Tag: performance (page 1 of 2)

Competitive Christian Blogging Sucks

Over the course of many years in Christian ministry, I have discovered there is a thick, competitive spirit in virtually every aspect of it. Our consumer-driven, Americanized Christian culture has been a primary fuel that has led many in ministry to utilize the cause of Christ for personal gain and ministry empire building—at times, myself included. Sadly, the fame-seeking sentiment communicated by Bob Wallace in the iconic movie White Christmas is highly relevant in describing much of the modern scene that is Christian ministry, “everyone is working an angle.”

The competitive currents circling within the oceans of Christian ministry can be so strong at times, it’s hard not to get pulled into its spin unaware. Soon, your entire sense of worth, success, and value as a person, Christian, and minister subtly becomes connected to the numbers—baptisms, budgets, book deals, attendance charts, speaking engagements and the like—been there, done that, have the t-shirt.

Less than a year ago, I began to write seriously as a blogger, focusing on communicating a voice of advocacy for those disillusioned and harmed by conservative Christianity—namely the de-churched, spiritually marginalized, religiously condemned, and LGBT communities. Somehow, in stepping back into the world of Christian ministry in a fresh way, I believed things would be different. Perhaps within these circles, the nobility, urgency, and plight of these causes would leave little to no room for the onset of a competitive spirit among those who seek to be a light in the darkness.

Yet, after I reached out to a few highly prominent, progressive bloggers for their wisdom and guidance, sadly, most of what I heard was centered around gaining followers, watching how many hits your website gets, and how to package your writing for greatest appeal while harnessing your personal branding. One of the top challenges asserted… how to transform subscribers into financial contributors. I have to admit, at first, I got a bit caught up in the allure of it all. My writing was gaining a good bit of attention and once again, the apple of “ministry success” was dangling all so deliciously in front of me.

That is, until the cold splash of water. A highly beloved, popular, Christian blogger clearly, intentionally, and knowingly criticized and sought to undermine me in front of my audience. The ego and purposefulness of their actions was so obvious that others reached out to me in shock. It was then that I realized, we’re not in Kansas anymore. The wild wild West of Christian ministry had indeed pushed up a stool within the saloon of my new blogging venture, revealing to me a clear problem that not only exists, but that I too could potentially become.

To be sure, I am certainly now fully aware of my gross naiveté, but back then, I truly never thought that within the arena of Christian blogging, especially among progressive circles, there would be personalities and ministries more territorial and exclusive than the Mafia in Vegas.

I find it interesting that in the New Testament, the word translated as “evil” has a deeper meaning. The Greek word “poneros” actually means, “full of labors.” When the Biblical writer asserts, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God,” the evil that is being referred to points to one who is not stereotypically carnal, denying, or doubting, but rather one who is full of labors—a person who is seeking to make a name for themselves, who embodies a kind of internal striving to produce something worthy of their life, a performance-driven mentality that looks to one’s abilities for the procurement of success. It’s the heart that concludes… my identity, worth, and closeness with God are intrinsically tied to my achievement, skill, and performance. One may never say it that way, but so many of us are living that way—self-aggrandizement, self-improvement, self-actualization. Call it what we will… “best practices,” “excellence,” “ministry effectiveness,” “promotion,” “radical Christianity,” “faithfulness,” “personal branding,” “marketing,” or “platform building.” When it’s done out of spirit of success-gaining, ministry empire-building, or competitiveness, it not only sucks, but God calls it “evil”—everyone and everything subtly becoming a leverage towards a personal ministry future of our envisioning and creating. It’s the difference between a dream and a scheme, and sadly, many of us in ministry are doing more scheming than dreaming. The same narcissistic erosion that has engulfed the contemporary Christian music industry I fear is beginning to sink its claws into the Christian blogging world. If only we can pump the breaks before we all are neck deep in the ditch.

As humans, it’s easy to medicate our insecurities with the pursuit of ministry “success.” In a performance-driven, church-franchising, personal ministry empire-building, consumer-addicted Christian culture, this becomes even more alluring and deceptively tempting.

I guess it’s unrealistic to think that any aspect of Christian ministry would be devoid of the exclusive “cool leaders” lunch table to which only the select are welcome and invited. Yet, that is all the more reason why voices like Michael Hardin, Brian Zahnd, Daisy Rain Martin, Susan Berland, Matthew Distefano and Robert and Susan Cottrell, to name only a few, are such a breath of fresh air, giving hope and a sure example upon which to aspire.

The day that the sun sets on competitive Christian blogging (and ministry) will be a beautiful day.

May the coming of that future begin with me, and begin with you.

For Those Who Suck at Family, and The Rest who Think They Don’t

Growing up, my mom always told my sisters and I you should never say, “shut up.” Instead, the polite term is, “be quiet.” I agree, I really do, but this has gotten out of hand, and sometimes you have to say what you have to say…

So, whoever you are, “shut up” already with all this “we need to build stronger families for Jesus” garbage!

Pastor after pastor, ministry after ministry, book after book, article after article, all driving the hoop with the same game, “what you are doing in your family life isn’t good enough, so you need to do more of this and less of that.” Learn this strategy, follow these principles, take these steps. Get your spiritual pom-poms on for the family cheer and whistle your act together; pray harder, get to church, buy the devotion books, serve more, set goals, smile wider, find a mission trip.

What? You haven’t had a family mission trip together? What the hell is wrong with you people? Some kind of Jesus-family you are.

Quick, you better take that beach photo with everyone dressed in white, photoshop in a Bible verse at the bottom, post it on Facebook, and get with the program already, because “we need to build stronger families for Jesus.”

Well, if I hear one more person spew that cut-and-pasted, spiritual vomit from their pie hole, I am going to a have small farm animal. No, I really am. Perfect, candle-lit dinner tables with linen placemats where all the kids are smiling, and dad has the leather bound Bible in his hands for the evening devotion just before mom serenades in with the steaming casserole she labored at all day.

Are you kidding me? Somebody, gag me with a multi-colored pitch fork. Do it now.

People who know me, know that I am all about family, but this image and pursuit we have created of a so-called “Christian” family looks not only ridiculously cheesy, but actually is the very thing that is eroding families, ironically. And we haven’t even talked about extended family relationships… oh yah, those can be fun.

See, it all looks and sounds so spiritual. Everyone appears to be behaving, praying, getting along, serving, lifting up a whole bunch of glory to the Lord. “We’re just giving all we have to Jesus as a family.” (That last sentence reads better if you do so with a southern accent)

The truth is, nobody is pulling this off. And the sad part is, everybody knows it but the people trying. At some level, we all suck at family. And to be honest, I actually think Jesus is pretty much o.k. with it. He knows what it’s like to have a real family. A family tattooed with rough edges, blind spots and a strong dosage of drama.  One that is not all put together and edited for Christian primetime. One that hasn’t been so Christianized with a two story house, white picket fence, a dog named Spot, a bible on every coffee table, Friday night family devotions, SUV’s stickered with every “Upward” sports possibility, and all the family challenges and adversities getting wrapped up in a nice little, Evangelical-approved, faith-packaged conclusion.

We live in the age of the performance-driven, appearance-ladened Christian. And sadly, many a tribe have drunk the Koolaid. There are a whole lot of families and family members dying on the inside cause deep down they know they don’t have it, and they can’t do it… this photoshop, Pinterest-perfect, magazine-cover Christian family thing.  Nobody does, and nobody can.

That’s why it’s time to get real, for realsies.

We all suck at family.

There are moments where we love the idea of spending time with our kids much more than the actually event of doing so. Jacked up on anxiety, we sit down at the Thanksgiving dinner with cousins, uncles, sisters, and brothers, secretly desiring to sabotage the person sitting across from us, if not to completely strangle them. We don’t like them one bit, and that’s pretty much all there is to it, no matter how much we say we “pray for them.” We’re smiling on the outside, but shaking hands with jealousy on the inside. We want to look forward to tucking our kids in with a story, baking birthday cakes, and driving to after school programs, but we don’t always. In fact, sometimes we resent it and even detest it. We look at other people’s family lives and wish we had theirs. Deep down, we wonder if we will ever measure up, and dread the idea of people hearing our secret thoughts and seeing our concealed imperfections. What if they peered through the curtains into our real doubts, heard our unedited arguments, viewed the x-ray of our thoughts? Some of which, are disturbing at best and certainly disqualifying of us from the Christian family vibe we so want everybody to believe we’re sporting.

The truth is, we spend a lot of time putting lipstick on the pig of our family lives. Sadly, because our Christian culture has groomed us that way.

In fact, if we are honest, a good bit of what we do as parents and family members is all for one thing… show. To prove to God, ourselves, and others that we are faithful, worthy, and successful in our family lives. Look at me, look at us, we’re doing it, we’ve got it!

On writer in the Scriptures discovered a life-changing awareness… “the Law entices us to sin.”  The more we try to meet standards, the more we fail to meet them. It’s even evil to think we can. In our family life and relationships, trying and striving to “be better” and “do better” never works. Our performance always breaks down at some point, leaving us with only one option, pretending to be something we aren’t. And that my friends, is hell.

I’m here to tell you, pretending is the breakfast of the religious. You don’t need to stage your family song and dance. God’s Grace is sufficient. Stop pulling the strings and choosing the choices motivated to somehow create an acceptable, admirable impression in the eyes of everybody else. Who gives a rip what they think?  They aren’t you, and they aren’t in your family.

Besides, it’s not about them. It’s not even about you. The quality of you as a family member, and your family as a whole is based on nothing less than the quality of Jesus. He defines you. His success is your success, in ever area, even family.

You lack no spiritual blessing from Jesus. You are already a great parent, you are already a great child, you are already a great family member, you are already a great family, and nothing within your performance thereof can add or subtract from that.

So stop playing the game. Take down the pieces, fold up the board, and put it back in the box.

Your family job is to enjoy Jesus and awaken to the you, you already are…. complete, righteous, sanctified, forgiven, pure, Holy, and the delight of your Father… as is… a whole mother, a whole father… brother, sister, daughter, son… that’s who you are.

There is no condemnation over any aspect of your family, your role, or participation thereof. None.

No person, no family is better… only different.

So shut up with this, “we need to build stronger families for Jesus” crap. There’s nothing to build.  It’s already been built, finished on the cross. It’s you. It’s your family.

You are already strong, you are already successful, you are already complete.

So go, be free… be the family, be the family member you already are… no better, no worse than another, just different…

…without pressure, fear, guilt, or shame.

This is Grace.

This is the change that changes things.

This is family.

This, is the Jesus way.

The Grace-Driven Life : Overcoming a Culture of Stress

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

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

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

Our American Culture of “Become Successful” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Christian Culture of “Become Spiritually Successful” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lipstick on a Spiritual Pig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golf Magazine and Sunday Mornings in America

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Change your Foundation, Change your Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And folks, this is a revolutionary, foundational change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop stressing. Stop making this all about you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relax, trust in God’s Grace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

 

Spiritual Warfare Revisited

If you think spiritual warfare is something you do against the devil, this article will hopefully change your mind. If you think that spiritual warfare is something that you do, with God’s help, against satan, I hope this article will challenge your thinking.

It is a misguided perception among Christians that the Christian life is primarily to be an avoidance of sin. We have been wrongly taught that believers have two natures, one evil, and one divine. Therefore, our job is to make sure Satan doesn’t entice the evil side more than Jesus inspires the good side.  If anything tries to cause you to stray or drag you down, you need to fight it like you would a dog biting your leg. Take out your spiritual stick and start beating away.

Much of the current teaching on spiritual warfare has created sin-conscious, satan-conscious Christians who feel their calling as a Christian is to battle the forces of evil clawing at their lives and the lives of others. Their spiritual radar screens are fine tuned to anything that looks like, talk likes, or smells like the enemy. And when they believe they see a blip on the scope, “Demon be gone as I bind you in the name of Jesus!”

Where I would certainly and passionately agree that evil is real and we face the schemes of the evil one, I would suggest satan has done well to get us fighting the wrong battles and misunderstanding our weapons.

The truth is, in Christ, the battle of sin, death, and the devil was finished on the cross. Any battle we have with Satan is an issue of our faith (0r another’s faith) in that finished work applied to their lives, not the reality of it. Spiritual battle for the Christian is done from victory, not for victory.

Paul described our fight as Christians as a “fight of faith,” not in who can shout, rebuke, bind, or pray the longest or loudest. Spiritual battle is not a battle of might, trying, or striving, but of belief. Satan’s weapons are ones of ignorance, wrong belief, false thinking and alike. Not the dramatic devices Hollywood loves to use to sell tickets.

Is the demonic a real reality in our world today, yes of course. But not for the Christian. If you feel you have to do battle with Satan in your life on any level or terms other than that of your faith (or another’s faith), than you are fighting a false battle no matter how real it is perceived.

When Paul introduced us to and described our spiritual armor (Ephesians 6), he was showing us what we already have in Christ! Not something we need to spiritual achieve or weaponize through our efforts.  Paul was trying to focus and awaken our faith, not commission us into spiritual fist fight of Bible shaking punches. All the articles of armor Paul identifies are important spiritual blessing and realities we already have in Christ. The issue of spiritual battle is not in what we need to do, but in believing what Christ has already done! It’s not about how we perform, it’s about believing Christ’s performance for and in our lives, it’s not about how we act, it’s about who we are as new creations of Christ, and believing it through thick and thin!

Biblically, “light” is often used in conjunction or reference to divine revelation, “darkness” is often used as a reference to ignorance or wrong believing. Paul’s teaching on the spiritual armor is purposed on giving us a revelation of who and what we have in Christ and the need to believe it. That is the “stand” we take. This is the “obedience of faith” Paul also spoke of in scripture.

We “put on” this armor through faith, not effort or spiritual karate tactics. It is the armor that does the fighting and has won the battle, not we ourselves. The moment light comes (revelation is believed), darkness vanishes with no effort or fanfare. Notice the Bible says, “…my people are being destroyed by a lack of knowledge.” (Hosea 4:6)  It doesn’t say by “generational curses,” “demonic visitations”, or even “sin.”

If you want to see where the real battle is, look to what Satan is leading people to “believe” about the Gospel, Jesus, themselves, and what is means to be a Christian.

For example, the Gospel of God’s Grace has been so distorted by the lures of Satan to the point God’s character and finished work on the cross has been made into a set of formulas, steps, and ways to enhance your life or standards to hold over people so you can feel better about your own sin. The Gospel has been reworked by mixing in just enough Law to appeal to the American “do it yourself” mindset. The Gospel is Grace, or it’s not the Gospel. It’s NOT “God does His part, you do yours.” The Gospel is, “your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe” God loves all people, died for all people, and wants all people saved. The same Grace that saves you  is the same Grace that sanctifies you. He is not angry, mad, moody, or bi polar. God’s kindness is what leads to repentance (change of mind) not punishment or fear. He didn’t come to make good people better, He came to give dead people life. We don’t give our life to Jesus, He gives us His life. We give Him nothing (because we can’t) He gives us everything (because He is love and loves us). That is the Gospel.

Through the craftiness of Satan, Jesus has been misrepresented and misunderstood. He has been customized to fit just about every agenda, theology, and philosophy. His teaching in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are often NOT interpreted in light of the cross, but rather as if we remain still under the Law. By some, He has been made into merely a wise teacher, moral standard, philosophy creator, or radical social justice leader.  Indeed, Satan has created a funhouse of mirrors that have distorted people’s beliefs about the truth of Jesus.

Many Christians don’t know and are not being taught who they truly are in Christ, some falsely believe they are still by nature “sinners,” are still under some level of condemnation, and are constantly being tested by God for “trueness.” Many believe that the Christian life is about their efforts, trying, rule-keeping, and striving to live better, become better, and do more. The truth is, the job of the Holy Spirit to those who don’t believe is to convict them of their unbelief, but the job of the Holy Spirit to the believer is to convince them of their righteousness, apart from their efforts!  The “labor to enter into that rest” that Paul charged us to be the foundation of the Christian life has been turned into a labor or serving, sacrificing, performing, achieving, rule-keeping, and doing. In many settings, the church has been turned into a club with a cross on top where traditions reign, political structures rule, and Christians talk amongst themselves and judge the world, instead of encouraging one another and talking with the world.   To be sure, the “Church” in many setting has been successfully sabotaged to the point it completely distorts the Gospel, manifests condemnation instead of Grace, turns good hearted believers into performance-driven Christians, and turns off and away the very people God purposed them to reach, love, and bring into the family.  The religious spirit is deeply entrenched in many a church today and has completely perverted the Gospel and the essence of the Christian life.

So, if you want a real spiritual battle, that’s where Satan is most effectively at work today, not among the sinners of the world nearly as much as among those who claim to be righteous. And for all, it all centers on the issue of right believing, not voodoo.  To be sure, Satan is not the real problem in the world that needs to be battled, it’s the epidemic he has ignited of the modern day rise of the pharisaical heart among those who claim to believe in Jesus, but live and believe by their own self-righteousness.

Not many are willing to say it, but I just did, that light might shine in the darkness.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Are you “5 Talent” Living?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Speaking is the New Doing

I learned early on in ministry that activity does not necessarily equate to accomplishment.  You can be busy doing lots of things all while getting absolutely nowhere of value.

The same is true in the Christian life, we can find ourselves spending a lot of time doing spiritual-looking activities yet accomplishing very little of Kingdom worth, internally within ourselves and externally.  Unfortunately, the same Grace that saved us is often not seen as the same Grace that sustains and grows us.  Somehow we have come to believe the idea that at the very least, a bit of the flesh is necessary to somehow improve our lives.  So, we work, strive, and try to perform our way to a better life.

Yet, if you are like many Christians, you are secretly frustrated. Though you might never give it a public voice, your inner thoughts are haunted by the conclusion that all these spiritual gymnastics you have been doing and performing aren’t improving one thing. You are tired, exhausted, and wonder deep down, “what’s wrong with me?”  I am doing my best only to still be stressed.

The truth is, what releases God’s activity in and through your life is your faith, not your striving. In fact, the same efforts we think that our progressing God’s work in us can be the very same ones that are blocking it.

Yet, at the same time, we can have tons of faith within us, but we aren’t we releasing that faith to work on our behalf. We can become like loaded guns, we have a lot of faith ready to go, but it’s not being released.  So, what releases our faith? Most Christians would answer with something like… “my obedience,” “my efforts,” or “my faithfulness.”  But those are all centered on our performance, they are types of “work.”  And unfortunately, they are activities (as important as they are) that don’t accomplish much.

For God, ironically, “speaking” is His work.  In Genesis chapter 1, God creates the entire world into being through speaking, not doing. What works for God is what God wants to work for us. Speaking is a release of our faith that accomplishing more than our efforts ever could. In fact, that which is His work (speaking), is really not work.

Under the new Covenant of Grace (brought through Jesus), speaking is the new doing. Why is this? Because under the new Covenant, believers are Kings and Priests.

And have made us kings and priests to our God; And we shall reign on the earth. Revelation 5:10

Slaves and servants don’t speak much, and if they do, it’s always in response to their circumstances.  Yet, by the way we speak and don’t speak as Christians, you would think we were still slaves. “I am not good enough,” “This is impossible,”  “Things will never work out,” “I am a failure.”  And then we wonder why we aren’t reigning in life.

However, we as Christians are  not slaves and servants, we are Kings and Priests unto God. Kings and Priests us words to alter circumstances and change their future, not merely respond to it. Indeed, speaking is the new doing. In the Kingdom system of life, what you speak is what you get, not in contradiction to God’s will but in the flow of His favor. Speaking is the secret weapon of our faith, not doing.

Never underestimate the power speaking out loud. The most important proclamation your faith needs to hear is your own. It’s one thing to have faith within your thoughts, but speaking is what releases that faith. Change your self talk and start speaking words of faith verbally out loud, and watch your life change.  No, I am not talking about sharing your faith, I am talking about confessing the Word and the promises of God, along with your words of faith, audibly to yourself.  It’s not work, it’s releasing your faith to work.

Can we say, “Game changer?”

Non-Church Goers more Genuine?

I believe “church” can be one of God’s most important and valuable gifts. As a pastor, I firmly believe in the potential of church to be a community of Grace that profoundly impacts lives.

At the same time, I am often disgusted with religion and its spirit when it permeates a church.  Like Jesus in His sermon to a specific church in the book of Revelation, at times I just want to “spit it out of my mouth.”  There are occasions and trends where the Church (modern and traditional) has taken God’s Gospel of Grace and turned it into a religion of performance, rules, steps, levels, goals, guilt trips, fear tactics, and rituals.

In fact, truth be told, many Sunday morning church-goers attend a service and hear a message (in some fashion or another) that gives them a series of things they need to do (or not do), work on, or improve—all in order to be more “Jesus-filled” and faithful in living the “christian” life. Their closeness with God and status with Him are in the balance.

When people stop going to church (or never try it out) we assume it’s for some dark, sin-influenced reason. Yet, maybe it’s because they are actually more genuine than those that are attending—ever thought of that? Some people who stop going to a church, such as I have described, have resolved with a genuine heart that they are hypocrites because they will never be able to perform up to the standards and steps that are prescribed each week. They simply admit, “I can’t do all of this and get it all right.” Therefore, they conclude it’s probably better not to even try, fake it, and give the appearance that they are something that they are not.

Because the church they experienced is not a refuge of Grace, but more of a religious club of rules and self-help talks, they have decided to preserve their character and honesty instead of getting on a tread mill of religious performance where no matter how much you do, you are forever unfit. They have discovered in religion and churches that have welcomed a religious spirit, the best you can do is pretend. So, they have decided, pretending is not for them.

The Gospel of God’s Grace doesn’t produce nor create and environment where people must pretend. Rather, the emphasis is on the performance of Jesus and placing our faith in Him and His work. Right living never produces right living— it’s right believing that leads to right living. It is His righteousness that becomes our righteousness. It is His identity that becomes ours. As we believe it, we receive it, and then live it.

Obedience under The Law is to do rightly. Obedience under Grace is to believe rightly.

If you believe rightly, the behaviors will follow. But not from a foundation of rules and religious performance, but effortlessly from a foundation of Grace. There is nothing to pretend, it’s about Jesus’ performance, not ours!  It’s His life in us, not ours.

Hallelujah!

People need the Gospel, the pure Gospel of God’s Grace. The light that God placed within all humanity won’t be fooled by a counterfeit. It is the deep calling to deep. When some sense a phony Church with a phony Gospel, though the may not be able to explain it or put words to it, many non-church goers are genuine enough to steer away from it.

Be careful before you put all non-churchgoers on an island doomed for hell, they may be more genuine than you.

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