Up until the 7th grade, the most hardcore music I had ever encountered was DC Talk and Carman’s Yo Kids albums. That innocence was shattered when I was introduced to gangsta rap—by three white classmates at my Christian private school. My ears curiously perked up as they recited lyrics from Coolio’s, Gangstas Paradise.
I was in awe; I had died and gone to Compton.
So naturally, I began to embrace my destiny--to be a ruthless gangster. But the odds were against me. And by odds, I’m referring my affluent neighborhood, my coke-bottle eyeglasses, my out-of-fashion no-fade flat-top haircut... and the fact that everyone I knew called me ‘Steve Erkel’.
Even people I didn’t know called me Steve Erkel!
But then I got a fresh start. My family and I moved from the suburbs of Dallas, to the suburbs of Los Angeles. This was my chance to re-brand myself--to get rid of the Erkel-esque resemblance. “I was a new creation, old things are passed away!”
But going from a clumsy nerd to a cold-blooded gangsta wasn’t overnight—and the first thing that had to go was my 2 inch thick (practically bullet-proof) eye-glasses. Shout out to Acuvue!
Next, I began to dress like a gangsta—blue chucks, thick blue laces, blue Dickies, blue shirt, blue bandana! But my glorious transformation only became complete when I got my hair corn-rowed. Granted, the latter was a short lived endeavor… as my mother practically spanked the braids out me.
Nonetheless, in my heart, I was an honorary Gangsta Crip. Why crip? Because Snoop Dogg was a crip. In fact, most of my favorite rappers either ‘claimed crip’ or were crip-affiliated. And I wanted to resemble my idols.
The one thing I didn’t wanna be, was a wanna-be gangster. So I decided that I would prove to myself to myself—once and for all, by robbing a liquor store.
Ok, it was a donut store. But I still intended to rob it!
So I packed my .357 magnum… ok, it was a pellet gun. But who could tell with the red safety tip broken off?
Then I cruised up to the donut store… on my bike. Yes, I intended to flee from an armed robbery on a 6-gear Mongoose. Teenage genius! But as I kicked up my kickstand, I began to have second thoughts. I was 17, and if caught, the courts could have me tried as an adult.
“Stop being a lil punk,” I told myself. Real gangstas don’t get scared. Go get this money!
I didn’t need this money. I lived in the nicest, newest, most affluent neighborhood in Riverside. But what I needed was to resemble the rappers I idolized--the rappers I had made gods.
As I began to walk into the donut store, everything shifted into slow motion… like a movie. I made eye contact with the cashier and began to reach for my waist. But then, for some reason, I looked back.
A cop was driving by… and he looked at me dead in my eyes.
My heart was thumping so loud I could barely hear the cashier… asking me what kind of donut I wanted. I hopped on my get-away-vehicle and began to repent as I pedaled through of all the scenarios in which this self-imposed gang initiation could’ve ended.
I could’ve been arrested at best, killed at worst… and I doubt Snoop Dogg or any of those rappers whose music I had glorified would’ve attended my funeral. This ‘gangsta’s paradise’ I was reaching for, wasn’t worth the cost.
Nowadays, I’m a bit more mature. And as a Christian, my desire is to resemble Christ. And the one thing I don’t wanna be, is a wanna-be. But when it comes to really carrying my cross, crucifying the flesh, and abiding by the Spirit… I’ve found myself to be just as phony a Christian, as I was a gangsta.
Once again, the odds are against me. And these are the same odds that many Christians today are facing. The odds I’m referring to are:
1) Environments in which we’re pressed to compromise. Instead of producing fruits of the Spirit—to spread light to our friends—we become a product of our surroundings.
2) The music/media that uninterruptedly pump our minds with a hedonistic message--sexual deviance, lust for possessions, and self-glorification. Instead of thinking about ‘whatever is pure’ (Phil. 4:8), we entertain the thought of sin all day, every day.
3) But the worst of them all is the third. In fact, this odd is so great, that if we could overcome it, the rest of the odds would fall like dominos. It’s the fact that we’re spiritually starving. Christ said, “Man shall not live by break alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). But instead, we’ve made physical bread our main concern. In fact, we’re concerned about it multiple times a day… but of course, it is a necessity to life.
Is not God’s word a necessity to spiritual life?
So many of us are caught in the middle. Will we ever reach our paradise, or is ‘death to self’ too much? Perhaps we’ll shrug off the conviction and sheepishly pedal back to our comfort zones.
I came across a distant friend’s page on Instagram and I couldn’t help but notice that he had a massive following. “How is this possible?” I somewhat enviously said to myself. I mean, it would make sense if the guy had abs, or maybe even if he had abs.
I really want abs.
I admit, some people have managed to gain a sizable following without the use of abs. They have on display, some unique talent. But he had no talent! Well, I’m sure he had some talent, but it wasn’t exhibited on his account.
Not long after my observation, Instagram began sending out notifications regarding "changes in the number of followers" people have. Apparently, there’s an entire industry devoted to creating fake accounts with the intention of selling ‘followers’. The industry is referred to as ‘click farming’--and Instagram had targeted it. (Much to the dismay of my untalented friend.)
Essentially, someone could go from having 20 followers to 20,000 followers by paying a fee. What a Godsend! But here’s the downfall, real people may observe the discrepancy between your audience and the activity on your page. For example, an account with 20,000 followers but only 20 likes and 2 comments is a red flag. And having a fake following only makes your account look like a silly, pointless, waste of time.
Wouldn’t it be better to have a handful of real friends following you, than thousands of fake ones? Either way, Instagram had recognized the problem, and was about to clean it up—and we’d be foolish to think that Christ won’t do the same.
You see, the church today has become much like the industry devoted to ‘farming’ accounts. And people have noticed the discrepancy between the billions that follow Christ, and the little activity done (not just in His name, but more importantly, in His will). As a result, Christianity looks fake—a silly, pointless, waste of time.
During Jesus' ministry, many wanted to follow Him, but He turned them away—their hearts weren’t truly His. Now, when I said the Sinner’s Prayer at age I-don’t-remember, I proclaimed that I wanted to follow Jesus. And when I was finally baptized at age I-don’t-remember, I again proclaimed that I wanted to follow Jesus. But is my activity reflecting that I am following Jesus? Is my heart is truly His, or am I just another farmed account?
If so, the day will ultimately come when I’ll be separated from His real followers.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” Matthew 13:24-29
At this time, I would like to propose a toast to those who make Comfortable Christianity possible. Cheers! To all the pastors who don’t mention sin, or even better, downplay sin. After all, why dodge it when we can dismiss it — it’s all covered in our comprehensive grace policy!
Thanks for teaching us how to be better people — in terms of purpose, passion, and prosperity — as opposed to being better disciples of Christ. Unless of course, that discipleship somehow benefits us in terms of purpose, passion, and prosperity. After all, we delight in the Lord, so that He makes our lives delightful.
Whatever our ages, we have remained infants in Christ — sustained only by your regurgitation of the Word. Your charisma and charm is like a parent who makes airplane noises in an attempt to feed an unwilling baby. Thanks for accommodating to our pickiness with extra helpings of Jeremiah 29 and other ‘plans and promises’.
With your help, we have cultivated an environment in which correcting our brothers and sisters is perceived of as being judgmental. Off with the whistleblower’s head! We’re so afraid of offending each other, that we offend God instead. Well played.
However, I do have a bone to pick with some of you. The one command given substantial importance is tithes and offerings. This bites. Especially when it seems that the only thing being “pressed down, shaken together and running over,” is your pockets!
I would point out that Apostle Paul spread the gospel working as a layman so that he wouldn’t financially burden those he ministered to, but ultimately, he burdened them with truth! –that sly devil!
Paul insisted that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Like a bait and switch, he pulled us in with grace, and then stung us with a responsibility to become living sacrifices — crucified with Christ. Just referencing it gives me chills.
Jesus taught us that He was the tree, we are His branches. Our role is to abide in Him, and He will abide in us. But you, pastor, have become our tree. We abide in you; we are your branches. And with your aid, we’ve indefinitely postponed discipline.
I often wonder, have you comforted yourself with the same skewed faith that you have comforted us with, or are you a closet atheist making use your charisma? After all, being positive is good, but it’s not the only thing.
Thank you, for making it the only thing.
When it’s all said and done, I raise my glass to you. If it weren’t for your misguidance, where would we be? After all, we probably wouldn’t attend your service. Your pews would be empty, as would be your five-car garage! I guess we’d just have to find ourselves another to teach us “whatever our itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).
Lately there’s been much speculation about whether or not I’ve ‘sold my soul to the devil’—all because I begin my concerts by shouting, “I’ve sold my soul to the devil!” C’mon guys, I’m just kidding. But even if I did sell it—for fame, money, and sex—at least I got more out of the deal than you did.
“I didn’t make any deal,” you say?
Like you, I grew up in church. Will I ever come back to God? I dunno man. Right now, I’m practically God myself! And all of you lemmings have only supported that notion. Excuse my ego, but my songs are played everywhere… all of the clubs, all of the gyms, even churches re-mix ‘sanctified’ versions!
Your desire for my music is a consuming fire--consuming your thoughts, emotions, and ultimately, actions.
My music is like porn for your ears. And what porn addict doesn’t want to try the things he/she watches? (If only internally.) Consider this: your desire for sex is natural, but porn is your fantasy. Likewise, your desire for a good life is natural, but my music is an escape—the pleasure, the partying, the luxurious living--it’s your fantasy.
Is there a single listener who wouldn’t want to live my life? (If only internally.)
“I don’t listen to the words, I just like the beat,” you say? Excellent compromise. Never mind that Lucifer was God’s worship leader--music is his expertise. But you can magically eliminate his spiritual influence by ‘not listening to the words’!
Have I become Lucifer’s puppet? Have you?
Now as far as my soul is concerned, I may have gone too far. You all, on the other hand, have not gone far enough. You Christians act like you desire God, but in truth, you desire the world.
The problem isn’t that you listen to my music, it’s your desire. You see, I desire sex, revelry, and luxury, and I get it all. On the other hand, you (if only internally) desire sex, revelry, and luxury, but can only listen. Why? You’re restricted by your faith! (and finances lol)
Jesus didn’t set you free, He became your captor—you’re captive to His rules! You only obey Him to escape from hell, not because you desire to be disciplined after Him.
I hear your petty debates about whether or not Christians can listen to my music. That’s not the point. If God was truly your desire, you would want more of Him. You wouldn’t have to intentionally cut off my music--it would burn off of you.
The Lord is a consuming fire--consuming your thoughts, emotions, and ultimately, actions.
It scares you, doesn’t it—surrendering all to Christ? Ultimately, you end up surrendering ‘some’ and not ‘all’. I’ve been there before… but I realized surrendering ‘some’ was meaningless. So I drifted from the gray area that you’re in now, to a darker side.
There’s been much speculation about whether or not I’ve ‘sold my soul to the devil’. But even if I did sell it—for fame, money, and sex—at least I got more out of the deal than you did. “I didn’t make any deal,” you say? Compromise is a deal.
“You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
I love, I Love Lucy. In a memorable episode, a silly martial argument leads to splitting the house with a rope line. And although the division only caused more conflict, for viewing purposes, it was quite comical.
The Jamie Foxx Show re-mixed the scenario—its version leading to a diplomatic dance-off!
In both situations, the house-mates agree to disagree—only to realize that their home was no longer functional. For example, the television was on one person’s side, but the outlet was on the other’s. And while one was chuckling along to his favorite show, the other justifiably yanked out the plug!
Our bodies are temples which house conflicting entities, both flesh and spirit. As opposed to ‘crucifying the flesh’ so the spirit can reign within us, we often take a diplomatic approach. We agree to disagree. We give a part of ourselves to the desires of the spirit, and the other part to the desires of the flesh--it’s the foundation of Comfortable Christianity. And what God is doing on one side, the flesh is yanking out on the other.
I’ll give you a general example.
Like many Comfortable Christians, I love Jesus… and secular music… that usually glorifies sex, drugs, and drunkenness. I often tried to remedy this disagreement between flesh and spirit by dividing my attention—I’d listen to gansta rap, and then balance it with Hillsong worship.
Both a tragedy and a comedy, Comfortable Christianity is like a sitcom. The world is watching our compromising resolutions, which for their purposes, is quite comical.
Essentially we’re saying, “Stay on your side of the line, Jesus. This half is yours, and this half will remain carnal. Don’t touch my material envy, my sex life, my pride, my whatever.”
But here’s the ultimate catch: the division within us--the lines we draw preventing Christ to take hold of the entire ‘temple’--is exactly what Satan desires. The compromise not only stumps our spiritual growth, but it brings mockery from unbelievers. A tragedy for us, a comedy for them.
“As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Romans 2:24
(This blog is available in audio and text)
Like many people, I’m getting back into the gym. As I hopped on the bench press, I was reminded by my ego of how much I used to lift. But my ego has got me in trouble before.
On one occasion, I was working out next to this guy who was training deadlifts (a lower back exercise) with a lady-friend. I thought to myself, “I will show this puny man (who was actually quite buff) how to impress a woman!” I slapped on 90 pounds more than he was lifting--and began repping.
With each rep, I let out a cry of brute prowess to ensure that the couple—and everyone within earshot--could see how a real man lifts. (and hear how a real man lifts!) But as I began to finish my set—8, ahhh! 9 ahhh! 10—AHHHHH! My back, my back! OMG, MY BACK!
One ear went loud, the other, went deaf. Dizzy dizzy I very got! I couldn’t even breathe. I was on the verge of losing consciousness--and I was still holding the weight. Dropping it meant hurting my ego, right next to the couple that I had been flexing on.
I calmly lowered the weight, then walked over to a yoga mat to lie down for the next few hours.
With this lesson in mind, I decided to start humbly—lifting much less weight than I previously had. But what would really help is a gym buddy; I could really use the help of someone to encourage me, to focus me, and most importantly, to spot me.
When someone spots you, it enables you to push to the point of failure as opposed to racking up the weights when you think you can’t do any more. Without a spotter, we’d probably quit a set before reaching this point because, well, we don’t weights collapsing on us.
But if we do have a spotter, yet refuse to give it our all, we nullify the purpose of having a spotter-he’s made pointless.
When Jesus was called ‘good teacher’, He countered by saying, “why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” The very core of Christianity is coming to the understanding that we are not intrinsically good people. We’re all driven by lust, by greed, by pride--overall selfishness. Even acts that appear selfless may kick back a reward.
On one side of the prism, a person may flex his/her self-righteousness. On the other side, a person may ‘rack up the weights’ too early (essentially, not give a whole-hearted attempt at reaching holiness). This nullifies the purpose of Jesus Christ, who is able to encourage us, focus us, and most importantly, to spot us.
We all have our own weights— envy, addiction, lust, pride—whatever they may be, don’t rack the weight just because you think you can’t. When we do that, we nullify the purpose have having Jesus spot us--He’s made pointless. Jesus is there for us when we fail, but not so we can quit, and not so we can flex on others.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1
There’s something about a persistent cough that makes people feel uneasy. The sentiment is heightened if you fail to cover your mouth. But even then, your hand is practically a Petri dish!
A while back I had been coughing for a couple of days. (Fortunately, this was before the Ebola scare so my whereabouts were not being tracked by the Center for Disease Control. ) So I headed to the drugstore. I’m usually ‘in and out’ when I shop, but this time I was stuck. I noticed a package that read, “Compare active ingredient.” So I did.
The idea was to educate people, so that they don’t just choose the fanciest packaging.
Eureka! Some of the cough drops had considerably more ‘active ingredient’ than others! I picked up the strongest one and checked out.
As I waited in line, I couldn’t help but imagine taking a cough drop that had little to no active ingredient--virtually a hard candy.
Who the freak wants hard candy as a substitute for medicine?! Especially when you have anticipated healing! It’d be a case of false advertisement.
As I waited in line, I couldn’t help but see a correlation. My packaging was Christian, but there was little to no active ingredient within me--there was little to no Holy Spirit. At what point am I written off as a false advertisement?
Theoretically, a false advertisement doesn’t have to know that it’s false to be false. It just has to fail to ‘have within’ or fail to ‘do what’ it claims. And I claim to be a follower of Christ--billions of us do.
Christ called us to be salt and light, to heal our world. We often try to force ourselves so to be ‘Christian’—we use our own strength, and we fail. Liken it to being a hard candy that is trying to force itself to soothe a cough.
There’s no active ingredient.
The Holy Spirit is the active ingredient. Without the Spirit, we cannot be His disciples. Vice versa. If we are not disciplining ourselves after Christ, the Spirit is not active within us.
Let’s not fool ourselves. It’s one thing to falsely advertise, it’s another to not realize our own falsehood. Lest we be surprised when He tells us, “I never knew you.”
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5
We’ve heard it before, “New Year, new me!” LOL. Five days into January, many of us will realize it’s still the same ‘me’.
But there’s still something about reining in the ‘New Year’ that motivates us to make a change—to progress as individuals. Even if we’ve failed in all of our past New Year’s resolutions, January 1st still tempts us to be better.
But what if we saw January 1st as means to help the ones we love be better—to help them become what they dream of becoming. Instead of trying to motivate ourselves—which we usually fail at—we could strive to be motivators. After all, it reciprocates.
There’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for the past 10 years titled, Love Languages. Apparently, it’s about how to show the people you love, that they’re loved. We’re often perplexed when a loved one doesn’t appreciate something we’ve done for them. The reason is, we’re doing for them what we would love for ourselves. For example, if I bought my wife an XBOX with FIFA 15, she wouldn’t really appreciate that. I gave her what I wanted.
But one thing that we all want and need is encouragement.
A popular saying goes, “Behind every great man, is a great woman.” Vice versa. Nothing we achieve is done alone—no one pulls him/herself up with his/her own bootstraps—at the very core, we have our Father in heaven.
We need at the very least, acts of love around us.
This New Year I hope to be an encourager—one who encourages my wife, my family, and my friends to fulfill their goals in 2015. I encourage you to be one also.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29