Tag: forgiveness (page 1 of 2)

Life After Conservative Evangelical Christianity—Hope For Those Who Hurt

Many are those who have been hurt and harmed by conservative Evangelical Christianity. A walk through the haunted woods of right-wing religious America can be a painful, faith-stripping, and life-sucking experience. For some, it’s an alarming set of events that must transpire before their eyes are opened to the religious deceptions and evils they have endured, adopted, or perhaps have even empowered. Many within and outside of conservative Evangelical Christianity can attest to the victim or victimizer they have become as a result of the faith and practices of much of religious right-wing America.

For those who have been deceived into befriending or becoming the religious evils of conservative Evangelical Christianity—there is hope. For those whose lives have been devastated, their faith disillusioned, and their dignities raped at the hands of these same religious evils—there is hope.

Raise your head, open your heart, awaken your soul—there is sure and certain hope.

There is Grace Instead of Conditions- There is a Gospel that is devoid of fiery judgement, religious condemnation, guilt-trips, “to-do” lists, and people shaming. There is a Gospel where everyone is deemed equal, affirmed, included, and eternally loved and valued. There is a Gospel absent of an angry, vengeful God who requires the murder of His Son and the proper religious responses of His creation in order to forgive and save humanity. There is a Gospel where God loves unconditionally because that’s who He is and can do no other. There is a Gospel that stands against all violence, abuse, and idolatry, and yet, in all these things, is no less biblical. This Gospel is not a fad, a new theology, or some wayward heresy–it’s a person, and that person is Jesus who is pure Grace.

There is Jesus Outside of Church- There is a Jesus who is everywhere and in all things. He is not exclusive to any one location, nation, group, orientation, gender, skin color, tradition, ideology, political party, or even faith system—He is all and in all, nowhere can He be found missing. He is not in public schools only if the people within them are praying or the Bible is being read. He can’t be summoned, controlled, or enticed into favoritism. As much as one may encounter Him in Church, they can encounter Him anywhere and in all things—if they have ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart that is willing. Jesus isn’t just in Church or into Church people, nor a building, or a service—He’s in everyone, everywhere, and everything. He’s into all humanity.

There is Community Beyond a Congregation- Where church congregations are largely organized around agreed beliefs, values, preferences, and purpose, true community is found deeper where all beliefs are honored, love is most highly valued, and purpose is centered on mutual respect, compassion, and human service—diversity is prized, not feared. People love, not out of religious obedience or faith obligation, but because it is who they are and the full essence and nature of the God they worship. No greater form of community is found than at the Jesus-table that extends far beyond the confines of many a congregation into the realm where people simply intersect with people—anytime, anywhere, and anyplace. The planet becomes our sanctuary, loving people becomes our worship service, and all humanity our congregation—no one is excluded, no walls needed.

There is Love without Restriction or Restraint- No more sizing people up or pre-qualifying expressions of Grace. No more wondering and fearing that you could love too much—if that ever could be a thing. No more conditions, fine-print, or exemptions. No more relational distancing out of religious obligations. No more “hate the sin, love the sinner” in order to desensitize your soul and justify condemnation and hate. No more saying “no” when everything in your spirit is saying “yes.” No more separating “truth” and “love” because your heart has been awakened to the revelation “the Truth is Love and Love is the Truth”—one in the same of the blessed Trinity. No more holding back, shrinking back, or turning back—only giving back as God has first given love to you—without restriction or restraint.

There is Freedom above Conformity- There is a spiritual growth that knows no limits and has no bounds. The goal is not conformity to a set of beliefs and convictions, but effortlessly becoming all that you already are by the Grace of Jesus. It’s founded on a trust and declaration that God is bigger than our best thoughts, ideas, conclusions, behaviors, and confessions. His desire is not that we land in a place of determined theological correctness, but that we open our sails to the Spirit to take us wherever Grace might lead us. That we listen to His voice speaking with fresh revelation fills His heart with delight far more than to see our heads buried in pages and verses. You are a free-living, free-thinking, free-aspiring creation and God loves to see you embracing freedom fully.

There is Safety and Strength In Divine Affirmation- You have no one to fear nor owe anyone an explanation. God perfectly loves you and embraces you completely. He affirms you no less than His gaze into a mirror—you are the image of the Divine Creator. Your value and worth have been predetermined. His love, approval, and acceptance or irrevocable and unchanging. That He created you is more than enough to hug you with an embrace that is eternally unbreakable. No ones opinion, voice, declaration, proof-text, or sermon should even begin to matter compared to the ultimate statement of God on your behalf, “it is finished.” God’s love for you—done deal. God’s delight in you—done deal. God’s affirmation of you—done deal. God’s salvation for you—done deal. As is, whoever you are. All is Grace, one and done—you are an unstoppable force of the Father. You are the revival God is bringing to the earth.

There is Forgiveness For The Enemy- To take the highroad and live to love again is not only the cry of your soul but the empowerment you become—free from all that is religious. Never becoming the evil done against you while standing firm to your truth is the beautiful balance centered upon your heart. No longer can one drag you into meaninglessness nor bring out in you a person foreign to grace and graciousness. Even the worst of that done against you is gleaned of its lessons but neutered of its power to possess. Confronted by and collided with a forgiveness that is unlimited compels you to free yourself from the shackles of unforgiveness, that you might never become your own worst enemy. What the evils of religion have stolen from you will become your mandate to no longer give them headspace nor power through being imprisoned to their hate. You refuse to hold onto bitterness, the desire for revenge, or the expectation of change. Those who forgive freely are those who are truly free and show themselves to be fully rescued out of the shadows of conservative Evangelical Christianity.

There is Purpose in the Pain- Standing, resisting, crying out in fierce solidarity. Giving voice to the voiceless, listening where no ears have been willing. Defending and proclaiming the sacred value of all the discarded. Living with a bravery of epic proportions that only a heart captured by Grace could compel. Shouting for equality where there is none. Ranting for justice where there is none. Chasing evils out of their shadows where they have long resided unchallenged. These are the places where one finds the deepest purpose in life—to be fully yourself and fight on behalf of those who know not that joy. Taking the pain of your oppression and the story of your plight that it might empower another to overcome and discover true life.

Don’t give up.

Don’t give in.

There is always hope.

There is always righteous resistance.

There is always the awakening to a new day and a new way.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

A Letter From An Aborted Child To Their Mom

Dear Mom,

I know what you’re thinking, how can “I” possibly be speaking?

Everything has a voice.

Every cell in your body has a voice—a memory.

You think of me. Moments, thoughts, feelings, uncertainties, dreams, indecision, the unexpected—I will always be with you.

That’s a voice.

Maybe you didn’t hear me then—lots of distractions, pressures, decisions, competing voices. I understand, but perhaps you would hear me now.

A person is never the sum of a moment or period in their life—they are eternal.

A time, a stage, a segment of their life does not define them or whether they are in fact a “them.” The moment your egg and my father’s sperm united, eternity spoke its creative evaluation and decision that I am a person. Besides, there is no other outcome that orchestration signifies nor grows. Somehow, someway, God or no God, intended or not, positive or negative, the cosmos was aligned to bring me to be, a human. Not as an intention, or a future formation, even if just an egg and sperm together, I have always been a person. That whole conception thing may have been my beginning, but every person has a beginning that does not make them any less a person from the beginning. I was not a “leading to life,” but life from the beginning.

All of this is to say—mom, you have a child, it’s me.

I’m still alive. Both in you, as a memory, and in heaven as a person, for eternity.

You have a child. It’s me. I’m speaking.

Mom, please listen—please.

I want you to know, I understand. Maybe you feel deep regret, maybe it was a confusing time, maybe you didn’t care at all. I understand—life is so complicated.

Yes, I think about what could have been, as probably you do as well. It’s sad, it’s painful, it’s hard—but, I am alive.

I still have a voice.

I want to tell you that I love you. I want to tell you that our eyes will meet one day. I can’t wait to wrap my arms around you, I practice for that moment with great anticipation.

I’m not angry with you, I don’t hold anything against you. In fact, Jesus and I have talked, and we both take great delight in you. Besides, on earth, who knows the mistakes I would have surely made, too many to count—reaching out for your patience, forgiveness, and long-suffering. Mom, I have nothing but love for you.

You are not less to me, you always have been more. It’s not about what could have been—it’s about what is, what can, and will be.

Mom, you have so much still to give, to share. You are so beautiful, especially to me.

I pray, in some way, my voice can speak through your voice.

Perhaps in that way, even now, we can be mother and child, together.

A voice of healing.

A voice of hope.

A voice, leading to better understanding.

A voice of clarity within the complexity.

A voice that speaks, from what at first was thought to have no speak.

I love you mom—always have, always will.

I am so proud of you—that you are my mom, always and forever.

I hope you hear me.

Love,

Me

Grace is brave. Be brave.

Loving The World Into Change

Don’t say you don’t need it. Don’t say it doesn’t matter.

There’s no hiding from it.

It’s at the heart of everything about you. Your pulse, your movement, your thinking. It’s the stirrings inside of you. What awakens your sleep, what captivates your captivations. It’s the poetry in your poem, the magical of your imagination, the strength beneath your sweat.

It’s love.

You’ll never find a forward step, a rush of hope, a cavern crossed, apart from love. You know you need it, you know you desire it. Like shining is to the sun.

When something is missing, it’s what’s missing. The lump in the throat, the gasping for breath, the cry from deep waters.

Love, the presence of. Love, the absence of. It’s everything.

There is no other way, but love. None.

Search the skies, the universe expanse. Look under here, look under there. Fasten the knife upon your belt, the gates around your heart. Take up arms, growl your threats, sabotage from within the shadows. Poison a cocktail, if you please.

But, nothing good ever came apart from love. No healing, no dream, no redemption, no turning the corner.

Nothing is impossible when love is the answer.

Search your footprints, every step upon your path. Love made you. Love has changed you, the only thing that’s changed you, for good.

So, please, please I beg you.

For heaven’s sake, for your sake. We must come back to love. Time is running out. The clock is ticking. The world is dying. Don’t say you don’t see it, don’t say you don’t feel it. Around you, within you.

How is that hate working for you? How are the silent treatments working for you? The false medications, the distance creations. The unforgiveness, the trust resistance.

How’s that working for you? The pimping of a dream that’s really a scheme. It’s all about you. Fame, fortune, sucking on the applause of others to convince yourself of what you are not convinced… that you are loved, lovable.

Do tell… how’s that working for you? Drawing the lines, placing the labels. Assigning people into the margins of your brain. In, out, somewhere in between. Friend, enemy. How’s that working for you? Muslim, Jew, black, white, conservative, progressive, gay, straight, rich, poor, terrorist, peace-maker.

I say, who gives a rip? Love for Christ’s sake! Love. Without restraint, without condition, without question… your sole ambition.

Do it. Be free. Untie the ropes. It’s love.

The essence of God, and all this is good. You can’t go wrong with love. You can’t do it.

Nothing is impossible when love is the answer.

If the world is going to change, it will be because we loved it into change.

How?

Start with the history of people, particularly of your enemy. 

We are a complicated people, who at times, punch at the very things we need the most. Standing in the right, standing in the wrong. We all have the twitches, scars, the vulnerabilities. Blind spots, personalities, all intermixed. Rages, passions, deep within. Kicking, screaming. Longing to love, and be loved in return.

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Love means making a thorough understanding of the histories of those we want to be history. There is no compassion without understanding, and no understanding without love.

Love, is the history examiner, the back-story investigator, the benefit-of-the-doubt giver.

We cannot change people without understanding the history that changed them. Applying love, where none was given.

Love the difference of people.

For who among us is not different in some way? Who of us can claim perfect togetherness with anyone?

The unity of love is in our willingness to love within differences. Shades of grey.

There is humanity within every human, we must find it and hold onto it. Cherish it, unshackle it to the surface. This is the quest of love, to dig deep into everyone. There is an image in which we have all been created. A Person into which, we have all been recreated.

We are not our differences, we are all, reflections of the Father, manifestations of the Son. All together, different. Beautiful, glorious, magnificent.

God is so much bigger than we, and how we might be separate. Expressing Himself, giving Himself, living Himself in all of it.

What God intends, should not leave us intimidated… that we are different. All of us.

For we cannot be the difference without a love of our differences.

Love is the great influencer, the great affirmer.

How do change anyone, I ask you? An enemy, an author of injustice. A violent perpetrator of evil. Or how about the selfish, the greedy, the scheming schemers.

How do you change anyone? The wrong, the misguided, the speakers of untruth. The disagreeing, the dissenting, the rebels, addicted to their youth.

How do you do it? With rules, guilt, punishment, politics, religion? Fear, shame, intimidation, some faith decision? Weapons fired, love withheld, life restricted, hope taken, body imprisoned?

How do you change anyone, for good?

“For the Grace of God teaches us to live rightly…” Titus 2:12

Grace is the vibration made when God touches you. God who is love, who loves you. Everything about you. Affirming, delighting in, all of creation.

There is no other touch from God than Grace. And Grace, the only thing that changed anything or anyone, for good.

And here in lies the scandal. That you have been changed, already. Even though you may not know it, or believe it.

You are the beauty of Jesus, the love of the Father, the change God is bringing to the world.

It is you. You are the love.

The beauty, the change. Awaken to you.

Nothing changes until you love from the love that you are.

Wrestling down, hugging even when it hurts, awakening one heart at a time… to love.

There is no other way. None.

Be the beauty, the change, the love you already are…

…loving the the world into change.

This is the way, the only way it’s done.

Loving the world, your world, into change.

To Those Hurt By Franklin Graham And His Supporters

There’s is no denying the hurtful, deplorable words recently communicated by Franklin Graham to the LGBT community.

His timing, message, and condemning posture are extremely disappointing and disturbing at best. The hateful march of many of his supporters rallying around their captain has left ditches full of casualties, shot at point-blank range with fiery darts of condemnation, hate, and judgment.

Yet Franklin Graham and his supporters are a symptom and product of a much deeper cancer in our Christian culture, the Evangelical highjacking of the Gospel, God, and what it means to follow Jesus. Until this spiritual disease in our nation is healed and the heart of Christ reclaimed, this religious spirit will continue to spread and spew its vomit. Hurting, harming, misleading, and destroying the lives of many in its path.

For those of us who are of the LGBT community or allies thereof, these are difficult times requiring great courage, honesty, togetherness, patience, faith, and Grace. Now more than ever, it’s time to be brave.

There is real hurt, pain, and hardship caused by those who would use Jesus to spiritually justify their bigotry, hate, and the pimping of a Gospel that is no Gospel at all. Never apologize nor shrink back from your cries being cried and your voices being heard. We must never become the evil done against us. We are a people of love because God is love. But that does not mean for us to be silent, or perfectly varnished in our feelings or even in our expressing. Jesus confronted the religious spirit of His day openly and honestly, and we are no less Jesus in our doing so.

In fact, in two instances, Jesus is specifically recorded as becoming angry. Not violent, but angry. Both times, at people who interestingly enough, were withholding Grace.

It is indeed right and salutary that we should be emotional, even carefully confrontational where we see Grace withheld, and condemnation and judgment its replacement. Opening wide the floodgates, with honesty in our sails. Yet, all a river leading us to become servants, lovers of our enemies, compassion overflowing. A stream that cannot be stopped, because love is unstoppable. For that is the gift of an enemy, that we learn to love anyway. Furiously and fearlessly.

Even as we hurt, even as we cry, even as we confront, even as we defend, even as we are crucified, we love anyway. Washing the very feet of those who would stomp on ours.

Please understand, Franklin Graham’s voice and those of his supporters, do not represent the Gospel nor Jesus. That is my opinion. His words, their words, are nothing like Him, nor the Gospel He brings. For God is love, Jesus is Grace, and His message is peace. Love, unconditionally without conditions. All affirmed, all included, all delightfully delighted in Him and by Him.

Just imagine what it’s like to be Franklin Graham. Immersed in a religious system at such a level that few ever have the discernment or courage of heart from which to break free. Constantly placing the footings of his faith, life, relationship with God and self on his performance. Forever being preoccupied with sin management, rule-following, and closeness-keeping with God. Imagine, the daily spiritual struggle and unrest in his life. Always having to live up to spiritual expectations, sleeping with one eye open, justifying and medicating shame with self-righteousness. Believing in a Gospel where God loves you… but. If you don’t do this, or you do that, all could be as nothing. A God whose justice, holiness, and love look like the eternal torture of billions of people who simply didn’t follow certain prescribed religious steps and expectations. Where there is no room for incongruent thinking, spiritual exploration beyond the tracks. Where you never get to fully love without restraint. There is always a governor affixed to the pedal of your heart. I love you… but. Just imagine what it’s like to be Franklin Graham.

I, and others, have been there, done that, and have the t-shirt. And I can tell you it’s a living hell that you’re fooled to believe is heaven.

The more Franklin Graham and his supporters speak, the more our hearts should be filled with deep sadness, even compassion. If it hurts so much for us to hear him, imagine what it feels like to be him. For the language he speaks out, is first the language he echoes to himself, believing God first decreed it. And perhaps there is not greater hell then self-condemnation, growing full term into religion, all the while believing its the best of heaven. Imagine what it’s like to be Franklin Graham. We are getting a mere taste of his reality.

Be doubly assured, God is working in Franklin Graham’s life just as He is with you and me. Not through punishment, fear, guilt-trips, manipulation, rules, or condemnation. All through Grace.

In the same way, we can be, we must be… a manifestation and message of Grace to him.

Especially as it hurts, even as it hurts. Where life is a cross, not a couch. This is when Grace is most convincing.

To hurt and to give Grace at the same time, is to be fully human, fully Jesus. On the cross, blood flowing down, agony upon agony, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Grace upon Grace.

For Grace is the only thing that changes anything and anyone. Grace wins where everything else does not and cannot.

At the heart of Grace is… forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what Franklin Graham has said is now somehow true or acceptable. It doesn’t mean what he has done, is somehow now approvable. It doesn’t mean the hurt should somehow now be instantly removable; the anger subsided, and the injustice now somehow justified. It doesn’t mean any of that. For him or anyone else beside him.

It does mean, however, we emotionally release the false-accusers in our lives of the debt they owe that they cannot or will not repay.

Franklin Graham and those among him, they owe, and they owe big time. An apology, innocence returned, sleepless nights re-slept, tears removed, depressions lifted, tragedies averted. They owe big time. We all have our list.

Yet chances are, they cannot or will not repay. That apology is not coming. The affirmation is not coming. The compassion is not coming. The change of heart and mind… not coming.

Forgiveness means we no longer live with the bitterness, longing, and emptiness that comes from the expecting, even the demanding of a return. It gives us the power to be free, to never let the lack of integrity in another become the lack of integrity in us. To sing choruses crying, “It is well with my soul” not because it is necessarily all well with them, but forgiveness has necessarily made it all well in us. They no longer rent space in our heads, nor can their words unravel what God has knit together. Forgiveness has developed our immunity from the false-accusers within our faith. For we know who we are, and Whose we are. Beautifully and wonderfully made, the divine artistry of our Maker.

Forgiveness is releasing our offender only to realize we were the prisoner.

Franklin Graham, to all who gather around him, we love you as is. There is no condemnation for you, not from God, not from me, not from us. You are unconditionally loved without conditions. None of us are better, only different. We consider you, and all among you, cherished members of the family, completely included and affirmed.

To those who have been hurt by Franklin Graham and his supporters, walk with confidence today, that you are loved, affirmed and celebrated by your Father in heaven. Your LGBT child is loved, affirmed, and celebrated by your Father in heaven. Nothing to change, nothing to be rearranged. No sin, no darkness within. None.

You are secure in His arms of approval and pride. You are the joy set before Him, His affections are ever upon you. Unmovable and undeniable.

Lift up your head, lift up your head I say! You are the revival God is bringing to the world.

For such a time as this, you were born.

Be brave!

Love furiously and fearlessly.

Be brave!

Open Letter to Caitlyn Jenner

An open letter to Caitlyn Jenner:

It is with deep humbleness I write. You don’t know me, and I know very little of you. I am not a perfect person. I don’t even completely understand what goes on in my own heart and mind, let alone in another human being. Only God could begin to know that. My reaching out to you is from a place of even ground.

I am sure you realize that the changes you have made are not easy for everyone to understand nor embrace. I am sure it will come to no surprise for me to tell you that many in the Christian culture have serious concerns about your choices. And from what I see, the same is true for many other segments of our society.

We live in a world of “opinion entitlement” where people think they are not only entitled to have an opinion on everything, but everyone else is entitled to have to hear that opinion too. As I would suspect you have done, I have read many “opinions” about you and the path you have chosen. Some are soaked in compassion, others in condemnation. Some are in between.

I don’t fault those who agree nor those who disagree with the path you have taken. I honestly don’t know of a place from which I can judge you, nor can I find the holding for a firm grasp on the conclusion that you are completely and indisputably in error in every way. Yet, I cannot also find sure foundation that some or all of what you are doing is not terribly wrong, misguided, or disturbing.

But honestly, none of what I think matters.

What I do know is that God loves you as is, and His Grace is upon you. He loves you unconditionally without conditions.

This love is not based on your performance in life, it’s based on His on the cross. Not on your character, but His.

I also know there are Jesus lovers who also love you without condition and stand with you, over and above what they might personally believe to be right or wrong or somewhere in between. This is the way of Jesus, even if it’s not always the way of people and/or Christians.

My prayer is that you allow the Holy Spirit to guide you in all truth. He is the only One qualified for that task. Whatever needs attention, direction, correction, or affirmation…He will show you.

I am sure you are and have been hearing from so many voices. Only one should be given the loudest setting… the Holy Spirit. Everyone has their take on the Bible and other spiritual issues. Turn them down, read it for yourself and ask God to speak personally to you.

His affections are for you. His Grace is upon you. His heart has nothing but love for you, for He is love.

Blessing to you and yours. -Chris Kratzer

Giving Grace to Difficult People

I find in Jesus, the perfect model for being a person of Grace. In fact, He is not just a person of Grace, He is Grace.

I think, for most of us, we want to be loving and extend Grace. Yet, when it comes to certain types of people and behaviors, we get frustrated. How do I give Grace to that person who drives me up the wall? What about the person who wrongs me over and over again? Does giving Grace mean I become a doormat for Jesus, devoid of having boundaries, never saying “no,” or creating space from certain types of people.

These are difficult and important questions that everybody wrestles with.  Hopefully this post can shed some practical insight on how to extend Grace to difficult people.

o.o1 – At times we are the difficult person-  The very Grace that we are having difficulty in giving or are not sure we should even give in the first place, is the very same Grace we need to be given. Chances are, right now, there is a person who is trying to figure out what it looks like to give Grace to you. The very issues you are wrestling with in giving Grace to difficult people may just be the same kind of issues someone is wrestling with in giving Grace to you. Those who truly know their deep, forever need of Grace are the ones most willing to extend Grace to others.

0.02- Grace is unconditional- We live in a deeply conditional world. You do this, I do that. If you do this, I’ll do that. You change, I will change. You take the first step, I’ll take the next. You say “sorry,” I’ll forgive. You change your behavior, I’ll draw closer. This is why Grace is so difficult and revolutionary. It goes against so many of our relational impulses. For many, Grace is blasphemous, offensive, and unrealistic.  You expect me to do what? Grace is unconditional. There is no condition for which it cannot and should not be extended in some form or another. There is never a moment where Grace is not the best response. In fact, the only times when Jesus was recorded specifically in the Bible as being angry, His anger was directed exclusively at people who withheld Grace from others. You want to know what angers Jesus? Sin? Nope… withholding Grace! Apparently, that’s worse than sin itself.

0.03 Grace protects your being- Grace enables you to give to the ungiveable, love the unlovable, and forgive the unforgivable without loosing yourself. Grace is not the absence of being hurt, offended, or used, it is your divine capability to give Grace non-the-less.  Ironically, it is in the withholding of Grace that offense, hurt, and being used are given life and power to stain and erode within you. Giving Grace disarms all offense. It is not denying nor pretending their is not a problem. Rather, it is the sure solution to the effect of the problem on and within you, and the only potential solution to the problem with or within the other person.

Grace costs you nothing to give because it is supplied by your Father, you cannot out-give the supply. It is what shelters you, protects you, and guards you in all your relationships. It is what keeps you from becoming the very person you are having difficulty trying to deal with.

Conditional love, however, lowers your shields to the hurts of others and gives them harbor and perpetual life within you. Conditional love grows the disappointment, resentment, and bitterness that comes from unmet expectations. Grace does not always say, “yes.” but refuses to say “never.” Grace is not the absence of boundaries, but an understanding that most boundaries that constrict the flow of Grace are not boundaries but a barrier.

The true danger in your relationships is not in the giving of Grace, but in the withholding of it. Withholding changes nothing and erodes most everything. Grace changes everything and erodes nothing. It is this irrational, indiscriminate compassion that is called Grace. It defies everything we have learned and believe works in a conditional world.

0.04 Grace confronts religious pride and injustice- There is a purpose in giving Grace to difficult people (of which we all are difficult at times). It is to heal, restore, and reconcile. Some difficult people are difficult because of their pride and/or behaviors of injustice. Ironically, Jesus confronted these types of folks very sternly, and yet gave great compassion, patience, and understanding to broken, sinful people.

What do people of pride and injustice have in common? Their refusal to be people of Grace, receiving it and giving it. They take away, when giving is what should be done. They punish when correction will do. They hold out rules and regulations when freedom and encouragement is what would gain the influence. They pretend they have it all together, when they don’t. They condemn, judge, and sow seeds of guilt and shame into people’s lives.

Yet, Jesus was and is Gracious to these folks nonetheless. They very fact that He didn’t go any further than giving them harsh comments of confrontation, stopping short of drop kicking them into hell, shows His abundant Grace. Sometimes, the deepest expression of Grace to these kinds of difficult people is in what we stop short of doing and saying. Walking away, kicking the sand of your feet can be a deep expression of Grace.

See, Grace is most attracted to people who know deep down they need it. Jesus spends most of His time making sure the broken, humbled, and hurt receive it instead of trying to convince the proud and unjust to receive it and give it.

With some people, the more you give Grace, the harder their spine stiffens. The more you try to confront their pride and injustice, they more they dig their heals into the ground. What should we do? Give Grace anyways, and still confront when necessary. Yet, spend more of your time extending Grace to people who aren’t hell bent on living against it in their lives and in the lives of others.

0.05 Grace does not invite sure physical danger- Giving Grace to difficult people doesn’t mean that if you are physically abused or are in a physically abusive relationship, you should just take it.  It’s one thing to give Grace knowing that you might be endangering yourself physically as Amy and I did in adopting two of our daughters from China. The plane could have crashed, we could have been hurt traveling in sketchy parts of China etc. But, to invite sure physical (or even emotional) danger to you or those you love in the name of Grace is likely unwise. You can still give Grace to difficult people while creating necessary physical and/or emotional space. A good rule of thumb is, if in giving Grace you put yourself in a circumstance that will certainly damage you ability to give it because of the presence or level of physical or emotional harm, than chances are, you need to create some distance that allows you to give Grace, but not be harmed or have harm brought to the ones you love in the process. The stronger you are in your sense of identity in Christ, the more you will be able to give Grace to emotionally toxic people without losing yourself in the process. It is Grace that grows this strong sense of identity in Christ in you.

0.06 Grace receives from God and gives to people-  With God, it is better to receive than to give. But, with people, it is better to give than to receive. Spend your time allowing God to be the supply of comfort, security, value, worth, applause, happiness, meaning, courage, etc. in your life. He is the One who can meet these needs completely and consistently.  With God, spend much more of your time receiving the needs in your life than trying to give to Him.

Yet, with people, spend much more time giving to them from your well of Grace, instead of turning to them to be your supply. When we turn to others to receive, we create a level of “expectation” into the relationship. When we turn to people to give, we create a level of “uncondition” into the relationship. It is impossible to to give Grace and yet have connected expectations in return. If Grace is not given unconditionally, it is not Grace.

Difficult people, in some ways, become much less difficult when we aren’t trying to change them or get them to meet some relational expectation. Rather, we are simply trying to give Grace, and in doing so, we bring to the table the very thing that actually changes everything. When we stop trying to change and get certain things from people, we actually can bring to bare the one thing that can change people and behaviors… Grace.

How to Truly Love Yourself Always

You aren’t stupid. You are just honest. You want to love yourself, but find it hard at times. You see the imperfections, the mistakes, the areas where you feel you don’t measure up. You are your own worst critic, spending most of your day analyzing your every move and people’s reactions to you. At the end of the day, you turn in your score card. Some good moments, some in between, some not so good.

Now, for the real question, the closing question of the day. How much can I truly love myself? How can I truly love a less than perfect performance. I know my secrets thoughts, my hidden desires, my concealed decisions. How can I truly love myself with all the contradictions in my life?

The truth is, if you focus on your performance in life, true love of self will always elude you. We can never measure up, make the mark, turn in a perfect report card. At best, we learn to accept ourselves and tolerate our shortcomings. But love ourselves completely… no so much.

The problem lies within what we are using to measure our lovability. Most of turn to our performance in life as the measure of our lovability. This is where we have gone wrong and given Satan the keys to our heart.

The truth is, your identity and true self is not attached to what you are doing or not doing in your life or with your life.

When Jesus died on the cross, He did much more than merely doing something FOR you (making it possible for you to go to heaven), He did something TO you. On the cross, the old you was put to death, and through His resurrection, an entirely new you was created. All of what God has done TO you on the cross becomes awakened in your life the moment you believe in Him and His performance on your behalf.

Loving yourself is about loving the real you. The real you is separate from what you are doing or not doing. The real you, the Bible teaches, is a “new creation.” The real you is holy, sanctified, whole, lacking no spiritual blessing, having the mind of Christ, a partaker of the divine nature (not sin nature), seated with Christ, and having the full righteousness of Christ. You are completely forgiven, past, present and future and stand with no condemnation whatsoever. You are an heir, priest, son (or daughter), and king in the Kingdom of God. Jesus lives in you and as you in this world.  This is the real you, this is who you are NOW, regardless of your performance.

The key to loving yourself is in loving the real you. It is in loving the Performer (Jesus) not your performance. It’s about loving His finished and perfect work in your life, not your unfinished and imperfect work. On the cross, all of the work on your life was declared “finished.” There is nothing left for you to do “on” yourself but to enjoy and live out what God has already done TO you. It’s not becoming who you aren’t, but fully being who you already are. Who you are is based on Him, not on you, it is based on what He has done TO you, not what you are doing WITH you. You identity is not defined by your performance, but rather your performance is defined by your identity in Him. The more you believe completely in the real you, the more you will live better, wiser, and more secure. Our actions always follow our beliefs.

Truly love yourself. God does. It is not based on what you are or not doing, but His love for you. He loved  the old you no less than He loves the real you. Don’t focus on your lovability, but on His loveliness. Why? Because His loveliness has now become your loveliness. The more you see Him, the more you will see the real you.

There should now never be another moment where you do not truly love yourself. There is no reason and will never be a reason why not to, and there is every reason to… love 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.

10 Relationship and Leadership Standards to Live By

Relationships and leadership go hand in hand. And to be sure, navigating both can be complicated and difficult at times. We all want healthy relationships where we can love and be loved in return. We also want our workplace relationships and endeavors with people to filled with harmony, fulfillment, and happiness.  Yet, some of the time, we find our relationship and leadership experiences falling short.  What we hope for is not exactly what is actually happening.  Conflicts, challenges, and change (to name a few) find their way in and make relationships and leadership more messy than we would prefer.

As a pastor, I am certainly not perfect. On any given day, I probably make more mistakes than I do in getting things right. Yet, these 10 standards have definitely helped in improving my leadership and relationships, if for no further outcome then enabling me to have an inner sense of assurance and calm in the midst of times when leadership and relationships are not so easy. But well beyond that, I have found these standards to go a long way at fostering healthy relationships and leadership for all involved.

The good news is, these standards reflect the Christ that lives in you and the new person you already are in Him. You are already fully capable of living these out as God has graced you with His mind, a new heart, and His power. These standards are not about things to strive for, but rather aspects of who you are already. Believe that these standards are already within you, because they are!  As you believe it, you will live it in your relationships and leadership.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #1- never handle conflict through email, texting, or fb.

If you can’t deal with it face to face, don’t deal with it until you can. No, we shouldn’t avoid dealing with conflict, but handling it prematurely through ways that avoid or delay face to face dialogue can be highly problematic. What about a phone call or Skype? That is a good option “b” when getting your bumpers in the same parking lot is impossible or highly difficult.  60-70% of communication is non-verbal, and people often take a much different posture towards issues when they are face to face then when they can hide behind the distance and disconnect email, texting, and social media provide. If you want people to respect you and your leadership you are going to want to handle conflict personally and relationally through means that bring you face to face as much as possible. Every one brings two pails to issues of conflict, one is full of gasoline, the other full of water. Whether or not gasoline or water is poured on the issue will largely depend on how personally the issue is handled.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #2- when receiving criticism, don’t take it to heart without first carefully considering the source.

Criticism can be very valuable, but also destructive. One of the determining factors is the source of the criticism. The main question I have when discerning the source of criticism is, “Does this person have my best interests at heart?” If I conclude they don’t, my willingness to open the door to taking their criticism to heart diminishes. Helpful criticism usually comes from people who genuinely care about you. Does that mean we shouldn’t consider all criticism as having potential value? Of course not. Good criticism can come from bad people. But be very careful how you receive it and what you do with it. For sure, though all criticism should be considered, not all criticism should be taken to heart. Furthermore, not all criticism deserves your response or your action.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #3- assume the best about people and focus on their goodness, but entrust them in steps, not leaps.

There is goodness in everyone. People are a gift from God. Focusing on what is good about people and their strengths is a powerful way to live. Unfortunately, we often fill in the blanks about people and their actions with the most negative conclusions. We think this protects us, but it often serves in depressing us and missing out on the value of people. Assume the best about people.

However, this does not mean entrusting people in leaps and bounds. It does not mean turning off common sense and fair discernment. You wouldn’t give your car keys to a 10 year old. Neither should we entrust people beyond what they are ready and capable of, even if they believe otherwise. This is a disservice to them and you. Entrusting in steps is key.  Those who are faithful with a little will be faithful with much. It’s important to see what people do with a little before you give them much. This will benefit them and you in the long run.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #4- don’t waste your time trying to drag people into or keep them caring about you and/or your vision. If they can walk away, let them walk away.

Oh, how we want to be liked and loved. Unfortunately, not everyone will like and love us.  It’s our insecurities that attract us to people who aren’t good for us or who aren’t interested in us.  We somehow think we need to get them to be interested in our lives to prove that we are lovable and worthy.

Yet, trying to drag people into our lives and keep them caring about us and the things we care about is a royal waste of time. People will walk into and out of our lives for various reasons. You will likely only have a few over the course of a life time that will truly be “with you” for the long haul. If people can walk away from you, they were never really “with you.” They may have been “with” aspects of you, but not you as a whole. If you find yourself having to drag people along to be interested and involved in your life, stop wasting your time. Do your best to be a person of reconciliation and lasting relationships, but if they can walk away, let them walk away. Spend your time nurturing relationships of mutual love and respect.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #5- connect the tubes of your identity, emotions, value, and merit to Jesus. Connect the tubes of your giving and blessing to people.

One of the keys to healthy relationships is to not turn to them for your everything, especially for you value, merit, and identity. Only Jesus can supply your deepest needs and fill your emotional tank. We run into trouble when we turn to people for what we should be turning to from God.

With God it is best to receive, with people it is best to give. Let God be your supply, and people, the recipients of your blessings.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #6- Be generous with forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean what they did is now somehow o.k, or that the relationship is automatically back to normal. Forgiveness is emotionally releasing the person of the debt that they owe you, for your sake and potentially theirs.

Forgiveness makes sure we don’t write people off, but it doesn’t mean we automatically write them back in. Reconciliation and restoration are totally different from forgiveness. Forgiveness is what makes reconciliation and restoration a possibility not a guarantee. It takes two people to reconcile, it takes only one person to forgive.

Being a forgiving person means not hold grudges or harboring bitterness, but always keeping the door open (however slight) to the possibility of reconciliation.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #7- Love negative people from a distance. Don’t stop loving, but don’t let their negativity stain your outlook or the outlook of others.

Some people and relationships can become highly toxic. People who are negative to a fault certainly fit into that category. Unfortunately, negativity is highly contagious, and can even rub off on ourselves if we are not careful. Many negative people love attention, and have for whatever reason, decided that utilizing negativity is their best (and maybe only) way to get attention or control.

Not everybody who has an opposing view or points out problems is negative. We need people who are willing to look for challenges and speak the hard truth we don’t want to hear. But negative people thrive on problems, drama, gossip, bad news, and things that could go potentially wrong.

Sometimes, as hard as we try, we cannot inspire them away from their negativity. The best we can do is to love them from a distance as we pray for God to do what only God can do in their lives. Allowing them too close to you and those around you in terms of having a voice, gaining an audience, or spraying their negativity around can be highly problematic. At times, loving them from a distance can even mean taking measures that remove that person from a project, group, or team as the best context to help a clinically negative person is outside of the context their negativity feeds upon. However, usually politely communicating that you have heard their views, but ignoring them in your mind and in your decisions will take the wind out of their sails for you and those around you.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #8- with people, exchange the ideal for the real. Nobody is perfect. Surround yourself then with people who truly care about being in relationship with you. Nearly any imperfection can be worked through in that context. Mutual love is the glue to relationships, not perfection.

Love covers a multitude of things in relationships. Love everyone unconditionally, and draw people close to you with whom mutual love and respect occurs, not perfection. Some of my closest relationships are with people with whom I have differing views and beliefs. Furthermore, I and they have made numerous miscues in the relationship. The glue that holds it all together is mutual love and respect. Mutual love and respect in a relationship brings the ability to agree to disagree, say “sorry” when sorry is what is needed to be said, work through misunderstandings, and just about anything else.

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #9- When confronting a conflict or issue with a person, do it face to face and begin with questions. Questions like, “Help me understand, I heard…” or “Would you be open to some feedback about…” or “Maybe you could help me clarify something, what was your thinking behind…” etc. etc. Clarify first with questions that don’t accuse.

The worst blunders we make when confronting issues come from either confronting them too soon without all the facts, or never confronting them at all, no matter the facts. The solution is to confront with the mindset of an investigator, not a judge. Then, when all the facts are in, people have had their voices heard, and you have had time to seek wise counsel, then begin to make decisions about how to move forward. Rarely, do we need to press the accelerator when confronting conflict, most of the time, what is needed is to apply the brakes. Slow down, be thorough, objective, and gracious.  And remember, face to face!

Relationship/Leadership Standards to Live By: #10- Don’t make a big deal about figuring out and living some great plan for your life. You becoming the person you already are in Christ is God’s big plan for you. In Him, you are already big and anything you do and pursue is big. The significance and magnitude of you and your life has already been taken care, God wants you to simply enjoy it. Life is God’s great plan for you.

The purpose of your life is to awaken (through faith) to the Savior (Jesus) who has already saved you, become the person you already are in Him, and live the life He has already given you… filled with power, authority, significance, and divine celebrity.

In Christ, anything you do, pursue, create, or endeavor is filled with perfect purpose and divine power and significance.

Enjoy your life, and live it. That’s the plan.

 

What to Do After You Sin

You have probably been taught that after you sin, there are certain rigorous steps and emotional postures you need to assume to make things right with God. Deep groans of profuse crying, long quivering statements of confession, and some kind of twisted punishment of one’s self are sure to be a good religious start, provided Jesus hasn’t already back-slapped you into hell.

As much as we love to try to work our way to God, we also love to try to work our way back to God once we have sinned. It makes us feel like we have some control (and credit) in the process.

Yet, no matter what you have been taught, the Gospel teaches us differently. First, you cannot work your way to God, and then once in Christ, there is in fact no need to work your way back to Him, if that were possible anyways.

For the non-believer, the prescription of what to do after you sin is simple… agree with God you sinned, believe in the forgiveness God has given you in Christ on the cross, receive it through faith, and stop sinning as you live from your “new creation” identity. (2 Cor. 5:17)

For the believer, however, things have been made a bit more complicated and confusing. So, to clear things up and get back to the Gospel, here’s what to do (and not to do) once you have sinned.

Once you have sinned…

1) Agree with God you have sinned.

2) Believe in the forgiveness that God has already applied to your sins… past, present, and future. No need to ask for what God has already given. He is not interested in your confession of sin (other than agreeing with Him that you sinned) but your confidence in His finished work on the cross applied fully to your life the moment you believed. (btw, 1 John 1:9 is written to non-believers, not believers.)

3) Trust that your identity, righteousness, and standing with God are still fully intact. Sin has not distanced you from God. The Christ that lives in you has not left the building or even walked to the front door. He has not given up on you, nor reduced His love or presence.

4) Believe on Jesus that He will enable you to overcome this area of sin in your life as you see that you are by nature no longer a “sinner.” Don’t get on a treadmill of trying and striving to “do better.” You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only God can, and that only by faith, not your effort. Believe in who you are in Christ, lacking no spiritual blessing, and live from that belief. Right believing leads to right living, not rule keeping. The more you try to stop sinning, the more you will. The more you believe and trust in Jesus through His Grace to will and act according to His pleasure in your life, the less you will sin. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. Behind every area of sin in your life is a wrong belief about God and/or yourself. So, when you sin, don’t ask, “what am I doing wrong?” and then strive to change your behavior. Rather ask, “what am I believing wrong?” and ask God to help you change your beliefs and increase your faith.

5) If your sin effects people, promptly ask them for forgiveness and do your best to clean things up and make things right. With people, confession and clean up are very important and often necessary.

6) Vehemently resist feeling condemned and applying false guilt and shame onto your life. Don’t live your life carrying an emotional burden Jesus already canceled. Forgive yourself from the forgiveness Jesus has already applied to your life, past, present, and future. To walk in guilt and shame is to deny the power of the cross and Jesus’ work in your life.

7) Focus on Jesus and His mercy, not your sin. Don’t be sin conscious, be Jesus conscious. Don’t give Satan the attention, give Jesus the glory. Thank Jesus and live from His mercy and favor, focused on His amazing grace.

8- Don’t start a spiritual battle with Satan that doesn’t exist. Rather, hold onto your identity, righteousness, and holiness in Christ. Religously praying “harder”, giving, serving, sacrificing, and going to church “more” will not bring you back into good standing nor keep you protected from the evil one. Resting in Him as you place your trust in His work and Grace is your spiritual armor.

9) Move on, focusing on Christ and your identity in Him. Have the mind of Christ who remembers your sin no more. The more you bring your sins with you into the future in your mind, the better chance you will repeat them in the future in your actions. It is for freedom Christ set you free.

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