God built it; we didn’t

I used to build enormous towers out of blocks when I was four years old. My mom’s fridge still has a picture of me standing next to one of my towers beaming with pride. I built it. It’s a phrase that embodies the essence of human pride. Building something permanent was the ancient pagan form of immortality — to leave a legacy, hopefully with an engraving or a statue, so that no one would ever forget you. This is why the people of Babel decided to build their tower: “so that we may make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4). For the ancient pagans, pride was a virtue, because pride was the anchor upon which good social behavior was built. To some degree, this is still the case today; people who want to be known as respectable try not to behave unseemly because of their pride. However, there is also a very pernicious side to pride. It can very easily mutate from dignified self-confidence into a neurotic neediness that makes us unsympathetic to others and dishonest about our flaws. Pride becomes a very lonely prison in which our ambitious agenda of self-promotion keeps us from having authentic, vulnerable relationships with other people. That is why one of the greatest gifts God gives us is to teach us to say, “God built it; we didn’t.” Continue reading

I want to be in the 1% who get God’s grace

Apparently there have been a number of photos circulating the Internet in which people hold posters that say why they are or aren’t part of “the 99%” represented by the Occupy Wall Street movement. I just discovered this phenomenon last night. The pro-99% posters typically sound something like this: “I’m a single mom with five kids who works 80 hours a week and pays $20,000 a year for childcare. I am the 99%.” The anti-99% posters typically sound like: “I worked five jobs to pay my way through college and now I’m going to graduate debt-free. I would not blame the government or Wall Street for my own bad decisions (if I had made any). I am NOT the 99%.”

I would say that each type of poster expresses in a different way being part of the 99% of human beings who don’t get God’s grace, at least not how it’s described in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” The 1% of people who understand God’s grace to be the foundation of their being live in the incredible freedom of not needing to justify themselves before others and twist the stories of their lives into arguments for why they deserve to be taken seriously. Continue reading

“If you’re not rich, blame yourself” (Herman Cain vs. John Wesley)

“If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.” Thus says Herman Cain to the unemployed Wall Street protestors. I understand why he said it. He wants to live in a world where the American Dream works, where being optimistic and entrepreneurial and hard-working guarantees success. Cain wants for blame to be something that is distributed neatly and perfectly between individual people. This could be described as an ethic of individual responsibility. Continue reading

Why God-reliance and self-reliance are utterly incompatible

I know that I got under some people’s skin for beefing with Dave Ramsey on Red Letter Christians. I’ve never been in debt. If I had and some guy’s videos helped me out of it, I would be hurt if some random cocky young blogger was hating on my hero. So I wanted to try to explain where I’m coming from and why I felt compelled to speak out. Continue reading