Tag: Christian life

The Grace-Driven Life : Overcoming a Culture of Stress

I don’t know if you have noticed, but life is filled with a lot of stress. Now more than ever. In fact, doctors report that most of the people they see have stressed related illnesses. 77% of Americans report having significant physical and psychological symptoms due to stress.

And you know what? Surprise, surprise, surveys show that the number one stressors are our jobs, money, health, and relationships. You may or may not want to add your mother-in-law to that list.

Obviously, part of the reason why we are under more stress than ever in human history is because of the pressures we experience externally. It’s harder now to make a living, raise a family, keep a job, and the list goes on and on. More people are fatigued, stressed, and discouraged in our culture than perhaps ever before.

Our American Culture of “Become Successful” 

But I believe there is a much deeper factor as to why we are so stressed out as a culture. The stress level in our lives comes from the foundation from which we are living, especially in America. For so long we have been taught that the foundation we need to have for our lives is to “be successful” “make something out of our lives” “achieve the impossible” “live the American dream” “Do more and become more than everybody else.”  It’s a foundation of doing, doing, doing. The motto for life that we have been taught to live is, “Become successful.”

So what’s the result? Our lives are filled with tons of pressure to succeed, to get ahead, to keep up with the Jones’s, to measure up to everybody else, make a name for yourself, and to meet certain bench marks for what it looks like to be “successful.” Because that’s how success is defined in our culture. Whoever is doing the most, has the most busy schedule, achieves the most, has the most stuff, and is getting ahead the most is deemed “successful.”

It’s a foundation from which we are living that says, “We gotta make something out of our lives; our identities, our value, and are worth are in the balance.”

And when things are tracking, we are seen as “successful,” life seems to be moving forward, the mortgage is getting paid, we are progressing in our careers, then we feel like life is good.  But when it’s not, when things don’t come together, when one of the 5,000 balls we are trying juggle on the road to success falls to the ground, when we miss the mark, we hit hard times, the unexpected happens, all bets are off, and our foundation begins to crumble.

It’s a performance-driven foundation of becoming successful. And our modern culture is largely based on living from this kind of foundation.

But the truth is, we are paying a very heavy price, in our health, relationships, emotional lives, and in our families.

In fact, as one writer identifies, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.” -Tullian Tchividian

I mean, have you been to the over-the-counter drugs section of Walmart lately?  Tons of drugs, most designed to help us cope with what? Stress

Folks we gotta sound the alarm, “Houston, we have a problem!”  This foundation is killing us, our relationships, our health, our children.

This “performance-driven” “success driven” “gotta make something out of my life” foundation from which we are living is tearing apart our lives. And quite frankly, it’s pure evil.

Our Christian Culture of “Become Spiritually Successful” 

And sadly, our modern, Christian culture of church has actually, truth be told, done much more to contribute to the problem than to help it.

In fact, if we are honest, we have simply presented people a spiritual form of the American dream, and presented that the foundation of the Christian life is to “whatever it takes, be all you can be, and do all you can do for Jesus.” It’s all about becoming “spiritually successful.”

We have taught that the essence the Christian life is your Christian life. it’s all about you becoming spiritually successful.  “Sure, God does His part, but you need to do your part, to your fullest potential and divine design” “So, get Jesus and get busy.” “All in, and sold out, that’s what it’s all about.” Spiritual success.

The problem is, first of all, that mindset is really all about “you and your Christian life” and making sure you are doing and becoming enough for Jesus. It becomes all about some “divine purpose” you are supposed to discover and some “divine potential” you are supposed to fulfill.

Yet, the truth is, with that focus and with that foundation, no matter how well intended; your service, prayers, worship, benevolence, care giving, and sacrifice become means to this ultimate end… and what’s the ultimate end… you and your Christian life. Spiritual success. As good and spiritual as what you are doing for Jesus might seem, at the end of the day, the bottom line isn’t about being a source of help and aid, but furthering your spiritual success, or the appearance thereof. That’s the truth folks, like or not.

And second of all, living from this foundation of “becoming spiritually successful” is super stressful, I mean, have you ever wondered, when is enough, enough? When have you prayed enough, worshiped enough, repented enough, gone to church enough, given enough?  How do you know when the “big” thing you are doing for the Lord is big enough. What if you don’t discern your true spiritual gift mix? What if you miss your potential? How do I know if I am in God’s perfect will, what if I miss it? Am I spiritually mature enough, how do I know? How do you even know when you have become a “fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ?

I mean seriously, the clock is ticking, what if I don’t get mature enough in time? What if I don’t figure out what my divine purpose is? And if somehow you don’t. Oh snap. Heaven forbid, the Kingdom of God, people’s salvation, the changing of the world for Christ are all in the balance on whether you discover and live for your divine purpose or not. But, no pressure!

Lipstick on a Spiritual Pig

So, our American culture and world at large teaches, the foundation for your life, “Make something out of your life, make a name for yourself, be all you can be, and do all can do” In short, “become successful.”

Our Christian culture teaches, the foundation for your life, “You and Jesus make something out of your life, be all you can be, and do all you can do for Jesus, In short, “become spiritually successful”

And let me tell you, we can put all the spiritual lipstick we want on the pig of our Christian culture,, but there really isn’t any foundational difference between our secular culture and our Christian culture.

It’s a performance driven foundation, and the Christian life has become a spiritual veil to the performance-driven life.

What’s the motto, “become spiritually successful.”

In fact, can I just tell you straight up, if you think that the essence of the Christian life is you and your Christian life, that’s what it as all about, becoming spiritually successful, not only are you missing true life, you are missing the Christian life.

Golf Magazine and Sunday Mornings in America

The other day, I was looking through Golf Magazine, and noticed that every issue is basically the same things… tips and tricks, do’s and don’ts to improve your game. Each issue is the same; new products, strategies, insights, plans, and programs to help you achieve the perfect game.

I started to wonder, why do people keep reading it? It’s basically the same thing every month.

And then I realized it’s because each week golfers go play and try out new tips, strategies and products on the golf course only to become frustrated because where some might work here and there, most don’t work and leave them frustrated that there game isn’t as good as they want it to be. So, they come back from playing their rounds during the week, mostly frustrated, but also holding out hope that maybe there is some new inspiration,  some new trick, new teaching approach, new strategy, new product they haven’t tried yet that will make things all come together and they will finally  have the perfect game. Besides, there is always some new product, some new strategy, some new program, and something to work on in your game. Or, maybe they just need the inspiration to try harder, or be more committed.

And then I got to thinking, Golf Magazine isn’t much different than what happens in 99% of churches across America. We come, we sing, and then we are given tips, tricks, and strategies for how to be a better Christian, with new books to read, strategies to try, equipment to purchase, new sources of inspiration, conferences to attend, programs to participate in, all to improve your performance on the spiritual golf-course of life. Because, remember the foundation, “become spiritually successful”

And people keep coming back, mostly frustrated because as they try all the things they are supposed to be doing and not doing they can’t seem to keep it all together and furthermore, it’s not really working. The secretly conclude inside, all these other Christians must have some kind of special blessing from God, because unlike them, they can’t seem to keep all the spiritual tricks, tips, strategies, and do’s and don’ts all together, not even close.

But yet, they hold out hope, come back seeking to be energized by perhaps a new method, a new plan, and new strategy, new inspiration, or a new product they haven’t tried yet so that finally, one day they will fulfill what they have been taught is essence and purpose of their life, to “become spiritually successful.”

And maybe you are reading this and you are thinking, there has got to be something better than this, Jesus has to have something better in mind. Cause all of this chasing of success in America, and then this Christian mindset of chasing spiritual success has burned you out, frustrated you, and made you wonder, there has got to be something more.

I am here to tell you there is, because Jesus never meant for you to live from a foundation of a “become successful” performance-driven life, not matter how spiritual it might seem.  That’s all man created, it’s called religion.

What Jesus created you for, the life he wants for you is a Grace-driven life. When we live our lives from a foundation of Grace, it changes everything.

Here are six foundation changes of living The Grace-Driven life…

Change your Foundation, Change your Life

o.o1 The Foundation of Your Purpose in Life is to Receive Grace- 

See, one of the things that stresses us out is the idea that we have to figure our and live some kind of  divine purpose for our lives that is largely based on our performance. How do I know if I am living it, and what if I don’t” What if I miss the mark, or screw it up?

The good news is that the foundation of your purpose in life is not your performance, it’s Grace.

The foundation of your purpose in life is to receive Grace, rest in Grace, and allow God to give it through you.

In many ways, your part in God’s purpose in your life is to realize you have no part, other than to receive and believe, and watch God work through you.

God’s purpose for your life is not about what you do, it’s about what you receive, and God wants you to see your purpose as to receive and rest in His Grace.

In fact, contrary to popular teachings in our Christian culture, the purpose of your life is not to glorify Jesus in the sense of what you do or become by discovering and living some kind of divine purpose specifically for your life. The truth is, in Christ, you already glorify Him! Not because of what you are doing or not doing, but Who lives in you and what He has done and continues to do in and through you.

If anything about your life pleases Him, it is your faith, not your faithfulness.

Relax, stop stressing. Your purpose, rather, is first to receive. To receive His Grace and to rest in it. Trust it, believe in it.

God wants you feasting on the Grace, mercy, and favor of Jesus and His loveliness. Resting in His Grace involves experiencing it, and letting it flow through you by His Grace working through your life into the lives of others.

In fact, God promises to be the one to enable you to will and act according to His desires. He is the one who declares that He will carry out the good work He desires to accomplish through you. That’s his job and responsibility, not yours.

For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.-Philippians 2:13

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6

Our part is to rest in the Grace we have received, and the Grace working through us to lead, prompt, and enable His desires to be accomplished through us.

This is an effortless, stressless process that is void of striving, pushing, or seeking to make things happen in and through our lives. In fact, the more we try to force it, author it, or render it, the less God’s Grace flows through us. When we work (strive, try, push, or force things in life) God rests, when we rest (allow His Grace to prompt, enable, and flow through us) God works. God says, “Fine, you want to control things, worry about things, force things, strive and try to make things happen, you want to live your life becoming successful, go ahead, I’ll be resting right over here while you do.” But when we rest, when we say, “God, you are in control, I trust that you are working, that you are the author and perfecter, that you will carry out the good work, that I am already complete, whole, sanctified and successful in you” God works and His power is released in and through our lives.

See, you don’t make something out of your life, Jesus has already made your life successful and whole by giving you His life.  You don’t have to make anything more of your life (because you can’t). Your job is to rest in and enjoy what God has and is making of you (because only He can). The foundation of your purpose is to receive Grace, rest in Grace, and give Grace.  

o.o2 The Foundation of Your progress in Life is to Grow in Grace

And see, this is where the Christian life can become so stressful and frustrating. Because for so long we have been taught that spiritual growth is about us, it comes through our spiritual efforts, and trying, and striving, all to become somebody in the future we aren’t now. And so what do we do? We try praying more, going to church more, do more good things and less bad things, giving more, serving more, all in effort to grow spiritually. Sure, we would say God helps us, but we have to get busy if we are going become “mature in Christ.”

The good news is this, the foundation of your progress as a Christian is in growing in Grace. It’s in you becoming more of who you already are. It’s not about becoming something you are not through spiritual improvement, it’s about becoming more of who you already are in Christ, through faith. It’s a journey of faith, believing in who you are in Christ, and letting your actions catch up to your identity.

And folks, this is a revolutionary, foundational change.

Because here again, this is an effortless, stress-less process. The harder you apply your own efforts to grow, the more you block the Spirit from growing you through His Grace. You’re turning to your own performance for your growth instead of believing in the performance of Jesus Christ.

Here is a revolutionary truth that will change your life. Get ready, here it is.  The work on your life is finished. There is nothing left to work on in your life. Stop trying to improve and work on what God has already finished.

When Jesus said on  the cross, “It is finished” He meant it. You have already been made holy, sanctified, given every spiritual blessing. You are already the righteousness of Christ, completely forgiven. It’s your faith that releases that into your actions and attitudes, not your efforts.

The Christian life isn’t about becoming something that you aren’t, it’s about your actions and attitudes catching up with your true identity. Paul in the Bible said it this way… we are to live up to what we have already attained.

We pray, we serve, we study, we worship not out of some effort to grow or to participate with God in becoming something we aren’t. We pray, study, worship, and serve, out of who we already are, complete, whole, sanctified in Christ.

Foundation of your spiritual progress in life is growing in Grace, becoming more of who you already are.

o.o3 The Foundation of Your influence in Life is to Be Grace.

We all want to change the world. We want to have influence. We all want to make a difference.

But what stresses us out and gets us in a never-ending mode of striving and trying is the foundation of our influence. Because for some many people, the foundation of our influence with people and the world becomes on how much we do and accomplish in life, that’s a super stressful thing.

Here again, when have you done enough, when have you accomplished enough? How many salvations, how many changed lives, how many good deeds, how many mission trips do you need on your spiritual belt buckle before you really qualify as a world-changer for Jesus?

We all want to change the world, be faithful, but what’s the foundation for that?

What God wants us to realize is that the foundation for having influence isn’t how much we do, but who we are in Christ. We are the change.

Grace is not a theology, doctrine, or fad. Grace is a person, Jesus. And the truth is, Jesus goes as us into the world. You are the change, you are Grace.

You know, people pray for revival, “God revive our nation, God revive our community, God revive our church.”  And then we think if we just pray longer, harder, get more passionate in worship, confess our sins, do more spiritual gymnastics, repent and all our stuff, God will bring revival. We just need to wrench it out of God’s hands through our more impassioned performance.

But the truth, you are the revival, God has already done the revival, and it’s you.

You are the revival that can influence the world. And it’s not wrapped up in what you do, it’s all on the foundation of who you are.

You are Grace in this world, because Grace is a person, Jesus. You are the big thing God has done and is doing in this world.

So just be the change, you are the change, and just by you doing life, you are going to change the world.

Grace is what changes the world, and in Christ, you are Grace.

o.o4 The Foundation of His will for Your Life is for you to Trust His Grace to Guide you.

I can’t tell you how many people, especially Christians are stressed out trying to figure out, is this God’s will for me, is this God’s perfect will for me, did I marry the right person, take the right job, buy the right car, how do I know, what if I don’t get it right, what if I make a mistake?

We make the whole foundation of God’s will for our life on not only what we are doing, but whether or not we are discerning the right things, the perfect thing, the exact thing.

And I am here today to tell you, you want to know what God’s will is?  Here it is… drum roll please. Do you what you want to do, do what you love, as long as it honors God, do it. That’s God’s will.

Trust that the Holy Spirit is going prompt you and lead you. Just let it happen, do what you want.

God is into you, He is into your life, He into what you are into.

God’s Grace wants you to enjoy your life and do what you love to do.

I mean, worse case scenario, no matter what you choose, God’s Grace is with you, He’s going to be with you, He is going to be your biggest fan, supporter and cheerleader in what you are doing. And He is going to use you, not matter what you do.

Stop stressing. Stop making this all about you.

God’s will for you is bigger than your discernment of some specific, exclusive perfect thing God may or may not desire.

In fact, it’s God’s responsibility to make His will known to you and see that it is carried out through you. That’s what Grace does.

Trust His Grace, live from that Grace to lead, prompt, and show you what to do.

Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Trust God to show it to you and even push you through it.

o.o5 The Foundation of Your contribution in Life is to give from Grace.

The Bible shows that God has Graced us with specific gifts and abilities.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. Romans 12:6a.

And we all want to contribute, to give, to experience the fulfillment of blessing others.

But so many people live their lives trying to be something that they aren’t, you know how stressful and difficult that is?

For example, God has not Graced me with the gifts to be a basketball player or a pole dancer. Ok, maybe I have a little pole dancer in me. But for sure, not basketball.  I don’t even have the desire, nor the gifts to do that. How frustrating and hard would that be for me to try to force and make that happen in my life because somewhere along the way I got this twisted idea that I need to or should do so.

God accepts you for who you are, the question is, do you accept you? Is His Grace sufficient for you. Are the things God has graced you with good enough for you?

So stop trying to be someone you are not. If God created you to be you and you aren’t willing to be you, than you are going to miss out on what God graced you with and so will many other people.    

o.o6 The Foundation of Your Posture in life is to Rest in Grace.

Relax, trust in God’s Grace.

Paul in the Bible says…   Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. Hebrews 4:11a

If there is anything to be stressed about, it’s in making sure you stay living from a posture of rest. Why, because it’s the best way to live.

Doesn’t mean that you won’t have to work hard in your profession, have responsibilities, and have to put forth effort in your life. Rest isn’t laziness, irresponsibility, or complacency.  Yet, you don’t have to have a posture of stress, worry, performance, and striving in order to get the things in life that need to be done accomplished.

In fact, when we work, God’s rest, when we rest, God works.

God says,”If you want to be in control, force things, make things happen, chase success, and stress, I’ll be right over here resting while you do.” But when we say, “God, I trust you, you are in control, you will carry out the good work in me, you are faithful to will and act in me according to your purposes, you are the author and perfecter, I trust you to prompt me, lead me, you make all things work together for my good.” God works, His power is released into our lives and living.

In fact, notice the areas where you are the most blessed in your life, where things are flowing and clicking. Those are the areas where you rest the most and stress the least, aren’t they ? Yet, notice the areas that are strenuous, worrisome, lacking, uphill and covered with struggle. Those are the areas where you rest the least and stress the most, aren’t they?

Choose to change your foundations. You are already successful, spiritually and in every other way. You can do nothing to add or take away from your success. Jesus has qualified you for it, He has made you successful.

Now, go and enjoy your life. Live it, with Grace under your feet.

Choose the Grace driven life… where your purpose is to receive Grace, your progress is to grow in Grace, your influence is to be Grace, God’s will is to trust His Grace to guide you, your contribution is to give from Grace, and your posture in life is to rest in Grace.

Jesus came that you may have life, this is life, the Grace-driven life.

Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

Part 1 of 6

(part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Mixing is for Gin not the Gospel

Most Christians and Christian leaders love the concept of God’s Grace, but up to a point. As long as it’s mixed with what they would say is a “balancing” bit of Law (religious rules you obey) they are more than willing to cozy up to “Grace.” So, what has happened is that when it comes to salvation and the Christian life, “Grace” is seen as a kind of partner or side-kick within the Gospel. It’s seen as the softer aspect of God that tips our hat to His loving side. Conversely, the Law is seen as what makes sure people clean up their acts, do religious things, hunger for more “to do steps and strategies” and take sin seriously.  That’s why when you present God’s Grace in its purity (without the Law), typically, all bets are off as some Christian leaders become afraid of what they would call, “too much Grace.”

Yet, the Gospel is either all Grace or it’s all Law, there can be no mixture (balance) of a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law. In fact, the Bible makes dramatic separations and distinctions between the two. A couple, among many examples…

Romans 6:14 …because you are not under the law, but under grace.

John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:4  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

The pure Gospel of God’s Grace (a term Paul used in Acts 20:24) has always brought a stirring of criticism among the religiously spirited. I should know, I was one of them. Thankfully, God captured my heart and changed my mind about who He is, who I am, and the Gospel of His Grace.

I suspect there are many Christians who don’t even realize how much of what they have been taught and believe is contrary to the Gospel. I certainly didn’t. Like many unknowing Christians and spiritual leaders, my heart was in the right place, but my beliefs were not. As a pastor of 18 years, I did not realize (until a couple years ago) how much of my teaching, preaching and counsel actually placed people in bondage instead of the freedom I (and God) desired for them. When it came to the Gospel, I was so close, yet so far away.

So, what is the pure Gospel of Grace? In simple terms it is this…

The Gospel

We are all born sinners in a broken world. Everything about our lives has en expiration date on a pathway to death. In the Garden of Eden, our lives were forever changed as our first parents chose selfishness and distrust over faith in God.  Sin and death became realities and it’s shrapnel has penetrated everything, breaking our fellowship with God.  What God intended for our lives and living was poisoned through and through.Without an act of pure Grace, all of humanity in its sinful brokeness was destined for death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically as our best efforts could never repair our broken relationship with God and the depraved nature of our lives and living begun at the fall of Adam and Eve.

Yet, despite all of this. God is love, and God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally, no matter who you are or what you have done or are doing. So much that He sent His son Jesus, fully God and fully man to die for your sins, and all of humanity. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the brokeness of all creation, including you. In His death and resurrection, Jesus put your sins to death and gave you His life. A new covenant was put into place where Jesus’ performance on the cross becomes your righteousness, holiness, and salvation. It is no longer about performing to get to God (as it was in the Old Testament), but God’s performance on the cross to get to you. His life becomes your life. His identity becomes your identity. The redemptive work in your life was completed, completely. You became a new person in Christ, a new creation in fact. Your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven once and for all. It is no longer your nature to sin (though we still do), your old nature was crucified with Jesus on the cross. Sin no longer defines you, Jesus defines you. You old self died, you new self was reborn. You have the mind of Christ. You are a partaker of the divine nature, lacking no spiritual blessing. You are in fact, the righteousness of Christ, with no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are not only a son (or daughter), but a king and priest in the Kingdom of God. As He is (seated at the right hand of God) so are you in this world. God’s favor and Grace are forever over your life.

All of this, Jesus provided and accomplished on the cross on your behalf, and that of the whole world. The moment you believe in who Jesus is and what He did, you receive it all. Done deal. We are saved by Grace through faith.

Now, it is no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you, and as you. The same Grace that saved you is the same Grace that sustains and sanctifies you. The Christian life is about growing into who you already are in Christ. Your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. That’s why this growth happens through faith, not your efforts. You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only bear the fruit God produces.  It’s no about striving and trying to be a better person, it’s rather about believing you already are a better person and living from that identity. It’s not about shame, guilt, punishment and religious rule keeping as you live a life focused on sin and your obedience. That system of living was canceled on the cross, at the moment of His resurrection, a new system was ushered in by Jesus Himself. It’s a life of complete and ever present forgiveness, freedom, peace, and rest as you focus on Jesus and His mercy, favor, and performance in your life, not yours. It’s an obedience of faith, not of actions. It’s a life of living from His Grace, in His Grace, to be Grace to others.

This is the Gospel.

So What’s The Beef?

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Yet, what sounds like true love, freedom, and life, to the religious sounds like heresy! The Gospel can’t be that good. Give people Grace and they will just sin more. Besides, how are we going to be able to manage people? You are going too soft on sin, and what about repentance! Repentance, repentance, repentance! If we don’t give people something to work on, strive for, and do, how can we keep them coming and interested in church? God does His part, but we have to do our part, or else.

A Quick Clarification

Now, let me be clear with you. There are various variations of what people believe about the Gospel of Grace. So, if you couldn’t tell from my explanation of the Gospel written above, let me be sure you know what I am not… I am not a Calvinist nor a Universalist. I don’t believe God predestined, through what they call “irresistible Grace,” to regenerate some and not others so that some believe, but others do not, thus having some go to heaven and others to Hell. How that is considered Grace, I will never know. Yet, I am also not a Universalist who believes all are going to heaven, whether they really want to or not. I find both these systems of beliefs not congruent with how I understand the Gospel. I love my Calvinist and Universalist friends, by I respectfully don’t agree with them.

5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

That said, there are many people who are against and critical of the Gospel of God’s Grace as I (and others) understand it. They call it “hyper-grace,” cheap Grace” and a host of other names. And, they line up their Bible passages to refute it. Here are the top 5 passages (not in any particular order) they use and an explanation of how these passages in fact, do not refute the message of the Gospel of God’s Grace. One of the blessings of believing the Gospel of Grace is that it transforms the way you read the Bible. You realize that God is not in the bait and switch business of drawing you in with love only to blast you with Law. No, He is love from top to bottom and inside and out, and He perfectly loves you. When you see this you will no longer become frightened or confused when you read passages like those listed below.

keep reading… Part 2

(part 2) (part 3) (part 4) (part 5) (part 6)

Stuff Jesus Never Said

To many believers and non believers, Jesus is a powerful person. His words have often been quoted and interpreted by people of varying views. But as with any person, sometimes Jesus has words and assertions put into his mouth that He never said, or even suggested.  And truth be told, the largest culprit in all of this is often we Christians. Yet, no matter where you are in the conversation about Jesus, sometimes we come to Him with our own perspectives and hope we can find a way to make His words sing our song.

So, here is some stuff you may have heard said or suggested, that Jesus never said or suggested at all…

1) “I am a card carrying, camouflage wearing, conservative republican.”  

No, Jesus stands above and outside of any one political group. Though His message is very relevant to politics and all of life, He himself exists and stands by Himself, outside of any one political affiliation. And, take it from His brothers, Jesus isn’t a fan of being used for political gain or being pimped out as a political figure. (John 7:1-14)

2) “Danger Will Robinson, gay people are especially disgusting”

Though some in our culture do and would say Jesus does, the truth is Jesus never said nor suggested that homosexuality is any more dirty or disgusting than other sins. Where some churches and Christians take a hands-off, arms length approach to this issue and the people involved, Jesus is found drawing close to the people who the religious would just as soon condemn, discard or disregard.  Debate as you will the issue of homosexuality and sin. No matter your conclusion, Jesus never shows by example nor words any kind of assertion that homosexuality is a special class of sin, and homosexuals a special class of sinner.  If homosexuality is a sin in serious need of confronting, so is the flan-fed, fat back… Jack.

3) “The bigger and slicker the church and its pastor, the better”

Indeed, today we live in the age of the celebrity pastor and the franchise church. Some are healthy, some are not. We have been led to believe that when it comes to church and ministry, bigger and slicker is automatically better. In fact,  it would take some digging through the tons of mailings sent to churches every day to find me a ministry conference for pastors that doesn’t have church growth and pastor performance as top topics of emphasis. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about ministry effectiveness in reaching people far from God etc. etc. God’s church should be a growing movement where creative and freedom flourishes. But, bigger and slicker does not automatically equate to better. A church and a pastor can have a lot of sharp, impressive looking activity and avatars going on without accomplishing near their redemptive potential. The way we do ministry these days as Christian leaders, you would have thought that Jesus actually said, “Brand it, buff it, build it, box it, as big as your ego can bake it.”  Indeed, we have replaced “shepherd” with “franchise owner,” and “church” with spiritual “consumer club.”

4) “You should make sure people notice how devoted and super-duper in love with Me you are”  

I know what you are thinking, but what about when Jesus says things like, “Let your light shine…?” Jesus’ words about “letting your light shine” are not a reference to your love for Jesus, but the new person you are in Christ. In fact, Jesus says ” you are” the light of the world. It’s about Christ shining as you and in you, not you shining how much you love Jesus.

Take it from Peter, boasting of your love for Jesus places the emphasis and burden on you and your performance, and in the end, shows you up as the denying hypocrite. However, boasting of Jesus’ love of you, like John, puts the emphasis and burden on Jesus, and leaves you reclined with Him at the table, resting in His Grace. Boasting of your performance and passion for Him leads to denying His, boasting of His performance and passion for you, leads to receiving and resting with Him and in Him.

5) “I prefer hymns, choirs, and organ music”

The way some churches feel about modern instruments and styles of music, you would have thought Jesus would have said just that, “I prefer hymns, choirs, and organ music.” Holy sacred cows batman. The truth is, Jesus never said nor suggested anything close to that, and there is no such thing as a Christian “style” of music. What makes music “Christian” or “sacred” is the words, not the style. A style that is worshipful to some may not be worshipful to others, but it does not make it any less worshipful to God. Furthermore, the same traditional hymns and instruments deemed to be exclusively sacred by some  today, were in fact, highly controversial, contemporary, and even deemed “satanic” as little as 50-100 years ago.

6) “Your Bible is actually best used as a taser”

The way some Christians uses their Bibles, you would have thought Jesus had said, “Memorize it, mark it, and make it sting”

Jesus in fact said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:38). Jesus said this as a message to make sure we never place the Bible and our use of it over Him and understand the purpose of the Bible is to lead us and people to an encounter and experience Jesus and the life He brings, not to tase them with it! Religious people use the Word of God to condemn, corner, control, and complicate. Jesus wants us to use the Bible to give His life, healing, Truth, freedom and Grace. The goal is not memorization and highlighting, but receiving, experiencing, and giving His life.

7) “Drinking beer will just make you burn brighter in Hell”  

The very one who turned water into wine, and drank with sinners said that?  Nope.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’  Matthew 11:18.

Yes, drinking can be dangerous. Getting drunk is an obvious no brainer.  And, in some instances and contexts, it can work against our ministry to people.

Yet, condemning those who drink responsibly as hell-bound sinners and second class Christians (and leaders) is both unfair and misguided. Furthermore, I would say in some contexts this attitude has done more to damage potential ministry to people than the puritanistic, religious approach to alcohol Jesus (and I) referenced above.

8) “The fast track to spiritual maturity is reading books by popular pastors”

We pastors and teachers are used by God in powerful ways to help people understand and experience God and His life. You would do well to learn from people who are wise in the ways of God.

Yet, what pastors teach and preach are often revelations from God they have experienced from their own study of the Word or other pastors/teachers who have studied the Word. Either way, somewhere along the way, someone has done the chewing on the Word so that there is something to teach/feed you.

As a Christian culture we have become fast-food spiritual consumers. There is a lot processed food out there. Book after book, conference after conference. Processed from some pastor or teacher who did the chewing, into your mouth.

This is perhaps a good start for the new believer or even a nice appetizer for the experienced Christian.

Everyone of my children started with processed, pureed foods that required little to no chewing.  Later however, they started to chew it for themselves; having to process it, taste it, chew it, and digest it for themselves, over and over.  To eat processed, pureed food now as emerging adults would leave them hungry, malnourished, and lacking the joy of real food.

This is what the Bible calls meditation. Meditating on the Word of God.  Tasting, chewing, processing it for yourself. A direct revelation from God to you, for you, through you.  Nothing wrong with listening and learning from pastors/teachers like me, but it never should take the place nor become more of your spiritual diet than you personally tasting, chewing, and processing the Word of God for yourself. What makes for a nice appetizer, won’t make for a good meal.

Stop relying on popular pastors for your spiritual diet and making them your main meal. You won’t grow through reading their books until you have made reading God’s book for yourself your primary way of encountering Jesus and His wisdom and revelation for your life.

Reading books by popular pastors isn’t a fast track to spiritual maturity. Besides, some (if not many) of them just present the Christian life (and the Gospel) as a bunch of new things you need to be doing more or better. To be sure, we live in the age of the performance-driven Christian, and there are tons of books to get you feeding on a diet of steps, strategies, and “to do” lists that will ultimately still leave you hungry.

Spiritual hunger for the Christian is a sign of immaturity, not maturity. Jesus actually said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

No, the fast track to spiritual maturity is to realize in Christ, as a new creation, you have already been made fully mature!  Now, believe it and go live what Jesus has already made you.

Spiritual maturity isn’t a process of performance-progress, but a process of believing more in who Jesus already made you into through His performance, not yours. It’s not about becoming a son (or daughter), it’s about living out your sonship that God has already given you and made you to become.

Reclaiming Prayer

Over time, if you put something in the hands of Christians, chances are we will make it more complicated than it needs to be, and turn it into a means to puff up our spiritual pride.

Such is often the case with prayer. What God intended to be a simple dynamic of our relationship to Him, we have often made into a complicated, formulated, legalistic religious ritual.

Prayer is simply talking and listening to God.  Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s not how you pray, as if God were into verbosity, postures, formality, formulas, or eloquence as a condition or key for prayer.

It’s not where you pray, is if God was a location snob, territorial, or contextually limited.

It’s not how long you pray, as if God were holding a stop watch, doing a word count, or was impressed by stamina, waiting for that “o.k, that’s enough” moment to respond. The false notion that “the more you pray, the more God responds” places the power of prayer on you and not God.

It’s not how hard you pray, as if you have to bend God’s ear, wrench His blessings, or prove you’re seriousness in order for Him to reply or to increase His willingness to reply favorably.

It’s not how loud you pray, as if God is hard of hearing.

It’s not  how good you are as a person, as if anyone’s righteousness before God comes from their own performance.

God already knows what you need long before you ask, He knows the desires of your heart, long before you express them.

So, why pray?

It’s simple, because God enjoys hearing from you, and you could benefit from hear from Him. Prayer alone is not what moves the heart and hands of God, faith is. Prayer coupled with faith is truly powerful, it releases God to work on your behalf. Faith is the key.

Stop trying to impress God (or others) with prayer. Stop using prayer as a way to appease some imagined condition you have imposed on God’s willingness to bless and move in your life. Your prayers do not make God any more or less willing to bless, prosper, and move on your behalf.  Stop using prayer as a spiritual thing-to-do to fulfill some kind of Christian duty, show you are serious about Jesus, gain the gleam of God’s eye, or stay in good standing with Him. Stop asking God to do what He has already done, and begging Him to do what He is already willing to do. All of that takes the power out of prayer and turns it into an empty religious act.

Rather, make you prayers full of thanksgiving, words (declarations) of faith, and honest requests. Then, listen.

Keep it simple, personal, and genuine.

It’s the heart and faith behind your prayers that matter, not your words, volume, length, posture, location, intensity, or depth.

 

“The Gap” – Message

The Gap

Chris Kratzer speaking at The Grace Place, Shelby NC.

Are you “5 Talent” Living?

The “Parable of the Talents” in the Bible has long been interpreted with a leaning towards the basic idea that if you serve God more, He will serve you more.  Give God more, and He will give more of Himself to you.  If you don’t, you will have a lacking life and may be in jeopardy of losing your salvation. It’s the kind of interpretation that has given many a Christian a performance-based view of the Christian life.

Yet, if we don’t let the Bible interpret the Bible in its “context”, we can make a “con” out of the “text.”

The parables of Jesus were used to help people glean revelation from God about the Kingdom of God and how God works. The are highly symbolic and deliberately so. They are meant to draw the listener/reader in to the revealing whispers of the Spirit as one meditates on God’s Word.

This parable is given in its original context to a Jewish, legalistic audience. This is a key understanding in discerning God’s revelation through this parable.  The Jews were followers of the Law, and saw personal performance as their means to God and the things of God. Jesus, being the manifestation of Grace, came to fulfill the law and establish a new covenant solely based on His performance on the cross and His gift of righteousness to all who believe.

The Parable of the Talents is commonly referred to as the “Parable of the Bags of Gold.”  This too, is an important contextual issue in discerning the Spirit’s revelation of truth through this parable. The talents given in the parable were gold.

It is commonly known that “gold” in the Bible is a symbol of the righteousness of Christ. As a gift, it symbolizes God giving His best, His son Jesus Christ. Indeed, gold is a symbol of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus, providing us righteousness through His performance  (death and resurrection) on the cross, received through faith. Like gold, it is a pure gift of pure righteousness for those who believe.  Jesus paid the price we couldn’t pay so we could receive a gift we could never deserve. It is this Grace of God that saves us, sustains us, and sanctifies us.

Now for the parable. (Matthew 25:14-30)

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

19 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’

21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

22 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

23 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

24 “Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

28 “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

In basic terms, the parable portrays Jesus, the master, giving His most precious gift, the righteousness of His son Jesus Christ symbolized by gold talents. The Grace of God in Christ Jesus is given to all, but what we do with God’s grace matters deeply to God.  The parable is dealing with the stewardship of God’s unmerited Grace and favor through Jesus Christ, not personal talents.

Why 5, 2, and 1?  The number 5 is symbolic of Grace, the number two symbolic of Jesus and dualism, and 1 represents God.

The people who are living a 1-talent life view God and living for God in a very legalistic way as symbolized in the parable. They know God as creator, but not Jesus as Lord and Savior. They have buried the revelation of Grace through Jesus Christ, desiring rather a life based on their performance and merit. They have chosen religion (or the absence of) over regeneration and relationship with Christ. Because they have no faith in God’s Grace in Christ, the have no reward, but rather loss. What they now have available to them in Christ, able to be received through faith, will one day have an expiration date upon Christ’s return, and in that sense, be taken away from them because they refused unto the end to receive it.

The people who are living a 2-talent life believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but live a life mixing together Jesus and their own performance as the bases of their worth, value, and favor from God. What they may call a “balance” or “dance” between God and their performance, God calls a mixture of two covenants. By their living and how they teach others to live, one can tell they don’t truly believe that the same Grace that saved them also sustains and sanctifies them. It’s obvious that we are all designed in Christ Jesus for upright, godly living, and to fulfill and serve a purpose here on earth. 2-talent people however, believe the best method to this goal is to mix their efforts and God’s together.  They see the Christian life as “Jesus and me” instead of “Jesus as me.”  Thus, the foundation of their life and living is a little bit them and a little bit Jesus. Yet, God’s method to the goal of holiness and faithfulness is Grace. It’s His performance “as us” in this world. We are the righteousness of Christ, co-laborers, having every spiritual blessing. In the Bible, Paul declared that “in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete” (Colossians 2:9-10). We lack nothing. Jesus Christ possesses all of God. We possess all of Jesus Christ. He possesses all who believe. It’s a complete union. There is no division between us. It is not just Christ in your life, it is Christ “as” your life. This is the foundation from which Paul concluded, 13 [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. (Philippians 2:13, AMP)  The foundation for obedience and service is faith, not self-effort nor performance. Your Christian life is a 100% you and 100% Jesus. Not 50% of each. Neither is it a 50% your performance and 50% His. It’s 100% Jesus’ performance in, through, and “as” you. You don’t need more of Jesus or more closeness with Jesus, you have all of Him and are as close as you can get, you need only believe it to receive it. Faith is the currency of heaven, not your faithfulness. It is clear that this 2-talent person had at least a faith to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and because so, his faith was rewarded.

The people who are living a 5-talent life have received God’s Grace and are living solely from God’s Grace. There is no mixture of covenants. It’s all grace upon grace, not grace with a mixture of Law (performance based rules).  There is no balance or dance, there is only being “as He is so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17) Because they have received the pure Gospel of God’s grace through faith, they don’t sin more, they sin far less. Their identity in Christ (complete, whole, forgiven etc.) shapes their performance in life, not the other way around. It is right believing that leads to right living.  These are people who have taken all of God’s Grace and live all by Grace, and give all through Grace. For them, as they labor to rest in Grace (Hebrews 4:11), there is no striving or trying to their Christian life, there is only believing and trusting.  Theirs is an obedience of faith (Romans 1:5) that leads them to act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit with true power and multiplying effectiveness for the Kingdom. They don’t have to serve, love, sacrifice, etc. they “get” to.  It’s not a work, but an act of love from a foundation of rest. It is in and through this foundation of faith that God is able to bless and multiply. The multiplying mathematics of the Kindgom is “grace upon grace” not “grace upon performance” or “grace upon law.” All received and manifested through faith.

The only two places in scripture where it is recorded by the Holy Spirit that Jesus became angry were situations where Grace was not given (and thus obviously not received).  God is super serious about what we do with His pure Gospel of Grace, and the Parables of the Talents is one place where Jesus communicates this seriousness through parable.

For sure, don’t refuse Grace and live a 1 talent life. Yet, don’t mix Grace and live a 2 talent life. Receive, live, give, and rest in the fulness of the Gospel of God’s grace and live a 5 talent life!

Is Your Christian Life, Evil?

Most of us who are people of faith would probably never think nor consider the idea that our Christian lives could in fact become, “evil.” Most of us try to live in such a way that moves past the temptations of darkness and its work in this world.

Yet, when we look at how God defines evil, we may discover the sobering reality that the very thing we purpose to avoid is the very thing our Christian life has in fact become… evil.

The word used for “evil” in the New Testament is poneros. Every time the word “evil” appears in the New Testament, “poneros” is used. When we think of evil or people who are evil, our minds gravitate to dark visions of things that are bad or carnal. Yet, the idea that “evil” is simply an immoral, malicious, or devilish type reality is highly misleading, and quite frankly, a spiritual copout.  

In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we see a reference to a person having an “evil heart…”

Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. -Hebrews 3:12

What does a person with an evil heart look like? What are the hallmarks of their living?

The answer could very well send you into a tailspin of shock.

The word “poneros,” actually means… full of labors.

Being “full of labors” is the idea of living to make things happen out of self-effort, a kind of internal striving to produce something good or worthy out of your life. It’s the performance-driven mentality that looks to one’s abilities for a better future or the procurement of success. It’s the busy-with-things-to-do-and-become mindset. It’s the heart that concludes… my identity, worth, and closeness with God are intrinsically tied to my achievement, skill, and performance. One may never say it that way, but so many of us are living that way. Self-promotion, self-improvement, self-actualization. “Seven steps to success,” “Become all you can be,” “Take your life to the next level.” It’s the Christian with their spiritual to-do lists of tasks, rules, and rituals used to feel like peace with God and affirmation of self is theirs for the taking. It’s the foundation of the religious spirit that is so prevalent in many a Church and Christian in our western culture today. Call it what you will… “best practices,” “excellence,” “changing the world,” “radical Christianity,” “faithfulness,” “vision,” “discipleship,” “spiritual maturity,” “leadership,” or “obedience.” When it’s done out of spirit of labor, God calls it… “evil.”

Oh snap.

In the opening lines of the book of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day of His creative work. Better yet, He set that day apart as being Holy. Why? Because God associates holiness with resting.

By resting, I’m not talking about doing nothing or having zero responsibilities, rather about living from an internal foundation of trust and faith that believes God’s finished work on the cross is enough for every aspect of your life. Your value, your worth, your merit, your entire essence. It’s a posture, a state of emotional and spiritual centering that relies on God’s work, favor, and provision completely above our own. It’s the realization that our part is to realize we really have no part, only to believe. His performance defines us, not ours.

Simply put, to believe is to rest. To labor… is evil.

In fact, the only labor that fits in the Christian life is to work hard at… resting…

Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. –Hebrews 4:11

Sadly, we have become a people full of labors. We say we believe, yet we worry. We say we trust, yet we strive and push to move things forward in our life. Leveraging relationships here, working angles there. We talk about forgiveness and being forgiven, yet we live in fear, guilt and shame. Racing to do more good than bad and somehow right our wrongs. We speak of Grace, yet we mix it with rules, regulations, rituals, conditions, and obligations. We proclaim the work of God in the past and present, but we rely on our efforts for the future, nonetheless.

We are full of labors, not rest. Goals not gratitudes. Striving and trying, not trusting. Performing, achieving, pushing, promoting, and stressing, not believing.

Consider Job in the Bible.

What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.  I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” -Job 3:25-26

Fear is built out of unrest. And where there is unrest, turmoil is just around the corner. Where did this stressful existence of turmoil come from, for Job?

When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom. -Job 1:5

Are you kidding me? Do you see it? Job is laboring day in and day out, doing something spiritual in hopes of protecting his children from an imagined reality with God that he fears. Let’s all try to get our heads around this. It was a spiritual pursuit that began his downward spiral into a state of turmoil and further unrest. He feared for his children, but instead of believing and trusting, he decided to labor his way through it as an attempt to take control of the situation and make things right.

Oh snap.

Ironically, as Christians, it is often spiritual looking things that we are doing that bring us into a further state of unrest, stress, and ultimate disbelief. Why? Because we are not living from a foundation of faith, but of fear, selfishness, and insecurity. Our spiritual song-and-dance maybe be fooling everyone else and even ourselves, but God is not fooled.

It’s evil.

Just look around at how many over scheduled, burnt-out, stressed, worrying, performance-driven, self-righteous, self-promoting, guilt-ridden, judgmental, religiously-spirited Christians there are. And this is what we hold up as the model, the goal, the essence of our faith walk.

For Job, something so spiritual looking was actually so ladened with evil. And dare I say, this is what is happening throughout American Christianity today. Our Christian lives have become, evil.

The holiest, most spiritual thing you can ever do is to rest in faith.

Your greatest responsibility is to rest in faith, believing the work of God in and through your life has already been accomplished on the cross. You are already a success. You are already whole. You are already faithful. You are are already complete. You, were one and done on the cross.

As you believe, and only as you believe, watch it all flow from you. Like rivers, quenching a dry land.

When we we rest, and only when we rest, the true work of God gets released through us.

This, is the way of Jesus.

To believe is to rest, to labor… is evil.

© 2017 Chris Kratzer

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