stickers adorning the rear end of the beat up Taurus. My eyes were quickly drawn to the bottom right corner of the trunk. It was there I couldn't help but notice the plain black sticker with white, block letters stating "I would rather push a Chevy than drive a Ford." The irony was too great. I burst into laughter, let off the gas and let him pull away.

Somewhere along the line, this guy made a decision that contradicted his belief--which just so happened to be there for all to see, on the back of his rusty, blue Ford Taurus. Apparently, it was more important to get from point A to point B in a timely manner, than to push his Chevy Cavalier numerous miles. Undoubtedly, this is the way we define hypocrisy in this culture, in this time--to act in contradiction to your stated beliefs or feelings.

When someone makes the statement that "All Christians are hypocrites!" they are claiming that they have witnessed Christians acting contrary to the teachings of Jesus. And if this is the hypocrisy they speak of, they are absolutely correct--all Christians really are hypocrites! I won't deny that fact. We stumble. We fall. None of us has upheld all the commandments. None of us has perfectly embodied the teachings of the rabbi Jesus. All of us do things contrary to not only what he taught, but even what we believe. All of us fail to love our neighbor. All of us struggle to forgive those who have wronged us. All of us fall short of the standard Jesus lived out. You get the picture--we all act contrary to the standards Jesus calls us to uphold. We make mistakes. That’s, in part, what it means to be human.

This is something we should embrace rather than avoid. By embrace, I mean own up to it. Admit that we are powerless over our flesh in and of ourselves. Recognize that the only way we will truly live as Jesus lived is by continually falling forward through effort and grace. Perhaps then the world would stop viewing us as hypocrites. Maybe we should take a note from Paul's book--literally. If anyone had a past to shy away from it was this guy. Even with his colorful past and his continual shortcomings, he displayed honesty and vulnerability. Not once did he shy away from the truth of who he had been and who he was. He accounted for all the hypocrisy in his own life, not because he was proud of it, but because there was power in the humility of owning it. Admitting his hypocrisy, Paul, in Romans chapter seven, said: “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good. But I can’t help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things.”

I would make the case that doing what we don't want to do doesn't make us, or Paul, a hypocrite. It makes us sinners! Sinners in need of a savior. And therein lies the confusion. We have blurred the lines between the two. They are not entirely synonymous. And it is of utmost importance we make a clear distinction between a sinner and a hypocrite. Afterall, Jesus didn't necessarily equate sinning with hypocrisy; because he knew all of us would sin. But he clarified that we don't all have to be hypocrites!

You see, a sinner is a person who falls short from time-to-time, all the while striving to be more Christ-like. On occasion, we all act in contradiction to what we truly believe. None of us will ever perfectly live out each and every one of our beliefs, on a consistent basis, in any arena of life; especially when it comes to issues of faith. Let me reiterate that none of us will perfectly imitate Jesus 100% of the time. I'm not condoning that fact, nor am I condemning it. Accepting the forgiveness he has offered, does not make us perfect; it just makes us sinners who have accepted his grace. And just because we fail to consistently follow the example Christ has given us does not make us hypocrites. Nor does it invalidate the truths his life put on display. I know many individuals seeking to genuinely follow in the footsteps of Jesus, all the while failing miserably. Yet each and every time they pick themselves up, admit their shortcomings and continue right where they left off. They trust in the Holy Spirit to convict, change, and empower them to grow. They believe, by grace, that tomorrow they will be closer to living like Jesus than they have been today.

A hypocrite, on the other hand is a person who purposely deceives others. A person who attempts to live two lives simultaneously--one in public and one in private. They practice sins on a routine basis and when confronted lie about them and remain unrepentant. They appear holy, all the while disregarding the reality of their own sinfulness. They put on their Sunday mask, only to remove it the moment they get in their car and leave the church premises. They point out the faults of others, and yet fail to see their own. In order to elevate themselves, they deprecate those around them. They deny the grace that has been extended them to those they encounter. They, according to Jesus, take meticulous care of their outer appearance while ignoring the rotting mess that is their soul. This, it seems to me, is the way Jesus defines hypocrisy. Which is clearly different than the way we define it.

The moment we, as sinners, downplay our own sinfulness, in order to emphasize our own righteousness is the moment we become hypocrites.

It is these types of individuals, Jesus tells us, aren't really his followers. In Matthew 7, he makes an important clarification: “Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven.” Their failure to recognize their own inadequacy to save themselves through outward obedience, sets themselves against true followers of his and exempts them from the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Understand that I didn't write this to excuse all our failings as Christians. Know that I don't condone all of our behavior; nor do I expect you to. By all means, hold us accountable. Call us out. But offer us the chance to own our faults and seek out forgiveness. On behalf of those of us that have failed to exemplify the life of Jesus, I apologize. For the times our actions and attitudes have turned you away from God, I am sorry. We will stumble. And we will fall. Sometimes flat on our faces. But to label all of us hypocrites isn't entirely accurate. Even Jesus didn't hold his disciples to that standard of perfection. It is my hope that you will no longer take the actions of a few to judge the whole. Furthermore, I hope you have gained some insight into the difficulty it is to follow the only man to have walked this Earth without sinning.