Tag: trust (page 1 of 2)

Conservative Christian, If You Really Loved Me, Would You Please Just Listen?

I know you disagree with me and so many aspects of my life—that’s one thing that seems to be overflowing with clarity.

That’s o.k, it really is, you are welcome to your own perspective.

To you, my nonconservative choices, values, beliefs, and even the very essence of who I am as a person are deemed to be suspicious at best, certainly inferior, and likely in desperate need of repair and a strong dose of repentance. In step with the marching orders of your creed, you pace back and forth, waiting for opportunity to put my faith and life through your conservative curling iron in hopes of straightening me out. You say you love me and it’s all from a heart of genuine concern—I want nothing more than to believe you, I truly do. Yet, it feels like everywhere you touch upon the fabric of my life, you’re insisting on your own way while claiming it to be God’s—desperately trying to unravel and pull apart what I’ve actually come to believe and cherish as the divine tapestry of my life.

You want all the Scriptures you so confidently quote, the stern warnings about hell, and your passionate lectures on all the ways that I’m desperately misguided to feverishly call my soul to attention. You want your guilt trips, silent treatments, and glares of disapproval to magically solicit an urgency within me to wake up and change. You want all the articles, books, and sermon videos barking the bullet points of your faith to bring me to my knees, surrendering in agreement and tearful repentance. Yet, deep down inside I have this ancient, Jesus-embedded sense within me that I just can’t ignore—if you really loved me and were truly being used by the Spirit, you’d simply listen.

No, I’m not talking about the kind of listening that’s nothing more than the inconvenient duration of time you’ve silenced your lips while reluctantly waiting your turn to speak. I’m not talking about the kind of listening that’s merely the sum of the moments you’re rushing ahead in your mind to all the ways you’re going to correct me. I’m not talking about the kind of listening that’s nothing more than the pause you give in your rebuttals to humor me with a moment to interject my wayward thinking—licking your chops, poised and ready to shoot it all down. No, I’m not talking about the awkward silence that ensues while your arms are folded and your chin is lifted in obvious disgust. Maybe you call that listening or discerning, or whatever faith term that fits your brand of religious conservatism, but I call it—hate. For nothing is perhaps more antiJesus, demeaning, and drooling with shame and condemnation than a Christian who refuses to listen.

You want me to believe that you love me—I greatly appreciate that. You want me to consider that you were sent by God to guide me—I understand that. Yet, with all due respect, I’m finding it very hard to convince my conscience to open the door of trust when every alarm in my Spirit is sounding to the clear and ever present reality, you aren’t even listening.

You speak, you judge, you correct, you assume, you admonish, you lecture—perhaps all with the most wonderful of noble intentions. Yet, all the while, it feels so reckless, like a sheep being dragged to the slaughter, as you don’t even glimpse beyond the surface to the intricate fabric of my being and the complicated walk upon which I have been traveling. At best, you’re shooting in the dark because you don’t take the time, extend the grace, and embrace the humility required to remove the blinders and truly see me and my story. In fact, at times, it feels like I’m just another sitting duck, traveling across your spiritual arcade, bracing for the impact of your prepackaged conservative bullets. Cocked and loaded, you’ll never hear nor encounter the story behind my eyes—a story that if I told you, would break your heart, humble your faith, and perhaps even cause you to put down your weapons. Maybe, when it’s all said and done, that’s what you truly fear the most and the reason why you refuse to truly listen—it’s all too risky, your entire faith-construct might come crashing down.

The one thing that’s missing is that one thing you seem to be so adverse to giving. It’s all I’ve ever truly wanted—so I’m begging you, would you please just listen?

Listen—with the reverence that completely stops and deeply considers that chances are you have something to learn, change, or reconsider first before ever being granted the green light from God to speak to my Christ-imaged humanity.

Listen—with the humility that, though you are certainly entitled to your own opinion, you certainly aren’t entitled to your own facts, nor the claim that you hold the one-and-only divinely-sanctioned interpretation of Scripture.

Listen—with the self-control that renders the noise of your stubborn insistence to a prison of silence in order to create the openness and freedom required to hear a true revelation from God.

Listen—with the determination to never lean on your own understanding, project your bias, and pepper me with labels.

Listen—with the level of compassion that no matter what you had to say, all I would ultimately hear is that you love me.

For if we aren’t listening deep enough to where we understand with fullness, empathy, education, and humility the very journey, perspectives, beliefs, and values to which we disagree or disapprove in another human being, we aren’t truly listening. For when Jesus left the halls of heaven and became a human being, it wasn’t just an act of becoming human flesh, it was an act of ultimate, divine listening.

So now, when you wonder why I don’t call, why I don’t respond, and why I’ve resigned to love you from a distance. When you wonder why I’m deeply hesitant to visit your church, come to family gatherings, grant you influence, and see you and your conservative faith-understanding as credible. When you wonder why I ignore you on Facebook or de-friend you altogether. When you wonder why the world is increasingly concluding that yours is a brand of Christianity that is filled with self-righteousness, selfishness, and hate. Perhaps you would consider this perspective, it may just be because I, and many others, can’t ignore the screeching reality—you’re not listening.

Say what you want, debate all you like, curl up in the fetal position of your guilt trips, and trumpet your Scriptural proof-texts—my heart breaks at all that we are missing, the time that’s being wasted, the hurt that’s being experienced, and the relationships that never will be. Largely because, like Martha in the Scriptures, it seems you’re insistent on making religious sandwiches of debate, correction, and condemnation that Jesus never ordered, while Mary was learning the true heart of Jesus—to sit down, be quiet, and simply listen.

No, I’m not perfect, I certainly have my faults. But right now, I can’t trust you nor give your voice credibility, not because you aren’t speaking, but because I can’t hear you listening.

Conservative Christian, if you really loved me, would you please just listen?

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak…” James 1:19

Grace is brave. Be brave.

The Wrong Beliefs Behind 5 Popular Sins

Behind every sin you struggle with is a wrong belief about God and/or yourself. Believing rightly is the key to living rightly.

That’s why the New Testament (Covenant) calls for an obedience of “faith” in contrast to the obedience of “actions” required in the Old Testament (Covenant). Our actions always follow our beliefs.

FInd me a person who struggles with a particular sin and you will have found a person whose belief about God and/or themselves is distorted or false in some way. The way to combat sin is in our beliefs, not our actions. We are indeed renewed in our minds before ever being renewed in our behaviors. Trying to “do better” never works, only “believing better” holds the key to victory.

Here our 5 popular sins and some of the “wrong beliefs” behind them…

1- Sexual Sin-

Obviously there are a lot of sexual sins, but there are reoccurring wrong beliefs behind many of them.

A) Deep down I know this is not right or is bad for me, but this is what I deserve B) The best thing I have to offer is sexual C) God can’t heal my hurt and emptiness, but this can D) My value is in what I offer sexually E) This will bring intimacy and wholeness into my life F) I am the broken and discardable person my mother, father, and/or abuser portrayed I am.

2- Lying

Lying can come in various forms from exaggeration to withholding the truth. Here are some reoccurring wrong beliefs behind it all.

A) God isn’t on my side or quick enough, so this is the best way to move things forward and get ahead. B) The truth about me or my actions isn’t good enough, for God and/or for others for me to be loveable and valuable. C) The truth will make things too complicated and difficult (even for God to handle), and may ruin everything D) I need people to like me and things to be peaceful in order to feel good about myself E) no one will get hurt.

3- Gossip

Gossip always serves a selfish purpose for those who are speaking it (and hearing it). Here are some wrong believes behind people’s attraction to gossip.

A) I am not completely valuable and secure in Christ, so I need to bring others down to make me better, even if it’s just in my own eyes and/or the eyes of others B) What I know or have to say about others that is negative is one of the best things I have to offer in a relationship or conversation C) This will even the score D) this is an appropriate way to get things done. E) it’s fun, no one will get hurt.

4- Idolatry

A) God is not as real, powerful, tangible and effective, but this is B) I need this person, activity, or thing for my value, fulfillment, or meaning in life. C) This is better than God or anything He could give me D) By the time God gives it, it will be too late.

5- Gluttony

A) This can heal the hurts God can’t B) This will keep me safe from intimacy with people who can hurt me C) Deep down I know this behavior is bad for me, but this is the punishment I deserve D) This will make life happier and worthwhile.

Did you notice a common thread among all of these? Insecurity and a doubt in God’s goodness and favor upon our lives.

This list is why the Grace of God is so important, it teaches us to live rightly because it shows us who we truly are and what we truly have in Him. Without His abundance of Grace we will never know who we are and what we have in Him, and thus, never overcome the sin in our lives. Grace is what gives us something to truly believe about God and ourselves, bringing life and freedom from the lame lures of sin.

Obviously, some of these “wrong beliefs” are believed on a deep, even subconscious level, but they are still pulling the strings of our actions and attitudes. Get to the root of your wrong beliefs and you can change the surface life of your actions and attitudes!

What would you add or delete from this list and/or post?

Why You Should Reconsider Jesus

For the skeptical, spiritually tired, and turned off.  For the hurt, disillusioned, and fed up.  For those who can’t seem to embrace Jesus past their negative experiences or views of “Christians” or “church.” Perhaps, you should reconsider Jesus, and here’s  7 reasons why…

Jesus isn’t a political party-  Despite what some have done in evangelical Christian circles to make Jesus a member of their political party, Jesus doesn’t have a political affiliation. He is separate, above, and beyond politics. Yes, Christians have political views and get involved politically. No fault there. But, any moral standards derived from Jesus are just that, from Jesus. Jesus has great relevance to politics, but exist outside of politics. As political parties claim to be more “Christian” in values and standards than others, it is important to let Jesus stand by Himself, outside of any one political affiliation.  Loving and embracing Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean loving and embracing a certain political party. One does not require the other.

Jesus isn’t a club with a membership-  At times, I think we Christians, with our churches, have done more to turn people off to Jesus than perhaps anything or anyone else. Jesus created, loves, and died for His Church. Jesus is totally into Church. But, much of what some have made church into, Jesus is not into at all! We have done a great job at majoring in the minors and minoring in the majors.  We give more concern to people who have their Christmas decorations out before Thanksgiving (and what kind of decorations they are) than we do to caring for orphans, the needy, and a host of other things that really matter.

We can’t separate Jesus from Church, but we must separate Jesus from what some have made church into. In fact, I would go so far as to say, Jesus has already separated himself from more than a few churches of today, the people there just don’t realize it.

Loving and embracing Jesus doesn’t mean you have to love and embrace every church or all the things we see happening within our Christian culture.  There are many healthy churches out there that are true to the Gospel, and Jesus wants to bless us with a healthy church experience, but there is much within churches today and our Christian culture that Jesus has distanced Himself from and so should we. Loving Jesus doesn’t require loving “club-church.”

Jesus wants to be with you- Jesus loves you, unconditionally. He is not angry with you, eagerly waiting to push you under His thumb. Jesus loves you and likes you. No, not everything we do, but so much of what we are.  Jesus wants to associate Himself with you; living with, in, and as you.  This is the essence of His affection for you. Jesus is well pleased with you and believes in you. He looks well passed what we have or have not done all the way into the heart of His creative hand and imaging of our lives.  No failure, inadequacy, or rebellion is past the gaze of His gleaming eyes of Grace and hope upon your life. Loving Jesus doesn’t mean being called out and shamed to the point up repentance and becoming the kind of person who religiously judges others. It is God’s kindness and goodness that leads people to changing their mind about Him and how to live, not punishment. Jesus loves you and is proud to call you His divine creation.

Jesus loves better than they do- No one is perfect but Jesus, no one loves perfectly but Jesus. Christians aren’t perfect. What we try to portray as being loving often falls short. In fact, in some circles, Christians aren’t loving at all. We have been known to shoot our own wounded, carelessly judge the world, and turn our noses up at people who we deem to be not as spiritual and pure as we are.

Jesus’ brand of love is deeper, wider, and greater than any Christian could consistently manifest. Yes, God loves the world through people, any over and over, God uses people to express and manifest His love to the world, often doing amazing things and having a huge impact. However, we all fall short of loving like Jesus loves us and others. We fail people, Jesus’ love never fails. We fail in loving people, Jesus will never fail in loving you. Loving and embracing Jesus doesn’t mean becoming the kind of unloving person we see some Christians display, nor does it mean that when Christians fail us or the world, that Jesus has failed, lacks integrity, or trustability. Let people love and bless you, but trust Jesus more, and feed on His supply of love the most. Then you will never hunger nor thirst again! Don’t judge Jesus by His followers, but by His Grace and love upon them, it’s the same love and Grace that is upon you.

Jesus is inside out- Despite what some Christians have made of the Christian life, Jesus is most concerned about what’s on the inside, not what’s on the outside.  It’s your faith that is most important to Him, not your performance and spiritual gymnastics.  Jesus works on the inside of a person, recreating them from the mind and heart outwards. Jesus is not into behavior modification, He is into life transformation.

Loving Jesus doesn’t mean trying and striving to live up to standards and steps of religious performance and behaviors that you know you can never perfectly master all the time. It is not a life of do’s and don’ts to manage, it’s a life of faith; learning to believe and trust the right things. It’s a life of your behaviors catching up with your identity in Christ, not your identity in Christ being caught up in your behaviors.

Loving and embracing Jesus doesn’t mean getting on a treadmill of spiritual performance exercises and tests. It’s not about striving and trying to progress spiritually as you compare and contrast your life to other Christians, rather, it’s about living from God’s success in completely recreating you through His finished work on the cross, actualized in your  life the moment you believe. The Christian life is not about who you are becoming, it’s about who you have already become through His work on your behalf on the cross, received by faith alone.

Jesus is always on point- Jesus not only has truth, He is Truth. There is nothing false or faulty in Him. Debate nuances of the Bible as you will, but debating Jesus and His wisdom will leave you humbled at the very least, every time.  He is the best picture God ever took of Himself. He is God. The Messiah. The One and only who saves men from themselves.What He says works, period.  It’s always on time and on target. He is who He said He was, and what He says accomplishes what He says it will do. He is the source of all true wisdom, and His counsel in always on point. There is no One greater, nor any source of wisdom that is greater.  He is time tested, scientifically undebunkable, historically documented, and faith proven.

Loving and embracing Jesus doesn’t mean you have to leave your brain at home, nor does it mean His is finite enough for our minds and understanding to ever fully comprehend. Jesus shows us enough to enable us to have faith, and withholds enough to make sure it is by faith that we receive, know, and walk with Him. We can see and receive some of the things of God through intellect, we see and receive the everything of God only through faith. Search the world over, everything you need is already in and from Him. Believe and receive.

Jesus is better than you think- Jesus is better than life, He is life. Jesus is better than love, He is love. Jesus is better than the church down the street. He is better than the Christian in the cubicle next to you. Jesus is more forgiving, more sacrificing, more merciful, more generous, more powerful, more real, more understanding, more trustable, and more gracious than you ever imagined.  He is more capable and willing, more freeing and fulfilling. Taste and see (by faith) that the Lord is good, and your expectations will be exceeded. Hunger and thirst no more.

Reconsider. Let Him stand alone on His own nature and merits, and see how you have and never will stand alone. He is with you now.

Taste and see. Believe and receive.

 

 

 

 

Never Give Up

We all have hopes and dreams.

God puts hopes and dreams in our hearts and actually promises to carry out the good work He once begun in us. God puts purpose, plans, hopes and dreams in all of our lives, and then takes the primary responsibility of making them become a reality.

Yet, at times it seems like God is asleep at the wheel in His efforts to move our lives forward.  We go through challenges, times of waiting, and seasons where God seems silent and uninvolved. No one is exempt. If you are facing adversity, experiencing a loss of hope, and wondering if God has given up on you, take comfort in the fact that everybody must take this journey of faith.

Yet, what we believe during these times of waiting, worrying, and wondering is critical to seeing and experiencing God in the midst of it all, and most importantly, making sure we don’t give up.

Here are some important things to believe…

1) God never gives up on you- It’s that simple. God never gives up on you, His faithfulness is forever. No matter how you may feel, God is at work in your life with your best interests at heart. At this moment, it may not all make sense or seem like He is doing much of anything. But God promises that He will never leave your nor forsake you, nor will He stop short of making the very most of your life according to His purposes and plan.

2) God’s dreams for your life lie within you being yourself- The Christian life is best lived by you waking up and living. Be yourself. Trying to be someone else or something you are not will only lead to going in a different direction than God is trying to lead you. God doesn’t need you to become something in order to use you and fulfill dreams, He desires to use you and fulfill dreams right here and now because He has already made you into what He needs you to be. You are a new creation in Christ, lacking no spiritual blessing. Faith is what releases your newly created self for God’s use and the fulfilling of dreams. Don’t give up because you feel you are disqualified or inadequate. Jesus qualifies you and has made you completely adequate! Believe it, receive it, and live it!

3) God will make your life significant- Trust Jesus to do the heavy lifting, door opening, and opportunity bringing. Trying to force your way forward and make things happen will only leave you further behind. Jesus is not interested in spiritual gymnastics, just faith. Trust Jesus to create your influence and significance.  Meditate on God’s word, believe in His goodness for your life and watch your significance increase effortlessly. Trying to make a name and future for yourself is an ultimate expression of evil. It puts your trust in Christ’s performance in the back seat, and your trying and striving to make things happen in the front.

4) God is more interested in your faith than your performance- Don’t concentrate on your failures, shortcomings, and blind spots, Jesus isn’t. If your future hinged on your performance, you wouldn’t have a future.  Faith is what releases God to will and act according to His purposes in your life, not effort. Faith is what brings forward movement, not good works.  God is not punishing you or holding you back because of anything in your past or present.  Jesus paid it all. However, God is interested in your faith. Not perfect, enormous faith. Just faith. Trusting, resting, believing in Him.

5) God’s timing is perfect- Waiting is the hardest part. We feel like giving up often in times of waiting. Find me a person who feels like giving up and you will have found a person who has grown weary of waiting at some level or another. Waiting for things to get better, for things to change, for things to start moving forward etc. We suspect God is on to other things, and perhaps, therefore so should we.

Is there a time to backpedal and take a different course? Perhaps. Give up? Never. That is a card you need to take out of the deck of your life.

Wait as long as it takes. Move only when God moves. His timing is perfect. Trust, rest, and believe. He who began a good work in you WILL carry into completion. He is for you, with you, and ahead of you. Don’t lose heart, nothing is impossible with God.

For more on this subject, enjoy my ebook “Rise Above” downloadable (here).

 

 

How to Have Hot Sexy Sex

One of the vogue things to do in contemporary church world is to give some kind of shock-and-awe type message series dealing with SEX, complete with a highway billboard sign and public relations plan to deal with the controversial nature of the series, usually aimed at drawing a crowd and grabbing attention to a church’s ministry.

Isn’t that what attracted your eye to this article?  Ruh, roh Scooby!

I get the whole desire to “reach people” and be “edgy” and “draw a crowd.” But more and more, I think people are becoming wise to cheesy, spiritual church gimmicks.  Did I just use the words “cheese” and “sex” in the same article? Yikes, my bad!

Obviously, the issue of sex is important to God, and God has a lot to say about it. To be sure, segments of our culture have taken God’s gift of sex and trashed it.  The Church needs to share the Gospel and its relevance to every area of our life, including sex and sexuality.

Yet, at the same time, I wonder if we are selling ourselves short and appearing a bit desperate to our culture when we play the “SEX” card to fill seats, even if we have a side-kick intention to seriously apply God’s counsel to an important issue.

Yes, I am sure for some who have traveled down this road, that their primary intentions were good and well planned, and had every heart and desire to see people reached and lives changed for Christ. Furthermore, I am sure their event or message series may have even been effective and life changing for some. Obviously, no matter what you do, someone will find fault with it. Everybody who knows me, knows I love to push the envelope just as much (if not more) as the next guy.

Finding fault is not the intention here, rethinking our “best practices” perhaps is. Not because we have gone drastically wrong, but because maybe there is room to do better. My humble opinion. This, from a guy who has been known to push things a bit beyond the creativity and controversial limits of what probably would have been more effective, and learned the hard way because out it.

Maybe what is best is to make sure to be “gimmicky-free” in our ministry planning and marketing.  You can be humorous, edgy, and highly attractional without being gimmicky, it just takes a bit more effort, carefulness, and creativity. Who defines when you cross the line? Not me, for sure. But I think common sense and listening to gutt checks can go a long way to discerning well. So often, when we get creative and cavalier, we minimize the voices of common sense that don’t want to crush our ideas, but just craft them a bit for the most potential effectiveness, short-term and long-term.

O.k, that’s it, end of sermon. Oh wait…

So, that you are disappointed… here is how to have HOT SEXY SEX!

1) Get married first

2) Lovingly serve your spouse with respect and humbleness (all the time)

3) Stay loyal and true to your spouse

4) Discover and meet their top emotional needs (highly recommend “His Needs, Her Needs” book)

5) Be open, honest, and show up emotionally

6) Communicate well

7) Take care of your body and appearance

8) Find a Christian counselor to help deal with any deeper issues

9) Do 1-8 consistently and the HOT SEXY SEX will take care of itself.

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.

5 Essentials to Healthy Relationships

Relationships can be complicated, and figuring out how to have healthy ones can be a difficult puzzle to put together.  Obviously there are tons of books written on relationships, but here are 5 essential principals to having healthy, fulfilling relationships.

Become Complete in Christ– Here’s a game changing truth… no one can complete you other than Christ.  The moment we look to relationships to complete us is the moment we are placing an expectation on another that they were not created to nor do they have the capacity to fulfill. Danger Will Robinson, DANGER! Unfortunately, we often approach and carry ourselves in relationships expecting other people to convince us of what we cannot convince ourselves… that we are valuable, important, and worthwhile.  In short, we look to them to complete us and validate our worth.

By being complete in Christ, we are not talking about being perfect, but being assured and convinced of your true identity in Christ. This is a healing to your soul that no other person can accomplish for you. Only God can make you into a new person, and faith is what enables you to believe it. No person can replace nor substitute for the voice from God that must be received by faith that declares who you truly are in Him. Without this identity in Christ and believing it to be true, you will likely turn to human relationships to prop you up and convince you of what you are not convinced. You will operate out of insecurity, uncertainty, and selfishness.

No one can make you happy, complete you, or heal you. They can only share in a happiness you already have, compliment your strengths and weaknesses, and grow with you (not for you or because of you).  Two incomplete people do not make for a complete relationship.

Find your Worth and Value in Jesus

In marriage, a man and woman become one flesh. They are joined at the deepest point of their identities, their souls. Yet their worth and value are not conditioned on the other person. They are two, separately complete persons joined into a complete relationship.

Often times we look to other people to show us how we should feel about ourselves. If they love us, we love us. If they are happy with us, we are happy with us. This is why some people have a hard time being without certain kinds of relationships. They need someone to love them so they can love themselves; to feel good about them, so they can feel good about themselves.  Furthermore, they will do all kinds of unhealthy things in order to get or keep that person in their lives and happy with them. Indeed they have connected the tubes of their identity to the supply of another person. This, as you might guess, is a recipe for relational unhealth.

Relationships work when we are giving to give, not to ultimately receive. We are blessed by what others give us, but when we turn to people for our worth and value, we are trying to satisfy deep needs with things only God can satisfy.

Jesus is more than happy to show you your tremendous and eternal value and worth. He loves you like no other in a way that no other can. Look to Him as your supply, not others, then you will be capable of true love and loving relationships.

Communicate with Openness and Honesty

Nothing sabotages healthy relationships like a lack of openness and honesty. You can’t expect from another what you aren’t willing to express to another.

As a pastor of 18 years, I have counseled hundreds of people in various kinds of relationships. Hands down, when a marriage or friendship is in trouble, 95% of the time in can be traced back to a time when one or both of the persons in the relationship were not being completely open and honest. Things that needed to be said, weren’t said. Boundaries that needed to be asserted, were not asserted. Expectations and disappointments that needed to be communicated, were not communicated. Instead, things were watered down, swept under the carpet, and shoved into the shadows with the false hope… it’s no big deal, things will get better in time, it’s not worth a confrontation, time will heal things.

What’s the result? Bitterness and resentment enter in. Wedges and distance begins to develop. Passive aggressiveness and revenge are given a cause.  And ultimately, the relationship erodes.

Trust God’s Timing

Relationships can’t be rushed. If all you want are disposable, hot and cold, shallow relationships, than by all means, rush ahead. Microwave the heck out of that relationship.  But the truth is, the things that build a healthy relationship can’t be rushed.

I am amazed how the same people who can’t seem to keep their pants on and wait, are the same people who cry foul when the relationship plummets to the ground.  If you are going to build your relationship out of a house of cards, don’t be surprised when even the slightest wind sends it falling to the ground.

Relax. Rest in Jesus. Trust God’s timing, don’t rush to find friendships and relationships just because you look around and compare your life to other people. God knows what’s best for you and when it’s best for you. Stop trying to get people into your life and to be interested in your life.

Remember this, when it comes to relationships, if you rush ahead and try to take it for yourself, don’t be surprised when it slips through your finger. But if you wait and let God give it to you, you can have it forever.

Own Your Blindspots

When it comes to relationships, we are all damaged goods in the sense that we have all been hurt in relationships. It’s hard not to let those memories influence our attitudes and actions within relationships.

The worst thing you can do is try to hide and deny your blindspots. This will surely lead to unhealthy relational behaviors and patterns.

Blindspots are simply areas where we don’t see things clearly or even at all because of past experiences. For example, maybe you have a hard time trusting because you were betrayed, or maybe you feel overly insecure because of some physical abuse that happened in your past.  These kind of spots within your history become blind to us when we aren’t willing to be honest with ourselves about their existence and/or impact on our lives. If you have healed from these experiences, praise God. As a part of your story, you are going to want to be aware of how God has and is using that experience in your life.

We all have areas where you need to grow, don’t live in denial. God’s grace is sufficient for you.  He is not attracted to your strengths, but to your weaknesses. Where you are weak, God is strong. Believe in His favor over you! Trust Him with the dark places of your life, allow Him and trust Him to heal and grow you. Let Him take the wheel of your healing and wholeness. Don’t try to become better, let Him make you brand new!  God wants you to rest in His Grace, and receive His favor. It’s not about your performance, its about His performance on the cross for your behalf!

Being aware of these blindspot areas is critical to partnering with God to having these areas becoming a blessing in your relationships and not a curse. Allow God to love, heal, and forgive you.  Out of that love, grace, and favor, you can truly give to another!

Excuse Me, I Tooted

We adopted our daughter Madelyn from China 7 months ago. She is four years old.  Among other things, we are teaching her how to be polite, saying things like, “thank you,” “please,” and “you’re welcome.”  Like all human beings, Madelyn “toots.”  It’s a gaseous expression that crosses all international lines. No, China toots (we humorously call “Choots”) don’t smell any better or worse than American ones. When she toots, we have taught her to simply say, “excuse me.”

What has been interesting is to notice that Madelyn thinks she needs to say “excuse me” for all her toots, even the ones that make no sound nor give a smell. So, every so often, at random, we will hear Madelyn say “excuse me” for no apparent reason.  Though we are helping her to better know the ins and outs of when to say “excuse me,” she is so genuine and desires to be faithful to the point that she won’t even let a silent, non-odorous toot go by without the response, “excuse me.”  No one would know that anything ever happened except for the moment she says, “excuse me.”

In 1 John 1:9, we read “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 

For most people, they interpret this passage to be directed towards believers.  Therefore, they believe a Christian needs to still confess their sins so that they can be restored to a state and position of righteousness with God.  In their mind, if you don’t confess, you could be in a mess.

Yet, I don’t believe this passage is directed towards believers, but rather to the Gnostic unbelievers the entire book addresses. On the cross, all our sins past, present, and future are put to death, and the moment you receive what Jesus did on the cross for your behalf, that forgiveness and righteousness become yours, always. Asking God to forgive you (as a Christian) is like asking Him to do something He has already done. For the Christian, God desires our belief and trust in His work on the cross for our lives, not on our ability to beg Him to forgive us every time we hiccup. Forgiveness has already taken place, it becomes applied to our lives the moment we believe. You don’t ask for what you believe you already have.  God wants our trust, not our confession tablets.

Does our continued sin grieve the Holy Spirit? Yes. Remove our righteousness, add unforgiven sin to our record, or distance us from God? No. There is a big difference between agreeing with God that we have sinned and confessing it. In fact, the job of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life isn’t to convict us of our sin, but rather to convince us of our righteousness in Christ.

But if you do believe 1 John 1:9 is for believers, then believe it all the way!  Like Madelyn’s understanding of saying “excuse me” every time she toots, every time you make a mistake, have an impure thought, or feel anything bad towards another, you had better be confessing it.  When you are in the mall and you lust at an attractive person, better get confessing. When you are driving and someone cuts you off, better get confessing. When you have a feeling of hatred towards a person, better get confessing. When you are coveting another person’s stuff, better get confessing. When you are playing a sport and you want revenge, better get confessing. When you wish something negative towards your boss, better get confessing. Every secret thought, word, or deed.

If you think about it, there won’t be many moments you have with nothing to confess.  But, if you are going to believe and teach 1 John 1:9 is for the Christian, you need to believe it all the way. Don’t lack authenticity, don’t fall short of integrity, make sure you are doing exactly what it says, because if you don’t, according to your own belief, righteousness will always allude you. And you never know, that one sin you forgot or forget to confess might be the one of which God says at your interview for heaven, “Excuse me, you missed one… hate it for ya”

Making Marriage Work

No, I am not an expert on marriage. No, my marriage isn’t perfect. We have our ups and downs like all couples. Yet, the following principles have served my wife and I in creating a 17 year marriage that is alive and well, having endured times of great adversity and success.

Marriage is a very personal subject, and lots of couple secretly wonder, “how can we make this thing work better, or work at all?” I pray these values will serve your marriage as they are serving ours.

Here’s what’s working for us… (in no particular order)

o.o1 Shared values– There is a difference between shared views and shared values.  No, Amy and I don’t see everything the same way. Yet, there are shared values with which we have unity and base our views. For example, we value a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our faith is a foundational value to our marriage. I can’t imagine not sharing this core value. We value the quality of our family and the giving of our best in the area of parenting. We have many shared values.

We have found that shared values, such as the ones I list in this post, are critical for a healthy marriage. Taking the time to understand and come to a place of unity upon core values is an absolute essential in our book. If marriage is like a house, then having shared, core values as a couple are integral parts of the foundation.  It’s certainly not necessary to see eye to eye on everything, that would be boring! But it is critical to see heart to heart on the essential values that make a marriage thrive. What are the essential values to a great marriage? I am sure there are many, perhaps the ones I share in this post are a good start.

Tip: As a couple, make separate lists of things you would see as critical values for the marriage. Then, come back together and discuss theses values and your views on each one. If there are areas of disagreement, take a couple days to think over that area and come back together to see if there is any room to come closer together towards a shared value.

o.o2 Prayer- For Amy and I, prayer brings us together and enables our burdens to be carried by God and not our relationship. Prayer in marriage can feel very vulnerable and even a bit awkward because you are connecting at the deepest levels. However, the reward of pushing through and taking time to pray together is invaluable. We are not very formal in our prayer life together, we pray together as a spontaneous, natural ebb and flow of our life and family. This way, our children can have glimpses into our prayer life and become a part of it. For us, prayer is not a religious obligation but a relational expression. It’s not governed by length, eloquence, or location, but rather by the heart. It doesn’t have to be long, well said, or formal… just pray.

Tip: Wives, many men are intimidated by praying and fear being shamed by their wives, who are often further along or more open spiritually then they are . Make sure you don’t push too hard, nor criticize his efforts. Applaud and encourage everything you can. 

o.o3 The last 2%- The last 2% is what needs to be said in a relationship but is often the most difficult to say. It’s the complete truth, not just a percentage of it, it’s how you really feel, not just a version of it. In my ministry, almost every couple that comes to me for counseling with serious marriage problems ready for divorce has a traceable path of relationship deterioration that starts with one or both persons not being open and honest about what they are really feeling or thinking. It’s the small, innocent looking crack in the ceiling that over times turns into the roof falling down. It seems at the moment, the best thing to do is to just brush your feelings aside, keep the peace, or hope it will go away, but the reality is, that unwillingness to deal with the last 2% will be what later costs you a 100% of your marriage. Openness and honesty is absolutely critical for a healthy, thriving marriage. Full disclosure, even if it makes things temporarily worse instead of better, is an essential value for a working marriage.

Tip: Ask your spouse, “What is the one thing you really want to say to me but are afraid it might hurt me or cause tension in our relationship.”  Once it is spoken, make a commitment to deal with whatever is shared with the goal of building the relationship.  If a very serious issue is revealed, push the pause button on the conversation and seek out a professional, Christian counselor to help you work through it. Any marriage can handle anything when you apply the counsel of God.

o.o4 Constant check ins- Valuing and monitoring the health of your marriage is vital. One of the things that serves our marriage and continues to be invaluable is the reality that we are constantly checking in with each other to make sure we are on the same page, we are connected with each others lives, and our marriage is going well. Someone needs to take the lead in monitoring the condition of your marriage. In our marriage, this has been a natural role for me as I have a strong gifting in discernment. If you were to look into our marriage, you would hear us on a consistent basis asking each other questions like, “How are we doing?” “Are you happy with us?” “So, what do you think of _______?” “Is there anything we need to talk about?” “How are we going to handle __________?” etc. Included in these check-ins are frequent conversations about our parenting, finances, future plans, hopes and dreams, expectations, and struggles. We want to make sure as much as possible we are on the same page on the front side of issues, not the back. Can’t tell you how much this pays off.

Tip: Perhaps schedule a couple times each week where you “check in” with each other where the only rule of the conversation is, “anything can be discussed, anything can be asked”  Make sure the conversation deals with monitoring the health of the relationship. 

o.o5 Family first- I am amazed at how many couples want to either fix or improve their marriage, but want to spend very little if any time doing it.  Time is the oxygen of a marriage. If you don’t have enough of it, the marriage will choke and all your efforts to make it work.  Amy and I are both very busy people, but we are committed to making sure that our marriage and family have enough time together to thrive. The amount of time needed will be different for most couples and will vary depending on what season of your marriage you are in. However, many problems in a marriage start because there isn’t enough time for necessary aspects of the relationship to take place.  Romance takes time, talking through issues takes time, relaxing with each other takes time, planning the future takes time, saying what needs to be said takes time, enjoying each others company takes time.  For many couples, the issue behind the issues is time. We don’t talk because there isn’t enough time for conversations to ebb and flow, we don’t hang out together, because there isn’t enough time.  Our sex life isn’t healthy because there isn’t enough time for all the nuances that give it life.

For Amy and I, our family comes first… period. I believe a man’s resume’ is his home. As a pastor, my most important ministry is to my wife and kids. Marriage is defined by what you say “yes” and “no” to. What you say “yes” and “no” to is governed by your priorities and values. Everybody has a plan for your marriage and family, the question is, do you?

Tip: As a couple, evaluate how you are spending your time. Maybe even make a list of the things that get the majority of your time and attention. Then check to see how much time is being utilized exclusively  for your marriage. What you discover might be very telling. 

o.o6 Standing guard- Your marriage is a gift from God, and all gifts need to be protected. There are real forces at work in the world that want to divide you and your spouse. Don’t be nieve, you were married into a war, not a vacation.

Every couple should be on the lookout to identify things that are potentially eroding the relationship. The moment you think it can’t happen to you is the moment you are most vulnerable.  Success can be just as much of a threat as hardship. Good times can be just as much of a threat as bad. You children (how you handle them) can become a threat to your marriage. Money issues, stress, extended family, health, tragedy, careers, friendships, church, all can become threats to your marriage. Many things that can appear to be innocent can easily turn into things that compromise the health of your marriage.

Becoming an overreactive alarmist in your marriage is not going to be a positive things, but keeping watch with the health of your marriage as a top priority, will be.

Tip: Have a discussion as a couple asking three questions, 1) Where are you individually most vulnerable to temptation? 2) In what area is our marriage most vulnerable? 3) If Satan where going to attack our marriage, where in our marriage would he have the best chance at being successful.

o.o7 Integrity- Sometimes when you look under the hood of a marriage that isn’t working, you will find one or both of the persons in the relationship doing stupid things. Some of these things may be discovered to even be sinful in nature.  It’s hard to put bad things into a relationship and expect good to come out of it.

At times when I talk to couples, I become amazed at how many of them speak of secrets they have from their spouse, sketchy things they do that seem to them to be of no big deal, and habits that are sure to be eroding and not building the relationship.  Sometimes I just want to ask, “are you stupid?”  Unfortunately, when many people go to the well of how to act in a marriage, they draw from the negative or absent example of their parent’s relationship.  Often, instead of breaking unhealthy cycles, we end up repeating them.

Integrity in marriage means… taming your tongue, applying self control to your emotions, staying faithful to the relationship emotionally and physically (for men this means controlling your eyes, for women this means guarding your heart), not getting lazy, taking responsibility, saying what you mean and meaning what you say, keeping your promises, being open and honest, and being a trustable kind of person.

Tip: As a couple, make a list of things each are doing that is building the relationship, then make a list of things that are seen as not building the relationship. Discuss.

o.o8 Marriage Purpose- As a couple, we believe God has brought us together to serve each other and to serve God in a unique way together. We see our marriage as a ministry to each other and to the world. What we can accomplish together as a marriage and family is a vital part of our lives. I have my own personal ministry, Amy has her own, but we also have great things for God we are pursuing together that we couldn’t do a apart.

As a couple, you are either growing together, or you are growing apart, there is no in between. Discovering and pursuing the things God has for you to become and do as a couple goes a long way towards ensuring you will be growing together.  Take time to ask, “what has God called “us” to do “together” to change the world?” That will be one of the most powerful questions and conversations you will ever have in your marriage.

Tip: As the question of your marriage, “Other than for ourselves and for our children, why has God brought us together?” 

These are some of the values that have served our marriage, what values are serving your?

Taking the Bite out of Betrayal

Betrayal bites. Of all the plots Satan can work into a relationship, betrayal is the worst. At the heart of betrayal is broken trust. Whether it be in the form of an affair, lies, gossip, backstabbing, or walking away from a relationship, betrayal in essence involves the breaking of trust.  You trusted the person to be, do, or carry out something and they did not. Most of the time, betrayal has a deliberate essence to it. Sometimes it is even premeditated.

Unfortunately, trust is not as highly valued as it should be. People make all kinds of promises that they can’t or refuse to keep. They do what they want to do, when they want to do it, and how they want to do it with very little if any concern for its relational effect. Then, they expect this flippant attitude and behavior to be rewarded with trust.  We are truly a disposable, consumer minded society that has placed a high value on convenience to the point where even relationships, commitment, and trust are scene as expendable. Like a membership at a YMCA, we seem to value relationships as far as they serve our needs and a better opportunity doesn’t present itself. Once a relationship stops serving our needs, all bets are off. Not a pleasant reality, but sadly a true one.

Yet, trust takes much time and relational travel to establish, but people expect it to happen over night. Trust should be treasured and built patiently over time.  It’s not instant, nor is it disposable.  Furthermore, it is the product of a relationship going through ups and down together and passing the tests of trust.

With a growing disregard for authority, friendships, integrity, and trust, betrayal has become common place and basically expected. What God hates, Satan has made predictable… betrayal.

So, what is a person to do with this issue of betrayal? Unfortunately it can’t be completely prevented, but here is some wisdom that can guide you in taking the bite out of betrayal.

o.o1 Acknowledge the Hurt – Trying to play the tough guy (or girl) through betrayal is not healthy. Betrayal is gut-wrenching. Make sure you don’t try to bury the anger you have.  Take time to express your hurt to God and perhaps a close friend with whom you can trust. The more you stow it, the more is festers and grows.

o.o2 Retrace the Steps – Typically, betrayal doesn’t happen overnight. Furthermore, what may feel like betrayal could have a very legitimate explanation. To be sure, it will be difficult at best to put together the puzzle of events that led to the betrayal, but doing your best to understand what led to it will help you process it and move forward with appropriate emotions and actions.

o.o3 Learn to Exit Well – Betrayal sometimes occurs when people don’t know how to leave or deal with a situation or relationship. Instead of handling it with clear, direct communication, they hide in the shadows only to make their choices known through others or with no explanation at all. In some circumstances, people will find excuses to exit stage left and use blame to legitimize the guilt they feel in leaving your side. In other circumstances, they will make decisions that force your hand in confronting them and setting boundaries so that they don’t have to take responsibility for the decline or dissolving of the relationship. In essence, they make you say “no” so they don’t have to. This is of course very hurtful, but also serves as a good lesson on how not to do the same to another.

I imagine that Judas discovered early on that there became a point where he no longer supported the cause and/or claims of Christ. But rather then handle that with direct and clear communication, he betrayed Jesus. Add into the mix some greed, bitterness, and temptation and you can begin to retrace the steps of Judas’ exit stage left from the side of Jesus.

o.o4 Reenter with Caution – Betrayal doesn’t always mean the end.  For example, I have seen many couples overcome the worst of affairs and rebuild their marriage stronger than ever.  However, anytime there has been a betrayal, giving back trust and moving towards reconciliation should be done with care and caution. Forgiveness only takes one person, trust and restoration always takes two. Developing discernment and having a healthy relational radar system can go a long way at preventing betrayal.

o.o5 Let God get Justice- When we are betrayed it’s easy to desire revenge. Even when we are at no fault and justified in our anger, revenge is not a good thing.  When it comes to betrayal, trying to even the score will always end up in losing the game.  Does this mean you should not confront the person or seek measures of appropriate discipline or boundaries? No. But it does mean that any actions taken should not be authored from a spirit of revenge.  Aside from any appropriate confrontation or discipline, let God take care of the issues of justice and revenge. He can handle it, we can’t.

0.o6 Don’t Give Up on Trust- There are a lot of good, trustable people out there with whom you can have a betrayal free relationship. Take time to develop trust. Trust can’t be rushed. People who won’t take the time and do the work to build trust probably won’t value it nor protect it once you give it.  There is a difference between being careful and being distrusting. Be careful, but don’t assume that people aren’t trustable.

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