In her book Cut, author Patrica McCormick tells the fictional yet hauntingly real story of Callie, a girl who has been put in a residential treatment facility because of her struggle with cutting herself. Throughout the book, Callie proves to be a master at appearing invulnerable. When pressed with questions by her counselor, she remains silent. During group therapy, she keeps her body language as still as possible so she isn’t called on to share. If things get really bad, she runs away. Deep down she knows she has a problem, but addressing it would require exposing her true self and that is a risk she is unwilling to take. It isn’t until the last page that Callie is finally able to vocally admit her problem as well as her desire to get better.
Many of us know this paradox well: something deep inside of us yearns for authentic and real relationships, but the risk of exposing ourselves is too much for us to handle. We become experts at defense mechanisms and dodging the tough questions, all the while suppressing our hearts desire to be truly and intimately known by others. Why is it that we so often fail to open ourselves up to another, to entrust our truest selves to someone else? I think the answer comes down to one simple four-letter word: fear.
The Fear of Being Known
We know at a propositional level that community and deeper relationships are for our good. We even recognize on an emotional level that our souls desire to be known and loved by others. And yet, such relationships require a level of commitment and accountability which scares us. The fear of being known for the first time feels like an exposed nerve just waiting to be damaged. Such a fear can seize, paralyze and ultimately prevent us from giving ourselves to others as God intended.
When I first became a Christian, one of the things that surprised me most was just how open and honest older men in the faith were. I had never needed to open myself up to others, and I had deceived myself in to thinking I was impenetrable. However, there was something captivating and attractive about men who could expose their genuine selves to other men and actually be loved more for it. As soon as I recognized what they had, I knew it was something I desperately needed. I had to make the conscious choice to stop living out of the fear which had previously taken control of me.
The Fear of Being Known…Again
You may have read the above section with a sick kind of knot forming in your stomach. The reason for this is because you know all to well the stakes involved in exposing yourself to others in vulnerable community. At some point in the past, you’ve entrusted your heart to another – and now you feel as if you’ve paid the price. The central nerves to your soul were revealed and the result was that they were damaged by some kind of relational sandpaper, stripping you of any desire to ever expose yourself again.
I was about kindergarten age when I had my first memorable experience with really bad food poisoning. The culprit? A grilled cheese sandwich from my daycare. This delicious morsel which had been created for my good and my joy betrayed me. I was dumbfounded as to how something that could be so good could hurt so bad! Even at that age, I knew I had simply had a bad experience with one particular sandwich and that not all grilled cheeses would give me food poisoning. Yet I couldn’t get over it for years – so long in fact that I was an adult before I ate that cheesy goodness again.
I think there are a lot of us who have had a “grilled cheese experience” with Christian community. We took the first step out of faith and obedience and gave our hearts over to others, and we were tragically wounded by someone close to us. We know all to well that those nearest to us have the potential to hurt us the most. In order to try and protect ourselves from ever being heartbroken again, we return to living out of fear; this fear when it has conceived gives birth to bitterness, and bitterness when it is fully grown brings forth a kind of deadly cynicism which can feel impossible to crack.
What hope is there for those of us who are plagued by fear? What are we to do about our paralyzing cynicism? How can we ever get to a place where we are willing to embrace vulnerability in community?
The Fear-Conquering Hero
Cut tells the story of a helpless child whose physical struggles point to a weightier spiritual struggle: the fear of being rejected if others find out who she really is. Our own stories all look different, but we play a similar role. Like Callie, we too fear what will happen if others find out just how much of a fraud we really are. The good news is that there’s a Hero who rescues us out of our own bleak stories and bring us in to His.
Christ knew exactly what awaited him in his incarnation. The stakes of revealing himself to the world were high; the stakes in remaining hidden were even higher. In these last days, God made himself fully known through his Son (Heb. 1:2). He became one of us and fully exposed the height and depth of his heart for us. But the fear of being fully known by God was just too much; our defense mechanisms kicked in – so we killed Him.
Our Savior knows what’s at stake in exposing and giving our hearts to others in community, but he did not allow fear to consume him. He took the first step and engaged us in an intimate and loving fellowship, no matter what the cost was to himself.
Jesus knows what it means to be wounded by those closest to him: Peter made promises he couldn’t keep (Matt. 26:34), his three closest friends couldn’t protect him in his hour of need (Matt 26:40), Judas betrayed him (Matt 26:49), and when it was all said and done his only company was that of two robbers who were crucified with him (Matt 27:44). When our closest friends in community wound us, we identify with Christ probably more than we realize.
Despite all of this, he now lives forever to give all of himself to those who trust him in faith. We know that he sees our truest selves – and loves us still. Others might reject us, but we know we are accepted by Him. If he has conquered fear, how then can we continue to live in it any longer? Let’s respond to Christ’s sacrifice by giving ourselves to one another in faith and love. What we will find is that as we grow in our relationships with others, we will grow in the understanding of our relationship with the Lover of our souls.
*A shameless rip on a JI Packer classic.
This same month four years ago I truly heard a message that would change my life forever. I was sitting in the very back of an auditorium that could hold thousands of people, listening to a pastor preach a message on what it means to turn from a life of sin toward a life of obedience to Christ. “Skeptic” would be the best term to describe how I felt toward any form of religion. Yet, in an instant, the message pierced my heart and transformed me in a way I didn’t know possible.
Since that day, the past four years of my life can only be explained by the absolute sovereignty of God in all things.
I have been an observer of God’s grace and faithfulness to his people. I have seen God raise the dead as he turns lifeless stone hearts into beating hearts of flesh. I have watched him transform people by the power of his Spirit as he fashions them in the likeness of his Son. I have seen marriages restored. I have seen men and women raised up and sent out for ministry, both overseas and in their own backyard. I have seen little children grow up and make genuine professions of faith.
I have also been a participant in God’s redemptive grace and faithfulness as he makes me more like his Son. I have felt God’s guiding hand over me in multiple job positions. God graciously called me into part-time ministry and affirmed my desires to someday pursue vocational ministry. He miraculously not only allowed me to apply and get into a great seminary, but also provided the finances to make it possible. Then, even though I am an absolute wretch of a man, God sent me a wife who loves me, cares for me and helps to sanctify me.
And now, God is calling both my wife and I to faith and obedience in the next stage of our wilderness journey.
This week is my last week at my job. For the past 5-6 years, I have worked full-time as a programmer, administrator and integrator. I love my current job and all of the people I work with, but I know God is calling me to something else. Through the careful guidance and affirmation of friends, family, pastors and my loving wife, we have decided that it is time for me to pursue training for vocational ministry full-time.
Under no certain terms do I think myself as better than anyone else for making this change, nor do I even feel qualified to be doing this. In fact, in a lot of ways I feel like I am taking the “easy way out.” I have shared this with multiple people and they are always quick to point out that vocational ministry has many unique and challenging difficulties. This is true. Yet, at the same time, I think it would be harder for me to stay employed and work faithfully in a full-time IT position as I am now. I say this knowing that my current position places me on the frontlines every day. I wake up knowing that I am going to work with plenty of people who don’t know Jesus, and that I will be placed in plenty of situations that will test my faith, obedience and my witness.
Now, I am taking a step back from the frontlines in an effort to try and equip and motivate other people for that form of ministry. Having been there for the last 5-6 years, I know it is a daily challenge and it is something I have never quite figured out. Moving forward, unless I am intentional with my time and who I talk to, it is going to be very easy for me to slip into a Christian bubble; one that is completely separate from the outside world.
Beginning in September, I will now be going to school full-time at Reformed Theological Seminary. I have been able to complete about 26 credits over the last two years, which means I still have 80 credits left. In addition, I will be beginning a pastoral assistantship at my current church. I am eager and grateful to be able to serve my church in whatever way God would allow.
Neva has been working on her Masters of Science for about the last 9 months in Predictive Data Analytics from Northwestern University. She has a work ethic that both inspires and challenges me. Her program is on a quarter system, and she hopes to be done by next summer. I am extremely thankful for her, and I know I could not take this big step without her support and encouragement.
In all things, we want to honor Christ and be sanctified to become more like him. This season will bring with it new challenges as we learn how to balance busy schedules, stick to a tight budget, honor Christ and love people well amidst all of it. We would greatly appreciate your prayers as we move into this next season of our lives.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that popular saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” It gets tossed around frequently and is commonly attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although there really isn’t solid proof for that citation. Now, I get it. The purpose and intent of the quote is often used in the context of spurring us on to be good neighbors toward others. And that’s great. The problem is, doing good things for other people is not the equivalent of preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel is an audible proclamation that requires a response (Romans 10:8-10).
We in more conservative theological circles tend to attack this popular phrase as being naive or, even worse, plain stupid. I remember hearing Pastor John MacArthur say at this years T4G conference that he wouldn’t attribute this quote to anyone, let alone St. Francis, because of how stupid it is. Similarly, Pastor RC Sproul Jr. is known for saying, “Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, rebuke anyone who says ‘if necessary, use words.'”
But I think if we’re honest, for all of our theological correctness about what preaching the gospel is and what it is not, we tend to let this be an excuse to – well – not be a good neighbor. We can get so hung up on having the best apologetic responses and defense of Christianity, so caught up in trying to make sure that we know every word we’ll say to someone about our faith, that we never pull the trigger and actually tell somebody. Or, even worse, we’re so caught up in our “good theology” that what we say to people comes off as cold, indifferent or even mean. That’s probably because it is.
Theological correctness should never be an excuse for neglecting the call to be a good, kind and hospitable neighbor toward others.
Recall some of the faithful Christians who have had the most impact on your life and faith. If you think about it for a second, you’ll realize that the reason they had so much impact on you was not only because of what they said but because of how they said it. You’ll probably remember these individuals as being warm, kind, hospitable, gentle, humble and caring.
What happens when we combine the audible proclamation of the gospel with warm, kind, hospitable, gentle and humble actions? We incarnate Christ himself; we physically represent the truths that we proclaim. See, the gospel will always be offensive; but not you. Christian, you are called to be warm, kind, hospitable and gentle towards others. This fact does not come at the expense of theological accuracy.
I don’t know what this looks like for you, but take time to think about how this dual reality of gospel proclamation and Christ-like character should shape your attitude towards friends and neighbors. Maybe you just need to bake cookies for someone or mow their lawn. Call them when you know they’re having a hard time. Buy their kid a birthday present. Spend time thinking about how you can just be a kind neighbor toward others and, when the time comes, preach the gospel with bold, audible words.
This post marks my 100th published post since starting this blog in April 2013! I am grateful for all God has done in and through this small blog. He has also worked mightily in my heart to teach me many lessons, such as how to interact with those who disagree with me, not to judge my worth based on quantity of readers, and to be patient in my growth as a communicator.
Many have asked me why I write on this blog. I think my answer today would probably be different than what I might have told you back in April of last year. I’d like to share with you now five reasons why I continue to write, tweet and blow up your Facebook feed with my blog posts.
1. It helps to keep me from going crazy.
If you knew me prior to starting this blog, then you know that once I started talking on a topic I was passionate about, I wouldn’t stop. I tended to dominate discussions not necessarily because I was prideful in any way (although that certainly could have been and may still be the case), but because I so rarely got the chance to talk with people about some of these subjects that when the opportunity presented itself I went a little bit crazy.
Having a place to put all my thoughts and ideas has been very cathartic for me. I have found that the longer I write, the less prone I have been to flying off the handle and running my yapper longer than needed. It is reasonable for me to think, then, that continuing to write will allow me to grow further in this area and become even wiser in my actions and speech.
2. I want to grow in my skill as a communicator.
There is certainly something to be said for having a natural disposition for particular skills. Lets face it, some of us are naturally inclined towards music while others of us couldn’t keep a rhythm even if we took dance lessons from Astaire himself. Even the most gifted vocalist needs to hone their craft as a singer.
I look at my gifts and desires to be a good communicator in the same way. Many have told me that I am a gifted speaker and communicator, but that does not give me freedom to take said skill or gift for granted. I will not grow or shape this gift if I do not practice.
Many of you have complimented me and encouraged me as I continue to write, telling me that they can see growth in how my writing so far. I am very grateful for your encouragement, as it strengthens and motivates me to keep at it.
3. I want to grow in my knowledge and love for Jesus.
I’ve never been one to journal or write my thoughts down, but during the last 9 or so months I have learned so much in the studying and writing process that goes into all of these posts. I have found that I retain and learn so much more if I not only read it and think about it, but also to write about it.
This writing and studying process has not only increased my knowledge, but I have grown in my affections for Jesus as well. As I take time to slow down, meditate, think and then write about Godly things I find that my heart and mind are shaped in the process.
4. I want to share with you what I am learning.
Theological knowledge and wisdom is not something to be hoarded. As I am abundantly given to by my professors, pastors, mentors and numerous books so too do I want to give abundantly to my friends and family. I write about these things not to gloat in them but in order to freely share them so that you too can taste and see these things. Every single post I write is fueled by my desire to share something with others such that their wants, desires and love for Jesus will also grow.
5. I both need and want your feedback.
I think there is a misconception that theology is learned, developed and communicated in some sort of Ivory Tower on a hill somewhere. On the contrary, good theology must be informed and developed in all of life; theology grows and matures in the midst of real people, real places, and real (and often hard) situations.
This journey I am on is not one that I want to take or can take alone. Possibly the most important of reasons behind my writing is because I want your feedback, yes YOUR feedback. I want your critiques and criticisms, your modifications. I want to hear about how you think about things and maybe hear from a different angle that I have not yet considered. I want this site to be a safe place for good, open and honest conversation.
If you ever stumble upon something that you like, agree with, disagree with, or want to share, I would love to hear your thoughts. Please do not hesitate to comment, email or find me in person.
Thank you to all of you who have read, continue to read, and encourage me in my growth as a communicator and child of God.
Soli Deo Gloria!