John Crist, Jesus Christ, and me, too

Tuesday morning I got an email I’d been waiting for: the pre-sale code to buy tickets for John Crist’s upcoming comedy tour in which he was finally spending a few days in the Pacific Northwest. Between my family and my in-laws, seven of us had plans to see him live. Within a few clicks I’d secured our tickets.

The next evening I got a completely unexpected email: “In an effort to focus on his health, John Crist has made the decision to postpone his 2020 tour dates.”

A quick Google search painted the rest of the picture for me.

I am heartbroken.

Heartbroken to hear of yet more women who were treated like playthings instead of people. Heartbroken to hear of yet another well-known Christian desecrating the name of Christ. Heartbroken to know that the world has more ammunition to hurl at the “hypocrites” that claim to follow Jesus, and heartbroken to know that so many Christians are simply feeding that ammunition into their hands by openly shaming a sinner while preaching grace.

If there’s one thing I know about the Church (and perhaps this could be broadened to Western culture on the whole) right now, it’s that there are acceptable sins and unacceptable sins. There are the sinners we shun and there are the sinners we seek. There are testimonies we don’t want to hear and salvation stories we’d rather silence because their content teeters toward what we consider “not okay.” Leave your sinful addictions out of it, please, until you’re completely cured - we don’t want to hear about how God is transforming you right now, it’s the finished product we care about!

But any of us who are being self-aware on this walk with Jesus know that there are no finished products this side of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are only ugly, clumsy, moment-by-moment transformations that happen with three steps forward and two steps back.

I am grieved over John Crist’s sin. But I am hopeful for the opportunity the Church has, right now, to paint a portrait of Jesus with her response. We have a choice at this crossroads: We can respond in bitter unforgiveness and total abandonment of this man and drive deep-seated shame even deeper into the watching men and women whose sins also fall under the category of “not okay,” or we can respond with the same love and grace we ourselves have received from Jesus through no merit of our own, and watch opportunities for true healing arise.

I know that we fear being seen as licentious, permissive, or dismissive of the evils that have been committed. I feel very deeply the responsibility to honor God’s holiness by taking sin seriously. But taking sin seriously does not have to mean shaming someone for what they’ve done. It is not shame that transforms people - it is forgiveness. Shame may, for a short time, inspire them to try harder to fight their sin, but Jesus didn’t come and die so that we could try harder; He came to utterly annihilate the power of sin and death on our behalf with the power of grace. There is now, therefore, NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus.

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One day, Jesus was dining in the home of a Pharisee named Simon - an upright and God-fearing man - when a disreputable woman came in off the streets of the city. She wasn’t invited - she wasn’t the kind of person this Pharisee would ever have wanted in his home, lest she defile his pure standing before God and render him ineligible to participate in Temple worship. But she had heard Jesus was there, and she wanted the opportunity to bless Him with a gift.

Simon could only look on in horror while this disgusting sinner defiled Jesus with her touch, her tears, her hair. The heavy scent of the perfume she used to anoint His feet couldn’t mask the odor of her sinfulness. This Man could hardly be a prophet, the Pharisee mused, or He would know this woman was a sinner.

Jesus answered Simon’s smug thought with a question: “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

[Jesus] said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, the same loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:43b-50

The woman in this story was unacceptable. Her many sins were on the list of “not okay” - they were the kind that made people not even want to associate with her, lest she taint them in the eyes of others or the standing of God. And yet it was not being shamed and avoided by the religious that transformed her; it was being loved and forgiven by Jesus. He responded to the holy aloofness of Simon the Pharisee with the rebuttal: “NO CONDEMNATION.”

No one took sin as seriously as Jesus: it cost Him everything. And yet no one consistently refused to shame sinners the way Jesus did, either.

When a shamed and sinful woman is offered the redemptive power of a gracious love, she transforms into a beautiful vessel of that gracious love toward others. And we have the opportunity to see this same transformation in the lives around us if only we will respond to brokenness like Jesus does.

If any of you are heartbroken by the news about John Crist, as I am, I beg you to consider a few things as you respond:

  • Shame drives sin deeper into secret. When we publicly shame John Crist’s conduct, we do not solve the evil or prevent anyone else from struggling with the same sins - we simply communicate that if they ever dare to be honest, we will condemn and disown them. Their sins, instead of coming into the healing light of community and forgiveness, sink deeper into the dark where they can fester and grow. Do we want to see our brothers and sisters and selves transformed and made whole, or are we more comfortable sitting here in whitewashed tombs full of rot and death, as long as the outside looks nice?

  • How you respond to this distant celebrity figure is training wheels for your response when the sinner is someone close to you. And one day, no matter how well-cushioned your Christian bubble, it WILL BE someone close to you. It’s very easy to drop a fallen celebrity like a hot potato and think nothing of it, but what about when it’s your child? Your sibling? Your spouse? Every person in your life is a sinner with ugly stuff in their past and present. Grace is something to start practicing NOW.

  • Every testimony is a testimony-in-progress. Yours. Mine. John Crist’s. When we leap over one hurdle, another is only a few strides away. This race is life-long, and if we’re waiting for the finish line to celebrate God’s work, we’ll miss out on it completely! God is working NOW, in me, in you, and in John Crist. Testimonies don’t have to be wrapped up in bows with a “happily ever after” to be testimonies - and in fact, God’s magnificence usually shines brightest when we are at our smallest. If we are faithless, He remains faithful. That is a testimony.

  • Remember what kind of characters make up the pages of your Bible. You need not think hard to find examples of many believers and instruments of God who had heinous sins on their record. We may be quick to throw John Crist under the bus and yet somehow manage to see men like Abraham (who sold his wife twice to save his own skin and raped his maid) and David (who abused his power in order to commit adultery with Bathsheba and then had her husband murdered to make himself look better) as heroes of the faith. The point is that no one is righteous. Were these crimes despicable? Yes. Were these men loved by God? Also yes. The same paradox is true for all of us, and this is the heart and soul of the Good News! We come with no goodness to recommend us and yet He loves us anyway, even to death.

None of this is to minimize or dismiss the pain that John Crist’s actions have inflicted. The human beings his sin has harmed matter deeply, and they too need to be received with love and care. Unfortunately, the harm done to these specific women is but one piece of what has been revealed to be a deep and far-reaching cultural wound. It touches all of us in some way, and so we cry out for God’s comfort and abundant grace.

Are you a woman who has been objectified, belittled, or used? Me, too.

Are you a person who has been disillusioned with religion because of the rampant hypocrisy you see? Me, too.

Are you a sinner who fears that not a soul would be left by your side if they “really knew”? Me, too.

Are you a Christian who has been let down by a person of faith you looked up to? Me, too.

Are you a broken human taking three steps forward and two steps back every day on a testimony-in-progress that sometimes seems like purposeless wilderness wanderings? Me, too.

Are you left with no one to hope in but Jesus, the One who already bought your victory and has declared NO CONDEMNATION over you? Me, too.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

when reading the Bible feels dry (five questions to ask yourself)

If you have been a Christian for any length of time, I would bet that there are days... sometimes whole weeks or months or years... when your Bible feels like it weighs a hundred pounds, when it's gathered an inch of dust, when you just keep turning the pages mindlessly looking for a spot that doesn't feel completely dry, far away, irrelevant.

The stories seem ancient and meaningless. You know them by heart from your time in Sunday school, but when did the story of Jonah and a big fish actually do anything for you? So you skip ahead, far, far ahead to the New Testament, where things seem more practical for use in your 21st-century life. After all, "do" and "do not" are pretty clear no matter what century you come from, even if they aren't very interesting.

I can relate. 

I spent a lot of my life in your shoes.

There's something so frustrating about hearing all your life that this Book is the most important one you own, and yet somehow it's also the most boring.

If reading the Bible feels dry to you, the first thing I want you to do is open your heart to God's grace. The Enemy is happy enough when the Bible bores you; let's not make his day by dwelling in guilt, too.

The second thing I want you to do is hear me when I say: If the Bible is dry to you, it's probably a symptom of a bigger problem.

Our God has given us a LIVING WORD. His Name is Jesus Christ. And the Spirit has gifted us unique access to that Word in part through the Holy Scriptures, which teach us His story.

Do you think that when you stand in the presence of the Incomprehensible God, who never begins and never ends, and who created every fascinating detail of our universe, you will think He is dry or boring?

I don't. So if you are struggling with boredom in your Bible reading, know that though it might be common among Christians, it is not normal. The Bible is your earthly library of God's endlessly fascinating character, and when that library seems too heavy, too dusty, and too dry to enter in, it's a warning sign that should be investigated. So let's get started:

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Five questions you should ask yourself when reading your Bible feels dry

Question #1: Who am I doing this for?

Sometimes we get this idea that reading the Bible is an activity that belongs on a special checklist called "How to Make God Happy." We think that by checking this activity off every day, we improve our standing before God in some small sense, and for a day, maybe our subconscious sense of guilt and lack is abated.

The ugly truth about the "How to Make God Happy" list is that it deceives you into believing you're doing this for God, but in reality, your primary goal is self-oriented. You want to feel better, holier, more loved, less guilty - so you do what it takes to get there.

So who are you really doing this for? It's one thing to read your Bible because you love God so deeply that you want to be with Him and know Him. But it's another thing entirely to read your Bible because you want to make God happy.

When Jesus began His ministry on earth and was baptized by John the Baptist, His disciples heard God's voice from heaven saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." God personally appointed and sanctioned Christ's ministry, all the way to His death and resurrection.

Jesus "made God happy" FOR you. His sacrifice was pleasing to God once for all. Whether you read your Bible every day until you die or never pick it up again, God will never be "more happy" or "less happy" with you because of it. If Christ has paid your debt, God loves you as much now as He ever will. Better to lay aside your Bible completely than to live as if you're enslaved when God has delighted to set you free.

Question #2: What am I expecting out of this?

Sometimes, our personal expectations for what "quiet time" or "devotions" or whatever you want to call it should look like are just not realistic. Maybe we're trying to follow a formula created by one of today's big names in Christianity, or maybe we're comparing to the #blessed coffee shop Instagram photos of our friends, or maybe we are looking for a certain extra-spiritual feeling every day when we finish.

Maybe - and I have been guilty of this myself - we are coming to the Word each day expecting to hear the audible voice of God telling us His specific will for our lives, and when He doesn't, we think, "It's not working."

But that isn't what God's Word is for. The Bible isn't our Christian ouija board - it's a precious record of God's work in human history, and how that work has revealed His character to us. When we come to the Bible, we must come expecting to know God, because the Bible is about God - not necessarily to gain hyperspecific revelations about our own lives, because the Bible is not about us.

Question #3: Why am I finding this to be such a struggle?

It seems like a no-brainer, but one of the big questions you need to ask is just why? Why has the Bible seemed so dry lately? Why does it seem inaccessible or irrelevant?

When reading the Bible felt most difficult for me, this was the question I asked. And the answer actually changed the trajectory of my life. When I asked "Why?" the answer that I uncovered was this:

Because I know this Book contains the most vital and life-giving truth and wisdom in the world... but I don't know how to find it.

I didn't know how to study the Bible for myself. I didn't know that I was reading it wrong. I didn't know that I even could know, without going to seminary. But rectifying this big issue was important enough to me that I dedicated a year of my life to go to Bible school, and I have been in love with God's story ever since.

So with this question, you'll need to take time to self-reflect. Maybe your "why" is similar to mine. Or maybe it's because there's some festering sin in your life that is putting distance between you and God, or because you are coming to His Word from a place of guilt that won't let you receive His grace. There could be a million different reasons, but whatever yours is, you need to find it.

Question #4: How can I address the underlying issues?

Once you know what's really at the root of your lukewarm reception of God's Word, it's time to figure out what you can do about it in a practical sense. All the soul-searching in the world won't help you without taking action.

And the action required may be costly. For me, it meant moving 3,000 miles away from every single soul I had ever known (after having lived in the same tiny town my entire life) and letting God deconstruct and reshape me from the bottom up over the course of a year.

For you, it might mean letting go of a pet sin, or forgiving a long-ago hurt, or wrestling with your desire to trust yourself instead of God. It may cost you time, or pride, or tears, or loss.

But whatever it does cost you, it will be so worth it. I speak from experience.

Question #5: When might be a good time to shake things up?

Finally, in some seasons of boredom, it may turn out that you're just stuck in a rut.

If you've been bogged down in a chronological reading plan for two years, give yourself permission to set it aside and dig into something that actually excites you.

On the flip side, if you never know what to read next and just end up flipping through the pages as if you're trying to choose what to watch on Netflix, get on a new reading plan

Try doing your whole quiet time with just prayer and meditation for a few days - no new readings, just restfulness with God. Try taking a whole day or a whole week to be completely alone with your Bible, and see what He teaches you. Try reading aloud, or listening to an audio Bible.

Or, if you're really feeling brave, try teaching someone else a complete study or mini-sermon on a particular passage. In my experience, nothing brings old material to new life like trying to teach it to someone else!

If your Bible feels dry and heavy and difficult, you aren't alone.

And if, like me, you need to develop a little more confidence in your ability to understand it for yourself, you have come to the right place! My goal is always to provide excellent resources and encouragement for those who yearn for a better understanding of the Bible and knowledge of God. Make sure you join our community so you never miss a thing!

We all have those days when the Bible just seems dry and heavy and difficult to read. But it doesn't have to. Here are some questions you should be asking if it does. Learn more at www.halliewrites.com!

the God who gives

the God who gives

Sometimes (at least to me) the Nativity story gets old, overdone, even trite this time of year - but this truth never does: Yahweh is good. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely without obligation to be gracious toward us - and still, He is. He builds an eternal heritage for the unworthy and gives His own righteousness to those who fall short. 

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