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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Will Everyone Be Saved?

In my last article, I shared how the grace God offers me isn’t due to something I’ve done or will do, but rather, it’s something he chose to do on his own accord. During this discussion, I asked the question of whether God shows his grace to everyone and then proceeded to give a quick answer without any further explanation. This article offers a deeper explanation of my answer to this question.

For years, people, even in the Christian community, have been divided on this topic. Some say that God only shows grace to some people while others say that God shows grace to all people. I think both are correct, but in different ways. My purpose in writing this article is to share what God has communicated to us about the scope of his grace.

Common Grace

Going all the way back to the beginning of human history, we find a story which sheds some light on a theological principle which is often referred to as common grace. The first two humans God created, Adam and Eve, were originally sinless beings. God placed them in a garden and told them they could eat the fruit from any tree in the garden except for one tree. They were told that on the day they ate from it, they would die.

Nonetheless, they decided to eat from the forbidden tree. When they did this, they were removed from the garden and therefore God’s presence, but they did not immediately die. Death didn’t come until many years later.

As a just judge, God had every reason to condemn (kill) Adam and Eve as soon as they ate fruit from the forbidden tree. But he didn’t. This act of letting them live many more years was an act of grace.

In the same way, the Bible tells us that we are born as sinners and continue to live in sin every single day of our lives, yet God continues to withhold judgment until a date which only he knows. This is only possible because of God’s grace, something he’s issued to every single one of us currently living on this planet from the newborn to the elderly.

This is the type of grace God shows to everyone and the reason why I answered the question with a “Yes.”

Special Grace

Now we’ll turn our attention towards another type of grace, the grace about which most of you are most concerned: special grace. In theological circles, this type of grace is defined as the grace by which God saves people (gives them eternal life). In alignment with the topic of this article, the question on the table, then, is this: Does God show special grace to everyone? Let’s take a look.

In Revelation 20, we’re told about the final judgment which is to come where God will sit on his throne and judge every person who has ever lived. It says that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”[1] Immediately following these verses, we see that those whose names were written in the book life will be with God in his dwelling place, the New Jerusalem. These verses give us a clear distinction between the fates of people which is dependent upon whether God’s offers special grace to them.

In another book of the Bible, Jesus shared a parable about the eternal fate of the righteous versus the eternal fate of the unrighteous: “And [the unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”[2] Once again, we can ascertain that Jesus was communicating that there are two different fates for people, one which involves eternal punishment and one which involves eternal life. Those who receive God’s special grace receive eternal life.

The Counter Argument

As straightforward as this concept may seem, not everyone agrees that this is actually what the biblical writers meant. Rob Bell, a theologian out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has made the claim that the Greek word aion which was translated “eternal” in English, can mean “eternal,” but it can also mean “a finite period of time.” Therefore, he claims that these verses are saying that the supposed “eternal” punishment is actually referring to an “age of” punishment. At the completion of the aion, everyone will receive eternal life.[3] What Rob Bell is arguing for is a theology called Universalism which states that everyone who has ever lived receives God’s special grace.

At first, his argument may sound like a pretty good conclusion. After all, who doesn’t want everyone to be saved? But his argument breaks down when we apply the same definition of aion to the phrase “eternal life” which would read “age of life.” Do some people in Matthew 25 receive an age of punishment and some an age of life? What happens after that? There’s no mention in the Bible of another age to come afterwards. So based on the context, it seems the word aion was properly translated in these verses to “eternal.”

Therefore, in answer to the original question, I’ve concluded that God gives special grace to some people, but not to everyone.

Why Do Some People Receive God’s Special Grace and Others Don’t?

I think my answer to the prior question may spark another question: Why do some people receive God’s special grace and others don’t. So before I wrap up this article, I’m going to attempt to shed at least a little light on this question.

Many of us like to think that God will give special grace to us if we do something to earn it. Maybe if we attend a church service every week, read the Bible every day, help needy people, and accept Jesus into our hearts, then God will show us this special grace so that we can receive eternal life. Fortunately, God special grace isn’t given because of our merits. I say fortunately because I’d never in a million years have the necessary merits to earn his special grace. God doesn’t grade us on a bell-curve; he grades us according to his standard, a standard which none of us can even hope to attain on our own.

Instead, the biblical writers tell us that God’s special grace is issued to those whom God chooses to give it. Yes, you heard that correctly. The biblical writers say it’s 100 percent God’s choice. If you don’t believe me, check out these passages:
And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. – Exodus 33:19
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy…So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. – Romans 9:16-18
[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. – Ephesians 1:4
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. – John 6:44
When I was first introduced to the idea of God choosing certain people to belong to him, honestly, I thought it was complete bogus. I thought God chose everyone (gave everyone special grace), but only certain people accepted the free invitation. However, as I dug into it more, I found that my thought process wasn’t biblical. Nowhere does it say that God chose to offer an invitation of special grace to everyone nor does it say that it’s only effectual for people who accept it. I’ve concluded that these are nothing more than doctrines made up by people who are desperately trying to protect God from sounding like his treatment of people is unfair. I appreciate the concern for God’s reputation, but I’m certain he’s less than enthusiastic about us trying to change his character so that less people are offended by him.

When we paint a picture of the God we read about in the Bible, we most likely won’t like what we see. What we see is a God who is in complete control of the universe (Matthew 6:25-34), a God who is loving (John 3:16), a God who is a just judge (Psalm 7:11), a God who always gets his way (Isaiah 46:8-11), a God whose first and foremost priority is bringing glory to himself (Isaiah 48:9-11), a God who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3), and a God who chooses to show special grace to whomever he wishes (Exodus 33:19).

When we let the Bible, and only the Bible inform our understanding of God, what we realize is that God doesn’t think or operate like us. And just when we think we’ve got him figured out, he throws us a curveball that makes us go, “What???” At the end of the day, we’re never going to be able to answer the impossible question of why he chooses to show special grace to some and not to others. I love the way Francis Chan once put it:
…we must come to a place where we can let God be God. We need to surrender our perceived right to determine what is just and humbly recognize that God alone gets to decide how He is going to deal with people…He hasn’t asked us to figure out why He does the things He does. We can’t. We’re not capable…there will be times, many times, when you won’t figure Him out.[4]
Personally, instead of trying to figure out why he chooses to do what he does, I thank him for showing me both common and special grace and seek to worship him with all my heart every single day of my life. And I daily hold out hope that I will one day get the privilege of spending eternity united with him, my one and only king.

Do you agree that God shows common grace to everyone? Do you agree that God shows special grace to some people and not to others? What Bible passages come to mind when you think about this topic? Do you think they support or counter my claims?

[1] Revelation 20:15.
[2] Matthew 25:46.
[3] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 31-58.
[4] Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2011), 131-34.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

I Did Nothing

I successfully fulfilled my job responsibilities…I got a good rating. I was kind to other people…I made friends. I trained regularly…I became a better athlete. I don’t say all these things to express an attitude of arrogance, but to show an important principle which is foundational to our culture: I received the wages of my work.

In America, we often live under the impression that the rewards we receive are a result of something we do. If we have a huge nest egg, we think it’s a result of our excellent budgeting skills. If we climb the corporate ladder, we think it’s a result of our hard work. If we gain trust from other people, we think it’s a result of us displaying a high level of integrity. On the flipside, if we don’t get any of these things–a huge nest egg, career advancement, and gaining trust–we think it’s because we did something wrong. Our experiences have told us that we have the ability to control our destinies.

Having experienced this cause and effect relationship, many years ago I concluded that my faith and consequential relationship with God was a result of something I did. I thought my increasing faith was a byproduct of attending a church service every week, reading my Bible every day, and daily spending time in prayer. But as the Holy Spirit continues to remove the veil over my spiritual eyes, I’m more and more coming to believe something that has completely rocked my worldview. I’ve come to believe that my faith, my relationship with God, my heart transformation, and my salvation have absolutely nothing to do with a decision I made or will make or something I did or will do, but has everything to do with a decision God made and something he did.

By Grace or By Works?

It’s often stated in Christian circles that salvation is a result of grace and not a result of works. Paul, one of the most well-known biblical writers, made this point absolutely clear when he wrote:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.[1]
I used to read this verse over and over thinking that my theological framework was in complete alignment with these verses. As I understood it, Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins. But his forgiveness didn’t take effect until I made the conscious and whole-hearted decision to accept it. My acceptance of Jesus was a result of my faith, something which I needed to muster up within myself.

But as I began thinking about it on a deeper level, my thinking on this topic began to unravel as I discovered the errancy in my thought process. Grace, as it’s defined in Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), is an unmerited favor.[2] What does it mean for something to be unmerited? It means we did absolutely nothing to earn it. In another one of Paul’s writings, he explained it this way:
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.[3]
By definition, grace is something which is given irregardless of anything we do. If the favor I have with someone is a result of something I did, then by definition, it’s not grace at all. When someone decides to love me (I’m talking brotherly sort of love, not romantic love) after spending a few hours together, that decision was made based on what he saw of me in those few hours. Since he liked what he saw, he decided to love me. If, on the other hand, someone decides to love me without knowing anything about me, such as was the case with my parents when I was born, then that’s grace. And the love they have for me comes with no strings attached.

When I applied this same principle to these passages of scripture, I began to see the inconsistency in my logic. If salvation is a result of grace, then it has absolutely nothing to do with anything about me or anything I do. It’s not based on whether I muster up the faith to believe in Jesus, whether I repent of my sins, or whether I accept him into my heart. If it was, it would no longer meet the definition of grace since it would be partially based upon something I did.

If salvation is based upon God’s grace, then aren’t my faith, my transformation, and my relationship with him also based solely upon his grace? Yes! As much as I previously thought these things were a result of something I did, I’ve realized that they are purely acts of God. The person I am today, the faith I exhibit, and the relationship I have with God aren’t a result of my drive and perseverance; they are a result of God’s grace and his grace alone. I did nothing to earn them.

Is Grace Offered to All People?

A common response I receive when I share this conclusion is: Does that mean God offers grace to everyone? Yes and no. But in order for me to expound upon this answer, I’ll need more than a few paragraphs, so I’ll save that discussion for another article. More to come on this topic!

Can’t We Do Whatever We Want?

Another common response I receive when I share this conclusion is: If we’re saved by God’s grace alone, then can’t we do whatever we want? Yes, we can. And we don’t have to fear losing our salvation because if God chooses to save us, then he’s going to be faithful in that promise. But that’s only part of the story.

If God has truly chosen to save us, then we will bear good fruit, not because we do something to make it happen, but because of the work God does in our hearts. As the biblical writer John once wrote:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.[4]
As God continues to transform our hearts, our heart condition, which drives our actions, will continue to align more and more with his will. As our heart and mind are being transformed, the thought of feeling licensed to sin as a result of knowing that nothing is going to impact our salvation doesn’t even make sense. A transformed mindset doesn’t ask, “What’s the minimum I have to do in order to stay in God’s good graces,” but rather, “How does God’s grace in my life influence the way I live?” These are two very different mindsets.


God’s grace is an unmerited favor, which means he gives it to whom he wants and doesn’t give it to whom he wants. As he once said to Moses:
I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.[5]
I know this may not sound fair, but I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter whether it sounds fair to us. God is God, so he can do whatever he wants.[6] If he chooses to show me grace, that’s his choice. If he chooses not to show me grace, that’s also his choice. Personally, I am eternally grateful and thankful for the grace he has shown me and which I hope he will continue to show me in the coming years.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my conclusion that God’s grace is completely his doing and isn’t dependent on anything we do? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Also, I’d be more than happy to expound upon anything I’ve written in this article, so let me know.

[1] Ephesians 2:8-9.
[2] Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “Grace”, accessed September 12, 2018,
[3] Romans 11:6.
[4] John 15:5.
[5] According to Exodus 33:17.
[6] Psalm 115:3.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Why Authoritative Figures Can't Be Vulnerable

In my last article, I shared that there is a cost associated with being vulnerable: a loss of deep connection with other people. This is a huge cost to all of us since we’re all wired to desire connection with others. However, some people, even after having come to this realization, have chosen to remain invulnerable. Why? Is there something they know about vulnerability that we’re missing?

As I shared in my article last week, there could potentially be a high cost associated with being vulnerable. It could be the loss of friends, family, your spouse, your job, your house, or power. For the remainder of this article, I will be discussing the cost associated with losing power because for some, this cost is so great that they would rather remain invulnerable than risk losing it.

How Authority Works

In order to understand why the cost of vulnerability is so high for people who have power, which for the purposes of this discussion I will also refer to as authority, we have to start by gaining an understanding of how authority works. I realize this discussion may sound elementary, but I think it’s important nonetheless to spend a brief moment reviewing it. One of my favorite explanations of authority was once stated by a Roman centurion:
For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.[1]
The basic principle this guy was getting at was that when the person who has authority over him gives him a command, he does it. And when he gives a command to the people under his authority, they do it. This is the way authority works.

Another way of looking at it would be to say that the authoritative person has the power to “control” the actions of the people under him. If your boss says he wants you to put a cover on his TPS reports, then you pretty much have no choice but to put a cover on them. Make sense?

Everyone Wants Authority

Everyone wants authority to one degree or another. Certainly some people want more of it than others, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we all innately desire it. Of course I’ve developed an entire theory explaining why I think people want authority, but I’ve decided that including it in this article is unnecessary to arriving at a conclusion to the question at hand. If you’d like to read more about it, let me know and I’ll send it to you or write it as a future article. For the point of the discussion in this article, all I’m really after is making sure we’re on the same page with realizing that we all want authority.

The Power Struggle

Our desire for authority wouldn’t be an issue if we all wanted authority over different things. But the problem we face is that we’re not the only ones who want that authority; we’re always stuck in a competition with one or more people for authority. When another person wins, we lose. When we win, another person loses. That’s the unpleasant nature of the world in which we live.

When we engage in competition, such as when the Ohio State football team plays against the Michigan football team, both teams are competing against each other for the same thing: the victory. Only one of the two teams will walk away the winner. Do you think it’d be wise for the teams to share their weaknesses with one another? Not at all. They would compromise their ability to achieve the victory. If either team realizes the other team’s weaknesses, they will exploit those weaknesses as much as possible because the end goal is not to be nice to each other, but to win the game.

The competition for authority is exactly the same. It’s a battle between two or more people for authority over the same things. Sharing our weaknesses, also known as our messes, gives the opposition something to exploit in their fight against us for the authority prize. And believe me, they will exploit it. We see it during every election season.

So what’s the cost of vulnerability to a person who wants authority? Authority. The greater the amount of authority, the greater the cost. The cost of a low-level manager losing his position is less than the cost of a megachurch pastor losing his position which is less than the cost of the President losing his position. When authoritative figures are vulnerable, they are at risk of losing their authority, a cost which to many of them is greater than the loss of relational connection associated with their invulnerability.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, I think many of us desire to have deeper relational connections with the people who have authority over us such as our bosses, pastors, and our government officials. And somehow we realize that vulnerability plays an important role in deepening these relationships.

But I think we have to realize that there’s a great cost associated with vulnerability for authoritative figures. All it takes is one person, either maliciously or accidentally betraying them, to end their career and take away their authority. I haven’t concluded that the decision to remain invulnerable is necessarily a good decision, but contemplating this topic has given me a deeper understanding of why people with authority tend to remain relationally distant from others and I hope it’s done the same for you.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think people with authority have a lot at stake to be vulnerable? Can you think of an authoritative figure in your life who has demonstrated high levels of vulnerability? In a game of “Would You Rather,” would you rather have authority or be relationally connected with other people?

[1] Matthew 8:9.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Cost of Invulnerability

As I shared in my article last week, one of the most dangerous things we can do is reveal our mess to the people around us. It’s extremely tempting to construct a fortress around our mess and lock it up like Fort Knox in an attempt to prevent anyone from getting even the smallest glance of it. If they see our mess, they might reject us.

I’ve certainly experienced rejection as a result of being vulnerable. Or at least I associated the rejection with my vulnerability. We face a risk when we choose to be vulnerable. It’s possible that our vulnerability may cause us to lose friends and distance ourselves from family members. It’s possible that our vulnerability may cause us to lose our jobs, our homes, our cars, and all the other stuff we’ve spent years acquiring. It’s possible our vulnerability may destroy our marriage. It’s even possible our vulnerability may put us in jail. With such high costs associated with being vulnerable, I can appreciate our desire to construct a fortress around our mess.

Weighing this cost is certainly important. But if we stop here, we’ll fail to see that there’s another opportunity cost we’ve failed to consider; maybe being vulnerable is worth the risk because it has the potential to get us something which may be just as great, if not greater than what we’re currently getting because we’re hiding our mess behind our fortress walls.

The Advantage of Vulnerability

Every single one of us fears rejection. Have we ever asked why? What is it about being rejected that causes us to cringe every time we experience it? When we get rejected, we feel disconnection. When I was teased by some of my classmates in elementary school, I felt rejected and therefore disconnected from them. When you ask someone out on a date and you get turned down, you feel rejected and therefore disconnected from that person. When you share part of your mess with someone and then the person doesn’t talk to you for a month, you feel rejected and therefore disconnected from that person.

When I first started digging into this topic a few years ago, I took a journey down memory lane to evaluate how the shame I felt from my childhood experiences was impacting me today. During that process, I made a discovery which left me absolutely dumbfounded: the memories which were most vivid in my mind involved a feeling of disconnection. I remembered a time when I got spanked by someone I didn’t even know because I wouldn’t stop crying. I remembered a time when I got teased by some of the kids on my baseball team when I couldn’t hold back the tears from flowing after I struck out. And of course I remembered the time I got made fun of for my skinny arms.

The commonality amongst all these stories, other than disconnection, is a feeling that my vulnerability somehow contributed to my rejection. The time I got spanked, I was being vulnerable by expressing my emotions in the form of crying. My parents had left me with a seminarian while they went to a wedding for another seminarian and I didn’t want them to leave me there, so I expressed my displeasure by crying. When I stuck out in baseball, I cried because I felt like I had let the team down. I was being vulnerable, albeit involuntarily, by showing my emotions. The day I got made fun of for my skinny arms, I happened to be wearing a tank top as opposed to a normal t-shirt. I was being vulnerable by showing off more of my body than normal. Based on these stories, it’s no wonder we tend to draw a connection between being vulnerable and being rejected; the two seem to go hand in hand.

Connection, at the core, can only happen when we get to know another person.[1] I’m not talking about simply knowing about another person; I’m talking about really knowing another person. The best word I can think of to describe this type of knowledge is the word intimate. I recognize this word is commonly associated with sex, and for good reason, but that’s far from its only use. To have an intimate relationship with another person means to know that person deeply. Sitting around B.S.-ing about the weather, football, and politics may teach us a little about someone, but it’s certainly not going to allow us to get to know another person on a deep, personal, intimate level.

I think most people deeply long for connection with other people. But what very few of us realize is that in order to experience the deep connection we long for, we’re going to have to be vulnerable; we’re going to have to show other people who we really are. This can be very scary. What if they don’t like what they see? Will they reject me? They might. And when they do, it’s going to hurt. But taking this risk by putting ourselves out there is the only way we’re going to be able to experience deep levels of connection with other people. Because most people are terrified of being vulnerable, you’re most likely going to have to take the first step in being vulnerable if you want to enter into a deep, intimate relationship with another person.

Tying It All Together

Now I want to circle back around to where I started. There are both risks and rewards associated with being invulnerable. The reward for being invulnerable is that we get a chance to hide our mess from other people and the potential rejection and disconnection associated with it. However, the risk of being invulnerable is that we miss out on the opportunity to experience deep connection with other people. Which one is more important to you? Protecting your dignity or having deep, intimate connection with other people.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the rewards of both without the associated risks? Some people try to find both. Two of the most obvious ways this is manifested in our culture is through the internet and sex. How much easier is it to listen to someone else be vulnerable than it is for you to be vulnerable? No wonder so many people watch YouTube videos listening to other people be vulnerable and spend hours reading their social media news feeds. We think we can find connection with other people simply by listening to them be vulnerable without having to personally be vulnerable. But I’ve found that the only way we can truly experience intimate connection with other people is when both parties come to the table being open and honest with each other about who they truly are.

The other obvious way I see people in our culture trying to achieve the rewards of both is through things in the sexual realm including pornography, gentlemen’s clubs (who came up with that name anyway?), and sex with another human. Similar to the way we can be emotionally vulnerable, we can also be physically vulnerable. There’s something about the appearance of a human body with its various shapes and curves which is absolutely beautiful to the eye. And fashion designers are extremely skilled in designing clothing which accentuates these features, making them appear thinner, smoother, or bigger (you know what I’m talking about) than they truly are. The most physically vulnerable position we can place ourselves is to be completely naked in the presence of another person without all those perfectly designed clothes to cover up our imperfections. When we view pornography or go to a strip club, we get a chance to observe other people being physically vulnerable without having to be vulnerable in return, similar to the way we listen to other people be vulnerable on social media without having to be vulnerable in return. When we try random hookups, we get to experience physical vulnerability, but since the emotional vulnerability isn’t there to support it, we walk away feeling empty because the deepest level of personal connection can’t exist apart from emotional vulnerability. We can’t have the rewards of both without the associated risks.

If you want to experience true connection with another human being, you’re going to have to be vulnerable. There’s no shortcut around it or easy way out. Your vulnerability may cost you everything, but then again, it may open the door to experiencing the best relationships of your life.

Why do you think you’re afraid of showing people who you really are? Who is one person with whom you can share a piece of who you are this week?

[1] I owe the research behind this content to Brené Brown. Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability,” TED, YouTube, January 3, 2011, accessed August 23, 2018,

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It's Okay to Not Be Okay

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the second leading cause of death amongst American white males[1] between the ages of 15 and 34 is suicide (the first is accidents).[2] In total, 45 thousand Americans die by suicide every year. And for every suicide, 25 more attempt it, meaning that over a million people attempt suicide every year.[3]

I knew suicides were a problem in our country, but up until now, I hadn’t put all these numbers side by side. I want to thank my friend Suresh for putting some of these numbers side by side for me and giving me the inspiration to write this article.

In the frantic words of Kari the babysitter from the movie The Incredibles, “THINGS ARE NOT OKAY!” Behind the glamorous facades by which the world has come to recognize us are a bunch of messy, broken people who are struggling with lots of doubt, insecurity, and shame. Many of us realize we don’t live up to the expectations we feel pressured to meet, but because of our fears of rejection and the stifling (or ending) of our careers, we’re afraid to admit it to one another. So instead, we prefer to keep it locked away in a vault, hoping no one else will ever find out.

I’ve written this article for two reasons. First, I want you to know that it’s okay to not be okay. And second, I want to share some ideas for taking down our facades and confessing our shortcomings.

Some of My Feelings from Over the Years

To get this ball rolling, I’m going to share some of my mess from over the years. Not all of these feelings and thoughts are present today, but they have been at various points in the last ten years.

I wake up every morning to the realization that it’s time to leave my dream world behind, a world where I’m much more in-tune with my subconscious state than at any other point in time, and put on my well-organized, confident mask that I’ve spent years and years fabricating. It starts with taking a shower to rid myself of my natural, repulsive stinky smell. Once out of the shower, I put on a clean, wrinkle free set of clothing which matches all the way from the shirt to the belt to the pants to the socks to the shoes. I then top it off by making sure my hair looks neat, giving my face a clean shave, and brushing my teeth to make them sparkle. Now that I give the appearance that I’ve got it all together, I’m ready to enter the world.

But deep down inside, I don’t look anything like I do on the outside. Inside, I realize that I stink, my clothes are wrinkled, my hair is a mess, I haven’t shaved in weeks, and my teeth don’t sparkle. My life doesn’t look quite as much like a picture of utopia as it’s perceived to be by those who are on the outside looking in. I may look well put-together on the surface, but deep down, I’m a complete mess.

Unfortunately, the world has demonstrated little patience for my mess; it wants me to be confidently put together. If the world realizes how messy I really am, instead of being there to help me through the mess, it’s going to run me over with a fifty thousand pound bus. It sees my wounds and instead of offering to heal them, it pours salt on them. The same world that I continue trying to help day after day turns its back on me when I show it how messy I really am. What am I supposed to do on the bad days? Am I supposed to curl up in a ball and hide in my closet so that no one has to see me that way?

The safest thing I can do is erect an enclosed wall around my mess and hide behind it. If I keep my mess contained and hidden behind an immaculate fortress, then maybe I’ll appear to be exactly the person the world expects me to be. Maybe then the world will accept me. So I’ll continue to wake up every morning and hide my mess behind the façade of my shining blue-eyes, smiling face, and sparkling teeth.

No matter how immaculate I make my fortress, I still can’t seem to escape the pain associated with my mess. I still feel inferior to the rest of the world. Why does everyone else seem so well put together? When I open Facebook, all I see is a bunch of people whose lives seem to be in perfect order. Why can’t my life be like that? Why do I have to be such a mess all the time? If only they knew what was really hidden behind these walls, certainly they’d reject me. They’d cease to stand and gaze in awe at my pristine fortress. They’d tear it down and expose everything inside of it. I’d become the laughing stock of the world. And not a single person would be willing to stoop down to pick me back up.

In our competitive, dog-eat-dog world, I can’t afford to show people the mess I truly am. Finding people who accept me is hard enough; why would I want to risk losing their acceptance by giving them a grand tour of my fortress? I’d rather just keep them outside my four walls so they can continue to admire the beauty of my stone masonry handiwork, all the while having no idea what sits just a few feet away from them on the other side of those walls.

I share these thoughts and feelings because I think you may be able to relate with them. Coming from someone who is a mess, I want you to know today, right here, right now, that it’s okay not to be okay. It’s okay to be a mess. And I don’t and won’t think any differently of you when you admit it.

Coping with Not Being Okay

Two of the most destructive coping mechanisms I’ve observed people use when they realize they don’t feel okay is to get drunk or commit suicide. I don’t recommend either of these two options. Instead, I’ll suggest two other alternative options which have proven to offer great support and healing in my own life.

The first is to seek God. I realize that may sound absolutely crazy at first. How in the world can God help? I don’t have all the answers to this question, but I can share about what he’s done in my life.

God is omnipotent, meaning that he knows everything. Thus, he knows I’m a complete mess. I may successfully fool everyone else with my façade, but I can’t fool God. Yet, he has chosen to love and accept me despite the mess that I am. Regardless of what I do (I’m not suggesting that I use this as an opportunity to do whatever the heck I want), I realize that he’s still going to love me. There’s no part of my mess that will separate me from his love. God recognizes that I’m not okay and still choses to love me anyways.

But God also isn’t content with leaving me in this place. Day after day, he continues to clean up the mess that I am. He continues to take away the doubts, insecurities, and shame and replace them with assurance, security, and honor in him. I doubt he’ll bring me to a place in this life where I’ll be completely mess-free, but I do believe he will bring me to this place when I’m with him.

The second coping mechanism I’ll suggest can be done independently from the first, but I’ve found it and the first complement each other very well. This mechanism is to invite a few people you love and trust into your fortress to see your mess. Taking this step can be extremely difficult because it defies all intuitive human logic: it involves being vulnerable. When we’re vulnerable, we’re opening ourselves up to potentially getting hurt even more. As one author once put it, “vulnerability quite literally means capable of being wounded, open to attack or damage.”[4] That’s what makes being vulnerable so uncomfortable. But when we have the courage to be vulnerable, we open up an opportunity for other people to empathize, support, and encourage us in a way that they can’t do otherwise.

Although some people in our culture view vulnerability as weakness, not all people do. The people who I feel most connected with are the ones with whom I’ve been the most vulnerable and who have been the most vulnerable with me. I believe that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather, it is a sign of courage.

So my encouragement to you is to be vulnerable with a few people who you love and trust. Of course there’s the possibility that they could reject you, but there’s also the possibility that you could become more connected with them. Is it worth the risk? It has been for me. Family and friends who have walked alongside me through the mess that I am have been a huge encouragement in my life and have played a big role in participating with God in the work he’s doing in me.

I’m going to leave you with a few questions to consider. Are you okay? I’m not asking whether you’re façade is okay; I’m asking whether you’re okay. What coping mechanisms do you use when you’re not feeling okay? Are you willing to seek God? And are you willing to be vulnerable with one or two friends?

[1] I used the statistics on white males because they account for roughly 7 out of 10 suicides.
[2] “Leading Causes of Death by Age Group, White Males-United States, 2010”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010, accessed August 15, 2018,
[3] “Suicide Statistics,” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2018, accessed August 15, 2018,
[4] J.R. Briggs, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 79.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Being Set Free from Shame

Failure, or rather the fear of failure, controlled my life for many years. Somewhere in my subconscious state, I realized there was something about failure which led me to feel an intense amount of emotional pain. What was I experiencing and what role did failure have to play in it?

I’m far from being the only person in the world who experiences this struggle. Many of you reading this article also live with the fear of failure. And even more of you are experiencing the real root of the struggle; you’re struggling to identify and process the emotion which I believe to be at the heart of our fear of failure: shame.

With the help of pastor and author J.R. Briggs, I got to the heart of my struggles and after taking the time and energy to work through it, have come out on the other side a completely different person. I’ve written this article to share my discoveries in hope that you will also find freedom from failure, rejection, and shame.

The Relationship between Shame, Rejection, and Failure

I hated criticism. I’m not talking about simply disliking it; I’m talking about complete full-on hatred of it. I hated criticism more than Buckeye fans hate the Michigan football team. Due to my fear of criticism, I dreaded my yearly performance reviews. Although 95 percent of what my bosses said was positive and complementary, the only part I usually remembered was the 5 percent where I felt criticized. Looking back on it, all they were trying to do was help me improve, but at the time, I felt as if I’d failed because I was being criticized.

I read a story one time about a successful screenwriter, Larry, who went to a homecoming back in New York. While there, he attended a Yankees game and during the game, he was honored in front of the thousands of fans in attendance. On his way to his car after the game, a stranger driving by yelled, “Larry, you suck!” What do you think stuck out in his mind that evening? The standing ovation he received from thousands of fans or the drive-by insult he received after the game? You guessed it. He dwelt on the one insult.[1]

What is it about criticism that destroys some of us? What is it that causes us to overlook our successes and spend our time dwelling on our failures?

This is where J.R. Briggs comes into play. In his book Fail, he shared his story of “ministry failure” (not marked by the usual signs of embezzlement or sexual misconduct) and the journey he went on to heal from it. His first realization, much like mine, was that he feared failure. But why did he fear failure? After digging into this question, he realized his fear of failure came out of his fear of rejection. His experiences had taught him that failure leads to rejection. This, he thought, was at the heart of his struggle.

But a few weeks later, he came to realize that there was something even deeper which lay at the heart of his fear of rejection. When he felt rejected, he experienced shame. So failure led to rejection and rejection led to shame. I’ve depicted this in the figure below.[2]

After reading about Briggs’s experiences, I spent some time evaluating my own life to determine whether this could possibly explain my experiences. My conclusion was that this was exactly what I was experiencing. My fear of failure came out of a fear of rejection which came out of a fear of shame. Shame was ultimately at the heart of my struggle.

Understanding Shame

Shame and guilt are often associated with one another, but they are two different animals. Guilt is experienced due to an action. For example, when we realize we did something bad, we feel guilt. Shame, however, is experienced when our identity is tied up in the action. When our bad action leads us to say, “I’m a sinner,” that’s when we experience shame.[3]

Personally, I used to spend a lot of time wallowing in my shame by dwelling on my past failures. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. And if anyone ever tried to tell me I was, their words never made it through my thick skull. I was so terrified of failure and rejection that I became non-committal, I stopped trying new things, and I stopped setting ambitious goals for myself in order to avoid the shame I felt from having my identity wrapped up in my failures. When not handled healthily, shame can cause us to become depressed and enter into a state of complete debilitation.

In my research on shame a few years ago, I discovered that the Bible actually speaks quite a bit about shame. One verse that really sticks out to me is this one, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”[4] When Christians talk about what happens to people who don’t receive eternal life, we often focus on fire and brimstone. But what about shame?

Can you even begin to imagine what it would be like to experience shame for all of eternity. I can’t even begin to fathom it. What would it be like to experience even more shame than I’ve experienced for all of eternity? This would be the worst emotional punishment we could ever experience.

Shame is obviously harmful to us and based on the Bible, is not something we’ll experience when we’re with God in heaven. So if God’s kingdom is here right now, is there any hope for overcoming shame right here, right now? I believe there is based upon the radical transformation that’s taken place in my life. I went from being someone who spent a lot of time wallowing in my shame to someone who doesn’t have to spend much time there anymore.

The Thing That Changed My Life

How do we become free from our shame? We may be encouraged to try a few different coping mechanisms that attempt to convince ourselves that we’re good enough and worthy of belonging. You may have tried some of these methods and maybe they worked for you, but no amount of attempting to convince myself of these things made a single dent in my struggle with shame. The struggle still existed.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think the problem with these methods is that they are based on what I believe to be a bad foundation. As long as humans have been around, we’ve believed that humanity is ultimately good at heart. Of course this is what we believe. What person wants to arrive at the conclusion that humanity is intrinsically evil when our emotional health is at stake? To believe our hearts are evil seems like it would lead us into a never-ending state of depression.

Nonetheless, I have decided to stand among the minority who claim that our hearts are inherently evil and there’s nothing we can do to change it. This was not a conclusion I arrived at lightly; I arrived at it after spending much time and energy pouring over books, having discussions with friends, and experiencing life. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on this topic, I’d encourage you to check out my articles titled “Are There Evil People in the World?” and “Mental Disorder or Evil Heart Condition?

The reason I share this conclusion is that it was foundational in my journey to being set free. Once I began to see how evil I was and how I couldn’t do anything to set myself free, I began to see the magnitude of how great God’s love is for me. My experiences up to that point (outside of my family) had shown me that acceptance was conditional. For example, in the article I posted a few weeks ago titled “How Freedom in Jesus Impacts Our Daily Life,” I shared a story about how my elementary school classmates made fun of me because of my skinny arms. The result: I felt rejected. So I worked really hard to do something that would earn their acceptance.

For some reason, I believed God worked the same way. I thought I had to earn his acceptance. When we mix this belief with the belief that humans are ultimately good at heart, we arrive at the dangerous conclusion that we can pretty much save ourselves, but need Jesus to take care of those few times when we fail. When we fail, we need to confess our failure and try harder next time. However, if we continue to fail, God may decide to stop forgiving us. This way of thinking would make God’s love conditional. The good news is that this is not what the Bible says about God’s love.

The biblical writers tell us that God’s love for his people is unconditional; it’s not contingent upon anything we do or don’t do. Do you realize how amazing this is? While we were evil sinners who wanted nothing to do with God, he accepted us. He looked at me, a person who was inherently evil and worthless, and made the decision to make me a part of his family. Wow! That’s incredible! Who does that? Your employer doesn’t do that. Most of your friends probably wouldn’t do that. Even your family may not do that. The vast majority of people in this world accept you because of what you bring to the relationship. But not God. He accepts us even though we have nothing to offer him that he doesn’t already have.

Since this shift has happened in my life, I have become a totally different person. I can wake up every single morning knowing that although I may not be accepted by people here on earth, I am accepted by the king of the universe. Not only am I accepted by him, but he has forgiven my sins, that which had led me to feel shame. Instead of living in everlasting shame and contempt, the punishment we all justly deserve, God will bestow glory and honor upon his people.[5]

Would you like to be set free from shame? If so, I’d encourage you to seek Jesus with all your heart. As one of the biblical writers tells us, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”[6]

[1] Jon Acuff, Start: Punch Fear in the Face Escape Average Do Work that Matters (Brentwood, TN: Lampo Licensing, 2013), 153-54.
[2] J.R. Briggs, Fail: Finding Hope and Grace in the Midst of Ministry Failure (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 36-42.
[3] Brené Brown, “Listening to Shame,” TED, YouTube, March 16, 2012, accessed August 3, 2018,
[4] Daniel 12:2.
[5] I realize this statement may not sound biblical, but it is. In the story of the Prodigal Son, the father, representative of God, honors his lost son upon his return. And in Romans 8:30, we’re told, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” It’s not that we do anything to deserve honor and glory, but it’s that by being united with God, we get to share in his honor and glory.
[6] Jeremiah 29:13.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Learning to Say No

We live during an age when we are bombarded with hundreds of opportunities every day for ways in which we could spend our money, time, and energy. There are numerous advantages to having so many opportunities right in front of us, including the option to, in the case of choosing a restaurant, make a selection based on whatever we feel like eating that day. But there are also numerous disadvantages, especially for people who struggle to say “No.”

We all know we need to say “No” sometimes, but few of us are good at it saying “No” when we really need to say it. In this article, I’ll be sharing why it’s important to say “No,” digging into some of the reasons why we don’t say “No,” and sharing some ideas based on my experiences to help you develop a strategy for saying “Yes” to the right things and “No” to the wrong things.

Why It’s Important to Say No

It goes without saying that resources such as money, time, and energy are scarce. They always have been and always will be. It’s amazing to think about all the things on which we could possibly spend these resources.

What would happen if we never said “No” to anything? How quickly would our finite resources disappear? I’ll use yesterday as an example. If I wouldn’t have said “No” to anything yesterday, I would’ve built an entire ecommerce website instead of only working on it for an hour, talked with a friend for an hour instead of a half hour, made Amy a three-course meal for dinner rather than something simple, bought hundreds of dollars-worth of groceries, completed two loads of laundry, vacuumed the floors in our house, pressure washed the siding, painted our hallway, and written this article. And those are just the big items; there are plenty more smaller things I would’ve done too.

What would’ve happened if I attempted to accomplish all those things yesterday? I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get them all done, and the things I got done wouldn’t have been done well. And that was only for one day. Think about what would happen if I went for days or weeks or years without saying “No.” How hectic would my life be? I’d be so busy and worn out that I wouldn’t be able to do much of anything. Not to mention that I’d fail to say “Yes” to the things to which I really want to say “Yes.”

This is a place where I’ve found myself and where many of you find yourselves. Some of us have a very hard time saying “No,” especially to good things and/or to people we love. But if we never say “No,” then we’re going to find ourselves completely spent and burnt out to the point where we’ll be unable to function. If we’re going to be able to spend our resources on the great things in life, we’re going to have to learn how to say “No” to everything else.

Why We Struggle to Say No

In order to overcome our struggles to say “No,” we must gain some insight on why it’s so hard for us. So I’m challenging you to do some deep introspection to get to the bottom of why you say “Yes” to some things and “No” to others.

One of the biggest reasons I struggle to say “No” is that there are so many things I want to do. When a friend asks me to go to lunch, I want to do that. When a teammate asks me to play hockey, I want to do that. When Amy asks me to spend some quality time together, I want to do that. When someone asks me to help them solve a problem, I want to do that. All of these things are good things, but I never have the resources available to do everything I want to do. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

Another reason I’ve found myself struggling to say “No” is that I don’t want to disappoint people, especially the ones I’m trying to impress. I’ve often found myself in situations where someone will ask me to do something and I really don’t have the resources to do it, but I’ve done it anyway because I didn’t want to disappoint them. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

In my former life, I struggled to say “No” when I was asked to do something connected with the church or charitable organizations. For some reason, I had it in my head for many years that I was called to take every opportunity to serve God through serving at my church and serve others by volunteering to help them. We can become so invested in serving God and others that we miss out on opportunities to spend quality time with him. If you’d like to read a more detailed explanation of this topic, I’d encourage you to check out my article entitled Can We Be Too Busy Doing Things for God? Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

A reason I’ve seen some of my friends struggle with saying “No” is that they feel like they have to say “Yes” in order to continue getting what they want from another person. For example, someone may want acceptance and finds someone who accepts them. But that acceptance may be conditional meaning that the person has to continue saying “Yes” in order to continue being accepted. The moment the person says “No” will be the moment he or she is no longer accepted. Could this be a reason you struggle to say “No?”

These are only a few of the many reasons why we may struggle to say “No.” Before you move on to the next section of this article, I encourage you to spend at least a few minutes thinking about why you struggle saying “No” to some of the people in your life.

How to Say Yes to the Right Things and No to the Wrong Things

As I watch people attempt to navigate their way through life, I’ve discovered that most people really don’t have a vision for where they want to go in their life. We only have one life. It started at some point and it’s going to end at some point. What’s your objective for the time in between? Since “right” and “wrong” in this sense are relative terms, the answer to this question will determine what’s “right” and “wrong” when it comes to saying “Yes” and “No.”

As a disciple of Jesus, my vision for my life is to look more and more like Jesus every single day. I seek to accomplish this objective by worshiping him every minute of every day through things such as spending time with God, being in community and fellowship with other Christians, and participating with Jesus in his earthly mission. More specifically, I intentionally read my Bible every day, spend time with Amy, spend time with friends, play hockey, build websites, write blog posts, and am on the board at Habitat for Humanity. These activities all provide me with opportunities to worship God through the three things I mentioned above. There are so many other things I could do with my resources, but those are the only ones I’m doing right now because that’s about as much as I can do while maintaining a healthy life.

When I’m asked to do something, this is what I use to determine whether I should say “Yes” or “No.” Currently, my plate is full, so there’s no room to add anything else without removing something. If I decide I want to say “Yes” to something else, then I have to decide what thing I’m currently doing which I will no longer do. It’s very hard to pass up on good things that I’d like to do, but that’s what I need to do in order to continue maintaining a physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy lifestyle; I have to say “No” to good things in order to say “Yes” to the best things.

If you struggle to say “No” or don’t know what things to say “No” to, I’d encourage you to start by determining your vision for your life. I hope you’ll spend more than 5 minutes developing this vision. More than likely, it’ll take you a few months or even a few years to come up with it, which is perfectly okay.

Once you have set your vision, think about how, on a higher level, you might be able to accomplish this vision. For example, I determined that accomplishing my vision was going to involve worshiping Jesus every minute of every day by spending time with God, spending time in community and fellowship with other Christians, and participating with Jesus in his mission. Make sure these items are broad enough to include a wide range of activities so that you don’t limit yourself to only a few activities.

After you determine how you’re going to get there, then weigh every opportunity that comes your way against your objective and sub-objectives. Do you think this new opportunity will lead you closer to your objective? Remember, there are lots of “good” things we can do. But simply doing “good” things isn’t what we’re trying to accomplish. What if you have the opportunity to give up something “good” for something “great?” This is where I’d encourage you to ask whether this new opportunity will accomplish your vision better than something else you’re currently doing. If so, then you’ll probably want to say “Yes” to it and “No” to the other thing.

A Word of Caution

Before I conclude, I want to make a few clarifications on this topic because I could see how this discussion could be misinterpreted. My proposed strategy isn’t intended to be enslaving. If it becomes enslaving, then ditch it. What I’ve presented is intended to set you free; free from the feeling that you have to say “Yes” to things to which you really want to say “No.” By having a vision for where you want to go, you have the freedom to say “No” and have a logical explanation for why you made that decision, recognizing that you’re trading it for something better.

I’m not encouraging you to become inflexible. An inflexible person is someone who doesn’t consider any additional options because his plate is already full. A flexible person is someone whose plate is full, but is willing to consider an option and say “No” to another one when a better one comes along.

Lastly, I’m not encouraging you to ditch your commitments midway through completing them if a better option comes along. There may be times you have to do this, but it probably shouldn’t be the norm. Instead, I’d encourage you to complete your commitment, and then say “No” to similar future commitments. For example, if you’re serving a one year term in a leadership role for a non-profit organization and realize 6 months into it that there’s another opportunity which will help you better accomplish your vision, I’d encourage you to complete your term, and say “No” when asked to serve another term.

What did you learn about yourself from this article? How will you apply the things you’ve learned so that you can be more willing to say “Yes” and “No” when needed?