Tag: fear

The Real Reason I Don’t Go To Your Church

No, it’s not the music style, the lighting, or the programs.

No, it’s not that I’m lazy, disinterested, or bent towards worldliness.

In fact, I care deeply about spiritual things, long for community, and have a generous heart for serving people.

With your professional branding, elaborate worship staging, cultural savviness, and groups for nearly every interest known to humanity, I can tell you are feverishly trying to crack the code and leverage me into your church gatherings. Even your ministry conferences, flowcharts, and mission statements are centered around somehow influencing me into your kingdom. Like Captain Ahab tempestuously traversing the oceans for the prized moment his harpoon punctures the elusive whale, it’s obvious you long for your efforts to be those that heroically pierce my heart with salvation, lure me into your faith community, and set me on a course to belief and act as you do, all to the praise and admiration of those that align with you spiritually. I see your noble intentions, I really do—all are efforts I truly appreciate.

Yet sadly, the real reason I don’t go to your church still eludes you—perhaps because the answer can’t be bought, programed, built, diagramed, staged, earned, envisioned, emotionalized, focus-grouped, or even prayed into existence. For all the chumming of my life with every strategy, program, and event that could possibly ever be imagined, you’re still yet drastically missing the one ingredient for which my heart and soul hungers the deepest, and could even render it captured. In fact, the one and only thing that truly matters is the very thing rarely ever heard amidst all your ministry chatter—love.

See, the real reason I don’t go to your church, subscribe to your faith understanding, or connect with your spiritual community is actually because of you—you don’t truly love me.

The one thing you so desperately want me to see and believe about your god and your faith establishment is the very thing I don’t see established in you—it’s love—and it’s oh so very clear, you don’t truly love me. With all that your faith, church, and Christian life has become to you, the one thing that hasn’t become of you is the one thing that is so glaringly missing—a simple, true, and genuine love of me.

The real reason—no matter what you might be tempted to conclude. It’s not about your god, your buildings, your beliefs, or your community. It’s actually all about you— that you don’t truly love me.

For if you did…

You wouldn’t even think of putting your rights, comforts, and privileges above mine. Rather, you’d be laying them down for me.

You wouldn’t care so much about bathrooms, wedding cakes, and movie scenes. Rather, you’d be pushing aside every obstacle and looking for every opportunity to simply serve me.

You wouldn’t shame, discard, and condemn the people I love no matter who they be. Rather, you’d love them thoroughly and completely no less, simply because you love me—you know, like Jesus.

You wouldn’t see me as a spiritual project to stuff upon your mantel for all your friends to see, but rather as a wholly divine person already redeemed, simply longing for an awakening—you know, like to the Jesus already in me.

You wouldn’t say selfish things like, “I’m praying for you” as you pretentiously look down your pointed nose and flaring nostrils and determine that if I’m not all that I should be. Rather, you’d vehemently commit your heart to truly understanding, knowing, and loving me—and that, unconditionally.

You wouldn’t want to “reach” me, “win” me, or “grow” me into becoming some robotic, spiritual zombie who believes, looks, and acts mostly like you. Rather, you’d want to love me into the God-adorned person who believes, looks, and acts exactly like the true me, living life as “I” should—in freedom, with only the Spirit guiding me, not you. For don’t you have enough navigating to do in your own life to necessitate in you the trusting of God with mine?

Your theology and Bible understanding wouldn’t be the idolatrous, unmovable, and inerrant foundation upon which you lean, pompously standing as one who holds all the “clear teachings.” Rather, your humility would give way to a love of me that would prevail above all things and become the one and only thing. It would be your vision, denominational mantra, and your ultimate dream—convinced that in all you do for me, you are in fact doing so as your highest and most important way of loving and honoring Thee—you know, Jesus.

You’d be listening, learning, and looking for any reason, excuse, or loophole to affirm me—no, not that there needs to be. That God loves, accepts, and delights in me simply because I breathe, would be more than enough—because that’s the heart of Jesus.

Your default bent, beliefs, and creed would all center on Grace, love, and human equality, not jamming down my throat something you have in your privilege that you believe I need as a remedy to what you see as my depravity. For who do you think you are, anyways? You don’t even know me.

You’d trust the goodness of God so much that potentially erring on the side of unconditionally loving me would not only be deemed as non-threatening, in your heart and mind, it would be concluded to be an impossibility. For with a God of more than enough, who could ever love too much?

Perhaps, most of all, you wouldn’t say ridiculous, stupid things like, “The reason I point out your sin is because I love you” and then expect me to actually believe it—if only I could keep the vomit from dripping out of my mouth. Rather, you’d be begging me to hear one thing, and one thing above all things, “I love you, is the reason I love you.” “Pointing out sin is the job of the Spirit, it’s not for me.” “For who I am, but one who is just like you—no better, only different.”

Yet sadly, you don’t trust Grace to guide, teach, correct, empower, and be all-sufficient, which is perhaps the sole reason why yours is a love that is so alarmingly love-deficient.

You want to change me, I just need you to love me. You want to convert me, I just need you to love me. You want to confront, castigate, correct and conform me, I just need you to love me. There is nothing in all my heart and soul that couldn’t be overcome, if you’d just truly and simply love me. But sadly, you don’t—and even more tragically, because of your faith understanding—you won’t.

Truth is, I don’t need to know anything more about your god or your faith community, because I see everything I need to see—in you, already.

With all due respect and appreciation, you can have all your services, traditions, events, conferences, retreats, revivals, groups, clubs, books, movies, schools, buildings, programs, prayers, and music, because I know true love when I see it—and tragically, I just don’t see it—in you. Don’t ever think you could possibly convince me that the god atop your steeple truly and deeply loves me, when it’s all so crystal clear, from the tippy top to the shallow depths of your own being, a love cannot be found that truly loves me.

Which is all the reason I need to know or ever show as to why I’ll never want to be a part of your church, your faith understanding, or your community.

The real reason?

You.

You don’t truly love me.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  -1 John 4:8

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” -1 Corinthians 13

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Is Jesus Gay?

At times, there is silence for a reason as some things are best said by being left unsaid.

That there is no mention of Jesus’ sexual orientation in scripture is perhaps reflective of a profound, cosmic reality that one’s gender nor orientation are a prerequisite for determining that which is of the Divine. To the dismay of much of western Christianity, Jesus wasn’t purposed on being imaged into a caucasian, American, heterosexual, republican, gun-owning, blue-eyed, conservative male with flowing locks of brown hair—but rather He is the surest example of what it truly looks like to simply be fully human and fully rested in the Divine.

Was or is Jesus gay in terms of sexual orientation or behavior? I don’t believe so—but it certainly doesn’t matter. For being gay is about so much more than mere sexual orientation or gender identification. It’s about being a beautifully created soul adorned with eternal extravagance imaged in the splendor of the Creator, who no less bears the arduous task of navigating their unique, human experience through the minefields of a brutally inhumane world that would quickly ransack those who break religious molds, clawing to strip them of their divine value, identity, purpose and worth. Beyond the gravity of sexuality and orientation, this is the deeper, ultimate essence of the plight intrinsic to being gay—to be fully human and fully alive while sweating beads of blood in determination to find one’s way and hold onto one’s inherent dignity and God-delighting in a spiritually nefarious, different-condemning, and different-killing world.

In this way, Jesus was surely gay.

For in the face of being ostracized and derided by His own Nazareth family of bigots determined to misunderstand Him, Jesus is the gay man and the lesbian woman who live in the constant, gruesome torment of coming out, being known, and fully living their God-designed personhood—a kind of hell on earth of daily accusation and rejection God never weaved into the tapestry of what anyone should endure.

Or crying over Jerusalem, begging for His heart to be understood and His people to receive Him, Jesus is the parent who lies awake deep into the night, tirelessly fighting in solidarity for the defense, worth, dignity and affirmation of the LGBT child God has blessed them, but the religious deem a disgrace—Jesus, not just the parent, but also too the LGBT child born innocent by the Spirit’s authoring, pursued by the cunning Herods of our world whose sure desire is to seek out and kill them.

There, praying in the garden of Gethsemane, begging for divine reprieve, Jesus is the lesbian teenager, trembling in terror as she cuts her arms and threads the noose, convinced that giving up is the only way out, and the only sure resolve to the pain that is before her.

In the outer courts, confronted by the religious through the evil venom of their creed—backed into a corner, a pointed finger pushing at His chest questioning His true identity, Jesus is the transgender person whose truth is too truthful for the world to hear nor see.

Then, from the confines of Pilate’s Praetorium where flogged beyond recognition, to a savage, religiously-conspired cross where nailed, pierced and left to die of internal suffocation, Jesus is the Orlando night club and every LGBT person ever murdered in body, mind or spirit—crucified to death by religion, ignorance, and hate, and even good people who remain silent and unengaged.

In all these ways, Jesus is surely gay—not just gay, but One of us all for whom religion has demonized, illegitimized, and crucified in hate.

For Jesus didn’t die just for humanity, He died as humanity—all of it. Transgender, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor, conservative, progressive—the haters, the lovers, the lifted high, the beaten low, the Christians, the Muslims—every type, color, creed, and flavor.

Everywhere there is religious oppression, everywhere there is bigotry, discrimination, or injustice—where there is the branding with labels or the withholding of Grace, Jesus is there in Person and as the person being deprived of that which has been given to them freely and irrevocably from the goodness of His Name.

In this way, if you can’t handle the notion of Jesus being gay then you aren’t fully understanding the essence of Jesus being you.

To be you or to be gay is essentially one in the same—it’s what it means for all of us to simply be human, created in the likeness, image, and favor of our Maker, living in a religious world that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all that His hands have made, with special sights on that which the religious deem inferior or against the grain.

Run your fingers through the strands of an LGBT soul, then through mine, or that of any other, and soon you will declare the only declaration that can be truthfully rendered—that none are better, only different. For the sooner we see Jesus in and as the people around us, the sooner the lenses of God’s affirming view become the windows through which we see ourselves and all humanity.

If Jesus isn’t gay then Jesus isn’t you, and if Jesus isn’t you, then the incarnation is a fake, and your resurrection a certain uncertainty.

No one chooses to be LGBT, but in Christ Jesus, God has chosen to be—not just One of them, but He even does the unthinkable and dares to be One of you.

Yes, that’s right.

Jesus is gay, Jesus is me, and Jesus is even…

You.

The Self-Talk That Is Killing You

There is no drama playing out in all the world that is more significant than the one being continually staged in the auditorium of our heads. Ours is an inner life filled with an ever developing script of characters dressed with the personas we give them, the sentences we write, the blanks we fill in—friend or foe, villain or hero, threatening or benign, hope or despair, regret or satisfaction, all a constant inner conversation striving to interpret and navigate our human experiences and direct them into a positive plot that circumvents pain and resolves dissonance into harmony.

Of all the scenes that are set under spotlight, the exclusive conversations we have with ourselves form the dialogues that leverage the strongest pull on the strings of our story. Nothing directs the chapters of our lives more than our self-talk—so much that our future is rarely the sole product of what manifests on stage, but rather the narration we pen of it in our inner conversations. Within seconds of every life interaction, we translate our experiences into internal, emotional and cognitive storylines and conclusions that forever shape our steps.

Above all that unfolds in front or behind the curtains of our psyche, we are the director of the drama in our inner life, and our directing, a sure product of the perceptions we embrace of the Author. If God exists, does He write scripts of hardship, adversity, or even pain into our lives for some kind of divine purpose? Is His affections for us filled with limits, conditions, inconsistencies, or even existent at all? Are the characters that fill the world’s stage fundamentally good, bad, or something in between? Is He mad, disappointed, or undecided about me? Is God truly love, or is He some kind of bipolar mixture with moments here and there of convenient amnesia? Should I place complete hope and faith in Him, or is it best that I live with one eye open? Are the plot lines in my life, negative or positive, written directly from the pen in His hand, or is something or someone else at play? So many factors and influences take the stage—parents, upbringing, faith, circumstances, and life experiences, all auditioning to write a verse or even commandeer the entire script as the Author in our heads.

That’s the reason why, for many of us, the person we are to ourselves isn’t so much in concert with the true Author of life, but far more in step with the Accuser of it—a constant voice of condemnation interpreting all of our existence towards the verdict of personal guilt and shame. Somehow, it’s always our fault. We are wrong even when we are right. Every moment of every day, drinking in and regurgitating out volumes of evil, twisted verses to our souls—I’ll never measure up, I’m a square peg in a round world, always a step below, a length behind, a stumble too far gone. Things will never get better, this is as good as it’s going to get. God hates me, I’m an abomination—the reason this is all happening. My life is a bitch in the ditch, a mess far beyond repair. I’m a misfit, a misprint, a miscue, and fundamentally, a grandiose mistake.

The truth is, the Accuser cannot speak to you what you aren’t first willing to say to yourself. Often, the lens through which we see our lives is so skewed by inner condemnation, shame, and inadequacy that the person gazing back at us in the mirror reveals the image of one who has been repeatedly and brutally raped by our self-talk to the point that our true beauty, strength, wholeness, and divinity is nowhere to be seen—buried under the bed of our self-inflicted adultery. Tainted by a diabolical world that’s been allowed penetration onto our cerebral stage, our self-talk is killing us—and not just killing us, but unceasingly thrusting Jesus back upon the cross in full declaration and conclusion that when all is said and done, His Grace is not sufficient—at least not for us. The words we speak, the evils we echo to our soul are the nails that crucify us and Him, over and over again—our self-talk, locking the shackles that are imprisoning our every step.

The verbal selfie you take in your mind is the most influential image in your life. Like a resurrected Lazarus who was nothing more than a card-carrying member of the walking dead until his burial wraps were removed, we will never be fully alive until the death we speak to ourselves is shown for its utter uselessness and imprisonment, and thus unraveled and replaced with words of life—because we have finally become convinced by the Convincer, we are not dead, but teeming with divine Light.

For you are the loveliness of Jesus, the prize for which He became a person. You are whole, complete, forever without blemish—never discarded or labeled as damaged goods. Nothing less than pure delight and affection has come from God’s heart to yours. On the cross, Jesus did far more than ankle-yank you out of hell into heaven, He remade you, and all that is Him is all that is now you. Nothing can revoke or remove God’s perfect, unconditionally unconditional love for you. You are fully qualified for every good thing. No sin, past, present, or future shall ever define you nor cast a shadow upon your image. As far as the east is from the west, inadequacy and shame are forever removed from your path.

My child, there is nothing wrong with you, no doubts to haunt your potential nor twitches to sabotage good things. Your capacity to face life is nothing less than Jesus’ capacity to face death—resurrection and redemption are who you are. To God, you are not merely a person to love, you are the reason God is love. Above all else, you are an experience to Him, the candy in the store that fills the heavens with joy, satisfaction, and pride. The mere thought of you tickles His sides with laughter and sends Him blazing through streets of gold with a gleam in His eyes brighter than a thousand suns.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, a time where the God who is perfect love does not perfectly and completely love you—all of you, everything about you. Every feeling, decision, and conclusion in your regard has already been formed and sealed in ecstatic, irrevocable and unremovable love. There is nothing you can do or become that can undo or improve upon what God has already put to rest—the internal, tormenting conversation you constantly wage with yourself wrestling with the value, worth, essence and summation of your life. There is nothing left to talk about or debate—there is nothing unsettled that hasn’t been settled. You are divine beauty, God’s best idea—no matter what others, and more importantly, no matter what you might say.

When we are the person weighted with depression—engulfed in the quicksands of discouragement. When we are the person held captive by self directed unforgiveness—hopelessly circling on sin’s merry-go-round, spinning our lives out of control. When we are the person eclipsing ourselves, standing in the way of shiny new things—striving, trying, and performing our way to somehow redeem our storyline and make a name and a significance of ourselves. Before all, and in all, we are first the person whose self-talk is diseased with words of condemnation and condition that ooze out a soul-hemorrhaging puss dripping from our mouths as we sing from the Accuser’s songbook.

Seeking to change our circumstances often proves futile, seeking to change our self-talk is the good fight of faith—the work of God that is to fully rest our souls and our self assessments on how deep, wide, scandalous, and expansive is the love of Jesus upon our every atom.

The greatest battle in your life is to be convinced of the Author’s conclusions when the Accuser blows his hallucinogenic smoke into your eyes hoping you’ll believe something less. There is nothing to work on in your life, there is only everything to believe on about your life. Jesus did not die to save you from an angry God, but to save you from believing He is. For guilt is anger turned inward, the death cocktail of the Accuser served for the consumption of your self-talk to rid you from seeing all that His hands have made—the perfection that is you.

God is good, He is love. He has nothing but grace, joy, hope, acceptance, affirmation, and freedom to speak into you.

Never let a thought be in your head of self evaluation or conclusion that is not first a thought in His, nor a conversation ensue within you that is not first wrought from the Father, Son, and the Spirit as they brag about you.

Then, the self-talk that is killing you soon becomes the Jesus-talk that frees you to fully be who you fully already are… Jesus anew.

Christian, You’re Worried About Transgender Bathrooms? Seriously?

Christian, I’m not buying it one bit—all your huffing and puffing about the morally deplorable and safety-shattering realities that would become if transgender people were allowed to use the public bathrooms of their true identity and choice.

I gotta give you props, you don’t let the paint dry in stepping up to the plate to bark out against all the wrong things—showing the true teeth of your creed. You want to convince me that there is something alarming of which to be afraid that should awaken in me dire concerns for my country, family, and children. Yet, the truth is, you’re more desperate to deflect attention from the real issues than Johnnie Cochran in a murder trial. The rest of us, Jesus lovers and alike, we’re hip to all the smoke and mirrors you position in an effort to justify your inner hate and religious arrogance against that which you don’t understand or agree. Quite frankly, you’re going to have to do a lot better than this if you want to be taken seriously. Your ignorance, pew-packaged talking points, and religious ideology of self-righteous superiority show up like skid marks on a 5-year-old’s underwear—you’ve crapped your pants, and we know it. All these religious charades you tout in hopes we will go nose-blind to your stench, would all be so laughable, if it wasn’t all so serious.

You’re a Christian parent, for crying out loud, who sexualizes your young daughters with dance and cheerleading groups pimping every hoochie-mama gyration their makeup ladened, pubescent bodies can muster in skin tight uniforms fit for a Beyonce’ video, all while forty-five year old men who live in their mom’s basements hoot and holler in the audience—and you’re worried for your kids about transgender friendly bathrooms, and you want me to be too?

You take your sons to stand in line for hours at the local GameStop, licking your chops to purchase the latest violent, salvage, blood spewing, graphic video game because “boys will by boys” as father and son imagine, enact, and fantasize violence—and you want me to be worried about transgender friendly bathrooms?

You friggin put Sundrop in your kid’s Sippy Cup. You send your children to school with a lunch bag laced with Little Debbie Snack Cakes, Cheese Puffs, a slice of baloney and a 25-grams-of-sugar loaded Juice Box.

You’re a parent whose life revolves around the activities and temper tantrums of your children as their demands drag you around like a dog on a leash—and yet you’re worried for your kids about transgender friendly bathrooms?

You teach your children to disrespect adults and throw shade at their teachers because in your mind (and now theirs) it always has to be the teacher’s fault. Whose else could it possibly be?

You think the best God-honoring activities to solicit the spiritual growth of your children are to jack them up with Bible drills and memorization contests, and outsource them to every vacation Bible school program you can map out on your GPS—and you want me to buy into your worry about transgender friendly bathrooms?

You’re a parent who spoils, over schedules, and parades their children around like a circus show because your self-worth is tied to appeasing the opinions of others, vicariously living through your children, and winning the competitive-parenting game that rules your every move and Facebook post.

At a blink of an eye, you’ll lay down wads of cash for the latest pair of Nike shoes, Vera Bradley purses, and concert tickets to Miley Cyrus, just because they ask, and you can’t stomach their displeasure.

You give little to no pause to publicly scolding your children with harsh rants of profanity. You watch porn on your computer one moment, sing songs of Jesus on your church’s projection screen the next, and then sit the family down for Sunday evening devotions like nothing ever happened.

More Republican politicians get arrested for sexual acts in public bathrooms than transgender people—and you want me to be worried about them taking a piss in a public bathroom?

The truth is, what should be frantically sending parents and kids into the streets screaming with fear isn’t transgender people showing up in a restroom. Hell no, we should be going bat crazy at the thought of the likes of your ignorance, arrogance, and hate bellying up to pee beside us or take a dump next door —hell hath no violence, harm, and fury like a conservative Christian.

If there is any social terrorism going on, monsters showing up in your local water closet, you’ll have a lot better chance at finding the culprit by looking into the mirror than under the bathroom stall.

When we finally see you as a Christian refusing to boycott things that are simply more humane than you, punch things just because they’re different, and wallow in the shelter of your religious pride and ignorance, then we may just give serious ear to the things for which you want us to be concerned and afraid.

Until then, we’ll kindly love people and treat them equally, fighting for their divine dignity, rights, and respect.

Spoiler alert, that’s what Jesus would do.

That’s what Jesus is doing.

Hate it for you.

Never Fear Again

We all have fears and situations that present us with plenty of opportunity to be afraid. Some fears are good, in a sense, at least the ones that keep us from doing stupid things. But for the most part, fears serve a destructive purpose in our life.

The real issue behind our fears is… what are we doing with them? For most of us, we are trying to use our will and might to subdue, bury, or pretend they don’t exist. From playing mental games to engaging in all kinds of spiritual gymnastics, we find ourselves facing our fears with the mindset that we need to try harder, be more courageous, preoccupy our minds, or bribe God in order to get our anxieties under control.

And then comes the issue of faith. If I just somehow believer harder, or believe more, or just have more faith, that will do the trick against fear. The fact that I have fears in the first place must be a sure sign that there are flaws in my faith.

Hogwash, throw all of that our of your mind!

It is not the strength of your faith that matters, it is the object of your faith that dissolves fear. Keep reading, this revelation is going to change your life!

The Bible sums up its teaching on dealing with fear in one short, but powerful phrase, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Because for years we Christians have lost sight of the original Gospel of Grace and the essence of the Christian life, we have wrongly placed the emphasis of our faith on our ability to have it. In our performance-driven, Christian culture, we have automatically assumed that when Jesus said things like, “Oh ye of little faith…” that He was referring to the size of our belief or ability thereof.  If that were true, then a similar teaching about needing only a “little” faith to move mountains would be a contradiction. I suggest, in the phrase, “Oh ye of little faith…” He was addressing the size of our small perception of God’s love and Grace, not the size of our faith.

The essence of faith is not in your ability to have enough, but in God’s ability to deliver upon it. It’s the object of our faith, not the caliber of it that matters.

When God says in His Word, “Perfect loves casts out fear” He is teaching two powerful revelations.

1) If the object of our faith is anything less than the perfect love of Jesus upon our lives, we will be susceptible to fear.

2) When we place our faith in the object of God’s perfect love, fear dissolves.

The problem is not the level of your belief, it’s in what you are believing in. “Perfect love” is not referring to a level of love or faith we need to have in Him in order to combat fear, but to the quality and character of God’s love for us.

If I am putting my faith in a God who I believe loves unconditionally but with conditions, fear has room to flow freely in my life. That is not His perfect love. If I am putting my faith in a God who is at times angry and disappointed with me because of things I am doing or not doing, fear has room to grow in my life. That is not His perfect love. If I am putting my faith in a God who places or removes His favor upon me based on my actions, fear has opportunity to ignite in my life. That is not His perfect love. If I am putting my faith in a God who never forgets, is keeping score, and may turn His back if I push things too far or make too many mistakes, fear has a warm place from which to grow. That is not His perfect love. If I am putting my faith in a God who mixes Law with Grace, unconditional love with conditions, acceptance with judgement, forgiveness with punishment, salvation with spiritual performance, new creation with old nature, then fear has save harbor from the power of His perfect love.

No amount of faith can suffice against fear when the object of our faith is anything less than God’s perfect love for you. There will always be room to doubt, second guess, worry, and wonder. Is God mad at me? Is He allowing this to happen in order to punish me? Have I pushed Him too far this time? Is He making me pay? Is this happening because of something in the past? Will this be the one time He turns His back or removes His favor? Can I really trust Him with everything? Does He even care?

Yet, when I believe in the true expanse, depth, volume, quality, and character of God’s love for me, there is literally no more room for fear. God loves you perfectly. Completely, thoroughly, eternally. His love never misses the mark, slips, sleeps on the job, pauses, takes a break, slows down, lightens up, messes up, gets moody or has doubts. It may feel that way at times. But our feelings (and even the facts) don’t always reflect nor lead us to the truth.

God has made a once and forever decision to love you wholly with a never-ending, uninterruptible, unstoppable, never waning love.

God perfectly loves you and is working out all things for your good. His care is microscopic of every detail in your life. There is no place nor aspect of your life, past, present or future, where God is not already present and that God does not already completely love. Now that is grace-a-licious!

The truth is God loves you and there is nothing you can do about. It’s never really been about you, it’s always been about Him, His nature, His desire, and His affection… for you.

Rest in God’s perfect love of you. Trust in His goodness, the quality of Jesus.

It’s not about how much you believe, it’s about what you believe is the measure of God loves you. How big is the love and Grace of your God? How perfectly does He love you? Who is God to you? Is He who He says He is… “God is love”

God perfectly loves you, be not afraid. Walk in confidence, peace, and assurance today.

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)

Panic

For those who deal with anxiety on a daily basis, they know how panic can control their lives.  For some, their panic is more circumstantial as it fueled by mainly contextual issues. Maybe they have a test to take, meeting to lead, speech to give, or some other event or situation that raises the level of anxiety in their life to a state of panic.  For others, their panic has a more inward origin, and at times seems to come out of nowhere.  Circumstances in their life seem to present little to no trigger at all to their panic, but instead, it wells up from within.

As one who used to be ruled by anxiety and panic attacks, I know firsthand how debilitating they can be.  Worst of all, it often feels like things will never get better. The idea of one day living a panic free life seems like a hopeless reality.

So, let me tell you, there is hope. You CAN live a panic free life. And chances are, you won’t have to bow down to medications in order to experience freedom from anxiety.

Here’s what’s worked for me…

1) Discover the Spiritual Issues Underneath

I never would have thought it, but much of my anxiety and panic issues stemmed from a faulty, broken view I had of God.

Though it never seemed like it in the moment, much of my anxiety and panic originated from spiritual issues in my life. Anxiety and panic don’t feel or seem very spiritual, but they certainly can be.  In fact, panic and anxiety is the body’s way of alerting us to the fact that something is not well within us. It could be in our thinking, in our feeling, in our biology, or some combination thereof. I would venture to say that most anxiety issues that become biologically driven first started off being spiritually and experientially driven.

The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  The love spoken about here is God’s love of us. This is a perfect example of how our view of God (spiritual issue) can be directly related to anxiety in our lives.

Don’t underestimate the spiritual issues underneath that are driving the levels and issues of anxiety/panic in your life.

2) See a Licensed Christian Counselor

Getting to the root of the issues that are fueling anxiety and panic in your life are very likely going to require you to get professional help.  Secular counseling can only take you as far your life experiences are concerned, it cannot heal your soul. Healing the soul is a matter of faith in Christ. To heal anxiety you must heal the soul, secular approaches cannot provide supernatural solutions.  Additionally, make sure you find a Christian counselor who practices from a foundation of Grace and is wise in the character and nature of God. The last thing you need is a religiously-spirited counselor adding a bunch of “to do’s” and “rules” to managing anxiety in your life.

Why do I say that? Because the issue of “condemnation” in people’s life is often a big culprit behind the anxiety and panic they face on a daily basis. Condemnation has to do with feeling trapped, forever guilty, ashamed, broken, flawed, and judged. Only God’s Grace can heal those deep issues, not religious rules and actions.

3) Find Issues of Condemnation

One of the issues that pulls the strings of panic and anxiety in people’s lives is “condemnation.”  Living a life free from debilitating levels of anxiety and panic means walking in assurance, peace, and rest deep within your being.  Condemnation unravels this ability.

In my own life, after I solicited professional help from a wise counselor, I learned that deep within me being I felt condemned by God, my father, and the areas of my life I labeled as not measuring up. No wonder why I lived with spiking levels of panic and anxiety from time to time.  Condemnations kills, God’s Grace and perfect love bring life.

Chances are the root behind your anxiety and panic will be an issue(s) of condemnation in your life, real or perceived.

Are there circumstances where a person needs to medically treat issues of anxiety in their life? Sure, absolutely. But ultimately, though medications may help manage symptoms, they cannot provide the cure.  Jesus can provide the cure;  Grace, love, and His favor received through believing, applied to the deep spiritual areas of condemnation and fear within.

Much More Than You Think

One of the things that breaks God’s heart the most is when we underestimate or under-prize the depth and expanse of His love.

We have portrayed God far too long as primarily a heavy-handed, temperamental judge who takes pleasure in throwing His weight around.  For many, they see God’s deepest desire for them as to spend their life constantly undressing themselves of the garments of sin as they simultaneously try to contribute more good than bad to their performance account.  They sadly see the foundational desire of Jesus upon their life as “Do more good, sin less” That’s the stride and striving of their life.

Somehow, we have called this pursuit “faithfulness.” But this term has really become a spiritual veil to an empty faith. A house of cards covering a secretly abandoned trust. The very thing we call “faith-full-ness” is the very thing that focuses our hearts and satisfactions “fully” on our performance and away from the performance of the only One who “Is good, and sins not.”  We are not trusting, we are trying.

Meanwhile, God is dancing to gather our attention away from ourselves and our striving. Like a playful, smiling father trying to capture the attention of his preoccupied children, God desires to turn our eyes away from sin and striving to His heart and His cheerful Grace-giving.

What a sobering thought, maybe we have missed it? The meaning and desire of Jesus upon our life. Maybe in all our thinking about sin and doing more good, we missed what our heart and minds were suppose to be captivated by. Has Satan distorted our sights once again with his not-so funhouse of mirrors.

God loves you much more than you think, and probably more than your ego can stand. Isn’t that our resistance? Our ego. We want to earn our part, to have merited our standing. Can’t we just have a little of the credit, or have paid a little bit of the price?  His love for me now has gotta have something to do with my living somehow.  Let me just have a piece of the performance pie, I’ll make the grade, or make up for the grade. Everything else works by a merit system, why can’t Jesus and living for Him.

God loves you much more than you think. He is not mad at you or passive-aggressively waiting to pull the carpet out from under you. He’s not like Lucy who entices you to kick the football with flirts of trustability only to wrench it out of your stride the moment you extend your faith. He loves you perfectly, completely, currently, and eternally. His love is not bound or influenced by your past, present, or future. The Grace card is not a score card, it’s a pre-paid card. You are forgiven all your sins and sinfulness, whether you asked or not. Your only escape from Grace is disbelief not disobedience.  Faith is what makes God’s Grace a transaction applied to your account. What was “paid in full” becomes “applied in full.”  In fact, when you look at the quality of Jesus, He is an overpayment for your transgression.  Faith is not asking for something to happen, faith is believing it has and will happen. While you are striving to live better, Jesus has already made you better. While you are trying to side step sin, Jesus has given you an entirely new walk. While you are trying to do good things, Jesus made you more than good, He made you righteousness.

God loves you much more than you think. He doesn’t want your life, or for you to “give your life to Jesus.” In fact, He put your old life to death on the cross, knowing of it’s deep decay, deceit, and doom. How can you give what you don’t have? The cross was the second flood, this time of blood, drowning the old broken life of sin. You don’t have a life to give. Filthy rags, yes. Life, no. In His resurrection, He made you brand new. When you believe in Him and His work on the cross, you become reborn. What God has done becomes what is now. You are no longer you, you are “Christ in you.” You are forgiven (past, present, and future), righteous, having every spiritual blessing. You are a partaker of the divine nature. Not just a child, but a son (or daughter) of the living God.  You are an heir of the promise of God to rule and reign with Christ now and forever. You are seated with Christ at the right hand of God (from such a high view how can we have such a low sense of self and God).  You are royalty. A new creation. Without blemish. There is no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are no longer by nature a “sinner.” You are not defined by your performance, but by your faith in Jesus’ performance. Hallelujah!

God loves you much more than you think. He doesn’t want you to live a sin-conscious life of striving, but a Grace conscious life of resting. He doesn’t want you to see yourself as a sinner in obedience training, but a saint in faith training. Right belief leads to right living. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. That’s why the job of the Holy Spirit is no longer to convict you of the sin of your disbelief in Jesus, but to convince you of your righteousness in Christ. He wants you to be free from the painful and exhausting  shackles of religion and all it precepts and prescriptions. No more going through the motions, much more living from your promotion from death to life, solely based on Jesus’ behavior, not yours. His work, not yours.  No more fake it to make it, much more believe it to live it.

God loves you much more than you think. In Him you are successful and significant apart from your achievement. He doesn’t want you living stressfully towards some future success or significance, but from the current and complete success and significance you already are in Him. He doesn’t want you trying to become something, He wants you living from the everything you already are in Him. He doesn’t want you pursuing life from a foundation of performance that can easily break down and brake away, but from a foundation of faith in Jesus who’s performance is perfect with His love, work, Grace and presence in your life never breaking down nor breaking away. Jesus doesn’t want you living with any insecurity, fear, or sense of lacking in who you are. He doesn’t want you walking into any moment or setting with even the slightest sense of insecurity, but with a complete assurance of the royalty and wholeness you already are in Him.

God loves you much more than you think.  He wants your life and living to be wrapped in peace and assurance, knowing of God’s full love and Grace for your life. If you were to do nothing more and become nothing else, He would love you just the same.  He is proud of you, as is. Your faith is what pleases Him, not your striving and do-gooding. You are blessed to be a blessing, so find what you love to do and enjoy God using it to build His Kingdom and manifest His love and Grace into the world. He will lead and prompt you each step of the way. So rest instead of rush. You don’t have to do anything, you get to do it, it’s a gift. Discover the joy that comes from manifesting the Grace of Jesus to the world in the way God designed you to do it, and enjoy it.  He loves you.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! –Romans 5:17

Pressure: Surviving Christmas

For many people, Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year.  Instead it’s filled with a lot of pressures; the pressures of family visits, being happy, presents under the tree, and the list goes on and on. Truth be told, for some, it may just well be the worst time of the year. For them, it’s the loneliest time of the year, the most depressing time of the year, the most expensive time of the year, the most stressful time of the year, and the most anxious time of the year.  The fact that the suicide rate is the highest during Christmas, the fact that between Thanksgiving and Christmas we go into credit card debt as Americans to the tune of 131.1 billion dollars, the fact that 35% of people say they are most depressed and stressed during this time of the year than any other is indicative that it really is true, Christmas for many people is the most wonderful time of the year for pressure.

So, in this post, I am unplugging the Christmas machine and getting back to what Christmas is really all about, because the truth is, the pressures our culture has put on Christmas as bent and twisted what Christmas is truly all about to the point that it’s true meaning is virtually unrecognizable in how we celebrate Christmas in our culture today.  More than that, I want to spend some time giving some wisdom on how to survive the pressures of Christmas.

The Pressure of Memories

Behind all the decorations and office parties, there are people who are not so excited and euphoric about Christmas. All this season  does is unearth and magnify a lot of sadness for them. Maybe you lost somebody you loved and so the chair they sat in last year at the Christmas table will be empty, or maybe it’s because you got divorced of separated this year, and the “I love you” you heard last Christmas you’re not going to hear this Christmas, or maybe you have lost a child, and though you still put up their stocking, Christmas is just another reminder they aren’t there to open it up.

One of the ideas you hear a lot about during Christmas is the idea of getting into the “Christmas Spirit.” And chances are, the moment we hear the idea of getting into the Christmas Spirit we immediately think of having feelings of joy, excitement, fun, hopefulness, love, and having a “Holly Jolly, Christmas” If you are having those kind of emotions, that’s great, be really thankful for that and hold onto it. Sure, Christmas is a season of joy. But what might be surprising to you is that it isn’t just about having joy.

See, for some people, there’s a ton pressure to be “on,” to be happy, to be joyful, to walk around in their Santa hat singing cheerful Christmas songs all the time. But that’s just not how they feel. For some people this season is something more to be endured than to be enjoyed. For many, Christmas is not so happy and jolly. And because everybody else seems to be all holly and jolly, and every Christmas commercial paints the perfect family with perfect smiles, it leaves them feeling like they belong on the island of misfit toys. For some, they feel like the boy in the movie Polar Express, “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me”

So let me tell you, if that sounds like you, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not a misfit. No, believe it or not, no matter what the commercials show you, there is more to Christmas (the true meaning of Christmas) than just having some euphoric, warm fuzzy feelings all the time. Believe it or not, this constant state of joy and bliss that you see everybody having on t.v. isn’t a complete picture of what having the Christmas spirit is all about.

In fact, if you truly tell the Christmas story, un-commercialized, the un-americanized, unedited for our ears, the emotional response that matches up with the real story of Christmas just can’t be one sided, it just can’t be about feeling joy, hope, excitement, or love, because that’s not the whole story.

Take a look at this…

Matthew 2:13-18 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Though this passage doesn’t get made into any Christmas specials on t.v., this is part of the Christmas story. Just think of this scene in Bethlehem that day, it must have been gut wrenching. Mothers must have clung desperately to their little boys when they heard the soldiers marching down the street going from door-to-door. Fathers must have tried to hide their sons in secret hiding places. But all to no avail. When the soldiers were done with their bloody massacre, sobbing mothers were holding their dead babies and powerless fathers were screaming in rage.

Some of you are saying to yourself, “I didn’t know that happened, I didn’t see that scene displayed in the Hallmark window.”

So let me ask you, what kind of feelings do you think came over all those mothers and fathers every year at Christmas who’s children were slaughtered on that first Christmas?

Yet, believe it or not, the pain of that scene even goes deeper than that, because what happens here with Herod and the babies evokes deeper painful memories of the past, that’s what the whole reference to the woman named Rachel is about.

Check this out…

Genesis 35:16-20 6 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

So not only do you have a Christmas scene of boys being slaughtered by Herod, but then this event also resurfaces memories of a mother’s mourning from the past. But the painful memories go even deeper than that, because this whole scene of the Christmas story is even connected to something deeper…

Exodus 1:15-22 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Are you seeing it? With Herod killing these little boys, it opens up a flood gate of other painful memories!

Unfortunately, we have been made to think that Christmas is supposed to be all happy and jolly.  No, for some people, Christmas is at least (in part) a painful experience, and the truth is, it was that way from the beginning.

See, if you and I are going to have the true Christmas Spirit, there has got to be room for feelings like sadness, struggle, and anxiety. There has to be room for things like tears, quietness, and pain… that’s part of the story.  Right now, let me give you some permission this Christmas season, don’t buy into the pressure to “cheer up and snap out of it.”  If you have sadness this season, there is a place for that, and it’s not under the carpet. Don’t be afraid to tell the story  -don’t buy into the lie, “well, people already heard it, I don’t want to be downer.”  Christmas time is a great time for stories, and the Christmas story at points is a story of tremendous tragedy and sorrow, so your story of sorrow fits perfectly.

Some people go into Christmas feeling under pressure to sweep the past aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, but if you take the scriptures seriously, if you let Christmas be what Christmas was, that stuff is part of the story too, and you can’t take it out of the Christmas story, and you can’t take it out of your story.

The Pressure of Family

For many people, the combination of family and Christmas stresses them out a bit.  Christmas is a time where more than ever, for some, it heightens their wish they had the family they don’t have or they wish they didn’t have the family they do have.  When it comes to family and Christmas the pressure is on, because many of us our going to have the “family visit” for Christmas this year. And already, you are wondering, you are preparing yourself for how it’s all going to go down.

What do you do when there’s tension in the room that you can cut with a knife because cousin Ed who’s 48 years old has decided that the Christmas dinner table is the best time to announce that He’s marrying his 19 year old girlfriend?  Or what do you do when the guilt trips come, “Oh, so we’re not going to see you at all this Christmas, the very parents who raised you and changed your diapers?” What do you do when cousin Lou decides to have a little too much egg nog and in a voice that everyone can hear she begins to tell you just what she thinks of your husband?  What do you do when that family member says those words, or does that thing that has a way of just getting under your skin and causing your neck veins to pop out? Or what do you do at that family visit when you feel more like an outlaw than an in-law.  There is a lot pressure that comes when you put family and Christmas together.

Mark 6:1-3 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Apparently Jesus has a family, he has His mom Mary and some brothers, so he has family. And I’m sure  that because he’s the Son of God, he is going to have a perfect family, right?

Mark 3:20-21 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Wait a second. So Jesus has been out healing and casting out demons. Crowd after crowd gathered to be healed and to figure out who this Jesus guy is, and then he runs into his family. But, instead of coming inside and hearing what Jesus has to say and encouraging him, his own family stands outside and joins in with the cynics as they try to make excuses for their son’s behavior?

John 7:1-5 1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Wait another second. So his own brothers, the people that should have his best interests at heart and know him better than anybody else, first of all they are trying to turn him into a political figure and then underneath it all, they don’t believe in him? Apparently, Jesus who is the perfect son of God doesn’t have anything like a perfect family, no instead, from the very beginning Jesus is misunderstood by the people who should understand him the most, his own family.

Now let’s go back to Mark 6, because in those verses Jesus decides to go home and make a little family visit. Kind of like perhaps you are going to do this Christmas.

Mark 6:1-6 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Now there are some important things I want you to notice about those verses….

o.o1 Jesus utilizes the support of his spiritual family

In verse 1, we notice that to this family visit, Jesus brings his disciples with Him. What are the disciples? Well, in one aspect they are a kind of spiritual family. I almost imagine Jesus getting the guys together and saying, “hey guys could you come with me, because I am going home to my family, and this isn’t going to be easy.”

One of the things I think Jesus is showing us right off the bat is that if we put all our expectation onto our biological families alone to fulfill all those longings we have for unconditional love, for a sense of belonging, approval, and support, we will probably be let down, disappointed, and frustrated. Some of the pressure of family and Christmas comes from simply having unrealistic expectations. We see those commercials around Christmas where people are all honky dory, everybody is getting along, no problems, everybody is happy, and we’re thinking “o.k. that’s the way my family is going to be,” and if it’s not we’re going to fix it all in one family visit. But chances are, if it’s not  going to happen for Jesus, then it’s probably not going to happen for us.

No, apparently for Jesus, when He got around family, he didn’t go it alone.  He’s not leaning on his biological family to be the everything in his life, for it to all be so perfect. He brought his disciples with Him. They were His spiritual family, they shared a common belief and cause together. They connected at the spiritual, core level, and His disciples apparently knew him better than His family did.

Mark 3:31-35 1 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

If you are reading this post and you have a great biological family, and all your needs for acceptance, belonging, self esteem and approval can be met there, then great! Praise God for that! But for many people that just isn’t how it happens.  And so God creates this thing called a spiritual family that you can have, with God being your heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ, where there’s a bond that goes deeper than flesh and blood. And some of you know exactly what I am talking about, you have discovered within a church a spiritual family where the bonds, the love, the support, and the sense of belonging go far deeper than DNA. That’s the way God designed it.

When you have developed a spiritual family, closeness with your Heavenly father, and some bothers and sisters in Christ, you can go to that family visit with the mindset, “Hey you know what, my biological father may not be all the things I have needed or hoped for, they may never change, they may disappoint me during this visit, but I have a heavenly Father who meets all of my needs.”

You can go into that family visit thinking, “I may not get along or have the kind of brothers or sisters that I would hope for, but I’ve got some brothers and sister in Christ that I can turn to that can help fill in the gaps.”

You can sit at the Christmas dinner table and think to yourself, “My child or my children and what there are doing with their lives may not be to my wishes, right now, I may not be seeing the fruits of my labor, but I have got some people who are young in faith, who are children spiritually to me, that I am being a spiritual father or a spiritual mother to, and I can see God moving in their lives.”

o.o2 Jesus didn’t bend under the pressure to conform

Let me ask you, when you go home for a family visit during Christmas, by the time you leave there do you feel like a child all over again?

Yah, it’s weird isn’t it, you can even start finding yourself regressing back into some of those old family roles, and by the time you leave, you don’t know what’s happened to you. It’s so easy when we make family visits to get all unraveled and lose ourselves and what we have become, or feel like we need to in order to fit in. Yet, for Jesus when He goes home, He didn’t change who He was and what He was about.  No, instead, he kept on doing His thing and being Himself, teaching in the synagogue.

You know one of the hardest thing to do when you make a family visit, is to truly be yourself, the person God is creating you to be. It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, listen to how they reacted to Jesus and his teaching. (verse 2)  “Where does this man get these things?”  In other word, “who does this guy think he is?”

Truth be told, being around family can be like superman being around kryptonite, you feel like you loose yourself and all your power.  The moment you walked in the door, all that courage you had, all that self-control, all that confidence you had, all those convictions you had, it just all somehow gets sucked right out of you.

However, notice Jesus doesn’t back off his game plan, He doesn’t compromise His convictions. He’s being straight forward, and straight up with them while telling them like it is, not holding anything back. Do we need to be tactful? Yes. Should we become a bull in a china shop? No.  But so often, especially around family, we error on the side of caving in at times. Under the pressure to conform and water down our convictions, we sell out.

o.o3 Jesus doesn’t buy into their belittling

For example, in verse 3 , it’s a little subtle, they kinda start belittling him, there are like, “Isn’t he just the cute little Joseph’s boy, the kid, isn’t Jesus just that little child we knew many years ago, our little carpenter boy.”

Apparently, no matter what Jesus had done or become, no matter even how others grew to respect him and understand him, his family still sees him as just a child. Doesn’t it make family visits really fun when even though you’re like forty years old, your parents still criticize the way you hold your fork at the dinner table.  “Come on hold you’re fork like a gentleman.” It’s hard because it’s really easy to get unraveled by that. I don’t know about you’re mom, but my mom makes it pretty clear that she’s always going to be my mom, and I’m always going to be her little boy.  I’m not sensing I’m going to change that anytime soon.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t let it get under his skin, and he doesn’t even try to argue, because parents are going to be parents and families are going to be families, and there probably isn’t much you are going to be able to do to change it.  But what we can do, is what Jesus did, He didn’t internalize it, He didn’t go crawl up into the fetal position somewhere.  No, he went into that family visit, encouraged by his spiritual family, confident in who He was and what God was doing with His life.

o.o4 Jesus was prepared for challenges

Jesus knew the scripture verse, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so he went into his family visit in the mindset that it was a ministry visit.  He wasn’t going into it in terms of what he was going to get out of it, he had his spiritual family for that, but he went into thinking “I am going to try to make the best out of this, to be a blessing if I can, and to be a source of wisdom and encouragement if I can.”  “I going to do my best and trust God with the rest.”

You can just tell, Jesus was prepared, and he was prepared for the fact there may be some awkward, weird, tense moments.

Maybe for you, when it comes to that Christmas visit with family this year, preparedness is your best chance of survival too. As a matter of fact, here are some tips for preparing for that family visit this year…

1-Pray for you family and your visit, and pray with your family before you go on that visit.  Bring a taser just in case. (Just kidding)

2-As best you can, try to be fair with family visits.  If you are married and you have relatives on both sides, try to be fair about that. The Bible says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

3-If you have kids, before you go on that family visit, clearly share with them your expectations of them and the consequences that will incur if those expectation aren’t met.

4-Try to foresee issues that may surface during that family gathering, and in advance prepare your response or a plan of how you are going to handle it. That’s proactive, if you wait to the moment it happens that’s reactive. As a matter of fact, if you are married couple and are going to visit family for Christmas, it’s a good idea to talk about things that may come up with your family ahead of time to discuss and decided how you are going to respond or answer those issues, so that you are both on the same page. And if you are a parent that is having your kids over for a Christmas visit, you may want to talk about how you are going to handle certain issues that may come up with your kids.

When it comes to conflict, awkward moments, and tensions in family around Christmas, preparedness is your best chance of survival.But here’s the deal, even when you prepare, when you try to be fair, when you try to please everybody don’t be surprised when you don’t.  As a matter of fact, let’s take this even further…

o.o5 Jesus couldn’t fix his family

If you are like most people, the moment we see something wrong, especially in our families, we want to fix it.  We feel like “can’t we all just get along and behave.” “Can’t we just for one visit, one weekend, one hour around the dinner table, can’t we just put some stuff aside. “If you’ll just do this, you change that, you become this, you do that, we could all be fine.”

Yet, look at what happens for Jesus in verse 5, you can just hear Jesus’ heart… ” I can’t do any miracles here, I can’t fix this, I can’t make this go away”  Don’t be surprised that when you go to try to fix things, that you may feel exactly like Jesus,  “I can’t save Dad, I can’t fix mom, and can’t rescue sister, or brother, or this situation.”

Now, make no mistake, there are times God calls us and says, you need (can) to do something about this (forgive, listen, compromise, be patient, bite your tongue), but there are other times, when God says, “The battle is mine, that issue is mine”  “Only I can fix this.” We all want to have the perfect family, the perfect family visit, and for people to be just as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are. We all want people in our families to love Jesus as much as we do, for people to get along, to forgive, to set aside their differences, to play fair, to give some respect, to soften their attitudes, to wear some deodorant for crying out loud, or to put whisky down, if for just a few hours on Christmas day.

But you know what, it may not happen. It didn’t happen for Jesus. That visit this year, it may be disappointing, it may break your heart, but you know what, whether you like it or not, whether you want to claim them or not… they are still your family,

In fact, for Jesus, when all is said and done, take a look at this..

John 19:25-27  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Picture this, there is Jesus hanging on the cross and His concern is for His mother’s care.

Regardless of all the drama, Jesus loved His family.  It may have to be from a distance, it may have to be from behind some serious boundaries that are absolutely necessary.  But even when you can’t fix it, you can still do your best to love your family.

The Pressure of Presents

Did you know in 2010, the average American family spent $870 on Christmas gifts, $33 in cards and postage, $51 on decorations, for a total of nearly $1,000?

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans rack up more than $131.1 billion dollars in credit card debt?

Did you know that 45% of people say that buying presents is more a chore than something they enjoy?

Think about this for a second, we have so identified Christmas with presents bought in a store and put under a tree, that you will hear people say, “we just aren’t going to be able to have Christmas this year,” or “we are going to give this person Christmas this year,” and what are they talking about? Presents.  For many people Christmas hinges on the presents.

As a matter of fact let me ask you something, would Christmas be as special to you if there with no malls involved, no shopping involved, no ribbons and bows, no presents under the tree, no getting up in the morning to unwrap them? Or think of it this way, could the Grinch come into your life this year and steal Christmas? Is the meaning of Christmas to you something that could be taken away from you? Would you feel like less of a mom or a dad if there were no presents under the tree this year? Would that get at you? How hard would it be for your kids?

It’s hard to be honest about that, because I would say for most of us, to some degree or another, we feel the pressure of presents, the unwritten, unspoken expectation of presents.  Back in the corners of our minds there is a minimum standard of presents that would be acceptable for you to have for your kids or your family, there’s the list of all those people you  feel obligated to buy presents for. And soon into this Christmas thing, the pressure starts to mount, the count down to Christmas starts.

And so the question becomes, what do we do with that pressure?  Because deep down we know there is something pure about this giving thing, it’s at the very heart of who Jesus and is and what God has done for us, the reason why we have a Christmas at all is because God gave us the gift of Jesus, born in a manger.  We all get that. But when fathers and husbands are committing suicide because they can’t give their family the material kind of Christmas they think they have to, when kids start screaming at the idea of not getting the present they want under the tree, when families are going into debt to get presents, when we associate the whole idea of Christmas as to whether it’s a good Christmas or a bad Christmas with how many presents are wrapped in a box under a tree, when 45% of people find it to be a chore to buy the presents that are giving, when our culture loves the cash making opportunity behind Christmas much more than the Christ of Christmas something is seriously out of whack. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here are some thoughts about how to handle the pressure of presents…

o.o1 When it comes to your children, give them what they really want… you.

When the presents we give to our kids are merely the icing on the cake of how we love of our kids, great. When presents become the cake of how we love our kids, not good.

For some parents in our culture, they make presents such a big deal, they buy this and that, anything the kids want, they find a way to get it, all to some how in their mind make up for the lack of a parent they have been the other 364 days of the year.  For some parents it’s a way of removing the guilt, buying, in a sense their kids love, or buying a way out of the guilt for not being the parent you know you should be.

For some, buying the presents isn’t really for the kids, it’s for the parents to feel better about their parenting.

It’s interesting around the Holidays, that many parents spend extra time away from home, long hours into the night, all to make that extra money for Christmas, under the pressure to buy presents for Christmas, when ironically what that child really wants is more time and attention from their parents.

It’s interesting that fathers work extra hard at having the money to buy the action figures of the heroes their children aspire on t.v. when really what their children want is for their dad to be their hero, for their dad to be that active figure in their life.

It’s interesting that moms go out and earn all that extra money to buy their daughters dolls that are beautiful, make up to make their faces prettier, clothes and jewelry to boost their self-esteem, when deep down what their daughters really want from their moms for Christmas and what would really boost their self-esteem is to know their moms think they are beautiful just the way they are.

Here’s a good question for those of us who are parents or grandparents, do you want your children and grandchildren to associate your love exclusively with something that can be bought at store, or with something that a few weeks later they don’t want to play with anymore? Do you really want them to associate your love solely with something that can get taken away from, do you want them to associate your love with something that later YOU are going to take away from them as a punishment?

See, what our kids really want from us this year is us. For some kids, they want their parents to finally start showing up as parents. For some kids, they want their parents to love them enough to discipline them, not let them get and do whatever they want to and get away with it. That’s why they are acting out, because they are wondering if you love them enough to discipline them. For some, they want their parents to finally pay attention to them. For others, they want their parents to stop fighting with each other and get their marriage on track. For some they want their parents to stop over eating and smoking. For some they want their parents to finally get serious about Jesus. That’s what they really want, and they would trade all the presents in the world if they could just get that.

So much of what our kids want this Christmas doesn’t involve something that can be bought in a store, it involves you. Any parent can buy a gift at a store, but it takes a special parent to give their kids what they really want… you.

o.o2 Give the way God gives.   Take a look at a couple passages with me…

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 10:30  I and the Father are one.

Here’s the simple idea… when God gave his son Jesus Christ to us, he was giving Himself.

And you say, “but the wise men gave gifts.” Yes, but they didn’t buy them at the Super Target or at the local Mall, they were giving from what had been given to them.

See the super cool thing about God is when God gives, he doesn’t look for the blue light special, he doesn’t get up on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, load himself up with a liter of Starbuck’s coffee and go on all day shopping frenzy.  He doesn’t say to himself, “Well, I haven’t been such a good God to all those people down there this year, so I better make it up with a blow out Christmas filled with presents.”

No, Gods gives of himself, He sacrifices something of Himself. And, I know what some of you are thinking, well I give of my money, that’s me, that’s part of me.  Really?  Listen, don’t reduce the miracle of you to a dollar bill, you are not your money.  Money doesn’t make you the man or the women. That is not a pressure God has designed you to bare.

Truth is, for some people, the pressure of presents is an issue of their entire identity, their whole identity as a mother or father person, or friend is all wrapped up (literally) in the material side of Christmas. And God says, “No, don’t get caught up in the lie, you are so much more than that!”

Matthew 6:19-2119 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Part of what Jesus is saying is if you wrap up your identity, the way you feel about yourself in stuff, in material things, you are going to be all over the map in yourself esteem. You’ll be like a candle in the wind, when money is good, you’ll feel good, when money is bad, you’re out of luck, where ever the wind of money is blowing that’s where you and your self-esteem will be, but if you see that you are of heavenly worth, priceless, in and of yourself, no matter your material possessions, there’s no pressure.

Let me tell you something, I promise you that what the people in your life want the most from you for Christmas is not your money or anything your money can buy.  They may say they want material things, but deep down, it’s not what the really want. What they really want is you.

It’s easier to give someone a nifty tie, it’s easier to whip out the plastic and buy them a key change with their name engraved on it, it’s easier to push a few keystrokes on line and order them a gift basket of every kind of lotion known to man because it’s easier to do that than to give that person something of yourself.

Yet, what God gives, you can’t buy in a store, check this out…

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord.

Try to pick up eternity-with-God at the dollar store, you can’t do it.

Or imagine you’re this guy Peter in the Bible, you love Jesus, you and him are tight, but when push comes to shove in a moment of weakness you choke, when it mattered most, you denied that you ever even knew Jesus, and everybody’s heard about, you screwed up big time, you betrayed your best friend to save your skin, and it’s all over the papers, “Peter the Coward.” Now imagine you are Peter, and you see Jesus at a little breakfast gathering, and your expecting to get the third degree, and everybody is watching, but instead he simply asks you three times, “do you love me?”  And you are thinking, “of course I do,” and Jesus looks at you and says, “o.k., let’s let the past be the past and move on”.    You can’t wrap that kind of Grace and love in a box.

Or imagine you are Abraham, you and your wife have been trying to have kids for a very long time, the whole thing has gotten so complicated, it all seems so hopeless, and you are frustrated.  But then God shows up at your door, and even in the midst of his busy schedule, he comes just to spend time with you and to personally let you in on what He’s up to in your life. God is just coming to be a friend to you, and then to top it off, he tells you that you and your wife are going to have the child you have been hoping for. You just can’t buy that kind of friendship, those words of encouragement, that kind of hope, or that kind of guidance.

As a matter of fact, let me kick this up a notch.

If this is the kind of stuff God gives, and the true meaning of Christmas is what God gives us, namely His son Jesus Christ, Himself, and all kinds of things that you can’t wrap in a box, than maybe the question of the day is, “what are you giving for Christmas?”

If you can’t wrap up any of these things in a box that are so priceless, then why are you putting so much emphasis on giving things that can be?  If what you need most can’t be wrapped up in a box, then why are you giving the people you love the most gifts that can be wrapped in a box?

James 1:17   Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

What Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn needs for me is not just for me to be the father God has called me to be, but for me to introduce them to their heavenly father, for my kids to see Christ in me. As a matter of fact, if the very best gift I have to offer Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn at Christmas (or any other time of the year) is just MY love, they got real problems.

Galatians 2:20a  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

See, if you are a Christian, you  are much more than just you, which means you have something more in you than just you to give. The real deal behind Christmas is to realize there is so much more to give than just presents. You can give you, and even deeper than that, you can give the Jesus in you.

o.o3 Christmas is a great time to show children that true love can’t be bought, and that money shouldn’t be able to buy or influence their hearts.

Part of whether or not your children get the true meaning of Christmas is by how much emphasis you put on the gifts or you put on the giving. So if you really want to know how to make sure that Christmas means the right thing to your children, you have to ask, “does Christmas mean the right thing to me?”  Children don’t where the shoes you give them, they wear the shoes you wore….

What is really the meaning of Christmas to you… can we see that by how you celebrate it?  Is it the gifts or the giving that the pure impulse of it all, or is the whole deal about all the stuff you can buy, or is it something in you that you can give.

Is there a place for bikes wrapped with bows and matchbox cars, Barbie dolls, and train sets? Sure, but only when those things never get in the way of you and your family experiencing the true pure impulse of Christmas.

So, maybe in addition or even in substitution for exchanging presents at Christmas…

-You could give your child a picture of you and your child doing together your favorite thing with them, and when they open it, tell them why that is the favorite you like to do with them.

-Give them a gift that they will give to somebody else at a time other than Christmas.

-Give them a letter from you telling them all the things you love about them the most.

-Have a present-free Christmas one year, and rather give gifts to another family or to a service organization instead.

-Give a gift to a charitable organization in their name.

-As a family, take the $1,000 that you might have spent on Christmas presents and buy a well for the people in India or Africa who don’t have clean water. One well can give a village of 1,000 people the clean water they need.

-Spend your Christmas money on groceries for the local food bank or soup kitchen and then go down and help distribute food to people in need.

-Visit the elderly in nursing homes or spending time with others who don’t have family and friends around for the Holidays.

The key is to realize, the greatest things that you can receive in life and you have to offer other people can’t be wrapped in a box. The very thing people need from you and deep down want from you, can’t be wrapped in a box. And when you realize that, the pressure of presents can be reduced to a non- issue.

© 2017 Chris Kratzer

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