Month: January 2014

10 Relationship and Leadership Standards to Live By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Respect Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s some practical things respecting yourself will mean…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you add to this list?

Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love (Part 6)

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5- 2 Corinthians 5:10 

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

At first glance, this passage might appear to be stating that like it is with Santa so to it is with God, you better “watch out” and “think twice,” because you may be in danger of some severe discipline and consequences if you don’t behave nice. Fortunately, that is not the true meaning of this passage.

Thankfully, for the Christian, what this passage is referring to is not our salvation, but our rewards in heaven. Second, what’s at stake in this passage are “rewards,” not punishment. Where some Christians may want to use this passage to influence you into living a “do good” life out of fear and a desire to get the best out of heaven that is offered, that is not the message of this passage.

In fact, we already know that without faith, nothing we do can please the Lord. Any of our striving efforts that try to appease God, justify ourselves, or earn His favor are not going to be rewarded. The only behavors that are “good” and that please the Lord are actiongs that come from a foundation of rest as you trust in His goodness for your Godliness. It is this trust that enables us to fully and accurately understand who we are and what we have in Him, and thus allows God to do “good” through us. For the Christian, the true essence of the judgement seat of Christ is that God rewards us for the work He actually does in and through us . He does the work, through our faith, and He credits it to our rewards-account in heaven. Now that is Grace!

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Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love (Part 5)

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4- James 2:14-26

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.  (Jas. 2:14-26)

So here we come to the passage many Christians use to justify the notion that you need to show your Christian faith to be genuine by living a life of doing more and becoming more for Jesus. And even then, you can’t be quite sure when you have done enough. Some have wrongly said that Paul preached Grace and James (the writer in this passage) preached “works,” and so our job as Christians is to balance the two in our lives. The legalist and religious love to use this passage to pressure and frighten people into all kinds of Christian activities and pursuits.

Yet, here again, a passage like this can appear to say a lot of things and be used to further a lot of agendas if a proper understanding of the context is not gained. Often times, we read into scripture our own experiences instead of allowing scripture to define them.

There are very important contextual and linguistic issues that greatly affect a proper understanding of this passage, they are the following…

a) James is writing to an exclusively Jewish audience

b) James makes a clear description of what “dead” faith looks like, and it’s not about a Christian’s performance.

c) James never says that a person is the one who produces or is responsible for producing “works.”

See, James is not talking about a genuine Christian’s performance, but rather, what he or she possesses and where it comes from.

Let’s break it down. First, what separated the Jews from the surrounding nations was their monotheistic belief in one God.  So there were many  Jews who thought that they were saved or justified simply because they grew up around a belief system rooted in the belief in the God of Abraham. They believed in one God in terms of a religious, intellectual conclusion. Thus, the Jews that James is addressing were unbelieving believers. They had a mental grasp of Yahweh and perhaps even Jesus, but not a trust in God for their salvation and lives. This is not faith, nor true belief. Thus, James points out this is not “saving” faith, nor is it any better than what the demons conclude.

Now here’s the kicker. Since it is not genuine faith, God is not working in and through their lives. The Holy Spirit is not in them, so fruits are not being produced by the Holy Spirit. They didn’t possess true faith in Christ, and thus, they won’t possess any works of God in and through them that give external evidence to genuine faith. Faith is what releases God to work in and through our lives. No faith, no works.

See, the “works” James is referring to are never described as works that a person is producing, rather they are works that the person possesses as God wills and acts according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), because of their faith. In fact, James reasserts that it was in fact Abraham’s “faith” that was the foundation from which righteousness and works emerged in his life.

People who hold to the Gospel of God’s Grace do not believe that “works” will not be present in a genuine Christian’s life. Rather, they assert that these “works” come from a foundation of Grace through faith. They are the sole result of God working in and through us because of faith, not us performing, striving, and trying from a foundation of effort. Big, huge difference.

This passage in  the book of James does not topple the foundation of Grace through faith, it affirms it. James is simply saying, if you have true faith, you will see works. Not because you produce them through your religious striving, trying, and efforts, but because your faith releases God to work in and through you. You will “possess” works, not perform them by your striving, trying, and effort. That’s why for James, faith and works are inseparable, if you possess one, you will possess the other, not by your efforts, but by Christ working in and through you.

It doesn’t matter which appears to the eye first, works or faith, they both point to the same thing; not the person, but Jesus working in and through the person through their faith. The foundation is always faith, no matter which appears on the screen first.

In fact, when we try to produce works ourselves for any purpose, especially justifying ourselves and our merit, we are becoming the very evil, religiously-spirited person Jesus admonished. Because of the Gospel, we don’t have to become better or do better, we get to be better and do better. All because of Jesus. This is the foundation shift the New Covenant brings. Everything now is by Grace through faith, where in the Old Covenant everything was by condition through personal obedience (performance). There can be no mixture or balance of the two (Old and New Covenants), and certainly this is not the pursuit for which James is calling.

What James is stating by his description of “works” in this passage is not a condition of salvation or an appeal to become a performance driven Christian, never!  Rather, it is a beautiful description of “works” being a manifestation of salvation, and those works being not from our efforts, but through God willing and acting in our lives.

keep reading… Part 6

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Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love (Part 4)

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3- Philippians 2:12

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…” 

See, I told you this Grace stuff was too good to be true, it says it right here. Jesus wants you fearing, trembling, and working your tail off as a Christian doing the right things and not doing the wrong things. See, God does His part, but we need to do our part.

Well, that may be what some might want you to believe about the Christian life and the meaning of this passage, but that is not the Gospel truth, nor the true meaning of this passage. As you will see, once again, this is not a passage that is appealing to your performance, but to your faith.

The issues really hinges on what it means to “work” in the Christian life. For many people, they assume it means to get busy, try hard, roll up your sleeves, and accomplish some thing for Jesus. Become the best you, you can be and do the most good you can do.  The concept of “work” in our Christian culture is action and performance driven. Yet, is this the concept of “work” used here and many other places in scripture? Is this the kind of Christian life Paul was admonishing?  I think not.

Jesus said it best Himself… “Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:29)

Truly doing the work of God is to “believe.” It is a matter of faith. This is the essence behind the use of the word “work” in this passage and many others. The “work” being referred to hear is not a matter of striving and trying to do more good things and show that your faith is genuine through “Christian” works. This is not about performing more or better as a Christian. Rather it’s about exercising your faith, focusing your beliefs and trust on Jesus.

This understanding of the concept of “work” is in harmony with the context of Philippians as Paul said the following only a verse later…

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil. 2:13)

Paul understood, faith is what releases God to work in and through you. Our job is to believe, His job is to will and act in our lives.

One of the ways we tune our faith into Jesus (work) is by renewing our mind as we change our beliefs and focus. As we focus on His mercy, Grace, favor and provision, God’s work flows in and through us effortlessly.

To work out your own salvation is not to “work on” your salvation. In Christ, you all ready have everything you need for life and living. No, rather “working out your salvation” is growing into who you are and what you already have in Him as you focus your beliefs and trust onto Him and His Gospel of Grace. It’s not about doing anything, but believing everything you are and have in Him. It is this faith that releases God to work in and through you. His movement becomes yours, His promptings become your actions, all from a foundation of Grace, not striving and trying.

The work of God is to believe in Jesus, proclaim the Gospel, and be His Grace to the world. It is simply to believe in Jesus and be who you already are in Him. It’s not a life of effort, striving, and trying. It’s a life of resting and believing, which releases the movement of God in and through you. To rest is to believe. Resting is not inaction, rather, it’s the only foundation from which God acts and the only foundation from which any action you take can please God.

So what’s with the whole “fear and trembling” thing? Is about living with one eye open as you wonder if you have done enough and become enough for God? Is it a sense of, “you better make sure you got enough Jesus-notches on your belt, or else God might lower the boom?” Not it all, nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the last couple years, Amy and I have adopted two children from China, in addition to our two other biological children. In order to do so, we had to fly extensively in airplanes, ironically, one of the things we feared doing the most.  Especially during our first adoption, there were many moments where when we thought about all the flying, we didn’t want to do it. No way, no how! Why? Amy and I were afraid. In fact, there were two or three flights that had us both in “fear and trembling.”

Paul felt the same way about going to Corinth:

“And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” (1 Cor 2:1-3)

Amy and I didn’t want to fly, Paul didn’t want to go Corinth. Why? Fears.

Taking steps of faith can bring feelings of fear and trembling. This is the “obedience of faith,” and the “labor to enter into that rest” spoken of in the New Testament. The work of God is to believe even when you are shaking in your boots while getting on a plane for 15 hours flying around the world. It’s not about your performance, it’s about your faith. It’s about renewing your mind as you focus on the loveliness of Jesus and all that you are and have in Him. Faith often leads us into moments where we just might have a bit of “fear and trembling” as we live to put our faith and trust solely in Him as He moves in and through our lives.

keep reading… Part 5

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Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love (Part 3)

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2- Hebrews 10:26-31

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left. (Heb 10:26)

So, here we are again, in the book of Hebrews, and so often what people want to make an issue of sin, the book of Hebrews (and Bible) makes as an issue of belief. The religious will always opt to make the issue their performance (and yours) instead of trusting in Christ’s performance.

That’s why religious people love to use this passage to suggest that if you are saved (a Christian), but you keep on knowingly sinning, you might as well stick a fork in you, because you are done. Fried, cooked, and battered.

Well, let’s do a little self examination? How many of you who are Christians have ever deliberately sinned since you were saved? Hmmm… that would be all of us. And even if it were just once, what is the cut off number? Is it 1 deliberate sin, 3 deliberate sins, 5 or more, 10 or more and your out?

Other religious people love to use this passage to present a “balanced” view of God. He may be a God of Grace, but He is also a God of judgement. Meaning, He may love and extend mercy to you, but if you screw up too much or have a bad month in the performance department, you are going to see the judgement side of God. One moment you can be His child, the next He may orphan you, it all depends on how you behave. They make God into a conflicted entity, He loves you unconditionally, with conditions. In one hand He waves for you to come to Him, while with His other hand, He slaps you in the face.

Furthermore, many false interpretations like the ones I describe above are mixed with nuggets of truth. Yes, God does judge, but the interpretation is wrong. God does judge you, but not based on your performance, but based on His son’s performance on the cross, received through faith. See, it’s not an issues of your sin or actions, it’s an issue of your belief.

Besides, how could Hebrews 10:26-31 be an eternal warning against sinning for the Christian, when just a chapter early, the same writer says in Hebrews 9:26 that Christ appeared once for all “to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself?” So, is Jesus’ work on the cross a finished work or isn’t it? The good news is that Jesus is the once and final solution for sin. Because of Jesus, God chooses to remember our sins no more. There is no mixture, there is no balance. God is love and His Gospel is Grace. Did God go soft on sin, your sin? No way. His son Jesus took it all upon Himself. Nothing soft about the cross!

So what is Hebrews 10:26 all about?

Well, once again, as with Hebrews 6:4-6, this passage is addressing those who are unbelievers who refuse to believe in the Gospel of Grace. They have heard the truth, the Gospel of Grace, but they deliberately sin by their unbelief and rejection of Jesus. There is no other sacrifice for sin other than Jesus, He is the only solution. There is no other provision, no other Name under heaven.

For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. (Heb 4:2)

Yet, I believe there is also a warning here in Hebrews 10:26-31 to believers who mix Law and Gospel.

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Heb 10:39)

Some people hear the Gospel of God’s grace and shrink back. They cannot completely believe it. “It’s too good to be true,” “I’d better cover my backside by doing some good works.” “God has done His part, but I had better do my part.”

That’s where things get sketchy and dangerous.

“You cannot cover yourself. This is idol-worship. You are elevating yourself to co-savior with Christ. You are insulting the Spirit of grace by trying to pay for what God has already given you. This is why sermons that put the emphasis on you and your performance are dangerous. Don’t buy into any message that purports to give you a list of keys or steps that will help you achieve/accomplish/appropriate what you already have. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and the sweat of men to take away sins and it is faithless to strive for what you already have (every good thing!).”  – Paul Ellis

In these passages (Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26-31), sin is not the variable, faith is.

keep reading… Part 4

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Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love (Part 2)

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1- Hebrews 6:4-6 

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Heb 6:4-6)

Like all the passages we will be dealing with, if you wear the lenses of performance-driven, rules-keeping, Law-mixing Christianity, this could be a frightening scripture. It sounds like your salvation hinges on your behavior. Do good, be good, don’t drink, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls that do, but back-slide and your out-of-here, game over. Sizzling in the eternal barbecue pit way down under.

The question, is as always, a matter of context. Don’t get the context right, and you can make a “con” out of the text. So, what is the context, is this speaking to believers or unbelievers?

If it’s speaking to believers, there is a huge interpretive problem. The Bible is so clear, in the work of your salvation, the moment you believed you received a completely new nature. You became a new creation, reborn from above. As a Bible writer John puts it “born of God.”  You are the righteousness of Christ, a child of the living God. Your identity is not based on your performance. Just because we act contrary to our nature or identity, does not me our identity or nature has changed, nor God’s promises to us and His affections for us.

Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)

The phrase “be holy” is not an instruction for improving your performance, rather,  it’s an admonition to be who you truly are. Be holy, because you are, in truth, holy.

“We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus once for all” (Heb 10:10).

So, to unborn your rebirth, to undo what Jesus did to you, to unholy your holiness is impossible. Once you’re born, you’re born, it’s a no brainer! To assert that you can lose your salvation, that you can undo what God has done, is like saying that God makes mistakes and His finished work is flawed and unfinished. Thankfully, He doesn’t make mistakes, and His finishing work on the cross isn’t flawed.

So, who is this passage addressing?  You got it, unbelievers. It is addressing those who have heard the Gospel of God’s Grace, tasted His goodness and mercy, seen the light of His love, experienced His presence, and even have perhaps changed their minds (repented) about who Jesus is, but yet at the end of the day, they have refused to believe and trust in His Gospel of Grace. They like Judas, have hardened their heart and refused to receive His strength for their weaknesses. They have fallen away in disbelief and pride, rejecting the Grace that is so sufficient for their every need. They have landed on preferring a do it yourself, religious approach to God, instead of His Grace.

As it says in Galatians 5:4…  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

Hardening your heart to the Gospel of Grace, as this debated passage describes (Hebrews 6:4-6) is indeed, a dangerous thing.

keep reading… Part 3

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Top 5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

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Mixing is for Gin not the Gospel

Most Christians and Christian leaders love the concept of God’s Grace, but up to a point. As long as it’s mixed with what they would say is a “balancing” bit of Law (religious rules you obey) they are more than willing to cozy up to “Grace.” So, what has happened is that when it comes to salvation and the Christian life, “Grace” is seen as a kind of partner or side-kick within the Gospel. It’s seen as the softer aspect of God that tips our hat to His loving side. Conversely, the Law is seen as what makes sure people clean up their acts, do religious things, hunger for more “to do steps and strategies” and take sin seriously.  That’s why when you present God’s Grace in its purity (without the Law), typically, all bets are off as some Christian leaders become afraid of what they would call, “too much Grace.”

Yet, the Gospel is either all Grace or it’s all Law, there can be no mixture (balance) of a little bit of Grace and a little bit of Law. In fact, the Bible makes dramatic separations and distinctions between the two. A couple, among many examples…

Romans 6:14 …because you are not under the law, but under grace.

John 1:17  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 5:4  For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.

The pure Gospel of God’s Grace (a term Paul used in Acts 20:24) has always brought a stirring of criticism among the religiously spirited. I should know, I was one of them. Thankfully, God captured my heart and changed my mind about who He is, who I am, and the Gospel of His Grace.

I suspect there are many Christians who don’t even realize how much of what they have been taught and believe is contrary to the Gospel. I certainly didn’t. Like many unknowing Christians and spiritual leaders, my heart was in the right place, but my beliefs were not. As a pastor of 18 years, I did not realize (until a couple years ago) how much of my teaching, preaching and counsel actually placed people in bondage instead of the freedom I (and God) desired for them. When it came to the Gospel, I was so close, yet so far away.

So, what is the pure Gospel of Grace? In simple terms it is this…

The Gospel

We are all born sinners in a broken world. Everything about our lives has en expiration date on a pathway to death. In the Garden of Eden, our lives were forever changed as our first parents chose selfishness and distrust over faith in God.  Sin and death became realities and it’s shrapnel has penetrated everything, breaking our fellowship with God.  What God intended for our lives and living was poisoned through and through.Without an act of pure Grace, all of humanity in its sinful brokeness was destined for death, spiritually, emotionally, and physically as our best efforts could never repair our broken relationship with God and the depraved nature of our lives and living begun at the fall of Adam and Eve.

Yet, despite all of this. God is love, and God loves you perfectly, completely, and unconditionally, no matter who you are or what you have done or are doing. So much that He sent His son Jesus, fully God and fully man to die for your sins, and all of humanity. On the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the brokeness of all creation, including you. In His death and resurrection, Jesus put your sins to death and gave you His life. A new covenant was put into place where Jesus’ performance on the cross becomes your righteousness, holiness, and salvation. It is no longer about performing to get to God (as it was in the Old Testament), but God’s performance on the cross to get to you. His life becomes your life. His identity becomes your identity. The redemptive work in your life was completed, completely. You became a new person in Christ, a new creation in fact. Your sins, past, present, and future were all forgiven once and for all. It is no longer your nature to sin (though we still do), your old nature was crucified with Jesus on the cross. Sin no longer defines you, Jesus defines you. You old self died, you new self was reborn. You have the mind of Christ. You are a partaker of the divine nature, lacking no spiritual blessing. You are in fact, the righteousness of Christ, with no condemnation over your life whatsoever. You are not only a son (or daughter), but a king and priest in the Kingdom of God. As He is (seated at the right hand of God) so are you in this world. God’s favor and Grace are forever over your life.

All of this, Jesus provided and accomplished on the cross on your behalf, and that of the whole world. The moment you believe in who Jesus is and what He did, you receive it all. Done deal. We are saved by Grace through faith.

Now, it is no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you, and as you. The same Grace that saved you is the same Grace that sustains and sanctifies you. The Christian life is about growing into who you already are in Christ. Your part is to realize you have no part, only to believe. That’s why this growth happens through faith, not your efforts. You cannot produce spiritual fruit in your life, only bear the fruit God produces.  It’s no about striving and trying to be a better person, it’s rather about believing you already are a better person and living from that identity. It’s not about shame, guilt, punishment and religious rule keeping as you live a life focused on sin and your obedience. That system of living was canceled on the cross, at the moment of His resurrection, a new system was ushered in by Jesus Himself. It’s a life of complete and ever present forgiveness, freedom, peace, and rest as you focus on Jesus and His mercy, favor, and performance in your life, not yours. It’s an obedience of faith, not of actions. It’s a life of living from His Grace, in His Grace, to be Grace to others.

This is the Gospel.

So What’s The Beef?

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it?  Yet, what sounds like true love, freedom, and life, to the religious sounds like heresy! The Gospel can’t be that good. Give people Grace and they will just sin more. Besides, how are we going to be able to manage people? You are going too soft on sin, and what about repentance! Repentance, repentance, repentance! If we don’t give people something to work on, strive for, and do, how can we keep them coming and interested in church? God does His part, but we have to do our part, or else.

A Quick Clarification

Now, let me be clear with you. There are various variations of what people believe about the Gospel of Grace. So, if you couldn’t tell from my explanation of the Gospel written above, let me be sure you know what I am not… I am not a Calvinist nor a Universalist. I don’t believe God predestined, through what they call “irresistible Grace,” to regenerate some and not others so that some believe, but others do not, thus having some go to heaven and others to Hell. How that is considered Grace, I will never know. Yet, I am also not a Universalist who believes all are going to heaven, whether they really want to or not. I find both these systems of beliefs not congruent with how I understand the Gospel. I love my Calvinist and Universalist friends, by I respectfully don’t agree with them.

5 Passages Religious “Anti-Grace” People Love

That said, there are many people who are against and critical of the Gospel of God’s Grace as I (and others) understand it. They call it “hyper-grace,” cheap Grace” and a host of other names. And, they line up their Bible passages to refute it. Here are the top 5 passages (not in any particular order) they use and an explanation of how these passages in fact, do not refute the message of the Gospel of God’s Grace. One of the blessings of believing the Gospel of Grace is that it transforms the way you read the Bible. You realize that God is not in the bait and switch business of drawing you in with love only to blast you with Law. No, He is love from top to bottom and inside and out, and He perfectly loves you. When you see this you will no longer become frightened or confused when you read passages like those listed below.

keep reading… Part 2

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