Monthly Archives: May 2013
I once suggested the necessity of reading a variety of authors and backgrounds to keep from becoming overly biased and ignorant. Then I wrote that this requires chewing on the meat and spitting out the bones since no author is perfect. Now I’m writing that some books, sermons, podcasts, etc., are simply not worth wasting your time on at all. Here’s what I mean, to further my last analogy…
I was once at a bar-b-que where the main course was chicken. I grabbed a couple of wings and threw them on my plate next to a generous helping of mashed potatoes (my mouth is watering as I write this), sat down, already famished, and began devouring a wing. To my dismay, there wasn’t anything there to begin with—the only bit of existing meat lie deep between stacks of chicken bones—I felt like I was trying to chew slivers of string cheese stapled to toothpicks. I took two small bites before throwing the remains back on my plate, and grabbed the other wing hoping for a better catch. No luck. Those emaciated chicken wings were so boney that it wasn’t even worth eating them at all. I should have stuck with my hunch and filled my whole plate with mashed potatoes! The moral of the story is:
Chicken wings don’t have enough meat on them to be worth your time—especially when there are thighs on the other serving table.
Authors, preachers, and speakers are basically the same. There are times when you feel like you are chewing on a chicken wing—sure, there’s a pocket of teriyaki sauce that globs up and whets your appetite when you bite it, but there’s not enough meat to make navigating those bones worthwhile—kind of like the preacher or author who constantly drops clever one-liners but without any substance. The earth is full of these! Do yourself a favor: find something else that will satisfy your hunger and don’t waste time on finger-food anymore.
It’s probably clear that no one out there will ever offer a perfect meal of words except for Jesus. But that’s why we read widely, chew on the meat, and spit out the bones—otherwise we wouldn’t learn anything. Just stick to those preachers and writers that actually have substance, or you’ll wake up with a mouth full of bone marrow, disgruntled because you can’t seem to figure out why there’s no spiritual growth in your life.
Perhaps because you’re not really eating?
[[If you have a weak stomach, you may not want to read ahead. If not (or if you have kids) read on]]
I was reading the late John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, while my daughter, Abby, slept in an ergo strapped snuggly to my chest. Suddenly she let out a few grunts and her body began twisting inside the carrier. I set down my book and saw that she woke herself up vomiting. A lot. It was the first time I saw Abby throw up, and it was disturbing at the time—perhaps more seasoned parents understand (this was months ago, and now I’m used to it!). So I jumped off the couch and called for Brianna while straining at the Ergo straps around Abby, who, by this point could not stop regurgitating rivers of granulated sludge from her nose and mouth. She struggled to breathe. There are few times I’ve felt this helpless before—staring down at my sweet little girl, not knowing what’s wrong, while she stares back at me with a look of perplexity, hoping I will rescue her as her body attempts violently to eject some foreign ingredients from inside. All I could do was hold her like the Koala she is, stroke her hair, wipe her dainty little lips. Then everything slowed down; she returned to her bouncy, infectious self. But I was shaken up. I don’t want to see my daughter like that; the look of her wide eyes and puppy-dog pout still burned into my memory.
We put her to sleep, exhausted as she was; and I picked up my book, starting from where I left off: John Stott was explaining five common metaphors in the Bible for God’s hatred of evil, the last of which is…vomiting. Stott’s explanation of the biblical metaphor comes close to home:
Regurgitation is a common Biblical metaphor indicating “that the holy God’s rejection of evil is as decisive as the human body’s rejection of poison by vomiting. Vomiting is probably the body’s most violent of all reactions” (Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109). In Revelation, Jesus says to a local church that because of lukewarmness “I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Rev. 3:16, HCSB).
After reading that paragraph, I put the book back down. With my shirt still soiled from several hours ago, I felt compelled to repent of any sin in my life that might cause the Lord to “vomit.” Not just the obvious evils that we like to condemn from our blogs, but the secret evils within: pride, anger, anxiety—all the “respectable sins,” as Jerry Bridges refers to them. I am sometimes (often?) guilty of treating grace as a gift card for my sins, forgetting that although I am forgiven, sin still grieves God as His “eyes are too pure to look on evil,” and the wrath that I deserved did not disappear—it was merely transferred to the Son of God who became my sin to bear my punishment.
In that instant, the gospel became all the more alluring to me: God does not just command me to be free from sin; He removes the rebellion from within. After seeing in my daughter’s face a vivid illustration of God’s grief over my sin, and knowing that this same God went to such lengths to rescue me, I will more often have this prayer on my lips:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns. See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way (Psalm 139:23-24).
There’s a fairy tale of Irish folklore on how leprechauns would hide their treasure in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The problem was that the closer you got to the end of the rainbow, the farther it went from you. In other words, you’re chasing something illusive.
The Christian version of the disappearing pot of gold is “accountability.”
Many of us want accountability, and rightfully so—we go to mid-week gatherings, we sign up for redemptive groups, we meet other Christians for coffee, we ask pastors for wisdom, we set up counseling appointments, and these are often with great effect—but not everyone who does this is as vulnerable, humble, and teachable as they need to be. So instead of “accountability” what we end up with is victimization. Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who can check our blind spots, we surround ourselves with people to blame. Accountability is illusive, not because there aren’t people willing to bear our burdens, but because we sometimes expect those people to do for us what we are too prideful to do ourselves: repent of our sin.
When this happens,”accountability” is nothing more than a cheap buzzword that we think will save us if we say it repeatedly. “Accountability,” “Keep me accountable,” “Who are you accountable to, bro?” “She’s been keeping me accountable.”
Accountable how, exactly?
Think about this. If you struggle with lust, you can probably entertain those lusts, even act them out, in secret for many years—perhaps for the rest of your life—without anyone finding out. What good is having a hundred accountability partners if you are better at hiding your sin than they are at keeping you accountable? I think we give other Christians too much credit in this regard: we think that others will check us on all the sin issues of our heart, and yet we are masterful at hiding such things! The only way our friends can really know how we struggle, and thereby work to restore us, is when we are brutally honest with the right people. But some in the church feel as if “accountability” will do all the work for them, kind of like a butler who launders their clothing while they are asleep. Yet they wake up to find their dirty clothes strewn across the living room floor because they don’t really have a butler, and they don’t know how to operate the washing machine by themselves. The problem with Christian accountability is not accountability, per se, it is the Christian who is not really willing to humble themselves, submit to others, and face the fact that they are worse than they think. We all are.
Instead of throwing around magic buzzwords, the Bible calls us to open our lives to fellow Christian’s who we trust and can speak into our lives. And it’s not enough to ask people to “keep us accountable”—we must also listen and heed the righteous judgment of others, while being honest with our shortcomings, sinful habits, and idolatry. This is true accountability. It’s a two-way street where all our crap is on the table, and brothers/sisters can gently show the blind spots in our lives. It is also a God-ordained means of sanctification, whereby God uses the community around you to conform you into His likeness.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16 (HCSB)