Tag: identity (page 1 of 2)

No Longer Afraid—The Day My Heart Outgrew Conservative Evangelicalism

I used to be, but today is a brand new day.

I’m not afraid anymore—something  has happened deep within my being. New perspectives, revelation, and spiritual understandings have changed my mind completely. No, not in some kind of condescending way nor with a joy that excludes you. I’m just a completely different person now—my soul convictions and overall posture are nothing of the same.

I understand. Perhaps to you, it seems like I’m out of control, descending into a death-spiral plummeting into everything and anything that is backslidden and heretical. Yes, I suppose it’s true, I am out of control and it’s such a beautiful thing—breathing for the very first time. I’ve lost no love for you, mean no disrespect, nor harbor any pride in saying so—but conservative Evangelicalism, it feels like my heart has outgrown you—I can’t lie.

Where I used to curl up in the fetal position, turn off my brain, play dead, tuck in my shirt, and quickly fall in line, a seismic grace-bomb has gone off within me sending waves of courage and freedom supplied with a simple message, “have no fear.”

Call it a spiritual emancipation, a soul-revolution, or a new found courage to walk away. All I know is this—today is like no other, I’ll never be the same. Conservative Evangelical Christianity—with all due respect, I’m no longer afraid.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Speak and Live my Truth, Without Fear of Your Rejection- I must admit, intended or not, you used to have me under your thumb and controlled a good bit of my headspace. But now, Grace has taught me who I am, full of divine splendor and perfectly loved by the Father. Without blemish, stain, or unrighteousness, God is well pleased with me, as is—just me being me. For I’m an unstoppable force of God-affirmation that is immune to condemnation, coercion, and the religious spirit. There’s no proof text, admonition, or guilt trip that could ever penetrate my Jesus-plated armor of identity. In a way like never before, I’m at peace with who I am, addicted to life outside conservative Evangelical control, guilt, and religious seduction—if I’m honest, that’s how I truly feel. My heart has outgrown your rejection.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Say You’re Wrong, Without Apology or Reservation- No, I don’t have all the answers or know things completely. Yet, I do have the Light of God’s Truth within me that confirms in my Spirit what my mind can’t always explain—sometimes you’re wrong, and now, I’m no longer afraid to say it. I don’t always have a defense or explanation, but the mind of Christ within me knows when something is amiss and you’re at it again, selling me more poisonous religion—no matter your intention. The difference now is this—I’m just not going to take it. In fact, I’m going to completely spit it out—for today, I’m no longer afraid. My heart as outgrown your religious spirit.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Live in a World of Grey- For the gravity of your controlling, fear-driven, and self-righteousness creed has long been pushing to reduce my heart and believing into a black-or-white right-wing religion, where God is on your side and the enemy of all others. Yet, here’s what I’ve discovered, I don’t have to align my faith to absolutes nor lord them over another, especially when God is so much bigger and His love so much more capable. My peace and centeredness is grounded in Jesus the Author and Finisher of a world of unlimited spectrum—far beyond my best conclusions and confessions—always revealing more. I’m not afraid to graduate from cut-and-paste conservatism and embrace a God of diversity, a world of differences, and a Jesus who purposely leads me to have more questions than answers. There’s nothing to fear in welcoming uncertainties—for today I’ve been awakened, it’s the place where true faith actually lives and flourishes. My heart has outgrown your narrow mindedness.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Embrace Science, Social justice, and Human Dignity. Jesus is all and in all things, for where can we go from His Spirit? How can I be afraid to consider facts, scientific wisdom, and their faith implications? In fact, when I gaze upon the Grand Canyon with all its rivers and layers, I’m not going to tremble anymore when my soul refuses to believe in a 6,000 year old creation. I’m not going to apologize for a practical faith and an all-inclusive human-loving compassionate Jesus, whose message and example applies to every aspect of life on earth and living. I’m not going to abandon human decency, rights, and dignity to embrace a conservative brand of faith that is skilled at spiritually justifying hate, privilege, and the dehumanizing of people with whom it disagrees or deems to be sinning. No-more-can-do—today is a new day of wisdom, mercy, and compassion—at least, for me. My heart has outgrown your apathy.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Look My Privilege in the Mirror with Honesty- It’s true, and I’m no longer afraid to admit it. I’m white, male, straight, and for so long, was totally clueless. The thought of being privileged was nowhere to be found blipping on my radar screen. Until that day when, because of my changed beliefs, I became a kind of minority. Mocked, maligned, betrayed, and presumed dirty and guilty, simply because I breathed—differently than you. The bias, racism, bigotry, sexism, judgmentalism, and elitism that was long undetected within me, revealed itself—shaking me to my core and haunting my every being. Now, this one thing I know for sure, I refuse to let fear win the day and live my life unaware, unchanged, and unmoved by the presence of my inherent privilege. I’m a changed man with new conviction, committed to being a force of true equality, as was and is Jesus—I believe. My heart outgrown your elitism.

I’m No Longer Afraid To See Women as Equal in All Things- The wizard is out from behind the curtain, there’s no theological slippery slope to fear, nor hierarchy to declare—it’s all smoke and mirrors. By God’s design, women are not inferior people nor lesser in capability—and I’m no longer afraid to look you in the eye and say it. I love and respect you, I really do. But, despite all the patriarchal pressure to see differences where there are none, I’ll be standing at the top of the mountain declaring full equality in home, marriage, society, work, and church—nothing short of in everything. It’s a new day, with a new me, embracing an eternal equality for all people. My heart has outgrown your discrimination.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Break Free from the Chains of Biblical Inerrancy- I know, it’s the Holy Grail of all that you believe. For you, it’s the foundation of everything—no one dare question it. But I have, and I will—I make no apology. In fact, I’m all together convinced that the Bible is much more a collection of our words about God than His perfect inerrant words for us. No, not because I want to twist it to say what I will, but to never commit God into saying and doing what He hasn’t. For He is the Word within me that reveals and guides me above all things, especially in regards to a book commonly used to condemn, control, and judge. My heart has outgrown your Scripture idolatry.

I’m No Longer Afraid To Love People, Without Fear of Aiding and Abetting Sin- What a constant pain and stress, prequalifying people for love, fellowship, and affirmation. Determining who is in or out, right or wrong, wayward or faithful—what a mess. If there is one thing for sure that emboldens my courage, it’s knowing that Grace and unconditional Love are the only things that truly change people. I’m not afraid to trust the Spirit to do what only She can, and for me to love unconditionally without fear, restriction, or restraint—trusting God with the rest. My heart has outgrown your conditions.

I’m No Longer Afraid To Affirm the LGBTQ Community- You believe it’s all sin and demonic manifestation—I simply don’t. You line up your passages as proof—I see them altogether differently. What else can I do, but believe what I believe with honesty? As much as your stereotyping desires to include me on your list of progressive, bible-ignoring people, I’m not afraid any longer to receive the stare-down of your disapproval. I stand in proud, full affirmation of the LGBTQ community. For me, it’s not a matter of Grace or biblical leniency, but of Gospel truth. My heart has outgrown your condemnation.

I’m No Longer Afraid To Go to the Hell of Your Faith Understanding- Yes, I’ve heard it a thousand time, “You’re in danger of going to hell” if not already guaranteed a reservation. I should be trembling in fear and confessing sins every moment of every day just to make sure. God is loving, but also just—and His will is to torture you eternally if you don’t love Him back in return—in precisely all the right ways. Thankfully, with all due respect, my heart has been captured by a Love that is permanent and unmerited. I have no fear of your hell or your conclusions that I’m going there. God’s Grace is sufficient and His love endures forever—who or what shall I fear? My heart has outgrown your hell and the god you’ve fabricated to send me there.

I’m No Longer Afraid To Walk Away from You and “Church” Altogether- If a bridge can be burned, it wasn’t worth it or its destination. I’m not going to be controlled anymore by your threats of abandonment and disassociation. At times, it feels like you leave me no other choice, but to walk away from you, and even “church” altogether. The fear I once had of life without you has shrunken in comparison to the regret I would certainly harbor if I caved to the fear of living and speaking my truth. I wish we could find a middle ground of peace, but if push comes to shove, I’m no longer afraid to leave. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last. My heart has outgrown your imprisonment of mine.

I’m No Longer Afraid to Resist, with Every Fiber of My Being- No more burying my head in hopes it all goes away. No more biting my tongue just to keep the peace. No more settling in order to appease. I’ve tasted and seen the toxins of your brand of believing, and now I just can’t idly stand and watch you seduce, abuse, bully, and deceive—no matter how sweet your fragrance or intention. I’ve come to realize, it’s not all just about me. When my moment of truth is before me and injustice and evil show their face, I will resist with non-violent solidarity no matter what it takes. Yah, there’s a new courage within me. My heart has outgrown your intimidation.

I’m No Longer Afraid To Do, What You Won’t Do For Me—Accept You Nonetheless. I’m not asking you to change, nor condemning you to hell. I’m not denying you rights or demanding my way in your public circles. I’m not labeling you a sinner or an abomination, nor peppering your life with condemnation. I’m not closing the church door or restricting your capacity to serve. I’m not sending you to the curb, if it turns out, you were one of my children. I’m not signing you up and dragging you to reparative therapy. I’m not keeping you from loving who you love or policing your bedroom. I’m not using the Bible to condemn all the people who sin differently than you, or beat you into repentance. No, I’m not afraid to affirm and accept you as is—a perfectly whole, beautiful, and God-imaged person whose faith happens to be conservative Evangelicalism. None of us are better, only different—Grace has made it so.

There was a moment, a cosmic shift in my entire being, the day I awakened and realized I was altogether different. There was a clarity that had never been so clear—a new wind blowing and filling my sails. I’ve lost no love for you, mean no disrespect, nor harbor any pride in saying so—but conservative Evangelicalism, it feels like my heart has outgrown you—all because, the one thing I know for sure is this, I’m no longer afraid.

Salvation has come—I’m no longer afraid.

Grace is brave. Be brave.

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.

Respect Yourself

I believe it’s true that self-respect attracts the respect of others. It creates a presence that influences others and grants you an assurance and perspective of self that greatly determines our attitudes and actions for the better.

To be sure, God wants you to respect yourself. After all, He created you and died for you.

But most of us are smart enough to realize we have areas in our lives where we just don’t measure up. We have all failed and make mistakes on a constant basis. When we look in the mirror, we see gaps between who we want to be and who we actually are.

On top of that, we have been sent negative messages by people around us highlighting flaws we already have and branding us with flaws we don’t even have. So, the chances of not respecting ourselves the way God would have us to, are strong. There seems to be enough reasons why we shouldn’t.

Perhaps that’s the reason why we give safe harbor to the disrespect of others and make choices from an internal foundation of a disrespect of self. Think about it, how many times have you made choices that you knew deep down weren’t good for you, but you did it anyways? How many times has the voice in your head simply echoed the criticism from others with little to no discernment and pause?

The super good news is, God can make you disrespect-proof; from yourself and even from others.

The Bible teaches, when you put your faith in what Christ has done for you on the cross, you become a new creation. The word for “creation” in the original language of this passage actually means, “species.” In essence, you have become a completely new person.

Among so many others things, the Bible says this new person you have become is completely sanctified, holy, and righteous. In fact, it says that there is no condemnation over your life whatsoever, and every sin (past, present, and future) has all been forgiven. Your identity has become no less than Christ’s Himself. The Bible says, “As He is (in heaven seated at the right hand of God) so are we in this world.” Everything is under our feet. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing, lacking nothing of God in our lives. And let me add this little gem… it’s not even your nature any longer to sin. That old nature was put to death with Jesus, now you have a new nature. Do we still have miscues in our life? Yes, but those do not change who we are and are identity. We are now defined by Christ’s performance, not our own. This, and much more, are the kind of things God did TO you on the cross. In short, the moment you believe, He lives in you and as you in this world.

This means, in truth and reality, there is no room nor reason for any level of self-disrespect in your life. To think any less of your value, worth, and being is an offense to what Jesus did TO you on the cross in making you a new creation. You are a son (or daughter) of the King and an heir, priest, and king in the Kingdom. Yes, you, right now, through faith in Him.

Your self-respect is based on the new self you have become, a new creation, Christ living in you. It’s not based on what you do (or have done), but on what Christ has done TO you. Should we act in disrepectable ways? Of course not! That’s a no brainer. Should we complain when other people think less of us when we act stupidly? Of course not, another no brainer! But in Christ, what we do does not define who we are. In fact, the more you believe and respect who you are in Christ, the more you will act in respectable ways. Right believing leads to right living. A person with an obedience problem first has an identity problem.

So, stop disrespecting yourself! It breaks God heart and keeps you from living the life He has for you. Our actions always follow our beliefs. The less you believe in who you truly are, the less you will live the life God gave you to live. Faith is the key! Believe it, receive it, and live it.

When you become a new creation in Christ, Jesus gives you an identity you can truly respect. You don’t have to fake it, and you don’t have to take it, anymore!

Here’s some practical things respecting yourself will mean…

1-respecting yourself means silencing the voice in your head that echoes the opinions and feelings people have about you.

Being careful and discerning with what people say and feel about you before taking them to heart is a sign of healthy self-respect.

Believe you are a son (or daughter) of the living God!

2-respecting yourself means learning to love chronically hurtful people from a distance.

Setting healthy boundaries that protect what God has and continues to do in and through is a sign of healthy self-respect. Sometimes this will meaning loving certain people from a distance.

Believe you are holy, complete, and sanctified in Christ!

3-respecting yourself means never allowing the lack of character in another to become the lack of character in you.

Staying true to the greatness and goodness you are in Him is a sign of healthy self-respect.

Believe you are the righteousness of Christ, a king and priest in the Kingdom, a partaker of the divine nature!

4-respecting yourself means refusing to carry the burden of trying to keep people interested in your life.

Being secure in yourself no matter how many value, take interest, affirm, and join you in life is a sign of healthy self-respect.

Believe you are the joy for which Jesus came and endured the cross!

What would you add to this list?

Vampire Slayer: Dealing with Relationships that Suck the Life out of You

Relationships are the marrow of life. Until a person values people and relationships over nearly everything else, they will be devoid of true fulfillment and significance.

However, some people live for success and gain, and value people only as far as that goal is preserved and realized.  When you are fulfilling their ultimate plan of self promotion and gain, they are “with” you and invested to the level of benefit they receive. They feed on people, primarily insecure, kind-natured, and vulnerable ones, using people and relationships to further their lives and goals.

These are the vampires of life. And trying to have meaningful relationships with them of mutual respect and blessing sucks. Like a vampire, they entice you in with the appearance of a blessing, but leave you with a bite. Some, having sucked the life out of you. To use a biblical description, they are the “Jezebel” spirits of society; controlling, manipulative, condescending, deceptive, rude, and selfish.  And unfortunately, we often don’t identify them as such until we have been bitten by their fangs, having been left with the loss of blood and the wounds to show for it.

To be sure, we all let people down and miss the mark in our relationships from time to time. We all make relational mistakes. But vampires are different. They use people and knowing or unknowingly see them as a means to an end. Underneath the cloak of their kindness, benevolence, interest, and encouragement, their smile conceals the agenda of their ways… fangs for your blood. Taking from you to benefit them. What are presented as dreams for your life are schemes to benefit theirs, stepping over and on people to protect or prosper their living, goals, jobs, careers, comfort, status, egos, etc. With great eloquence and poise, they drape their cape, pretending to come along side you to bless and promote, but in the end their kiss is the prelude to a bite. There was a reason for their kindness or interest, but it wasn’t to pour into you, it was to suck out of you.  In the end, they will manifest their defining trait… they can walk away, fly off, turn their backs, betray, move on, refuse to change, leave you for dead, let you down, pull out the carpet, leave you hanging, with little to no remorse or pause. After they get what they want, of course. Maybe it was your help, your attention, your effort, your care, your money, your compliance, your apology, your loyalty, your benevolence, but now they got it, and you and your relationship with them are a disposable, secondary commodity. You are the host, they are the blood sucker, some willing to reduce you to a mere carcass.

We all have and will have vampires in our lives, and likely we have even been one to a certain degree.  In our selfish, “me” driven culture, it would be hard not to have been.

Yet, to utilize the verbage from a popular show, we can graciously “slay” the vampires in our lives and keep them from sucking the life out of us.

Here are some tips on how to do that…

1) Guard your heart–  Sometimes, we allow people in much too early and much to deeply without using common sense and discernment. Not everything that glitters is gold.  God wants us to be wise and careful with people and our relationships.  We can look for the best in people without turning a blind eye or being naive to the worst. Time is one of our greatest tools for developing close relationship that are safe and significant.  Taking relationships of any kind one step at a time is deeply wise counsel, no matter how innocent and safe it may seem up front.  Vampires have to show their fangs before they can bite, but you won’t see them if you have allowed them to be too close too soon. Taking it slow with any kind of relationship will ensure that you see the fangs before you have to feel them.

2) Don’t let people become your mirror-  Sometimes we take our emotional cues from how we perceive that people feel about us or things we care about. We look to them for how we should view and feel about ourselves. This is a formula for disaster, and the very kind of dynamic vampires prey upon.  Look to people as a screen not a mirror. We shine our image onto a screen, we get our image from a mirror.

3) Keep your identity in Christ- When you look to and for who you are and how you should feel about yourself, look to Christ and His Grace upon your life. Feed on Him, drink from His supply. His worth is your worth, His value is your value, His status is your status, His power is your power. Take your emotional and spiritual cues from Him. Attach your tubes of security and identity to His supply, not people. Vampires can’t suck the life out of you if your life (identity) is fed by Christ. The moment they taste your security in Christ, they will release their bite in frustration.

4) Stay clear of controlling, manipulative people- No matter how lonely, needing of attention, or desiring of relationship you are, controlling people kill. Not physically per se, but emotionally, spiritually, and relationally.  Stop making excuses for their behaviors and blaming yourself for their manipulative, controlling ways. Their micromanagement, temper tantrums, seductions, enticements, pouting fests, guilt trips, intimidating threats, and condescending jabs will never lead to a healthy relationship of mutual respect and blessing.  Trying to get them to be genuinely interested in your life is futile. Becoming a doormat for Jesus only leaves you being walked on by domineering people, leaving you with little to nothing left to offer the people who really need you in your life.

5) Love from a distance- The best way to send a vampire into a tailspin is to give them your kindness without allowing them your kidney, bless them without allowing them your blood, love them from a distance. When they can’t control you, your emotions, your sense of worth and value, and your decisions, their grip, power, and drain of your life will dissolve. They may pitch a fit and show their teeth, but when they don’t get what they really want their influence and hold on your emotional life will vanish.   

6) Pour into people who truly love you- These people may be few and far between, but trying to make unhealthy people and relationship healthy will suck the life out of you. Jesus may be able to rescue them, but you can’t. If people can walk away, let them walk away. If they’re biters rather than blessers, release them and don’t look back. Stop trying to get people to be interested in your life who are really just interested in theirs. Stop trying to get the approval of people who don’t matter. Better to pour into a few who truly love you and have your best interest in heart, than to starve those who love you because you are too busy trying to resurrect the relationships that don’t.  Don’t let people rent headspace in your life that don’t have a heart for your best interests.  If people won’t respect and receive you, shake the dust off your feet. Let your Grace and graciousness be attracted to the people who are humble and desiring enough to receive it, not to those who would abuse it.

 

 

 

 

Are You a 21st Century Pharisee?

I don’t suspect this post will be popular nor well received by some in the “Christian” camp, maybe even by many. But, neither were Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Is this a kind of “Kratzer Manifesto?” Who knows, probably not. But, for sure, it is with strong conviction that I write.

I believe, from personal observation and experience, that our current Christian culture in America and abroad has been infected with epidemic proportions of the religious spirit manifested by the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And yet, for most believers, we are so entrenched in it, we don’t even realize the religious stew in which we soak.

It was the Pharisees who leveraged Judaism into their own self-righteous system of rule keeping, regulations, self-improvement, condemnation, political structures, and inside handshakes.  In many ministry contexts today, we could simply take these same realities and put the title “church” over them and the descriptions would equally apply. Many churches of our time have knowingly or unknowingly created and given harbor to the modern day, 21st century Pharisee and then given them the title “Christian.”

In fact, let’s look at several of the defining characteristics and distinctions of a 21st Century Pharisee lest perhaps maybe you (or I) are one of them?

o.o1 Memorization verses Meditation – In our Christian culture we have determined that memorizing Bible verses is automatically a worthy and necessary pursuit in the Christian life.  There are entire children’s ministries that revolve around having young people memorizing Bible verses, complete with memorization competitions. What could be wrong with that, right? Almost everything.

Unfortunately, the benefits of memorizing Bible verses has skidded off the road into a ritualistic activity of self-righteousness that is purposed on one-uping other Christians, arming for debates, and confronting sinners or those who disagree with you. The truth is however, the Word of God memorized alone merely brings us up to the level of Satan himself, who knows the scriptures back and forth as every good Pharisee did as well. It is a disturbing trend to see people viewing scripture memorization as a spiritual work-out and assume that if you memorize some Bible verses you are growing spiritually. Surely, in many Christian precincts, we have made an idol out of Bible memorization and turned God’s Word into peacock feathers we put on display that others might admire and yield to our spirituality.  To be sure, memorization alone has never moved one single Christian forward in their walk, and in fact, has surely moved many backwards.

It is interesting that the Bible never specifically instructs us to “memorize” the Bible, but rather speaks frequently about “meditating” on God’s Word.

Memorization is something people do to pass tests and regurgitate information, “meditation” is what people do to encounter God and be transformed by His personal revelation into their lives.  Meditation is reading and learning a verse(s) repeatedly, bringing it to mind and heart over and over again, asking God to personally speak revelation into their lives. It is an encounter with God Himself for the purpose of revealing Himself into one’s life personally and uniquely. It is a matter of heart, hearing, and being encountered by the living God on a personal, transformational level.

It is no wonder that the religous spirit of the Pharisees puts such value on memorization, it’s all about passing tests and giving them.  They did this to Jesus repeatedly and are certain proof that one can memorize the scriptures and never encounter God. But, you cannot meditate on His Word without a personal encounter with Him.

The Pharisees memorized words on a page, the whole Torah in fact.  But not revelation from God. Words only take reading (or hearing), memorizing only takes remembering. Revelation takes an open heart, postured in faith and expectancy with a personal connection with God.

The purpose of God’s Word is to lead us into experiencing God’s revelation personally for our lives and living. Meditation provides for this, memorization alone does not. Modern day, 21st century Pharisees memorize, in their minds, what is written, followers of Jesus receive and remember personal revelation in their heart. Big, huge, cosmic difference!

o.o2 Discipleship verses Identity in Christ- Obviously, discipleship as “learning” is a valuable Christian experience. We all need to learn from God and others.

But what many today call “discipleship” has taken on the garments and perfumes of the religious Pharisees. We have turned “learning” and being “learners” into a gnostic-type process of ascent.  With “accountability partners” and “motivational conferences” to do better we have turned “learning” into a spiritual treadmill, striving and trying to become a better person.

In most Christian circles, “discipleship” starts from the premise that there is “someone that you are not, who you need to become.” Therefore you need to come to these classes, attend these groups, listen to these cd’s, and take on these practices and behaviors in order to “become a fully mature person in Christ.”

Yet, living from our “Identity in Christ” begins from the premise of being more fully who you already are in Christ through faith.  This is a huge distinction, and radically changes nearly every dynamic of the Christian life and how we “spur each other onto good works.” Moving from a child of God, to a son or daughter, to an heir, priest, and king in the Kingdom is not a process, it is in fact, a reality already established and accomplished by Christ for those who believe. In Christ, there is no “growing more,” there is only becoming more of who you already are through faith in Christ’s performance in your life, not yours.

Today’s “discipleship” places a certain amount (if not a large amount) of faith and reliance on one’s ability to do better as a Christian. However, living from our “Identity in Christ” seeks to increase one’s placing of faith and reliance on God’s work and will in or lives.  It is not a pursuit of becoming, it is a growing faith in who we have  already become through and in Christ.

Modern day discipleship merely ends at what Jesus has done FOR you, but living from our “Identity in Christ” continues on to what Jesus has done TO you. “Discipleship” focuses our consciousness on what we need to do better and aren’t doing right, “Identity in Christ” focuses our consciousness on the author and perfector of our faith, what He has done to make us right and how to live rightly from who we already are and have in Him.

Therefore, today’s “discipleship” stresses producing fruit, as if producing fruit is something we could actually do. Yet, living from our “identity in Christ” stresses bearing the fruit God produces.

It is now easy to understand how the discipleship mindset of the Pharisees involved levels of ascent, information to be mastered, numerous hoops to jump through, and a hierarchy of the “learned.”  Today, you can see this same mindset in churches through various forms.  To be sure, our basic concept of modern day discipleship approaches people and the Christian life as program of progression through steps, rules, formulas, and “to do” lists.  Yet Jesus said in contrast “my yoke is easy, my burden is light” in direct reference to his discipleship process, of which His performance is the process, not ours. Jesus’ work on the cross is the discpleship program and process, faith is what receives it.

If there is any process to the Christian life, it is in being more of who we already are, all through faith, not “becoming” through trying harder and doing better. Faith in Jesus’ life in you is the key, not formulas for making your life like Jesus.

o.o3 Obedience verses Faith-  On a deeper level, there is a reason why we have taken a performance-driven approach to things like discipleship.

First, it is perhaps because we don’t fully believe in and trust God’s work in us. For many, the Gospel just isn’t sufficient enough, there has to be something we must do or can do. To leave our lives and living completely in the hands of His performance and not ours is seen as a risky concept. Surely, the same Grace that saves us, can’t be the same Grace that sanctifies and secures us. Though not many would say it that way, when push comes to shove, that’s what they believe.

Second, it’s because we believe and have somewhere have been taught that the foundation of the Christian life is obedience. To be sure, we have become Christian-centered Christians. Our performance is our preoccupation. The Christian life is all about what you do and don’t do.

Third, a performance-driven approach to the Christian life appeals to our flesh and culture. We love to feel the adrenaline rush of feeling like we have accomplished something and that our lives and destiny our in our hands.

Unfortunately, these three reasons have become the faulty foundations from which we live and teach the Christian life.  In short we believe that obedience is the root and faith is the fruit of the Christian life. This is modern day Pharisee-mindset at its finest.

The truth is, the foundation of the Christian life is faith, and the fruit is obedience.

This foundation shift changes everything.

Following rules, list of “to do’s,” striving to be better, trying to do better, recommitting your life to Christ, pledges, resolutions etc. all have never truly moved people forward spiritually. They only served to create a self-serving facade of a spiritual veil to an empty life.  In truth, they are modern forms of the Law, aimed at engaging your will to change your life.

The reality is, the Law was created to show you and I our will can’t change anything, no matter how hard we try.  Yet, the Pharisees used it as a way to indoctrinate people into the self-righteous, never ending treadmill of religion. The same thing is happening today in modern Christianity, only we have given it new names like, “discipleship”, “Christianity, “spiritual growth.” Just browse the aisles of your local Christian bookstore and you will see the performance-driven mindset we have made of Christianity and the Christian life.  And the deeply, tragic reality is, we are addicted to it.

Yet, the truth is holiness isn’t a lifestyle you choose to live by, it’s an identity you to choose to receive through faith. The obedience of the New Covenant is an obedience of faith, not rule keeping. The Law only serves to actually entice us to sin more, not less. Rather, it is the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly. Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit. A person with an obedience problem is a person who has an identity problem. They don’t know what Jesus has done TO them, and/or believe it. Disciplship isn’t about a process of becoming, it’s an awakening to who you already are in Christ, and believing it. It’s all about His performance, not ours.

o.o4 Membership verses Manifestation- Where I would agree that in church-world, uniting people around shared vision and values is highly important. Unfortunately, in most church settings the concept of “membership” has taken on a whole other life and purpose.  In fact, it hasn’t been until recent years that the concept of utilizing membership as a tool for church unity has existed.

Rather, in most churches, church membership serves several other purposes… it show who’s “in” and who’s “out,” it’s a means to get people to commit to your brand of church, it identifies people who are “trusted” to serve, it’s a status from which members declare and receive certain “rights” and “privileges,” it’s a way of tracking people and charting trends, it is a status that makes one feel they have accomplished something of value spiritually and are “covered” in that area of their life, and it’s a number used by pastors and leaders to gauge success.

In this way, “church” has become much like a club you join.  There is little difference between the basic concepts of membership at a local church than there is at a local YMCA.  The consumerism mindset of our American culture has found its way into the “church” and church membership is just one example.   Pastors use it to bolster their egos and members use it to legitimize demands, benefit from privileges, have their say, attain status, and put a notch on their spiritual belts.

Yet, it’s interesting that the concept of membership in the Bible is not specifically present, and the closest we get is with groups of Christians gathering and serving together with shared vision and values, nothing more nothing less.  Obviously, the New Testament is not meant to confine churches and limit the freedoms to what is possible, but I would suggest that what we have made church membership into is nothing less than yet another example of the modern, 21st century pharisee-mindset at work. What could be more legalistic than to make “church” into a club with a cross on top where some are “in” and some are “out” complete with inside handshakes, politics, levels of status, special privileges, and a process by which you can feel righteous in your life, all through a simple church “membership.” Jump through the hoops, and you too can have one.

At a core level, followers of Christ should not be identified by nor take their identity from any form of membership, but rather should be manifesting Christ (their true identity) and partnering together to share the Gospel and build the Kingdom.  Instead of merely attending and being a “member” of a church, we should be “being” the church to the world.  Enough with superficial, spiritual club memberships that turn the Christian life into something one attends, gets involved with, and earns their place in one or two days a week. Lets get back to the heart and be people of the “The Way” as we spend our time manifesting the Grace of Jesus to the world, individually and together. Let’s not let our preoccupation be with “what’s in it for me” but rather, “what is in me that I need to give to the world.”  The church was never meant to be a club, but a conversation of believers with the world about the Grace of God through Jesus Christ. Meeting together was never meant to transform into melding together through traditions, memberships, and institutional mindsets. The church becomes the hope of the world when we Christians see ourselves as the manger of the Gospel, not a member of a religious organization.

o.o5 Law verses Grace- Truth be told, most Christians are suspicious of Grace. They believe, if left unrestricted, it promotes sin, and hate it because they can’t use it to one-up other Christians, point out their shortcomings, and thump their Bibles. For sure, Grace disarms and frustrates the religious, but frees and fortifies the broken. Yes, many Christians do value Grace to an extent because they know you can’t sell God without at least some of it, but also like to keep a lid on it, because in their minds too much would be too much and they could lose control.

The formula they hold to is…  Grace + Law= Gospel.

That’s why they believe rules, guilt, fear, shame, to-do lists, steps, and formulas are what are needed to move the Christian train down the track. Appeal to a person’s sense of guilt and a perceived ability they can turn their lives around. Break them down and then show them how to build themselves back up, looking and acting just like “us.” This is the drum beat of the historical and modern day Pharisee.

However, what may work for a military boot camp, does not work for Jesus nor the Christian life. Punishment has never made anyone Holy.

The Gospel is Grace, or it isn’t the Gospel. God does the work, we believe, and thus receive.  The formula is… Grace + Law = Law,  Grace = Gospel

There is no mixture, and if there is, there is no Grace.  It is not, “God does His part, we do our part.”  Rather, it is, “God does His part, and our part is to realize we don’t have a part; only to believe.”  Faith is the currency of heaven, not our efforts. Favor is unmerited or it’s not favor at all.

A person who truly receives the pure Gospel of God’s Grace does not sin more than sin less, because they know who they truly are in Christ and believe it. They are not sin conscious, they are Jesus conscious. It is their identity that defines their performance, not their performance that defines their identity.

This revelation of the new covenant Gospel of God’s Grace changes everything, rules and rule keeping never changed anything. It is all Grace, or it isn’t Grace at all.

The Pharisees hated Grace, at any level. They loved to condemn, push their rules, and display power point presentations of their religious standards and traditions. And though I hate to say it, I suspect they would be very comfortable in most churches and with most Christians today where this always enough of the Law around to make sure Grace is kept contained and quantified. The modern day, 21st Century Pharisee at most thinks Grace is the appetizer, it’s the bait that leads to the catch. It’s a nice thing that leads to the real thing. It’s part of an equation, but not the solution. For them, the solution is God + you, together saving and sanctifying.

However, the Gospel is Grace alone through faith. It IS the solution, not a part of it. It’s the main meal, the only meal, not an appetizer. There is not hook, there is no catch, there is only Grace. Grace needs no side kick, lead in, bate, appetizer or trailer, it is the whole deal, the real deal, and the only deal. Its host is faith, not performance. It is attracted to our weaknesses not our strengths. Everything else is a con, scam, and substitute.  Grace is the only thing that works, changes, and transforms. Believe it to receive it.

o.o6 Consuming Crowd verse Complete Cooperatives- If one were to attend a church service in America, you would very likely experience a message that has a basic theme of “how to be a better person.” or “what you need to do more or less of in your life” and a worship experience that was bent towards appealing to a cultural desire to hear good music, be emotionally moved, and get motivated for Jesus.

Now I know I am walking on a thin line here because there is an important value in communicating the Gospel in culturally relevant ways with excellence.  I am a firm believer in utilizing modern communication methods and technology to share the Gospel.

However, in most cases, it is not the Gospel that is being sold, but rather a spiritual experience that appeals to a desire to enhance our lives through our own habits and actions with a little help from Jesus along the way.  To be sure, we have become a culture of Christian consumers looking for the best worship experiences, programs for our kids, and inspiring messages to utilize in improving our lives. Many-a-church have been happy to join the competitive race among pastors and leaders to be the latest and the greatest to serve the needs of consumer Christians. Nearly every conference on ministry you can attend centers on ministry and leadership performance in some way or another. Pastor and leaders spend big bucks looking for that latest program, principal, strategy or idea that is going to take them and their church to the “next level” of success; success being defined by numbers, baptisms, and overall growth.

We are a culture of consumer pastors leading consumer churches that breed consumer Christians. It is the American dream turned into the pastoral dream turned into the church dream turned into the Christian dream. This is nothing less than the traditional, Pharisee philosophy of ministry made modern.  Finding the best Rabbi to follow who fits your needs and desires has simply turned into finding the best church to attend, conference to experience, or program to implement. Instead of being spiritual leaders and churches that have The Name as our identity and nature, we strive and strive to make a name for ourselves and our ministries.

Yet, what would happen if Christians saw themselves not as incomplete people who constantly need to consume more of the Jesus they already completely have, but as complete people in Christ who came together to express their love to Jesus and manifest the Gospel to others? There is truly something misguided with the Christian who sees themselves as desperate for more of Jesus in their life. How can you want or need more of what you already have fully?  This desire for “more of Jesus” belittles the cross and suggests that the Gospel comes to a person in portions, as if God were withholding Himself from us. Indeed, we live under an open heaven. When Jesus said, “it is finished” He meant it, giving the everything of Himself to the nothingness of us.

The only thing that a believer needs to consume is that which strengthens their faith in Christ’s performance, not a plea to muster more energy for their performance to do more or do better.  In fact, the job of the Holy Spirit in the non believers life is to convict them of their unbelief in Jesus, but the job of the Holy Spirit in the believers life is to convince them of their righteousness in Christ.

I would venture to say, most of what Christians consume spiritually is purposed or translated into striving to behave better and do more.  This is religion and its religious cycle at it’s best, just in modern forms.

But Jesus through His Grace, breaks the cycle. He completes us completely, our performance does not. There is nothing we can consume other than Jesus and His Grace received through faith that will heal, change, or transform any and every aspect of our lives. Jesus is not in the business of making good people better, but giving dead people Life.  He is not into life enhancement, but complete life remaking, all by His work, through our faith.

o.o7 Performance verses Rest- To rest is to believe, to perform is to doubt. The moment we look to our own performance for our worth, value, and standing, we have stepped away from trusting in the performance of Jesus and His finished work on the cross. Pharisees then and now are all about performance, all in the spiritual disguise of  modern terms like “faithfulness,” “radical obedience,” “serving,” and the like.

Make no mistake, there is nothing wrong with acting in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to be sure, we are not talking about working hard in life economically. Rather we are talking about our efforts to appease God, gain the gleam of His eye, legitimize our faith,  prove our worthiness, give our lives value and worth, remove guilt and shame, and make a name for ourselves. So many Christians are turning to church activity and “serving” to right the wrongs, even the score, legitimize their faith, and heal the scars of guilt in their life.  Most don’t even realize it, or would ever admit it.  Yet, unfortunately, the church, like the performance-driven systems of the Pharisees are happy to oblige.

Rest is not the absence of activity, it is a foundation of faith in Christ’s performance over, above, and despite ours. When we rest, God works. When we work, God rests.   Pharisees then and now, are repulsed by those whose lives are ruled by a foundation of rest. Rest disarms the power of fear, guilt, shame, failure, and success to define or persuade a person’s life, the very things that religious people and groups thrive on to motivate and legitimize their lives.

Performance is founded on self-righeousness. Rest is founded on righteousness in Christ.

 

Are you a Christian Pervert?

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.  -Galatians 1: 6-9

Grace is not a message, it’s not a theology, it’s not an idea, nor fad, it’s the Gospel.  If you don’t subscribe to the pure, complete, and full Grace of God in Jesus Christ, you don’t subscribe to the Gospel. There is not another Gospel, there is only One.  There is not one Gospel that saves you, and then another one that sustains and sanctifies you. There is not another Gospel where “God does His part but you must do your part.”

There is only one Gospel, “God does everything, because you can’t, you only need believe.” It’s all Grace, or it’s not the Gospel. When Jesus declared “it is finished,” there was no mixture. He didn’t say, “It is finished… but.”  At the cross of Jesus, life under the Law (religious rules you have to perform to please and access God) ended once and for all, life under Grace (Jesus’ performance on the cross which when believed, makes us new, right, pleasing, and seated with Christ at the right hand of God a part from our performance) began. The Gospel is not a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law mixed together. It’s a all Grace or it’s not the Gospel.

We are no longer to live an “obedience of trying and striving” to follow the rules, but rather we are to live an “obedience of faith,” clinging on to the loveliness of Jesus and His performance, not our own. For the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about Jesus, not about us. The Law presupposed there is something you can do, the Gospel presupposes there is nothing you can do, but Someone you can believe who did it all, and does it all on your behalf!

There is no Gospel that brings you to Jesus from His Grace only to summon you into a life of striving to please God and merit His favor once you have become saved.  There is no Gospel that makes you (as a believer) into a twisted, two natured person; one part evil, and one part divine who never knows who he or she really is from one day to the next, nor has the assurance of their true identity in Christ, and is simply left to fight an inner battle Jesus already won.  There is no Gospel that sets you on a course of sin-consciousness where you must repeatedly ask God to forgive you even though He has already done so. There is no Gospel that burdens you with performance-driven talks and steps for you to achieve to increase your reputation with God and His desire to bless your life, only to leave you secretly feeling like a hypocrite because you know you can never do everything all the time to be seen as a true, genuine faithful follower of Jesus. There is no Gospel that is soft on sin when Jesus gave all of Himself to defeat it. There is no Gospel that is hard on sinners when Jesus gave all of Himself for them.  There is no Gospel that makes the Church into a legalist club for Christians with a cross on top filled with self-righteous believers who take inner pleasure on raising the sins of others as being more serious than their own. There is no Gospel that treats the Church, it’s purpose, and leadership as a man-centered, performance-dependent venture, or a chasing of the ego’s pursuit to take some part of the credit and glory for the building of the Kindgom. There is no Gospel that sets the believer onto a discipleship series of steps, rituals, and religious activities that appease God, turn His frown upside down, and give you smiley faces on God’s divine chalkboard.  There is no Gospel like any of this.

It’s all Jesus, all Him, all Grace, all His performance, all His work, all His faithfulness, all His mercy, favor, and blessing, received through faith alone, or it’s not the Gospel.  If it’s any other version, it’s a perversion.

In the Bible passage above, Paul identifies the true perverts of the world. Not sex offenders, not homosexuals, not child porn viewers, as evil and terrible as they are. No, rather, he speaks of Christians who turn away from or turn the Gospel of God’s Grace in Jesus Christ into another Gospel that is, in fact, not a Gospel.  At this point, you should either say, “Amen!” or “Ouch!”

The only documented places in scripture where Jesus gets mad or the Spirit is grieved is when Grace is not extended. Not rules, condemnation, religious activities, performance steps, or obedience speeches.  Paul echoes God’s heart and view on the matter as he declares that those who turn the Gospel of Grace into any other version should be “accursed.”

Right believing leads to right living. You can’t live the Gospel day to day into you believe it all the way.  An obedience problem is at heart an identity problem. You will never know who you truly are until you believe in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Faith is what pleases God, not your performance. Faith is what makes His performance become your performance.  Faith is the root, obedience is the fruit. We walk by faith, not by sight, or might.

Are you a Christian pervert? Repent (change your mind) and believe in the Gospel.

 

When You are Burned

I recently heard a conversation where a person was speaking about their fear in trusting a new friendship because of having been burned in a past friendship.  This is a conversation that most of us can certainly understand and may have even had ourselves.

People have burned us, and we have likely burned some people ourselves, at the least, without knowing or intending to do so.

So, what do you do when you get burned? Everyone get’s burned, but not everyone handles it well.

Here are some tips…

1) Focus on Managing Yourself and Who You Become

When people burn us our emotions are injected with adrenaline and we usually have an impulse to react in some fashion or another. The greatest temptation that comes from being burned is to loose your sense of identity as a complete, whole, loved, and valuable person. Being burned has a way of surfacing our insecurities and fears hoping that we will conclude, “Something is wrong or lacking with me.” That’s why the most important thing when you are burned isn’t in what you do, it’s in managing who you are and who you become.  It is out of your sense of self that every other emotion and action flows.

The most important thing when in the midst of a relational conflict is in how you manage yourself… emotions, identity, and actions. Who we are in the face of being burned will determine who you become and maybe even what becomes of the situation.  Spend less time thinking about how to react, what to say, and what to do next, and much more time on centering yourself on your faith in who you are in Christ, your righteousness, wholeness, and position in Him.  If you will focus on your faith in who you are in Christ, your emotions and actions will take care of themselves.

Like the burning bush in the story of Moses, in Christ, we can become people who, though burned by others and circumstances, we are not consumed by others or circumstances.  Managing who you are in the midst of being burned will ensure that no person or thing can steal your joy, peace, identity, and integrity. No person or thing is worth that.

Learn what you need to learn about mistakes that you may or may not have made, but don’t base your identity on them or your worthiness of having peace and joy in your life.

2) Move On, not Backward

When people burn us, the situation will likely need to be addressed in some fashion or another.  Keeping your peace, joy, identity, and integrity will ensure you handle things well. Yet, at some point, there will be a time to move forward.  Bitterness, anger, jealousy, frustration, and alike will need to reach their expiration date.

When people burn us, the second temptation (loosing you sense of self being the first) is to lose your willingness to trust in people and/or a better future. Forgiveness does not mean restoration, so automatically re-trusting the person or circumstance that burned you is not something God is pushing you to do. In fact, that could be a significant move backwards, not forwards. Yet, creating huge barriers around your heart and life that no person or circumstance can penetrate is not moving forward either.

Perhaps what is needed to avoid being burned again is to move slower, listen more to your discernment, set better boundaries, or not let your insecurities get the best of you and cause you to rush into things too soon.  Perhaps you would benefit from some Christian counseling to help you navigate things better in the future and identify current blindspots and patterns.  Not learning from whatever happened would be a huge step backwards. Yet, not having hope in the future and a desire to position yourself to trust and believe again is not moving forward either.

Don’t let people or circumstances steal your desire to love and live.  God has promises over your life that you need to live out. Be who you are and live the life you are meant to live. Never let being burned by others consume your passion and potential. Shake off your shoes, learn, and move forward.

God isn’t going to use the people who burned you in the past to water your future. If they aren’t with you, then certainly don’t try to drag them along and keep them in your life. Emotionally release them from your being and move forward.

3) Find Relational Rest 

Faith is the foundation of relationships. And by faith, I mean your faith in Christ and His work in your life. Believing in who you are in Christ is the key to relational rest.  When you have relational rest, you aren’t running around trying to attract people and opportunities into your life.  Rather, you are trusting God and resting assured that the people and opportunities that need to be in your life, God will bring into your life. You don’t need a person or opportunity to prop you up or complete you, you are already complete and standing tall in who you are in Christ.  You see yourself as one who reigns in life, not one who requires relationships to feed and sustain them.

Relational rest allows you to be who you are in Christ without fear.  Insecurities are pushed aside and Christ-security is moved center stage.  You can truly love without losing yourself and sucking the life out of others. Love becomes much more about giving to another and much less about getting something for you. When people or circumstances burn you, God’s grace for your life, His identity in you, and the promises He has over your life quickly dampen the hurt, frustration, bitterness, and injury. Indeed, you can truly rest in your relationships knowing who you are, who God is, and His promise over your life are firmly and eternally established.  You may get a bit stirred, but you are never shaken.

The more you place your faith in who you are in Christ, His Grace, and promise over your life, people and opportunity will come running to you.  You attract in others and in life what you believe about yourself.  People will be attracted to the Christ in you when you believe in the Christ in you. They will come looking for grace, when you believe in His Grace.  Believe in the best of Christ in you to attract the best of others to you.

It’s hard to rest when you have been sunburned, it’s harder to relationally rest when you have been people burned. Turn to Christ, and who you are in Him and you will find rest. Trust me, it works. Better yet, trust Him and His work in you!

The Secret Behind Your Inner Struggles

For many years, I lived a life where I was ruled by insecurity, worry, guilt, and failure. I was pouring a lot of effort into trying to be a better person, but with no real success.  Many inner (and outer) aspects of my life were a struggle at some level or another.  My thought life and self-talk were overly negative, my faith was riddled with doubts, and my character was lacking and cracking.

I am sure there were contributing factors, including a difficult childhood. Yet, the bottom line was, like many people, I became ruled by my inner struggles to the point they were allowed the power to define much of my life. Even worse, I didn’t realize the effect this was having… spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  I suspect a lot of people currently walk around like I did, where the outside might look all put together, but the inside… not so much.

When I was a boy, part of my chores during the summertime was to pick the prickle weeds from our 2 acre lawn. This task would take hours each weekend as the prickle weeds quickly grew back during the week.  One Saturday morning, my dad gently pulled me aside and instructed me to adjust my strategy and pick the prickle weeds out by their root, instead of justing cutting off what appeared on the surface. He suggested in a whisper, “This will keep you from having to do this every weekend because they won’t grow back”  He was right, taking a little more time to pick them from the root saved me a lot of time later.

We all have weeds in the lawn of our inner lives… pain, guilt, insecurity, failures, inadequacies, worry, fear, secrets, doubts etc.  Each and every day we spend hours of mental and emotionally energy trying to keep these weeds from showing up as we attempt to trim the surface of our lives. Yet, the same struggles keep growing back, hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Why? Because we never get to the root.

And yet, our heavenly father gently pulls us aside and says, “If you like, I can show you the root of your inner struggles and how they can be healed.”

Condemnation is the Root of your Struggles  

The deepest and most subtle card Satan can play to steal, kill, and destroy from your life is condemnation. Condemnation seeks to have you conclude that you are guilty as something or for something and that your circumstances or actions are doomed to or already determine a negative conclusion. Something is wrong with you and/or your actions that define you and/or your future as lacking in some way. Condemnation produces stress an causes us to feel like if there is any chance to move forward, we will need to perform our way out.  Yet, most of the time, condemnation cuts right to the chase and sends the message, “there is no way out, no matter what you do.”

Condemnation comes in almost limitless forms, and Satan loves to plant it in our spirits in often very subtle ways.

In fact, I am convinced that the reason why many men don’t attend church is because of Satan’s success at sowing in them a spirit of condemnation.  At home, their wives unknowingly take cues out of Satan’s play book as they send a subtle or not so subtle message that their husbands are behind spiritually and will never catch up to their expectations.  The message is quite clear no matter how it is packaged, they aren’t doing what they should be doing for their spouse, children, and family. Condemnation, condemnation, and more condemnation. Additionally, once they do come to church, they are given message after message of how their behavior doesn’t make the grade and they are failing as fathers, husbands, and men. And very likely, if they ever do finally come to church, the pastor greets them with a “Hey dude, where have you been? It’s been like years since you have been at church.”   For most men, they are insecure enough already, and Satan just loves to add on more and more messages of condemnation to cage them in.

Satan loves to take what is intended as constructive correction and shape it into condemnation through an inner thought life of insecurity and shame. And the messages of condemnation are everywhere in our culture for men and women alike to absorb.  It’s the look in their eye as they size you up, the model on the cover of a magazine that you can never live up to, it’s your employer who never seems satisfied with your work, it’s the correction that leads to you to concluding that you should be ashamed and filled with guilt, it’s the joy or rewarding of another that leaves you comparing and concluding yourself as less of a person.

Condemnation is the root, and  things like insecurity, stress, disease, pride, fear, anxiety, depression, religion, legalism, anger, impulsive decisions, perfectionism, performance, a critical spirit, rules, shame, and guilt are the fruit. All of the areas of your life where you find inner struggle can be traced back to a spirit or feeling of condemnation Satan has sowed in that or some connected area of your life.

The ultimate healing in your life is when God’s Grace is applied through faith to the deepest and widest areas of condemnation in your life. Grace is the ultimate game changer!

Condemnation blocks God’s Favor

God has extravagant, endless favor for your life. His mercy and transforming power are miraculous. That’s why one of the greatest costs of condemnation is that when you believe it about yourself, segments of yourself, or your circumstances, it blocks God’s favor. Why? Because the result of condemnation is disbelief, and God’s favor will not move in your life without your faith. A person who feels condemned is not going to truly believe in the love and Grace of God for their life.  They might go to church, sing the songs, say the prayers, and go through the motions, but they don’t truly believe in the loveliness of Jesus and His complete and thorough Grace for their life. Instead, they hold onto some portion of their performance (or bad performance) in life, works, and obedience (or disobedience) for their sense of security and identity. This blocks the release of God’s favor because they are putting their faith in themselves rather in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. As you believe it, you receive it, as you receive it, you live it.

The true, comprehensive graciousness of God releases us to truly put our entire faith in Jesus, and faith releases God to move in our lives. It doesn’t take a lot of faith, but it does take faith. Condemnation is the great faith-killer, that’s why it’s Satan most priced weapon to steal, kill, and destroy in your life.

Yet, God says, “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1. The job of the Holy Spirit in the non-believer’s life is to convict (not condemn) that person of their disbelief (or wrong belief) in Jesus. The job of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life is to convince that person of their righteousness in Christ.  God’s wants people to first get the identity of His Son Jesus right through faith, and then get their own identity right as forgiven, righteous children and sons of God, also through faith.

Condemnation Poisons your Identity

In the same way, condemnation poisons your identity. Satan knows if he can get you to believe the wrong things about yourself, he can easily get you to do the wrong things in life. An obedience problem is always first an identity problem. The Bible says, “as a man thinks, so he is.”  God wants you believe that in Christ you have everything and are everything, Satan wants you to believe you are nothing and lack everything.

Condemnation is the root of all insecurity and identity distortion.

What you believe about yourself can only be cured by what you believe about God and His work in and on behalf of your life. When you see and believe in the loveliness of Jesus and His Grace for your life you will see and believe in the loveliness of you. The quality of Jesus becomes the quality of you.

In fact, the bible states that, “if you are in Christ, you are a new creation.”  You’re sins, past, present and future, have all been forgiven. You are the righteousness of Christ, with nothing “wrong” with you.  You lack nothing and have every spiritual blessing. You are a partaker of the divine nature. Greater is He that lives in you than is in the world. You are no longer defined by your performance, but by the beauty of Jesus and His finishing work on the cross.  You stand with no condemnation in your life. Guilt and same need no longer to rule your heart and actions. You are totally complete in Christ.

Satan wants to reduce or completely take away your sense of who you truly are. His greatest weapon to do so is condemnation.

 

Grace-Centered Conflict Management

One thing ministry leaders would all like is to be able to handle conflict with more confidence, inner-rest, and effectiveness. Can I get a good “Amen” to that?

Conflict is a part of life and relationships, and it’s certainly a part of ministry.  It’s never pleasant and seldom easy to manage. Yet, when we approach conflict from our identity in Christ and a foundation of Grace, it can become less intimidating and a powerful catalyst to growth.

Yet, in the midst of conflict, we tend to fear extending Grace because we wonder if it might be exploited and become a license for further disobedience and rebellion. Additionally, we tend to lose ourselves and our sense of identity during conflict as it calls out the worst in us rather than the best. However, when we truly understand Grace, we learn that Grace is in fact our best ally in our conflict management. When properly applied and understood, Grace provides the necessary ingredients for meaningful change, resolution, alignment, and obedience to occur. The desired change we pray to occur through conflict management is in fact the change only Grace can bring, not a religious spirit of rules, punishment, and rule-keeping.

Here are three key dynamics in navigating conflict management with confidence and effectiveness where God’s Grace and our identity in Christ are the foundation from which we handle conflict.

1.0 Who You Are (Your Vibe)

How you see yourself will have dramatic implications to how you manage conflict. Believing in who you are in Christ is critical in handling conflict well.  Who you are in the midst of conflict will likely have tremendous impact on the outcome of conflict. We all give off a vibe as we handle conflict. This vibe has more influence than you might think.

When we are secure in ourself because of our identity in Christ, conflict need not push our personal buttons as easily, if at all. In fact, most conflicts have little to do with us and much to do with the person or situation. When it does have something to do with us, it should never be given the power to influence our sense of identity in Christ.  Our identity in Christ through His Grace is the foundation from which we must ground ourselves in the midst of all conflict. It is this sense of identity through trusting in Jesus’ work in our life that gives us the calm, confident, inner-resting foundation from which to manage conflict well. This vibe, rooted in your identity in Christ is the x-factor of managing conflict well.

One of the ways I have come up with to apply this personally to my life and leadership is what I call…   Identity Detachment. 

“Identity Detachment” is simply the idea of maintaining our sense of identity in Christ in the midst of conflict. This enables us to maintain control of our attitudes, emotions, and actions as we avoid being sucked into the personal drama of conflict. We can walk assured, confident, and complete even in the midst of our harshest critics and most difficult moments of conflict. When we allow conflict to become personal to the level it reaches our sense of identity, we have entered into an unhealthy place.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong thing in conflict by first getting us to believe the wrong things about ourselves.

This is a critical awareness. Making sure to detach our sense of identity from the drama of the conflict is key. Knowing who we are and what God has graced us with are critical to having a solid posture/vibe from which to manage conflict well. For all os us, our identity is nothing less than being the righteousness of Christ, completely forgiven, lacking nothing, and much, much more. For some, God has graced you with levels of authority, responsibility, calling, gifts, etc. Making sure our identities our stewarded well will give us a proper foundation, expressing a healthy vibe, from which we can manage conflict gracefully.

Specifically, “Identity Detachment” does several positive things in the midst of conflict…

1) It enables us to not overreact or under-react

2 It enables us to maintain professionalism

3) It enables us to act in ways that do not diminish our character

Fear and hurt are common when dealing with conflict, yet they can cause us to do all the wrong things and miss doing all the right things while attempting to manage conflict. They can cause us to overreact or not react at all. They can allow our emotions to get the best of us and make our actions impulsive, and it can lead us to acting in ways that we would never do in normal circumstances.

One powerful way we can detach our identities from the conflict at hand is to claim by faith that “Perfect love casts out fear.”

God perfectly loves you. Through faith, we are the righteousness of Christ having been given every spiritual blessing, and even the mind of Christ. We are guilt and shame free with God’s Grace removing all condemnation over our lives.When we trust in who we are in Christ and His perfect love for us, it calls us back to a foundation from which we can respond to conflict gracefully without losing ourselves in the process.

The first step of managing conflict well is to secure our identity in Christ through faith in who we are in Him. Having this as the foundation from which we manage conflict is critical. Remember, your vibe will enable you to thrive through conflict.  This expression of faith in Christ for who we are (in the midst of a conflict that is likely trying to steal, kill, and destroy all that) greatly pleases God.

I pray I have communicated this well as the principals of this concept are gold to those who lead and seek to manage conflict effectively for the Kingdom.

2.0 Who the Person(s) is With Whom There is Conflict (Their Value)

Where our vibe (given from our identity) is powerful in handling conflict, the value we place on people is equally powerful.

All people are deeply loved by God unconditionally, even our worst enemies. Furthermore, God is at work to move all people onto His agenda for their lives.  The goal of this agenda is to make each person into a completely new person through faith in Christ, with a new identity, and a therefore a new life. God makes us brand new through faith in Christ, we believe and receive it which gives us a new sense of identity, because of our new sense of identity, we can live and have new life.

Therefore, we must have a sense of purpose to our handling of conflict that seeks the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved. A purpose statement for handling conflict might be something like…

We will use conflict as an opportunity to seek the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved in making them a new person with a new identity, living a new life through His Grace and our faith

In this way, conflict is given a desired outcome where love is expressed and God’s purposes in the lives of those involved is sought after. Furthermore, it is important that we see behavioral problems as an identity problem at heart. Grace that enables a new sense of identity in Christ is what removes the spirit of rebellion and fosters new living. Rules and religion only serve to fuel disobedience.

Look for the Roots of Condemnation and Religion

All people have certain amounts of baggage and issues that influence their actions and attitudes. The most serious form of baggage is condemnation. Most people are trying to overcome the condemnation they walk around with through religion and rules. Many don’t even realize the destructive work that condemnation is doing in their lives. Find me a person who is disobedient or a trouble maker (Christian or not) and you will have found a person who has a significant sense of condemnation in their life.

In the next section, I will talk about general ideas about how handle the behaviors and situations of conflict from a posture of Grace in more detail. Yet, it is important to note now that one might first need to contain the conflict (for the protection of what God is doing in the lives of all involved) through various means in order to get to a place where time can be spent dealing with real issues behind the conflict, such as a spirit of condemnation.

However, if we truly want to give Grace into people’s lives, we must be willing to go past behavior modification, punishments, and rules to address the roots of what is causing the symptoms manifested in their behavior.  Condemnation is at the base.  It is Satan’s greatest weapon he has to go after our identity, in fact it is his only weapon. Satan knows if he can get us to believe the wrong things about ourselves, he can lead us to act wrongly in life.

3.0 What the Situation Is and What to Do (Your Actions)

Obviously, much can be written about this as there are countless nuances to conflict management. However, here are some important principals (among many) to apply…

0.01 Remember the goalto use conflict as an opportunity to seek the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved in making them a new person with a new identity, living a new life through His Grace and our faith. Conflict can be a great opportunity for people to experience what they have been needing all along… Grace. Yet, grace does not condone nor enable sin. In fact, Grace is what  teaches and positions us to live obedient lives through becoming a new person with a new identity. Grace that enables, or “declares peace where there is no peace”  is not grace.

o.o2 Identity Detachment– Believe in and trust in who you are in Christ through His grace, make this your foundation.

o.o3 Punishment is not an option-  Jesus took all our punishment on the cross, there is no longer need for punishment. Punishment has to do with shame and condemnation. Discipline is entirely different. As I will describe in further detail below, proper direction, correction, containment, clean-up, and even removal can be acts of Grace, handled with Grace, and not in a spirit of punishment.

o.o4 Direct communication is always the first step- Most conflicts can be handled one and one through face to face conversation. This is the ideal and primary setting for managing conflict. Problems occur when we don’t communicate directly, throughly, promptly, and personally. This is the opportune time to address issues of guilt, shame, condemnation and identity, all of which are root causes of negative behavior. It is also an important opportunity to clarify roles, expectations, vision, and goals.

o.o5 Being directive is different than punishment- If during the conflict conversations, resolution does not result, and negative behavior continues or escalates, redirecting the person while communicating consequences will likely become necessary and beneficial.

Giving direction or redirection seeks to take negatives and make them into positives. For example, “Johnny, I see you are having repeated trouble with this task and meeting the goals we agreed upon, how about we try having you focus on these other tasks instead.”

Communicating consequences might look like, “Johnny, as you start these new tasks, we will reconnect in 3 weeks and see what progress you are making. If things are going well, we will settle in with this new role for you, if not, we will need to reevaluate things.”

Redirecting can also involve a person getting help, counsel, or training.

Obviously, some moments will require more or less directive-ness and consequences. However, the approach of redirecting/directing (though it may be perceived as punishment) is purposed on enabling God’s work to be done most effectively for all involved, bearing in mind part of the “all” in “all involved” is the Church and it’s purposes.

o.o6 Containment – When a conflict is not successfully resolved through direct communication, correction, and redirection, or it has become a public matter effecting others, containment can become an important option.  For the protection of God’s work in all involved, some steps may need to be taken such as…

Clear-up- Unfortunately, when conflict reaches public levels, it can get messy, and the truth can get buried alive. Sometimes it may be necessary and useful to speak in public settings to the issues involved for the purposes of clarification so that God’s work in the lives of all might be protected.

Clean-up- In the same way, conflicts can cause much damage. Directing people in the process of cleaning-up the messes their own conflict has caused can become an important step of growth for them and healing for all involved. This can also prevent the need for someone to be removed or even redirected prematurely. When this is done from a position of Grace, communicating shame and punishment can be avoided while responsibility is given along with an opportunity to rebuild trust etc.

o.o7 Removal can be a necessary act of Grace that protects the person(s), God’s work in them and in all that are involved.

For leaders in ministry, part of the “all involved” (in the purpose statement for handling conflict written above) is the church. God deeply cares about the health and redemptive work of His Church. Unfortunately, even the best skills in conversation, counsel, directing, re-directing, and containment may not produce a resolved result. In some situations, in order to protect and prosper the work of God for all involved, removal of that person from their task, position, role, attendance, or membership will be required.

Though it may not first feel like it to anyone, this act of removal can be a deep act of grace for all involved without being done in a spirit of punishment, shame, or condemnation.

When levels of conflict reach the containment and removal levels, it’s very valuable to have a highly trained Conflict Management Team of a few people that assists you with managing the conflict.  There is credibility, strength, effectiveness and health in numbers. Furthermore, having a Conflict Management Process that gives direction, clarity, and consistency to you and your team in the area of conflict management will be equally valuable.

5 Key Questions to ask of each conflict…

What is the current impact, and what is the potential impact of this conflict?

Is this a conflict of relationship or vision, or both? Typically, relational conflicts are more easily resolved than vision ones. When it’s both relational and vison related, much time and energy will likely be required to resolve.

What are the tough decisions that need to be made to make sure that God’s work in all involved is protected and fostered?

What message is my vibe (given from my sense of identity) communicating to those involved?

How well am I utilizing a Conflict Management team as I seek to lead well through this conflict?

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