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When Can I Be A Jackass?

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Since we launched Jackass Theology, the question has come in many different forms: When is it okay to argue with someone over theology? Should we ever confront people with heretical views?

It’s an important question. Here are 5 quick things to consider:

1. Diversity and Disagreement Are Wonderful

Diversity is wonderful. Diversity is necessary. Diversity inherently means that we will passionately disagree. Disagreement is not the problem. No matter how much we try to get others to see from our perspective, many won’t. So disagreement is ALWAYS ALLOWED. In fact, I will say: disagreement should be celebrated. It means that we are exactly as God intended us to be: DIVERSE. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t make us jackasses, it’s how we treat people when we disagree.

2. The Holy Spirit Is Better than Jesus

Those are Jesus’ words. He said that it was better for the Holy Spirit to lead his disciples than for him to continue to lead the disciples (John 16:7). That’s kind of important. If I give you a rule or law about when it is okay to argue and when it is not, without a doubt there will be a million little exceptions to the rule. (Just look in the English language: I before E, EXCEPT after C…) So the minute we make a rule, we then need to talk about all the exceptions, which shows us the shortcoming of law in general. The New Testament is all about how the living Spirit is better than the law, and even better than Jesus being our homeboy. Law is limited. Law can protect. Law can be a tutor, but law is not life.

So when must I confront, wrong thinking? Bottom line: There is no rule. We must come to trust the Holy Spirit in doing our best to be like Jesus in each and every situation.

Turn to Galatians 5 and look at the works of the flesh (jealousy, division, strife, etc.). Compare those to the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.). If love, peace, and joy demand that you carefully and lovingly speak up, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you to say something, by all means, DO IT (Paul did; so did Jesus). But make certain it is because you love the person, and not because they are offensive to you, or because you are putting yourself in a place of superiority. LOVE LISTENS—A LOT. 

3. Jesus Confronted Religious Hypocrisy

Most of Jesus’ confrontations dealt with the fact that dead religion had failed to bring life to the people of God. Jesus confronted all the things that get in the way of our absolute surrender to him and the Kingdom.

A guiding metaphor in the Gospels is that of a tree. Israel was like a tree, once alive, but so much of their religious systems and practices caused them to miss the heart of God, and ultimately the Messiah. Jesus came to prune the dead religion. When he confronted religious leaders, he was bringing new life by tearing down what was dead.

“When you see RELIGION taking the place of SPIRITUAL LIFE, I believe we have a mandate to lovingly challenge the dead things we have allowed to take the place of a vital, passionate, dynamic relationship with God.”

So when you see RELIGION taking the place of SPIRITUAL LIFE, I believe we have a mandate to lovingly challenge the dead things we have allowed to take the place of a vital, passionate, dynamic relationship with God.  (Bruxy Cavey (@bruxy) has a tremendous book on this subject, called The End of Religion. Read it!)

4. Paul Wrote to Churches that Were Losing the Gospel

Paul regularly wrote to churches at risk of losing the Gospel. This is a great model of when to speak up. But the call is to protect the simple heart of the Gospel. Jesus died for your sin. Everyone who believes is included. DO NOT ADD YOUR CULTURAL PREFERENCES TO IT! This is what the Jews and Gentiles did and it created unnecessary rifts. Paul called churches back to the Gospel as a means of restoring unity rather than creating more factions. 

5. “Who Is My Neighbor” Is a Jackass Question

In Luke 10, when a lawyer was trying to weasel his way out of Jesus’ command to love his neighbor, he asked: “Who is my Neighbor?” He wanted there to be an exception. 

“We often ask questions like ‘Who is my neighbor’ or ‘When am I allowed to confront people’ to get out of the high call to love EVERYBODY, prodigal and Pharisee alike.”

The better question is: “What does love demand of me?” Sometimes love demands some difficult conversations. Sometimes love demands confrontation. But in every single situation love demands patience, kindness, and self-control. In every case, love means always hoping, always trusting, always persevering. If you’re tempted to think of this route as a copout, consider Paul’s statement: “love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8).

Have Fewer Opinions

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You have too many. That’s just my opinion, of course. But I’m serious about it. I know because I have too many opinions. I actually feel obligated to have more opinions than I do.

Do you ever feel this pull to be more opinionated about more topics?

In their dated but insightful book How to Watch TV News, Neil Postman and Steve Powers landed a thought that felt so freeing to read:

“Reduce by one third the number of opinions you feel obligated to have. One of the reasons many people are addicted to watching TV news is that they feel under pressure to have an opinion about almost everything.”

– Neil Postman & Steve Powers, How to Watch TV News, 1993

Depending on your age, you may need to swap out “social media” for “TV news,” but the point works either way.

I have read so many stinking articles on the Mueller report: what he’s trying to say in it, why he said what he did and why he left out what he left out, whether or not Barr was accurate in his summary, and why every single writer’s take on it is the most important thing in the world. I keep feeling this pressure like I need to know! But I don’t.

The problem is bigger than social media. As a pastor, whenever I’m talking to someone in a struggling marriage or in a difficult parenting situation, or even when I’m talking to a recent high school or college graduate, I warn them: Listen, you’re going to have to figure out what God is calling you to do here. But you should also know that a lot of people are going to share their opinions with you about what you should do. Most of them mean well, but most of these opinions will not be helpful.

What is it that makes us feel like we have to have an opinion about what other people should be doing? What do you think about the Mueller report? What’s your cap for how much a pastor should spend on shoes? Who should be watching Game of Thrones? And coming soon to everything you’ll see, hear, read, and watch for an entire year: who should become (or stay) the next President?

“Can I ask you to give up the opinions you’ve done almost zero research on or to stop posting on the issues you think you know about just because someone ranted about it on Facebook?”

It’s not uncommon for me to scroll through Twitter and see several statements like, “If you’re a pastor and you don’t speak out on ______ this week, then you’re part of the problem.” Or some variation thereof. It’s hard to read that and not think, Oh shoot, yeah, maybe I should say something about that. But I don’t know a ton about that thing. I’d better learn about it real quick so I can share my opinion.

What if we really did try to hold 33% fewer opinions? Honestly, think of how many opinions you find yourself expressing that you’ve done almost zero research on. Think of the issues you think you know about just because someone ranted about it on Facebook. Think of the people you don’t know very well but about whom you have a pretty strong opinion. Maybe we could let all of those opinions go.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the only opinions we held were hard-earned? If we tried to use phrases like “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t looked into that” or “I could be wrong here” when speaking about issues where we haven’t sought out multiple voices and read multiple articles and done some real soul-searching and engaged in some respectful dialogue? You’ll all be fine—better, actually—without my lazy, ill-informed take on the Mueller report. What opinions could you spare your friends, family, and the online community?

I fully acknowledge that there is such a thing as a Silent Jackass, and I am often that guy. Sometimes we need to roll up our sleeves and learn about someone else’s struggle so we can help. Don’t let some vague pressure force you into these opinions, let love for real people pull you in. Loving your neighbor will mean understanding what her experience is like. And that takes time. But if it’s time you’re invested in loving someone, it’s worth it.

Can we give this a try? It might help with how awful and heated and shallowly divisive things have been lately. But truly, that’s just my opinion.

Jesus Was Conservative (but not in the ways you’d think)

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This is part two to last week’s post: Jesus was a liberal.

This is a more difficult post to write because it’s so on the nose. Many people instantaneously associate Christianity with CONSERVATIVE values and traditional morals.

Conservative is rarely used as an insult in the church. Evangelicals and fundamentalists often wear it as a badge of honor. When liberals want to be demeaning, they tend to use more offensive words like fascist, implying that conservatives are imperialistic and controlling dictators. Heartless and archaic can be used as synonyms for conservative as well, implying that conservatives lack compassion for others and are stuck in the past.

So, was Jesus conservative? Let’s define terms and see exactly what fits and what doesn’t.

Did Jesus hold traditional values?

conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective 1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

As we established in the previous post, in terms of religious reform, Jesus was the opposite of conservative. He was literally “the progression” creation had been waiting for—for generations.

But that doesn’t mean that Jesus started a NEW religion. He was actually quite ancient in his teachings. He was very clear to say that he didn’t come to abandon the law, but to fulfill it.

When asked what the greatest commandments are, he didn’t throw everyone for a loop by inventing some new fangled phrasing. He quoted the shema, the traditional Hebrew phrase:

Love God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength.

There was almost nothing traditional about the methods Jesus used for ministry or his support for the existing religious institution, but there was something incredibly traditional, time-tested, and foundational about his purpose. He wasn’t around to teach something new, he was around to remind his followers of something very very old, to fulfill promises that were very very old. He fought for something that had gotten lost along the way. In this way, I’m proud to be conservative like Jesus.

For heaven’s sake, let us “love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and let’s “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Was Jesus Conventional in his Dress?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: (of dress or taste) 2. sober and conventional: a conservative suit.

Was Jesus conservative in dress? Who knows. This one is stupid. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t, he was just a few locusts away from homeless.

Was Jesus Financially Conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv |adjective: (of an estimate) 3. purposely low for the sake of caution: “the film was not cheap—$30,000 is a conservative estimate.

No. He wasn’t.

Remember the parable of the talents? Jesus strongly cautions against burying our money for fear of loosing it. He wants a healthy return. Now to be fair, Jesus is using a fiscal parable to illustrate a spiritual reality, but the concept is the same. Jesus doesn’t tend to be cautious when it comes to the use of our material resources, our talents, or our time. He’s looking for investments that multiply, which inherently requires risk.

When specifically talking about money, he challenges his followers not to build bigger and bigger barns to store up wealth on earth. By contrast, storing up wealth is sort of the mantra of a conservative.

On top of this, he has the “sell all” and “leave behind” clauses in the gospels. Those are not cautious approaches. So my take here: Jesus was not fiscally conservative. He would be an FPU drop out.

Was Jesus politically conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: 4. (Conservative) relating to the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party in another country.

No. In the last post we discussed that Jesus did not seem interested in political debate. If Jesus was going to engage in politics in our time, I’m nearly certain he wouldn’t just choose to be a republican or democrat. His citizenship is in heaven. His kingship is over all.

Remember, Jesus isn’t a US citizen, he couldn’t vote. When he does return, he’s coming illegally anyway, ain’t no immigration lines guarding the heavenlies.

Words Don’t Mean, People Do

Look, the reality is that nobody is going to the dictionary before they use these terms. When somebody is accusing someone of being too liberal or too conservative, they have something specific in their mind they are addressing. But in our fight for dignity, understanding, and unity, wherever it can be preserved, it might be good to be a little more nuanced in our speech.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative? The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?”

Maybe it could be healthy for us to realize that, like Jesus, we are all a little liberal and all a little conservative. It simply depends what is being discussed and who we are comparing ourselves to.

Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative?

The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?

Is Piper Wrong about Yoga?

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John Piper takes the “better safe than sorry approach” to yoga (my words not his, in his 2015 article on Desiring God). In short, because it is derived from Eastern Practices and because those practices are not rooted in the same things as the Gospel, he personally would devote his time to a different kind of exercise. For what it’s worth, I love John Piper to death. I deeply respect his opinion and I have no agenda to persuade him to take up yoga. But I also feel that the premise of his argument can lay the foundation for a lot of jackassery, so it’s worth talking about.

Full disclosure: I am a pastor. I love Jesus. And I practice yoga regularly. Not even just the Christian version with Toby Mac beats in the background. Some may be surprised to hear that I have yet to contract any evil spirits. At least, not to my knowledge.

FREEDOM seems to me a very KEY emphasis of the Gospel. The Gospel brings freedom from Law and demands dependency on the Spirit of God. Going back to Piper: he denounces what he calls the “maximalist approach to life,” which he defines as constantly trying to get away with as much as possible. I agree 1,000,000% when we’re talking about matters of objective sin (worshipping other gods, adultery, theft, dishonesty). In such cases, who are we kidding? A little bit is too much. And if yoga, or any other lifestyle choice, causes you to worship other deities, stay the HELL away from them!

But if we are afraid that a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus might accidentally slip into idol worship because their preferred exercise practice originated on a different continent, that is a different thing entirely.

“‘Better safe than sorry’ is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating.”

This “BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY” approach is not as wholesome—or as safe—as it initially appears. Better safe than sorry is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating. (Remember good ole’ Joshua Harris? Don’t worry, he recanted 20 years later, so dating is once again an “approved conservative Christian practice.” Sex before marriage is not.)

Behind its wholesome exterior is FEAR. Fear that sin will overtake us. Fear that the Holy Spirit is an insufficient source of discernment. Fear that it’s really not possible to live in the world without becoming part of the world. But Jesus prayed differently in John 17.

The Christian must fear God. The Christian needs a healthy respect for sin, but the Christian also must live a FREE life and a missional life. Those two things together allow for a lot of cultural adaptation (not gospel adaptation, but cultural adaptation).

If Paul was better safe than sorry, Gentiles would not have the gospel. He would have caved to Jewish cultural expectations and it would have remained a Jewish movement until someone was willing to follow the Spirit into the wild, crazy, pagan, Gentile world.

People got drunk at parties in Jesus’ day too, but he still made wine. He joined in the festivities without becoming like his peers. He didn’t stand outside, worried that he might get a contact high, or a bad rep. He went where the people were.

“Jesus didn’t stand outside of the parties of his day, worried that he might get a contact high or a bad rep. He went where the people were.”

You don’t need to stop eating Thai food because they have a Buddha statue on display. You don’t need to stop using the internet because porn exists on it. We don’t need to abandon all social media because it can get saturated with polemical vitriol. You don’t need to stop listening to secular music because the musicians are philosophically misguided.

Humans don’t contract sin by standing next to it. You will never have a mission field if you are always living the “better safe than sorry” life. Just because it can be dangerous, doesn’t mean we need to BAN it. Danger means we must be careful. We must rely on the Spirit of God. But all of life is dangerous, all things in life can steal our affections and heart. So as Jesus said, we must grow up into people who “live in the world, but not of it.”

Lots of people love yoga. So do I. It’s a perfect place to deal with my back issues. I don’t love it for its eastern spirituality. I love it for the people I meet, the relationships I build with my friends as we exercise together. When it’s quiet I pray. I do avoid chanting mantras in other languages when I don’t know what I’m saying, but that’s my choice in the matter.

Should you try yoga? It’s up to you. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s great. Just don’t hate on me and my Jesus yogis because you read a Piper article once or heard that people can catch yoga demons.

Can Yoga be sinful? Absolutely, if you are worshipping false gods, denying Jesus, or tempted to syncretize eastern philosophy with the Gospel. As with most sin, it is more a matter of the heart.

Romans 14 tells us, “whatever you do, do it will full conviction, to honor the Lord,”

Let’s be careful to not lazily employ the “better safe than sorry” technique, because we don’t understand it, have never tried it, or somehow chose that particular cultural practice to get self-righteous about. If it were up to me, I’d employ the “Better safe than sorry” to NASCAR. But that’s just my opinion.

Why Can’t We Have Rational Dialogue?

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Have you ever made the mistake of trying to change someone’s opinion on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog comment? It’s a crazy trap that so many of us have fallen into. We lay out our best arguments only to be attacked, yelled down, and misunderstood. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to get sucked into responding, which only makes matters worse.

Why is this? Why is it so impossible to dialogue and persuade?

Jonathan Haidt gives a compelling piece of the answer in his book The Righteous Mind. If you have the time, this book is worth reading. Haidt is a great writer. His concepts are convincing and the studies he interacts with are fascinating.

Here’s Haidt’s overall contention: Judgment and justification are separate processes. It’s that simple. That’s a profound statement, but I know it’s confusing. Read the book, but I’ll unpack that a little bit.

We all think we make moral judgments (what’s good, what’s bad) on the basis of carefully considered arguments. In other words, we THINK that we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the exact opposite is true. What happens in reality, he says, is that we make a moral judgment almost instantly, and then we employ our reasoning skills to justify the judgment we’ve already made.

Perhaps that sounds exactly right to you. It explains the “confirmation bias” we all have trouble escaping. I find it extremely helpful in explaining my own actions and those I observe in others. But if you need more convincing or explaining, keep reading.

Haidt describes a study done by Alexander Todorov in which he flashed the images of two faces on a screen in front of subjects who were unfamiliar with those faces. The subjects were then asked which person seemed more competent. What Todorov did not tell the subjects is that the two faces were opponents in senatorial and gubernatorial races. 70% of the time, the candidate that subjects deemed more competent (a judgment they made in seconds) also went on to win the election.

“We think we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the opposite is true: We make an instant moral judgment, then we employ reason to justify the judgment we’ve already made.”

What’s going on here? The participants in this study couldn’t determine anything about the person’s positions, character, beliefs, etc. But they did what people do: they made a snap judgment that determined whether or not they thought that person was competent. And their choice was America’s choice most of the time! The implication is that as much as we believe we’re weighing a candidate’s positions and character, we’re usually just voting for the person we’re predisposed to like (a decision we make instantly).

But once we’ve made a snap judgment, we instantly begin employing our reasoning to explain why we made that choice.

Haidt refers to this process as “the intuitive dog and its irrational tale.” We decide intuitively, then our mental faculties kick in to provide that rationality (which Haidt says is so unlike “rationality” as we think of it that it’s more like irrationality). He puts it more plainly by saying, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Our reasoning is less like a philosopher that employs wisdom to decide where we should go and more like a press secretary who has to stand before the world and explain the President’s policy decisions—decisions which she had no role in developing.

Is there any hope, then? Are we all just locked into our own intuitions, completely unable to dialogue or help each other act in wisdom rather than pure intuition?

Haidst sees hope in other studies which show that when a subject is given time to reflect, their rational faculties play a larger role in shaping their judgments. Do you see the implication there?

When we allow ourselves to respond quickly, we’re basing it all on unreasoned intuition. When we slow down enough to reflect, weigh, and consider, we give our rationality a seat at the table in deciding what we should do.

Unfortunately, most of our decisions are made quickly. Our opinions of people are formed in seconds. Our consideration of candidates and character and theological positions are more knee-jerk reactions than carefully weighed conclusions. So we rarely give ourselves a chance to slow down and form a healthy opinion. We just listen to the news station our tribe has taught us to tune into.

The truth is, you’ve already written this entire blog off, or you’ve immediately accepted it. You knew what you thought about it pretty early on. And that’s okay. But it helps to understand the process. And when we recognize the (ir)rational tale being wagged by the intuitive dog, we can choose to slow down. To engage in dialogue. To do some research or ask some questions or—what’s best—get to know some real people. Maybe then we can all have some constructive dialogue about the things that matter.

Stop Equating Peacemaking with Compromising

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Somewhere along the line, we as Christians collectively decided that peace is no longer worth fighting for. In fact, we’ve decided that it’s dangerous because it can only be achieved by betraying the truth. You may think I’m being overdramatic in saying this, but I don’t believe I’m exaggerating at all. I had this realization when I posted Matthew 5:9 on Twitter: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” In response, our Twitter friend @Phoenixfoxy said, “I fear that instead of valuing peacemaking, our rightfighterness makes us see the peacemakers among us as compromisers, and thus dangerous.”

I love the term “rightfighterness.” We’re so busy being watchdogs and finding reasons to disagree with and oppose each other that we spend our energy fighting for what’s right. And I’m not just talking about doctrine (though that’s a huge piece of the pie). I’m also talking about public policy, democrats vs. republicans (and vice versa), anything-on-Fox-News-is-right-and-everything-on-CNN-is-from-Satan (and vice versa), complementarian vs. egalitarian, etc.

When this rightfighterness becomes our focus—and it has—then the people who step in to try to bridge divides and moderate between warring groups get labelled as compromisers and are viewed as dangerous. Peace is for pansies, nuanced positions are for politicians, and a willingness to maintain relationships with people who disagree on significant issues is for the spineless.

Unless that’s exactly wrong. Unless Jesus taught us and showed us how to make peace. Unless being willing to be wronged is noble (1 Cor. 6:7). Unless loving and forgiving even those who try to make themselves our enemies is what it means to follow Jesus (Matt. 5:43–48). Unless peace and love are actually FRUITS that demonstrate that THE SPIRIT OF GOD is living and working within us (Gal. 5:22–23).

If we’re calling ourselves followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide that his ways are misguided or dangerous. The rest of the world will do what it thinks it needs to do to accomplish what it wants to accomplish. But if we’re following Jesus, who allowed himself to be spit upon, beaten, and killed out of love for those who tried to make themselves his enemies, we can’t simply decide that peacemaking is dangerous. Do we have to throw away truth if we’re going to allow for disagreements? Honestly, why would we think that? That’s not rational. Jesus IS truth, yet he spent time with, lovingly interacted with, and even sacrificed his life for people who were totally ignorant of the truth and even actively opposing it (yes, I’m talking about you and I (see Rom. 5:8) among many other shady characters in his day).

“If we’re calling ourselves followers of Jesus, we don’t get to decide that his ways are misguided or dangerous.”

Sure, Jesus said he came to bring a sword rather than peace. I’m bringing this up now because I’ve heard this response often as we’ve called for people to love each other. But let me just ask you, when Jesus said this, do you honestly believe he meant: “Just to be clear, I don’t want you going around loving the people who disagree with you like some kind of pansy! The mere thought of it disgusts me! What I really want you to do is make sure you’re angry and disagreeable and whenever someone offers a different view, I want to make sure you put them in their place.”

Ridiculous as that sounds, I honestly think that if this verse were in the Bible, it would better account for what I see in many of the corners of Twitter and Facebook I’ve been in. Maybe I just need to find some new corners? Perhaps. But I’m nervous that this is indicative of Christianity in the West right now. Here’s what Jesus actually said in that passage:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

– MATTHEW 10:34–39

Those are strong words! He’s going to rip families apart! But what are the dynamics he’s describing? Look carefully. Jesus is NOT saying, “By getting my followers to turn against their families and fight against them on matters of doctrine, I will destroy families—and have fun doing it!” Look at it; he’s not saying that. Look at the second half, Jesus is saying that HE has to be our first love. The call is not to treat others poorly, it’s to love him fully. If we’re not willing to lay down our lives, we’re not really following him. If we choose anyone over Jesus, we’re not really following. It’s not us ostracizing our families, it’s the potential for our families to ostracize us.

“Who are the wolves Jesus warned would try to devour the sheep? The peacemakers who are trying to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus, or the doctrine police who are bent on driving wedges through the flock?”

I hear Christians citing this verse to justify the harsh things they say to other Christians. But Jesus is saying, “Follow me, be like me, and if others disown you for being like me, you have to be willing to let them go.” If someone gets mad at you for being a jackass, that’s on you. If someone walks away from you because you’re too compassionate, loving, forgiving, self-sacrificing, or too much like Jesus in any other way, then that’s a price Jesus asks you to pay.

Meanwhile Jesus always has and always will embody grace and truth. He absorbs animosity and disagreement. He leaves the 99 orthodox sheep to lovingly re-gather the one wayward sheep back into the fold. Yes, he fights off the wolves that seek to devour the sheep, but let me ask you this: who is trying to devour the sheep? The peacemakers who are trying to draw us closer to the heart of Jesus, or the doctrine police who are finding every opportunity to drive a wedge through the flock?

Preachers N Sneakers: Hypocrisy’s Newest Scandal

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Farewell, Hip Mega-Church Pastors. Most excommunications happen over theology. Now it’s happening over shoes.

The newly minted Instagram account @preachersnsneakers has absolutely exploded over the last 3 weeks: from 0 to 45k followers (as of this moment). Fashionista has already written an article about it in their online mag.

The concept is simple. Take publicly available photos of celebrity pastors and look up the price tag of their shoes. Bam! Lightning in a bottle. The contagious and viral part of the equation is how freaking expensive some of these clothes are. If Rich Wilkerson’s $357 Adidas Yeezys sound expensive, what about Chad Veach’s $2,500 Jordan’s?

Indulgent luxury goods with church funds?! Farewell, Judah Smith, Chad Veach, Erwin McManus, Steven Furtick, and others!

I get it. When I first saw the prices in this Instagram account I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I seriously had no idea that shoes could even be that expensive! I looked at every single post, jaw dropped. But in an effort to fight for a little human dignity, let’s press pause and try for a moment to examine our own perspective. Let’s loosen the grip on our pitchforks just a smidge.

7 quick thoughts:

1) WE create celebrity pastors.

The only reason we know the names of these pastors to be outraged over their kicks is because we have been downloading their sermons and books and thereby making them famous. We make these people celebrities, then scorn them for acting like celebrities.

“The reason we even know who these pastors are so we can be outraged over the price of their shoes is because we have made them celebrities, then we scorn them for acting like it.”

2) They are not all the same.

Everyone on this Insta account may be wearing expensive shoes, but that doesn’t mean we should lump them all together. To be fair, there is a big difference between a $300 pair of shoes and a $2,500 pair of shoes. Some of these guys may be vain, money-loving charlatans, others may not be. But loving our neighbors as ourselves requires us to resist the pull to reduce someone else to a single caricature. We’re free to assume the worst, of course, but that’s not the path of human dignity. It’s the path of jackassery. (I know because I often go down that road.) Like the woman at the well who was ostracized by society and yet humanized by Jesus (John 4), all of these pastors have stories. Jesus would learn them. Will you?

3) We don’t always know where things come from.

Chad Veach replied to the Instagram call out by stating that these things were gifts. You don’t have to believe him, but as a pastor myself, I have been gifted many many things. It is a way that people say thank you. Two years ago a friend of mine shut down his high end men’s clothing store and gave me three bags full of clothes. I didn’t even know most of the brands. I still have no idea what they retail for. If someone snapped a picture of my jeans and told me they were $500, I would be shocked. Now, I’m not saying these guys don’t know what they are wearing, I’m just saying that it is true that sometimes people give their pastors things for free. I live in a beautiful house that I wouldn’t be able to afford, if it weren’t for the generosity of a brother in Christ who owns 50% of it. You could Zillow my house, get outraged over the value, and never know that I have a modest mortgage. No book deals, no scandalous transactions, no celebrity, simple generosity from someone who loves Jesus. We just don’t know.

5) The heart matters.

Wealth is not hypocritical. Success is not to be disdained. Men like Rick Warren, John Piper, and Francis Chan are examples of celebrity pastors who channel their wealth in ways that help others, guard against the perception of luxury, and protect themselves from the deceit of riches. I see a lot of wisdom in that. But in the end, the pastors featured on @sneakersnpreachers answer to God—not for the price tag on their shoes but for their hearts, faith, and service. Only God knows the heart. Great men of God have had money beyond measure and luxury to boot. Think of David or Solomon. Luxury alone does not signal hypocrisy. The heart does. It isn’t fair to judge these people for a single image, or even for a single vice.

6) “Expensive” is relative, and we all get spendy on something.

How much did that big vacation cost you? Do you really need the phone you’re holding in your hand? Does your car really need those upgrades? Couldn’t your house be smaller? Shouldn’t you be eating at home more often? Everyone spends money in ways others think are an absurd waste. I’ve seen broke-ass college students driving Mercedes-Benzes with leases that rival their rent. Just because nobody is scrutinizing your finances doesn’t mean you wouldn’t or don’t fall into the similar indulgences. So lighten up.

7) Everyone wants their pastor to be taken care of, but nobody wants their pastor to make more money than they do.

“I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is ‘My pastor should not make more than me.'”

That’s just plain true. Everyone judges according to what they think is reasonable. Nothing that Americans spend money on is reasonable to the poor in a 3rd world country. Nothing that celebrities spend money on makes sense to the blue collar working class in Nebraska. It’s different worlds, different scales. I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is “Just as long as my pastor doesn’t make more than me.” I’m not sure that’s fair.

My only pair of sneakers were a gift for my birthday 5 years ago: $120. I thought they were outrageously expensive. So I guess if shoe price is the measure of faithfulness, I’m doing pretty good, but don’t ask how much I spent on wood to build a treehouse for my kids.

Here’s the thing.

I freaking love @preachersnsneakers. It’s entertaining and mind-blowing to know that tennis shoes can be absurdly expensive. And I think accountability for those who say they follow Jesus is super important thing. Follow them, read along, have fun. But don’t let it turn you into a cynical jackass. Remember, the Bible’s message isn’t, “follow me and I will make you perfect.” It’s “follow me, and I will make you fishers men.” Even Peter denied Jesus after all, and also led thousands to Christ.

If you love preachernsneakers, hate mega church pastors, or are disillusioned with the church, then I leave you with one remaining thought: This is precisely why humans need Jesus. Sin abounds in the church and out of it!

Oh look…now there 66.3K followers on the instagram account. Religious hypocrisy sells!

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The (In)Authentic Jackass

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I am authentic. I keep it real. I am honest and transparent. What you see is what you get. What could be jackassy about that?

The great side of being transparent and authentic is that there aren’t two different versions of me. At least, that’s the way it seems. I appear to be the same in private and in public. I tell you my flaws, I tell you my struggles, I tell you my insecurities and failures. I do it over coffee and from the stage.

But the jackass side of being authentic isn’t about honesty, it’s about how I use my authenticity. I use it to retain control. I hide behind it. I use it as a shield so that you can’t criticize me—I have already criticized myself.

The remarkable feat is that I can be authentic without ever being vulnerable, contrite, or repentant; and as the cherry on top, I can get quite indignant if you feel the need to point out something I’m doing wrong or attempt to hold me accountable. Cause after all, I always keep it 100.

It’s a weird form of pride, but it’s pride all the same.

Sometimes people begin criticisms with phrases like, “no offense.” When someone says those words, prepare to be ridiculously offended. When I share something authentic, it is like me beginning a sentence with “no offense.” It sounds like I’m about to be genuine, but really I’m often protecting myself from true vulnerability.

Vulnerability is messy. Vulnerability is Jesus weeping. Vulnerability is crying out to God to take this cup from me. Vulnerability is the stuff of real relationship, and real connection, and real love. There is no room for pride in true vulnerability, it’s humbling, scary, and ugly-cry-face type of humiliating. NOBODY SEES THAT SIDE OF ME!

There is an odd superiority that can come from “keeping it real.” It’s like a get out of jail free card. I admit some of my sin, and then you know I’m human too. But there is something about it that leaves the listener unsatisfied.

If I shouted in a coffee shop that I had cancer, I don’t cease to have cancer. If I tell a bunch of guys that I struggle with porn, that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with porn any more. If a serial killer told everyone he was murdering people, that doesn’t excuse him from killing. If I express that I’m insecure, it doesn’t remove the dysfunction that my insecurity vomits on other people.

So my authenticity is jackassery because it keeps others at arm’s length, where they are unwelcome to speak truthfully and honestly into my life because I already did. But it is also jackassery because I equate vague confession with contrition.

“I hide behind being authentic, but I am actually very insecure. Maybe the ugliest part of all is that I turn around and judge you for being inauthentic.”

I hide behind being authentic, but I am actually very insecure. Maybe the ugliest part of all is that I turn around and judge you for being inauthentic.

It’s all pretty ugly. But it is real.

Jesus said he was the light of the world and that to be his disciple is to walk in the light of authenticity and transparency and exposure just like he did. It’s no wonder, then, that one of his best friends—the very man who recorded those words—also wrote this in his private letter to the early church: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

What that meant was not simply that we needed to live “out loud” and not in hiding or with masks on, but also that the point of that exposure was to address the disease that the light shone upon. It’s not enough simply to talk about it: let the light reveal it and then allow that same source of light to purify it. Transparency and authenticity are not a means to an excuse, they are a process of rescue.

Walking in light is like rolling out of bed without brushing your teeth, doing your hair, or putting on deodorant. It’s about being seen, being really seen; it’s pretty humiliating.

Jesus hung nearly naked on a cross. Jesus was a man of sorrows. Jesus sobbed at his friend’s tomb, and sweated drops of blood. Jesus wasn’t afraid of humiliation, because Jesus wasn’t feigning authenticity, he was the real deal.

I want to be the real deal.

“We should be as transparent as possible, but when we use authenticity as a shield to push people away and demand that they leave us alone and don’t hold us accountable for our sin, we’re acting like jackasses.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be as transparent as possible, I think we should. I’m simply saying that when we use authenticity as a shield to push people away and demand that they leave us alone and don’t hold us accountable for our sin, we might be acting like a jackass.

Books by Lance Hahn:

Lance Hahn is a pastor and author. In his two published works (How to Live in Fear and The Master’s Mind), Lance leads with transparent and vulnerability about his struggles with anxiety. He shares how God has reshaped and transformed him through the process. Check them out!

Why We’re So Prone to Exclude

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“Us” and “them” isn’t just a problem to fight against, it’s a universal human experience. In fact, you could argue that this is necessary to belonging: you can’t be part of a group without drawing a line around it. Exclusion is inevitable, and demonization follows on its heels.

I’ve been reading Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God, which is resonating with me on this topic. Keller presents a summary from the philosopher Miroslav Volf on “four ways that we can assert and bolster our self-worth by excluding others” (from Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace). These are wonderfully descriptive and convicting.

(1) The most blunt and effective means of bolstering self-worth by excluding is either killing or forcing someone out of our living space. It seems barbaric, but American history and politics show we’re not above this. On a personal level, this might look like moving to a new neighborhood or joining a different church to avoid interactions with someone.

(2) Volf also lists assimilation as a means of exclusion. In this approach, you can have your arms wide open to newcomers, but the price of entry is complete assimilation. I’ll love you as long as you become just like me, adopting my values, culture, beliefs, and enemies. Keller quotes Volf: “We will refrain from vomiting you out…if you let us swallow you up.” This one stings, both as an American and as a Christian.

(3) Next is dominance. We will accept people who are different than us as long as they remain consciously inferior, allowing us to be dominant. You can belong, but only if you play your role. Keller’s examples include: only working certain jobs, only receiving certain levels of pay, and only living in certain neighborhoods. We’ve definitely seen this at work inside and outside of the Church. This makes me think of some of the crap Beth Moore has had to deal with, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

(4) The last approach to exclusion that Volf identifies is demeaning and ignoring people who are different. You can tolerate them, but you’re still disgusted by them. You ignore their opinions, needs, and contributions. Volf says we like this approach because it gives us “the illusion of sinlessness and strength.” As a Christian, are you ever proud of the way you “tolerate” weak or sinful Christians, or do you find yourself grieved that many aren’t making the same choices you do? If so, this one is yours.

I find this list convicting because it accounts for those who consciously exclude and demean, but it also leaves room for people who do this with subtlety, perhaps even unconsciously. But it’s not just the WAY in which we exclude. Some suggest that exclusion is NECESSARY for the formation of a personal identity. That honestly terrifies me! Are Ryan and I just the biggest jackasses of all (probably) for calling attention to something we just need to accept and move on with as politely as possible?

Is there no solution for this? Can we really not have an US without a THEM?

Volf (with Keller’s elaboration) explains that there is, of course, one solution to this. It’s Jesus. It’s the gospel.

Think about the absolutely game-changing power of the gospel. If it’s about finding the US who share something fundamental in common and excluding the THEM who aren’t like us, then all that binds us together is our similarity. It’s what Kierkegaard calls a PREFERENTIAL LOVE—we love the people we prefer, the people who bring us joy.

But Jesus offers us something different. He offers us humility, whereby we are freed from the compulsion to believe that we are better than everyone else. He offers us self-sacrificing love, whereby one person can put another’s best interests above their own, even incurring pain so that someone else doesn’t have to. He offers us forgiveness, whereby when an offense enters the relationship, peace and wholeness can be restored. He offers us God’s very Spirit, who transforms us from the inside so that we become a conduit of God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

“Just as Christians spent decades copying ‘secular’ music and adding a Christian veneer, so we seem to be appropriating the vitriol around us and adding Bible verses to give it a Christian twist.”

Don’t underestimate this. Human beings are wired for “othering” in a fallen world. As Christians, we are not exempt from this. But as Christians, we claim to be transformed by the very thing the world needs in this regard. As society around us “bites and devours one another” to the point that they are “consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15), we don’t have to play along.

I’m not convinced that we realize this. Just as Christians spent decades appropriating the musical styles of the best “secular” bands, adding a Christian veneer, so we seem to be taking the vitriol, the polarization, and the arrogant superiority that flies all around us and adding a Christian twist. We fight the way everyone else does, but we attack each other with Bible verses!

It’s gross, and it needs to change. Thank God he has given us a path forward. May we stop with all of the exclusion and lean into Jesus. He is the only hope we have.

We’re All a Little Amish

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Judah Smith recently announced “church in the palm of your hand” in the form of his new Churchome app. We have the technology to easily connect everyone, so why not do it?

I thought of a few reasons. When I first saw Smith’s announcement post, I laughed. Honestly, I thought for it might be satire. How could this be serious? Smith’s video claimed:

“We’re passionate about connecting people with God and each other and this is maybe the most effective platform we’ve ever used in doing so… People can actually build real, tactile relationships all over the world.”

I wondered, “Does he even know what the word ‘tacticle’ means? Or ‘real’?” Right away I saw so many tweets and comments and articles confirming my instincts to shoot this thing down. It was a misguided attempt to be relevant and it’s dangerous.

But then I thought about it a little bit. I talked to some of my friends. I talked to Ryan. And with a little reflection I came to a more profound realization: I’m a huge jackass.

The thing is, churches have historically been slow to adopt new technology. We’re embarrassingly late adopters. But why?

Where would you draw the line with churches utilizing technology? Is it bad for a church to utilize a website? A podcast? An Instagram account? Most of us would say no. But each of these things were slowly and reluctantly picked up by churches.

The same thing happened in the world of education (Christian and otherwise). A few early adopters starting offering classes online, and everyone else mocked them: “They don’t care about students or education, they’re just trying to make a buck.” But then a few more colleges started offering online classes. And then a few more. Now, almost every college offers online classes. But they have found a way to offer real value through a non-traditional platform. Is this the best possible way to do it? Maybe not (though you could make a legitimate argument for it). Is it valuable? Basically every college and tons of students think so.

When radio first became popular, a group of pastors were actually fairly cutting edge in utlizing radio ministries. They saw the potential to reach millions and had a lasting impact because they decided to use that technology to carry the gospel.

When Mr. Rogers first saw television, he was appalled at the way people were using it to degrade other human beings. But he saw its potential, so he dedicated his career to investing in human dignity through this new technology. Here’s the remarkable thing: Mr. Rogers went to seminary because he was going to be a Presbyterian minister. But while all of his classmates graduated and went on to preach thousands of sermons, Fred Rogers started a kids television show. There’s absolutely no way that all of his classmates’ sermons combined had anywhere near the impact of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He didn’t talk about Jesus on the show, but he utilized technology in a way that embodied Jesus’ mission and message, and he impacted millions of lives. (I can’t watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” without balling all the way through—something I have done several times already).

All that to say, I was a jackass for mocking Judah Smith. For one thing, I made huge assumptions. I mocked his use of “real” and “tactile” for app-based interactions, but later I learned that his app can connect you with in-person gatherings. He knew what the words meant; I just made uncharitable assumptions. I think Judah Smith knows what church was designed to be, and I think he sees a way that technology can help to facilitate that.

“If we don’t think Judah Smith can use an app to facilitate interactions, then we’re being Amish. And we’re allowed to do that. But we’re not allowed to be jackasses about it.”

Here’s the thing. We’re all using technology in all of our churches, whether it’s instruments, sound systems, projectors, websites, or whatever. We have just drawn a line regarding how much is too much. That’s a total jackass move.

Think of the Amish: they’re known for totally rejecting technology. But it’s not true. Once upon a time, things like wagons and pulleys and even shovels were new technology. The Amish use all of those things; they just got to a point where they decided to avoid all technology developed after 1800 (or whenever, I have no idea). And good for them. As long as they’re not being jackasses about it.

So the thing is, if we don’t think Judah Smith can use an app to facilitate interactions, then we’re being Amish. We’re choosing an arbitrary cutoff for which technologies are compatible with the gospel. And we’re allowed to do that. But we’re not allowed to be jackasses about it. I was. And I’m sorry.