Ragging and Bragging

Humility is not one of my most notable virtues. I may not always come off as arrogant, but I’m pretty sure that I’m more than sure of myself most of the time.

At the same time, I’m also prone to brutal self-criticism. Yeah, I’m a mess.

I walk and talk like I’m the most confident person in the world, and sometimes…sometimes, I even fool myself. But not for long.

No, I crash pretty quickly, and amidst the wreckage all I can find is self-doubt, second-guessing, and despair.

But enough about me and how I’m in this cycle of “bragging and ragging.” It’s time to break that pattern.

The Wrong Kind of Bragging

I was a bit of a “holy roller” in high school: Christian t-shirts, a Book of Hope, and an overactive sense of my own morality. Whether my classmates caught or not, I still feel terrible about my attitude toward many of them.

To anyone who had to deal with me between 1998 and 2002, especially the graduating class of 2002, I’m sorry.

You see, I had the Christian t-shirts and literature, but I didn’t have a fundamental awareness of the Jesus I was representing. I was trying to brag about myself, my morality, my ability to follow the rules. Only years later would I come to realize how far off I truly was.

You see, after college, I made a startling discovery about the truth of Christianity: my efforts, my successes, and—thank God, my failures!—don’t matter. My relationship with Jesus has never been about what I bring to the table. I could give you a lot of references to the Bible to support this, but if you’re a Christian and reading the Bible hasn’t made this clear to you yet, then I don’t know what else will help.1 If you’re not a Christian, reading a bunch of Bible verses wouldn’t mean much to you, so let me tell you a little story. (Of course, if you’d like a more traditional church presentation of this same idea, you can check out this sermon or this one.)

There once was a king who ruled his kingdom with absolute power, but he did so perfectly. He didn’t abuse his power but instead used it to protect and promote the welfare of his subjects. Even still, this wasn’t good enough for some people. They tried to stage a rebellion against the king. They failed.

He brought them before him and passed sentence upon them: death. (What king, even one so noble, would let rebels live? They would always be a threat to his kingdom.) However, before the sentence could be carried out, the king’s son, the crown prince, stepped in…

But that’s a different story that what I want to tell right now, and you can probably see through the analogy anyway. Let’s fast forward a bit. The rebels, having been spared their punishment, have not been released back to their homes. Instead, they have been adopted into the king’s family and given all the rights and privileges of his son, the crown prince.

Now, imagine that one of those rebels, living in the luxury and splendor of the palace, goes down to the stables everyday to work. Not because he wants to. In fact, he really doesn’t like horses. No, he goes to the stables in a feeble attempt to “earn his keep.” He fails to realize, however, that sons don’t earn their keep. Sons enjoy the blessings and love of the father. They may work for enjoyment and a sense of satisfaction that one takes from the work one loves, but there is no need to work for the purpose of earning anything. All has been provided by the father, the king.

I was that adopted son, the former rebel, who for some reason thought that he must earn what the King freely offered. I thought that I had to obey, had to perform, had to earn in order to make God happy. And so I worked, strove, suffered, and sacrificed to please God.

And I bragged about my successes.

And I ragged on my failures.

I was a terrible Christian.

Return on Investment

And maybe I still am, at times. You see, I sometimes worry about how much God gave to get me. The price was high; has it been worth it? When I ask the question, it’s a sign that I’m about to rag on myself for being a failure. This is not how it should be. My entire mindset has been wrong for a long time, and I’m still learning how to correct.

How wrong have I been about Christianity? Once, I literally prayed that I would give God a good “return on investment.” Yep, that’s right. I prayed that God, who has chosen me to be one of His children and gladly calls Himself my “Father,” would get a spiritual “profit” off the investment of His Son’s life in the process of my salvation.

But God doesn’t view me as an investment opportunity; He sees me as a son to love, nurture, and correct.

He’s see you the same way, and I’m sorry if my life hasn’t been a good presentation of that truth.

The theme of the gospel isn’t, “Look at Jesus’ life and do the same.” That’s impossible. No, the them of the gospel is: Look at Jesus’ sacrifice. Accept His death in your place and His righteousness for your selfishness. Then, let God teach you how to live like Jesus.

You see, one of the biggest truths of the gospel is that Jesus came to Earth to do what we couldn’t do: live rightly. When He died for our sins, He didn’t just take away all of the bad things we’d done by suffering our punishment. He also gave us His righteousness. This means that I no longer have a long record of failures; I have Jesus’ record of successful living. When God looks at me, He doesn’t see a failure, a rebel, a wretch. He sees His Son, even though I’ll never be able to live up to the standard Jesus set.

This is the gospel, though: I don’t have to measure up to Jesus’ standard. I get to rest upon His success and allow God to work in my heart and slowly teach and transform me so that I am free to rise to Jesus’ standard. Will I make it in this life? Will I achieve moral perfection? No, of course not, but that’s even more reason to stop trying. I can stop trying to earn God’s love by being good and simply rest in the goodness of Jesus.

My bad cycle of bragging and ragging starts with my sick desire to earn God’s love. If I wasn’t trying to do good in order to be loved and accepted, I would have nothing to brag about, and since I can fail if I’m not trying to succeed, I wouldn’t have to rag on myself. At this point, I can resist inserting a little bit of scripture.

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:1-10 (The Message)

New Bragging; No Ragging

We have nothing to brag about except what Jesus did for us. “He loves me so much that…” We can brag about that, but then again, we could all brag about that. We could all boast and brag about how much our Father loves us, and we’d all be right and no one would be wronged. Because bragging about me implicitly rags on you for not measuring up to me, but, if I’m bragging about the love God has for me and the righteousness that Christ have given me, there’s no condemnation or criticism directed at you because you have the same opportunity to receive both love and righteousness from God, just as I have.

This is how awesome God is: He gives us a new way off bragging—about Him and His love for us—that lifts us up—He loves me!—without putting others down—He loves you, too! Even better, because my bragging is about what Jesus has done for me and the goodness He provides for me, there is no set-up for ragging. I can’t rag on myself for failing to meet a standard that Jesus has already met! Sure, I definitely need correction in a few areas of my life, and I need to continue to go to God for the strength to succeed in those areas, but I no longer need to worry about succeeding as a means to earn God’s love and salvation. That’s all be dealt with on my behalf by Jesus. I have a new way of bragging and no need for ragging.

Conclusion

My posts usually seem to conclude with a blanket apology from me for rambling on and on, but I think this post needs it more than most. When the author choose himself as his own subject, it’s bound to be a messy work, but I hope that you’ve found something in here that can help you.


  1. Though, I may write a post about this with the scriptural references later. 

Re-Contextualizing Jesus

recontextualize-jesus
I love a good story, especially one in which I can place myself. It helps the story transcend the page and become a “mental movie,” an immersive experience that draws upon the imagination as upon one’s own sense of self.

The Bible contains many such stories. Stories full of flawed, broken people. who are just as flawed and broken as we, making the same stupid mistakes that we would likely make in their circumstances.

Of course, when we read ourselves into Bible stories, we run the risk of reading our own thoughts and interpretations into the Scripture as opposed to letting it speak to itself. But that’s not what I want to talk about today, though I probably should at some point.

For now, however, I’d rather talk about the dangerous practice of re-contextualizing Jesus.

You may have already heard the term “decontextualizing,” which happens when we remove something or someone like Jesus from His original context, stripping Him from the culture and larger narrative of Scripture. This happens all the time, but at the same time, it doesn’t. Confused? Good. That’s what I’m here for.

Politics & the People of God

politics.001
These are my notes from a talk I gave at church. Sorry if they are a bit hard to follow. I’ll post a link to the audio soon.

I’m going to quickly address how Christians should view themselves politically and how we should and shouldn’t engage in politics.

Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
John 18:33-36

1) Christians are Citizens of Jesus’ Kingdom

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:2-21

Even as we live in the United States, we are already living under the authority of Christ the King. We cannot be saved without becoming His royal servants.

Dressing to Impress Jesus

dressing-impress

I grew in a fairly conservative family, fashion-wise. We wore dress clothes on Sunday mornings.

Every Sunday morning.

The only Sunday morning that I can remember not wearing dress clothes during my childhood was when we had a “founders’ day” party and all the men wore overalls, and the women wore olde-fashioned dresses.

That was the one time.

Everyone a Prophet

This is a sermon I spoke back in January. I wanted to address the idea that all Christians should be living prophetic lives. Honestly, if I say much more about it, there won’t be much to share. So, with that, please enjoy.

[Featured image via FreeImages.com/lumix2004]

The Kingdom of God by Francis Thompson

kingdom-of-god

Francis Thompson1 was a nineteenth century English poet. He was widely acclaimed as a genius, and yet he suffered from a crippling opium addiction. He would spend his days on the streets of a rough section of London known as Charing Cross and his nights sleeping alongside the River Thames. I’ve heard this poem quote a few times, and I love it more and more each time. The language is old and a bit complicated, but focus on the theme of God’s Kingdom being both cosmic and eternal and yet near to us, ever-present, and our natural habitat.

“The Kingdom of God”2
O WORLD invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!
Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air–
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?
Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars!–
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.
The angels keep their ancient places–
Turn but a stone and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.
But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry–and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.
Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!


  1. The following comes from many mentions of Thompson in the messages of Ravi Zacharias and the highly reputable, venerable source of all Internet knowledge, Wikipedia

  2. Found on Poets’ Corner 

Ridiculous (Un-Biblical) Sayings #1: “Only God Can Judge Me”

ridiculous

I’m not known for an overwhelming abundance of mercy, but I am working on that. As part of this desire for personal improvement, I thought that I should perhaps vent some of my inner anger by writing about some of the things that add to the rage.

This week, I’ve chosen to write about some stupid sayings that truly bother me. Am I easily bothered? Yes, but I already admitted that. It’s why I’m writing this. Try to keep up.

Anyway, without wasting anymore time, let’s jump right into this.

“Only God can judge me.”

Rob Bell: Amateur Lumberjack

Rob Bell, Axe in Hand

I’m not a fan of Rob Bell.

But I am a fan of mercy, grace, and trying to understand people before making any judgement’s about what they are saying. I don’t always succeed at that, by the way, but I think I’m getting better.

Not perfect. Just better.

So what’s my problem with Rob? Certainly not his style. His style is quite enjoyable, even enviable. Nor is it his quest—intentional or not—to question everything. If we question nothing, we never learn anything for ourselves, and I’ve been known to ask a few troubling questions myself.

No, it’s not the style or the questioning.

It’s his penchant for behaving as an erstwhile, amateur lumberjack, sawing at the tree trunk of Christian theology while we’re all (Rob included) hanging from its branches.

Psalm for the Theologian

1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 131

Read this psalm as a part of the Book of Common Prayer, and I instantly thought that it would be a good one for theologians (and pastors).

It reminded me, in a way, of this quote from Spurgeon1:

It has been said by some one that “the proper study of mankind is man.” I will not oppose the idea, but I believe it is equally true that the proper study of God’s elect is God; the proper study of a Christian is the Godhead. The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity; so deep, that our pride is drowned in its infinity. Other subjects we can compass and grapple with; in them we feel a kind of self-content, and go our way with the thought, “Behold I am wise.” But when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb-line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height, we turn away with the thought, that vain man would be wise, but he is like a wild ass’s colt; and with the solemn exclamation, “I am but of yesterday, and know nothing.” No subject of contemplation will tend more to humble the mind, than thoughts of God.


  1. From his sermon “The Immutability of God” 

The Story Without A Conflict

Do you remember seeing a chart like the one above when you were in eighth grade? It’s called the “story arc” or “dramatic structure” or a bunch of other things. In essence, it’s a graphic representation of the action and flow of a story from “Once upon a time…” all the way to “…happily ever after.”

I love this chart for so many reasons, mainly because I’m a story nerd. I enjoy studying stories and understanding how they work.

But I also love this chart because it’s a great indicator of the human condition.

Not sure what I mean? Allow me to explain.

Good Conflict = Good Story

Look at that story arc again. How does it start? “Well, it starts with ‘exposition.’ Whatever that it is.”1

That’s technically right, but look again. Where does the story really start? With conflict. The conflict comes, and the story takes off. It’s the conflict that gets the story going and keeps it going until it’s resolved. Good stories have good conflicts that we can readily relate to or find exciting or compelling.

The worst stories are the ones that have a bad conflict—one that’s confusing, one that can’t be related to but isn’t exciting or confusing, etc.—or no conflict at all. You know that one uncle who tells stories at Thanksgiving that have neither point nor punchline? He’s telling stories that are missing a good conflict.

But Conflicts Aren’t Good

A good conflict makes for a good story, and yet aren’t conflicts bad? Doesn’t the presence of a conflict mean the absence of peace?

Conflicts are bad. Conflicts are problems that spark the action of the story. If there are no problems, there are no conflicts, and all of the characters are at peace, enjoying their lives. Ever wonder why the filmmakers don’t include more scenes of the film where the main characters are simply hanging out for no reason, with no plot advancement? It’s because that doesn’t make for a very exciting movie, unless you’re into that.

So, all of our stories—except for those written to intentionally attempt to defy this law—begin with and are driven by conflict?

What does that say about us?

Fallen Humans, Fallen World, Fallen Stories

All of our stories begin with conflict because our lives are filled with conflict, but it’s not because the presence of conflict makes it easy for us to relate to the story because we have conflict in our lives. The presence of conflicts in stories and our lives comes from the fact that we are all characters in God’s story, a story that contains the mother of all conflicts.

In the beginning…once upon a time…God created a perfect world, free from conflict, discord, and pain. We brought conflict into this world, and thus, into our lives. The Gospel, the story of Jesus, is the story of God entering into our conflict to bring a permanent and final resolution.

We created the conflict in God’s story, and God has sent Jesus to begin the process of resolving this conflict.

But wait! When that happens, when Heaven comes to Earth and all conflict is resolved, what happens to the story?

Won’t a story without a conflict be terrible and dull?

No Conflict = Better Stories

I’ve already stated that good conflicts make for good stories and that stories without conflict are boring. So, now, we have a conflict, a contradiction, in this blog post, right? No.

Stories that are told without a conflict are pointless. We have a conflict in our story; our story has a point. When we reach that resolution, we’ll finally be living in the “happily ever after.” That doesn’t sound boring at all.

“But didn’t God plan to have a story without a conflict? And don’t stories that end with a ‘happily ever after’ often return with a sequel, conflict-driven story?”

Yes, He did. More on that in a second.

Sequels are created to bring back the characters in a new story, and they require a new conflict because we don’t want a story where the characters are merely sitting around. We can’t imagine a story without conflicting being exciting. We want to see these characters being heroic, brave, etc. We crave stories of wonder and thrill, that see characters move beyond what they know about life and themselves into a new world beyond anything they’d experienced before.

And that’s exactly the kind of story God planned for us in the first place. He planned a story that we have seen us growing closer and closer to our infinite Creator, constantly discovering more and more of who He is and being changed by it. This is the story we will have after Heaven has come to Earth. Conflict resolved, but discovery, adventure, and excitement brought to their highest peaks, beyond anything imagined in this life, each and every moment that we live in the perfect presence of God.

Conclusion

This isn’t an easy topic. It’s very conceptual and abstract, but let me close by summarizing as simply as possible. Before that, however, let me suggest the CS Lewis book The Great Divorce. While it’s a highly speculative and metaphorical book, it presents a view of Heaven that lines up with a lot of what I’m trying to say.

God started a story without a conflict, but we introduced a conflict through sin. God sent Jesus to live, die, and be resurrected to remove our sin and restore our relationship with Him, beginning the process of resolving the conflict. We living in a world of conflict and seek to entertain ourselves with stories that are driven by conflict. And yet, part of us desires a compelling story full excitement and yet devoid of conflict.

And that’s the story that God is going to inaugurate as soon as this one is fully resolved, when Heaven comes to Earth.

[Featured Image Via Ms. Snowden’s English Blog]


  1. ‘Exposition’ is the background of a story—the introduction of characters, setting, etc. It gives the reader some context that helps the reader understand the rest of the story.