Shame.

We live in a shame culture. And the sad part of it all, that most of that shame comes Christians shaming other Christians. Shame has been here since the beginning, “Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:7-8 

Shame makes you hide. Shame keeps you from being honest. Shame keeps you from being vulnerable. Shame keeps you in bondage. We like to keep people in their shame. We like to walk past them when they need a hand. We like to be better than people, so that’s why we keep people in their shame. We don’t want to help them because we want to stay better than them. We want to stay ahead.

When we see other Christians struggling with certain issues, most of the time we shame them. Addiction to drugs? Shame. Addiction to alcohol? Shame. Addiction to pornography? Shame. Mental health issues? Shame. Sex before marriage? Shame. I have been on both sides, the one doing the shaming and the one receiving the shame. And receiving shame? It might be one of the worst things that can happen to a person.

The shame culture was around during Jesus’ time as well. There was a woman who had a blood disorder for 12 years and had spent all her money to try to fix it, but nothing work. And because of this blood disorder, she was deemed ceremonially unclean which meant she was cut off from many social and religious relationships. People didn’t want to be around her because she wasn’t “clean”. She heard of the stuff that Jesus was doing, and she knew if she just touched Him, she would be healed. And guess what? She touched the fringe of His garment and she was healed. She couldn’t approach Jesus like everybody else did, she had to come behind Him and touch Him. Why? Probably because of shame. Jesus asked who touched Him, and Peter told Him because of the large crowds Him everybody was touching Him. But Jesus knew that it was a specific type of touch. Then this happened, “And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before Him declared in the presence of all people why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.’ ” Luke 8:47-48

She was trying to hide. She was trembling. She came in front of everybody and said what happened. Then Jesus, in front of those same people, didn’t shame her like everybody else was doing. He called her daughter. He spoke life into her. This just one story of shame from Scripture, there are many more. Adam and Eve, David and Bathsheba, and the Woman at the well.

Are there people that you stay away from because they aren’t clean? So instead of getting close to them and helping them, you stand back and shame from afar. You don’t know anything about them except the stories that you hear from others. And that makes you stay away. It is easy to judge and shame from afar, but you know what’s radical? Befriending that person, loving that person regardless of what they have done.

This is the problem with shame when you shame other people for what they are doing or what they did, you keep them in that shame. Because they think, “Well, I’m already in it, and people are readily shaming me for it, so I’ll just embrace it and stay.” But you show them grace, and everything changes. Imagine if God didn’t give us grace. Because none of us deserve it, but we still get it. Even though every single one of us sins every single day. And the crazy part of that is that we are shaming people for the same exact sins that we struggle with. The only difference is that their sin is out in the open and yours is not.

I beg you to stop shaming people whether it’s to their face, on social media, or talking behind their back. We all need grace. We all need love. That’s how we change, that’s how we are saved. Because of God’s grace, mercy, and love. So my question is if we are Christians, shouldn’t we be showing other Christians and non-Christians, grace, mercy and love? Just like God showed us? This is how we change the culture by building people up, by making people shine, by showing grace, by showing mercy, by showing love, by speaking life to them. We do this for one reason. Jesus. He showed and did all this to us. So if we are to become more like Him, let’s start doing it.

It’s not about you.

Faith vs. Faithfulness.

“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ ” Romans 1:17 

A couple of years ago when I was beginning my journey with Jesus, I thought I had to impress Him for Him to love me. I thought I needed to read my Bible every day, pray 27 times a day, read different types of books, and try my best not to mess up. I believed if I did all that, He would be impressed with me, and decide to love me. In the moment, I didn’t think I was doing that to impress Him so that He would love me, but looking back on it, that’s definitely what I was doing.

I needed to show my faithfulness to Him, I needed to show Him that He didn’t make a mistake in saving me. But I quickly realized, there was no way I could keep up. I couldn’t keep the performance up. Especially, in the moments of sin, I thought God surely hates me now. So I would try even harder to impress Him, to work myself back up to His good graces. But then I would stumble again and start the process all over again. It was a never ending cycle that I could not get out of.

Then, on a mission trip in Rwanda, my eyes were open. Well, they were kind of open. The leader of our trip and our pastor were having a conversation about theology, and they were saying things that I never heard of. I sat in the back of the truck, listening to every word they were saying. When we got back to the states, I asked the leader of the trip about the things they were talking about it, and he opened the rabbit hole for me and I jumped right in.

The rabbit hole was Reformed theology. (I know there are some people who disagree with the reformed beliefs, and that’s okay. This post isn’t about arguing who is right or wrong. The post is about how my eyes were open.) When I jumped in the rabbit hole, I came across Martin Luther. I heard about him from my time in school, but I didn’t pay attention to him. I knew he was a monk and he nailed something to a door, that was about it.

Luther struggled with the same thing that a lot of us struggle with today, he was trying to impress God. He was trying to show his faithfulness to God. And Luther had a struggle with the verse I put at the beginning, Romans 1:17. It what is known as the “tower experience”, was the breakthrough moment for Luther. Here is a section from Luther about that verse and the breakthrough that happened,

Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the righteousness of God and the statement that “the just shall live by faith.” Then I grasped that the righteousness of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God.

Byron Yawn, says this about the experience Luther had, “The Gospel completely transformed his understanding of Scripture. No longer was it a recounting of the faithfulness of man to God, but rather it was about the faithfulness of God in saving men. Not man in pursuit of God, but God in pursuit of man. What he calls, ‘the work of God.’ Stated simply the story is about faith (in God) and not faithfulness (of man) to God.”

When I finally understood this, just like Luther, everything changed for me. I went from dreading God to delighting in God. The Gospel was so clear to me for the first time in my life. It was a breath of fresh air. I could rest in Jesus. I didn’t have to work for His acceptance or love anymore. My relationship with God was good, and I was counted righteous because of Jesus Christ. Sola Fide. Faith alone.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus. I didn’t save me, you didn’t save you. Jesus did. He lived the perfect life, He fulfilled the law, and was the perfect sacrifice to fully satisfy God’s wrath and judgment. We are justified because of our faith in Christ alone. None of our works satisfy God, only faith in Jesus Christ is what satisfies God.

Still today, there are times I fall back into that trap, into performing for Him and trying to show Him my faithfulness to Him. But I have to remind myself, it’s not about me. It’s about Him. My prayer for anyone who reads this is that God opens up your eyes and heart like He did for me and to stop working, to stop trying to impress God, and to stop trying to earn His love. ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ Rest in Jesus.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Put The Stones Down.

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the story of the woman caught in adultery, John 8:1-11. However, the earliest manuscripts do not include this story in the Gospel of John. (Some ancient manuscripts place this story in the Gospel of Luke) Even though this story is in question of where it should be placed, the overwhelming consensus is that this account is authentic, it’s apostolic, and it should be contained in any edition of the New Testament.

If you are unfamiliar with this story, I’ll set the scene for you. Jesus was down at the temple teaching the people that had come to listen. While teaching, “the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery” (John 8:3) They go on to say to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:4-5) The scribes and Pharisees were trying to test Jesus, to trap Him. They were trying to find something that they could charge Jesus with.

So how were they going to test Jesus? I’m going to use some commentary from R.C. Sproul to explain how they were trying to do this.

We need to remember that Israel was under Roman occupation at this time. The Romans permitted significant self-rule in the nations they conquered, but they did not allow vassal nations to exercise the death penalty in capital cases. If someone was to be put to death for a crime in a Roman province, it had to be done through the Roman judicial system. That’s why Jesus was sentenced by Pontius Pilate and not by Caiaphas. The people, who followed Jesus, hated the Roman occupation, so the sly scribes and Pharisees laid a clever trap for Jesus. If Jesus were to say, “Stone the woman,” they would run to the Roman headquarters and say, “This teacher is advocating that we exercise capital punishment without going through the Roman system.” That way they would get Jesus in trouble with the Romans. But if He were to say, “Don’t stone her,” they would run back to the Sanhedrin and say, “This Jesus is a heretic because He denies the law of Moses.” No matter how Jesus answered the question, He would be in serious trouble.

     I wanted to put that in here to make sure you know what they were trying to do to Jesus. But Jesus did a Jesus thing after they brought this to Him, “Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger on the ground” (John 8:6) There are many theories on what Jesus was writing, but no one is very sure on what He exactly was writing. They continued to ask Him, and so he stood up and said this “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)  MIC DROP. SAY IT AGAIN FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK. 

Jesus did not play the fence between the Jewish law and the Roman law. He agreed with Moses, He gave His answer— the woman was guilty and should be stoned. However, He also examined the scribes and the Pharisees and found them lacking. After Jesus says His thing this happens, “And once more He bent down on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him.” (John 8:8-9) They got His message and got out of there.

The story ends with Jesus saying this to the woman, “Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’ ” 

Okay, I’ve given you the story. Now, why is this one of my favorite stories from the Bible? Simple, don’t throw stones at people when you have a log in your eye. (Matthew 7:3-5) Now, I believe there is a time and place to point out sin in fellow believers lives, especially if they have not repented but even then, you do it with love and grace knowing that you have sin in your life. (Galatians 6:1)

The scribes and Pharisees had no concept of God’s grace. And guess what, a lot of times, we don’t either. We forget that we’re sinners as well. We believe that we have it all together and because of that, we believe we have the right to throw stones at people. Not literal stones, but stones that come out of our mouth. Our words. Our actions. We believe we have the right to do this to other people because their sin is worse than our sin. So we justify that our sins aren’t as bad as theirs, so we keep throwing stones at them to make ourselves look “good”

I’m included in this. I’ve thrown stones at others. I’ve said that my sins are not as bad as theirs. I believed that I was actually “more Christian” than them. I’ve had to repent of all that. I had to realize that I have no right, to throw stones at somebody. Regardless, of what they have done. Over the past two years, I’ve realized that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) I’ve realized that we all need grace upon grace. I’ve realized that we are supposed to show others grace, no matter what. I’ve realized that we need to make other people shine. Not tear them down. We do this by helping them, by showing them grace, mercy, love, and compassion.

We should be pointing people to Christ when they are in sin. We should be telling them that we are saved by His righteousness. Not ours. We should be telling them that they are covered in His robes of righteousness when they are truly saved. Not their robes. We should be telling them “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)  We should be putting our stones down.

How expectations almost killed me.

It all started in middle school when I started to play basketball. I loved basketball, actually, I was obsessed with basketball. Ask anyone who was around me then and it was all I talked about. I would watch SportsCenter 24/7 and watch any basketball video I could find. I struggled in school because of this obsession, I would do just enough to be able to play. School never came easy for me and while most people around me were worried about an upcoming test or project, I was worried about how many points I would score in the next game. That’s where the problem was: if I didn’t score enough points, then I was a failure, I was worthless. It didn’t matter if we won or lost. If I didn’t score enough points, then nothing else mattered.

As I got into high-school, basketball was still my obsession. However, my expectations of myself and basketball changed. Now, I wasn’t worried about scoring points, I wanted to win. If we won, then I was okay, I was “successful”. If we lost, even if I scored 30 points, I felt like it was because of me. I didn’t do enough, I didn’t pass enough, I didn’t defend well enough. My parents would try to encourage me after the games, saying that I played well and that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself. I can remember moments when I would be walking into the locker room at halftime, we were losing, and my head would be down, I can still hear my mom telling me to get my head up. The thing is though, I couldn’t. Since we were losing, that meant I wasn’t doing enough, and I had to figure out how to do enough.

Sometime in high-school, I was diagnosed with depression and it was actually not surprising to me. My parents were upset because they thought they had failed me, but in reality, I had failed myself. It was a situational depression, so certain situations would make me feel some type of way and all I would want to do was go to my room and be by myself. Looking back, I believe this depression was caused by the expectations that I had put on myself when it came to basketball. I remember my last basketball game like it was yesterday. It was a playoff game, but I was not supposed to play because of a heart issue that I was having. The doctors told me I could not play and that I would have to wait until the test results came back before I could. This was a big game because during my time there we had never made the state playoffs, and this was our chance to do it. My dad was my coach, and he knew how bad I wanted to play. The game started and I was dressed and ready to go just in case. I was sitting on the bench begging my dad to let me play and finally, he said, “Go talk to your mom”. She saw me coming and started shaking her head, I knew she did not want me to play. After much begging, she said yes, I ran back to the bench, told my dad, and he put me in. We ended up losing. After the final buzzer sounded, I went to a crouch position and put my jersey over my head. At that moment, I felt such a huge relief, a peace. I didn’t cry or sit in the locker room for a long time. It was over no more expectations, for now.

My expectations didn’t go away, they just moved onto something else. I moved to Rock Hill, SC after high-school because of my dad’s job. It was rough because I didn’t want to leave my home and friends, and we didn’t know anyone in Rock Hill. My depression elevated a little more because I was alone more than ever before, so I had to fill that hole with something, and that something was relationships. I had to be talking to someone, or with someone 24/7, if I wasn’t then I felt awful. I would fall so hard for girls, as my parents would say, I would put the “full-court press” on them. My expectations for me and my relationships went like this: I had to always reply as fast as I could, I had to hang out with them as much as I could, I needed to do anything and everything in my power to make them happy, even if I wasn’t happy. If I did not do all this stuff then I would think they would break up with me, leave me for someone better. My identity was now in my relationships. In 2016, I got involved in some relationships that were awful. I sacrificed my values and things I believed in to make those people stay with me. My expectations were if I did these things, they would like me and stay with me. I did those things, and guess what, they didn’t like me and they didn’t stay with me. I was “too” much for them. I “too” suffocating. I was “too” caring.

Towards the end of 2016, I met a girl who would change my life forever. That girl is still with me today, she loves me for me. She looked at my past and didn’t run away. I’ll talk about her more in future posts, back to expectations.

I had grown up in church my whole life, believed in God, and made a “profession” of faith twice at the age of 8 and 14. Those were not real ones, it did not become real for me until I was the age of 22. It was not this supernatural experience, it was a simply a change of heart. A change that God could only do, a change that took time. I finally realized that there had to be more to life, I realized I needed to surrender my life to finally find it in Christ.

I graduated in December of 2017 with my bachelor’s degree and had no idea what I was going to do. Earlier in that year, I started getting involved with a church called ONE Church, in my hometown of Seneca, SC. I was helping with the youth and at the time our pastor was leading the youth group. I remember one Wednesday night before youth started, he asked me if ever thought about going into ministry. TBH, I actually did have that thought in high-school, but that’s all it was, a thought. He started to let me teach on Wednesday nights, and I thought that this was something I could do. After I graduated in December, I decided to go to seminary and get my masters. In January of this year, I was named as the Student Pastor at ONE Church, it was clicking. I finally was doing something that I liked, my relationships were great, and more importantly, I was growing in Christ, and felt closer than ever to God. Then that’s when expectations started to slowly kill me.

It was April 16th of this year when everything came to a head. I was at my house, I was alone, I was tired emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired of failing people, more importantly, I was tired of failing God. I believed that I wasn’t meeting anyone’s expectations and the weight of that was about to kill me. I grabbed the sharpest thing I could find, a pair of scissors. As I was holding the scissors, all I could think was, how did I get here? How did I get to this point?

My relationship with God was at its strongest. I was a student pastor and just graduated college. I was going to seminary to get my masters. My relationship with Olivia was great. Everything was going well, or at least I thought it was going well. Slowly but surely the expectations were taking a toll on me. I started to believe that my teaching was not affecting the students. I believed my parents were constantly disappointed in me, I believed Olivia was also constantly disappointed in me and that I could never please her.  I was struggling in seminary and thought I was not cut out for it. I believed that my relationship with God was bad, to put it simply, I wasn’t meeting anybody’s expectations so I only saw one way to handle it, to take my life. I believed if I did that, then my parents would not be disappointed in me, Olivia would not be disappointed in me, and God would not be disappointed in me anymore. I could not meet their expectations, and I couldn’t meet mine, so I believed this was the best option.

With the scissors in my hand, I began to put pressure on where I was going to cut myself. As I was putting the pressure and saw that nothing was happening, I realized the scissors were not sharp enough. I started looking for another pair of scissors or something to sharpen the pair in my hand. Then something happened, my phone rang. It was Olivia. I answered it and she told me that she was on her way to Chick-fil-a. I had forgotten about our date. I put the scissors away and drove to Chick-fil-a. At dinner, I could not hold it in, and I told Olivia what I was trying to do when she called me. I ended up staying the night at her parent’s house in the spare room, I wanted to go home, but she was not going to let that happen and I’m forever thankful for that. If she would have let me go home, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.

I needed help, so I started seeing a counselor. It has been one of the best things for me. It has opened my eyes for me on so many issues that I thought I understood but really didn’t. The first one, that I was fearing man more than fearing God. I never thought that was the case. If anybody would’ve asked me, I would’ve said: “of course I’m fearing God more than man.” However, my actions proved otherwise. I was scared of being honest with others about how I was feeling because I thought they would write me off. I would hold things in and try to figure them out on my own and it was killing me. I didn’t want others to think that I was broken, but then I read Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” I realized that if I tried to be perfect and act like nothing was wrong, then God could not use me. The only way He would use me was if I had a broken and contrite heart, so that way He could put it together, not me.

The second issue was that I didn’t understand grace. I knew what grace was and that God shows us grace every single day. I knew it, I got it, but I only knew it in my head, not in my heart. After talking with my counselor, I realized that I was trying to work for my salvation. I never thought I was doing that, but after looking at my life I was. When I would sin, I would tell myself that I needed to read my Bible more, go pray more, fast more. I just needed to do more. I was basing my relationship with God on how I was doing. If I was doing well, then God and I were doing well. If I was struggling with sin, then God and I were not doing well. This was my life for the past couple of years. But, I realized that my relationship with God is always good BECAUSE HE IS GOOD. It’s good because of Jesus and what He did. That’s the point of the gospel. To believe in the work that Jesus did. To believe that He lived the perfect life. To believe that He died for my sins because He was the only one that could. That’s grace. Something I can never repay Him back for, something I did not deserve, and something that I can never give back. I had to learn to rest in His grace. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

To the person out there who is struggling with expectations of yourself and others, remember that there are only two expectations: Love God. Love people. That’s it. You have nothing to work for or prove to anyone. You are a saved by Christ’s works, not yours. You are saved by His grace, not yours.

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6