Wednesday, August 9, 2017
Comparisons are inevitable! In our culture, we have become quite astute at comparison shopping, and not just in the grocery store. We compare ideas, people, achievements, religions, politics, opinions about everything under the sun, our circumstances with the circumstances of others, and a mind numbing, endless array of other stuff in life! And our society enables a competitive, comparison based mindset. Decisions are often made only after a tireless process of comparing possible outcomes, pros & cons, and the plethora of ways it could potentially effect US personally. With the overwhelming deluge of information, marketing, celebrity endorsement of products, and tantalizing teases of fantasy living that prey upon our insecurities, it’s a wonder we even get out of bed in the morning! It’s EXHAUSTING to filter through it all!
Now let me interject here, that some comparisons are wise, and can certainly go a long way to helping us make healthy and beneficial choices in life. Many comparisons; however, can lead us on a downward spiral into an abyss of self loathing, insecurity, and perpetual identity crises.
When it comes to discovering purpose, significance, and personal identity, comparison is destructive and toxic to the human heart. We are constantly bombarded with “ideals”! The ideal man does THIS. The ideal woman wears THAT. The ideal child has to have ALL THESE THINGS, listen to THIS music, and do THESE activities. The ideal teenager has to hang out HERE, have THIS technology, drive THIS car, and hang with THAT crowd. And it never stops! It’s on every commercial, every magazine, every billboard—everywhere you look! The ideal life is defined by a million superficial criteria. And yet NONE of them truly defines who we were created to be. As a Christ follower, your identity, your destiny, and your “true” success were already decided and determined before you ever achieved ANYTHING or impressed ANYONE with your talents and abilities! What security! That reality—when it “sinks in” to our thick skulls—helps us look at and live life as the gift it is, instead of a competition! I can speak of this as one who is just now beginning to break out of the prison of “comparative existence” that I have lived in for most of my life! I’m by no means an expert who has a resume’ filled with years of living practically in this reality! I guess you could say, relative to this issue, I’m a “late bloomer”…..or simply a “bloomin’ idiot”—whatever you wanna call it.
In Christ, we do not have to live life IN ORDER TO BE, but BECAUSE WE ARE! We no longer need to be motivated by being better than or more significant than another, because in the eyes and heart of Love Himself we are perfect, inimitable, and we have a unique God-given significance that is unrivaled by anyone! What a freedom! And I am starting to see glimpses of this reality work its way into every aspect of my life! Yeah, I wish I had a pill I could take that would activate this reality INSTANTLY into my every word, thought, and action, but my life IS a process— a journey of discovery, revelation, growth, and understanding the heart of Love Himself! And to me, HIS opinion of my process, and the speed at which it is progressing is the ONLY one that matters anymore. And at each juncture of my journey, I am seeing my original purpose, and identity take an increasingly greater and more tangible space in my life! The more free you become from comparison living, the more focused you start to be on being able to live within YOUR purpose. You start to relax into “your skin”. You start being able to appreciate others, and what gifts THEY are and have—even when those gifts are similar to yours! As I write this, I’m really expressing many of these words “in faith”. I’m not all the way there, but I AM on the journey there!
When you compare yourself to someone else, the focus ceases to be about what Love has made you to be, and is doing in YOU, and instead, your attention becomes fixated on living up to a “standard” of performance or achievement that has nothing to do with YOUR destiny! In a sense, you begin playing a part in a scene of a story that was not written for you. What a waste of time!
I have often found myself fighting for the approval of others, and validation of my gifts, and feeling totally worthless when I didn’t receive that. How sad that people can reach the place of living life on the fuel of outside affirmation instead of resting in the reality of complete validation from the only ONE who matters—the creator—Love Himself.
I find it incredibly encouraging when I consider the story of Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, His story leaves roughly an 18-year “gap” between the time He was left in the temple by His parents, and the time when John the Baptist recognized Him at a public baptismal. He was around 30 years old at the time, and at least according to the information we have, had yet to begin his public “ministry” or “life purpose”. And yet, at His baptismal, the heavens opened, and His Father, God, (in a Charlton Heston voice, no doubt) proclaimed “THIS IS MY SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED!” What?!?!?! Jesus hadn’t recorded even one miracle yet, hadn’t even raised a dead chicken, much less an actual person! He hadn’t even started his impressive “water walking” gig yet! NOTHING, ZILCH, NADA!!!! And yet, He was PERFECTLY AFFIRMED and APPROVED by His Father!!!! Not because of what He did, but because of WHO HE WAS!!!!! He didn’t compare Himself with other prophets or teachers. (I mean He WAS the best, right? Who’s gonna argue that?….but I digress) Even the religious people were always throwing up in His face….MOSES said this, MOSES said that, MOSES did this! They LOVED to compare! He was never in competition with anyone, and repeatedly reiterated that He only did what He saw His Father do—His original validation and purpose! And now…..in Christ, WE are validated, affirmed, and full of purpose! I’m diggin’ that reality!
So, ignore the comparisons! Don’t let ANYONE else define you! It’s great to have the assurance that “He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust” (human). He knows us—ups & downs, good & bad, when we’re great or when we suck—and He is STILL “well pleased” with us! What an incredible revelation! Our questions, mess ups, poor performances, and frustrations are safe with Him—condemnation-free! 2 Corinthians 10:12 offers such sound counsel, and encourages us to keep our attention on who we are, and what our unique purpose is in Christ…. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
Now I’ll be the first to say, affirmation from others and recognition of my talents and gifts can be pretty encouraging, but always remember, you don’t need to be noticed for how good you sing, play, write, work, speak, or whatever, to be completely valued, affirmed, and full of purpose! YOU ARE ALREADY!!! Not because of what you do or how good you do it, but BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE…and WHOSE you are! YES! See you along the road! Journey on!
Sunday, August 6, 2017
I have often fallen victim to paralysis from analysis. Even my best friend told me recently, “you think too much.” If that is possible, then I guess It’s probably true, sadly. My whole life, i’ve been so competitive and driven. But some time back, I had a “eureka” moment when I realized that all my competitive insanity and unrealistic standards that I had set for myself were NOT about me becoming the best that I could be in order to live a more fruitful and productive life. No, it had become about me being the most approved, validated, and accepted person I could be in the eyes of others. When that reality kicked me in the butt, I was left with a colorful plethora of emotions—embarrassment, anger, frustration, and sadness.
How could I have been such a needy, insecure, confused twit all these years!? After working through the initial feelings of self loathing and regret, I realized something. At the foundation of who I was, there was faulty construction. Much of what I had built my identity on was grossly miscalculated and disfigured. This was setting quite the “crooked” course and mis-aligned direction for the rest of my life. At some point, there would HAVE to be significant alterations in my foundational “life view”. Wouldn’t it be great if every self revealing tidbit could be instantly and “magically” applied, and like duct tape, we could fix everything at THAT very moment of discovery!!!!! Yeah, THAT ain’t how it usually works, is it? We are so very astute at gathering head knowledge, communicating that knowledge, and “sounding” so enlightened and self-aware, aren’t we?
Admittedly though, the consistent application of self-revealing principles can be a challenge to realize and live out. Here’s the key though….well, at least I think it’s the key. OUR IDENTITY AND OUR VALUE HAS BEEN MISPLACED!!!!!! We have been fed the lies that if we perform good enough, or rightly enough, we’ll be viewed as good and right enough. And others will think we’re the greatest thing since the snuggie. We have allowed our success, value, and purpose to be determined by views, perspective, and opinions outside of ourself. We’ve forgotten our “intrinsic” value—our created uniqueness. We aren’t simply random gatherings of cells, matter, or cosmic pixie dust left to chance and circumstance. Isn’t it mind boggling that we were created as inimitable originals with built in value, purpose, and significance—created in perfect love and validation. And yet, from an early age, we begin the lifelong process of conforming to something very “un-original”, and trying to live up to some shallow arbitrary standards that place little to no value on the “one of a kind” heart that beats within us. Our creator made us perfectly loved and validated with nothing more to prove. That’s why we start out as babies and not “grown ups”. We are closest to our purpose, it seems, as babies and children. It’s like God gave us the blueprint of how to live in the earliest years of our existence—you know, as children, we are helpless, trusting, imaginative, creative, uninhibited, able to love without condition, innocent, and secure in who we are and whose we are.
But all too soon, we stray from that, and begin to seek acceptance and validation from something apart from the heart of our creator. And then from that point, everything in life starts being defined by an ever changing, shallow list of performance principles—some stated and some implied—that keep us trapped, always reaching for but never attaining that sense of affirmation, acceptance, and validation. So, maybe the answer is found in returning, maturing…maturing into a child, back to the heart of our creator….back to LOVE HIMSELF! And THIS is where our true identity is found.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Which brings us back to my man cave on a cool November evening in 2011, where I sat nervous, anxious, and with more butterflies in my stomach than I had on my wedding day! As I mentioned earlier, Alabama football was more than just a game for me. Somewhere along the way, my perspective became greatly distorted, and I found myself living vicariously through the wins and especially the losses of Alabama football. This reality was magnified on this night. A victory against LSU would all but guarantee us a birth in the SEC championship game. A loss would do the same for my most reviled team, LSU. We were playing at home, and both teams were undefeated. You could slice the tension in the air like deli meat, as the game began with the opening kickoff. Over one hundred thousand fans in Bryant-Denny stadium raised the united battle cry, Roooolllllllll Tide Roooolllllll", that crescendoed into a glorious anthem that, for a moment, seemed to rock the heavens. 3 1/2 hours later, it was over. LSU won 9-6, thanks in large part to our "clubfooted" kicker, who missed multiple field goals in the game. It was indeed a clash of the Titans. I was crushed! I hit an emotional wall that night that took me several days to recover from. How had I let a stupid game, played by young men, many of which I was old enough to be their father, so consume my focus, emotions, and attitude?
Competition has been championed as a good team building method, as a way to teach how to win and lose, or as a way to achieve and build confidence. It has been glorified as entertainment, leisure, and even a career. Competition starts at an early age, and can be encouraged obsessively by a culture that celebrates winning above all else, and at any cost!
Parents are known to push their kids into competitive arenas, either as a pathetic way to vicariously live through the perceived success of their kids, OR, as a way to somehow validate their passion to be superior or achieve the illusion of being a winner through victory over another.
My question is simple. Is competition healthy? Is it holistic validation that truly develops and matures the human condition? Does it contribute to anything other than self-gratification or “self” validation? Is it a true expression of love? Does it bring out self-indulgence or a mindset of service?
When “winning” for one comes at the expense of another’s “loss”, is anything of substance truly gained? How does competition reflect the “others first” mentality?
I’ve heard and even espoused various “justifiable reasoning” for the benefits of “healthy”, “sporting” competition, but it’s getting harder and harder to make a sound, substantive argument in its favor, after almost 40 years of participating in it’s various personas.
I HATE TO LOSE AT ANYTHING! I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s a game of cards, racquetball, checkers, OR a fight. (which, by the way, I’ve NEVER lost. When you’re below 5 ft. 3 in. for most of your school years, AND you’re a singer, you LEARN to take care of yourself.) I’ve been a rabid sports fan for most of my life, especially ALABAMA Football! It’s been a sick obsession with me. When Bama is losing, I’m fighting mad! I have been guilty of spewing nastiness toward the opposing team, their fans, their mascots, the referees, or anything that I feel contributes to Bama losing! I never knew that I could reach such levels of emotional outburst and borderline insanity!!! It is seriously scary!
Somehow, my validation, my desire to succeed, or my insatiable passion to win and be recognized as a winner was misplaced in the “success of the Crimson Tide”. Sad, huh?
I experience a genuine vitriol and hatred at times that reveal a darker side of me that I want to divorce from! What is revealed in me is that the “competitive nature” in me is completely out of control and in complete contradiction to the heart that God is creating in me!
Why is competition about winning, being better than someone else at something, achieving at the expense of someone else losing? Is there anything healthy about that? I guess one exception would be golf? Since you can be competitive all by yourself, and you don’t have to “best” anyone else…just your last score! What is the obsession with winning anyway? We justify it by saying that it teaches our kids to set goals, achieve them, learn the principle of team building, to become good winners and good losers, discipline, and so on. But, it seems that at the root of competition, is a rabid obsession with being better than someone else or proving our worth by defeating another.
I’m NOT saying that NOTHING positive has ever come out of competition, I’m just saying that so much of what’s at the root of it seems to be so contrary to the life that Jesus lived, and teaches us to live as well. How many times do we see the philosophy of John the Baptist practically lived out today, when he said of Jesus….”I must decrease that HE might increase”. In other words, I must lose, so HE can win”? I think it is possible to engage in “friendly competition”, but too often, it never stays at that level—certainly not for me. Maybe that’s more relevant to me personally than you, and you’re certainly free to disagree. I’m just looking at it from another perspective.
Maybe it’s a character flaw in me that’s needed tweaking, but I never seem to be able to keep things of a competitive nature in their proper place, so for me, this “different” perspective is certainly applicable. Why do certain motivating factors of humanity create such an environment of self-promotion, self-acclaim, and self-absorption, while at the same time, they have the complete opposite affect on another? When has our society ever championed a “willing loser”! Is there a Super Bowl for second place? I believe in giving honor to the honorable tasks and objectives and the people who achieve them, BUT, not when that honor magnifies the loss of another, and comes at the cost of exploiting the one who is considered the “loser”.
Think about the emotions that come with “losing”. The personal shame of one’s performance, the regret of not somehow trying harder, the loathing of oneself for NOT winning, the obsession with finding a way to win, the disdain for the one in the winner’s circle where you’re not. The “win at any cost” mindset that becomes prevalent, The detachment from the world and people around you as you are focused on NOTHING BUT WINNING!
Why does giving our best always seem to fall victim to the comparisons of another? Is it shameful if our best just happens to fall below someone else's best in the same area.
Life’s most meaningful “battles” shouldn’t involve a competition against another, but rather within our own hearts as we grow and mature into the unique, priceless treasure that God created us to be.
In the epic saga that is life, our competition is not against anyone, but rather against the enemy that seeks our soul. Competition has such a subtle way of drawing lines of demarcation, and dividing classifications. It does little to unite, to bring together on deep, meaningful levels of relationship.
What should motivate us is to be the best that we can be, NOT to be better than someone else! When using others as benchmarks and standards of achievement, we oftentimes inadvertently settle for something much less than the potential inside of us.
If we were able to practically adopt this philosophy, could we not bankrupt jealousy and greed, and learn the purity of true teamwork and community?
ROLL TIDE & War Eagle, Nike and Reebok, Yankees and Red Sox, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, McDonald's and Burger King, Democrats and Republicans, Coke and Pepsi, My product and your product, My religion and your religion, My way and your way. It's mind numbing how competition and division thrives in our culture? The pied pipers of power, money, and control are deceiving the multiplied minions of clueless mice, and are leading this culture away like lambs to a slaughter. Divide and conquer! Of course so many of us have learned to "skillfully" justify competition, diversity, and “the American way”. We claim to be the United States of America, but we have been drawn into a culture war of "us versus them". It's been said that the strength of this nation is in the diversity of its people. That might be the case, if we're not talking about flawed human nature. But we are, and I’ve found that it's not usually about diversity as many would disingenuously claim. It's really about "my way or the highway". My rights! My voice! Me, me, me! We tear down another to build up our own. We discredit one another in order to legitimize and validate ourselves. And this is not reserved to unbelievers, or those considered pagan by many. It’s an epidemic in the crowds of self-professing Christians too. And why is this? They’ve lost touch with their true identity, IN CHRIST. Many have looked to their achievements, their works, their performance, and their education to validate who they are, and to find significance. This tenacious and misguided drive has pitted them against one another in the never ending quest for self promotion and self preservation. Denominations, political persuasions, theology, social issues, and even members of families have all fallen victim to the demonic force of division. At the core of division, there is a self-seeking, power hungry, obsessive focus to be right, to be the best, to be significant, and to be relevant to the masses.
Whether in ministry, business, or relationships with family or friends, when you feel the need to berate, discredit, or tear down another in order to build up yourself or legitimize your perspective or venture, your focus may be distorted, your motives may be misplaced, and your character may need a bit of a correction. I tend to believe that the "spirit" of competition flies in the face of the heart of the Kingdom of God--righteousness, peace, & joy in the Holy Spirit. One body, beating with One heart, reflecting One alone.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
As a Christ follower, I realize that my emotions must be surrendered to my new reality, and not my ever changing “circumstantial perspective”. Scripture teaches that if any person is in Christ, they are a NEW creation! And I’m discovering the depth of meaning in that passage. As I take on my new Life in Christ, and as His Spirit grows and develops in me, every aspect of my life has the potential for incredible change! How much change depends on how willing I am to surrender my emotions to the reality of my identity in Christ! That same scripture passage goes on to say, “old things are passed away, and ALL THINGS are become new.” If THAT is my reality IN CHRIST, then how I live, how I “emote”, how I think, and how I respond changes! The puzzling thing that I’ve observed in much of “western Christianity” is this—the truth of this scripture often remains merely a “theoretical” one instead of an experiential one in the lives of so many “Christians”. The Kingdom of God is waiting to express in the earth as it is in Heaven! It is waiting on the body of Christ to recognize their NEW reality in Christ, engage that reality, express it in Life, & watch God be God in our world! And THAT’S not just theory, unless you choose for it to remain so in YOUR life! I refuse, knowing what Christ did for me, accomplished for me, and desires for me to live ABUNDANTLY, to settle for theology, theory, & religious rhetoric! I’M GONNA LIVE IT! Bringing Heaven to earth! The Kingdom is here! Will you answer His invitation to live abundantly, and to spread His AMAZING message? Join me on this journey, FOR KINGDOM’S SAKE!
Wednesday, July 26, 2017
THIS scene that I’ve painted is what happens to me, when I allow distractions to wrestle away my attention and focus from the things that matter and the purpose of my life! I have the choice NOT to go into that ditch. I have the choice to see reality and my identity through the lens of Love and not circumstance, emotion, or the perspective of others! Distractions speak loudly to the mind and emotions, but are void of substance. Love speaks softly, but to the heart in a peaceful, reassuring, calming voice of truth! If we aren’t living loved, we find that our ears are more quickly tuned in to those things which speak to our 5 senses. But reality isn’t discovered through our senses. Reality is found in the heart of Love Himself! Our identity is found there too! Every day I have to make a choice. Will I tune in to Love? Will my attitudes, my perspective, and my “life-view” be motivated by the fact that I am loved unconditionally? That I don’t have to perform? That I am FREE from the tyranny of fear? Or will I allow outside, sensory-driven factors to control my thoughts, emotions, treatment of other people, or view of myself? We are human, indeed. But this should not be our “excuse” for living below the purpose for which we were created, and settling for the mediocrity that consumes so many. Love Himself is the speaker of truth, NOT whatever circumstance you happen to be in OR whatever emotion that is “baiting” you to respond! And when LOVE defines your life and your reality, that changes everything!!! You are no longer a prisoner to what happens outside you and around you. Your emotions of the moment are no longer your decision makers. The “pesky” things in life that you can’t control don’t have to command your attention and cause you exhausting frustration! Every day is an opportunity. We don’t always take advantage of the right ones. We DO sometimes hit the skids. But Love Himself never lets go! Our identity, reality, and purpose are secure in Him. His grace has a way of guiding you gently back to the road, to your beautiful journey, your journey of peace, faith, and trust! Distractions are at every turn, but so is He, and HE is the one who speaks the truth about you, about your life, and about His love….THAT’S the lens through which I see my reality! So I won’t stay in the ditch, I won’t beat myself up for gettin’ in the ditch to begin with. I’ll rest in Love Himself, and enjoy my journey! Great days ahead! And so I journey on!
Sunday, July 23, 2017
Wednesday, July 19, 2017
Tuesday, July 18, 2017
When you achieve the goals that your life has been consumed by, how will “it” look?
When you are finally comfortable in your own skin, and you’ve effectively dealt with your insecurities, how will “it” look?
When you’re able to confidently and somehow defiantly grin at your critics and detractors in that “how do you like me now, sucka” tone, how will “it” look? When you become the one that others turn to for guidance and coaching instead of you being the one stumbling through your existence, groping for answers & meaning, how will “it” look?
When you become “sought after” after years of “seeking after”, how will “it” look?
When you become “significant” after years of occupying an obscure space, how will “it” look?
When your decisions are no longer governed by your fears, but by the reality of LOVE HIMSELF, and the security of that LOVE, how will “it” look?
When you’re no longer in a place of “proving your worth to others” but resting secure in your infinite worth to One, how will “it” look?
In our hearts and minds we imagine what “IT” might look like to us and others when we arrive at the place that we’ve been on a seemingly insatiable quest to finally discover. The “IT” is the “finished, better, fixed” version of our self. The “IT” is what we effort arduously to create in the perception of others and even in our own distorted vision of who we think we should or want to be. The “IT” is our identity that we have mistakenly believed is defined by what we do, how we perform, or who we know. The “IT” is the lie that we buy into at an early age. The “IT” is what we’ll forever be chasing but NEVER finding within our own strength or most stringent disciplines. The “IT” that our heart is hungry to see revealed is not an “IT” at all. It is an established, tangible reality! “IT” is a “WHO”! “IT” is a Life! IT is THE Life. “IT” cannot be lived through faultless performance, or behavioral modification or manipulation. “IT” can only be realized through living another’s Life! Not through self-motivated initiative, but rather a surrendered response to a finished process! A process that was already perfected, once, by One….for you, for me! So the pressure to find and achieve the “IT” is a misguided “pipe dream”. The “IT” is not what hopefully will be, but it’s the “WHO” that is available NOW, for our past, our present, and our future! The “WHO” is fully alive, present, active, and reaching for YOU! You have nothing to prove to the “WHO”! You’re already completely accepted and APPROVED in Him! His life and love are completely yours, even at your worst! When you live the life of the ever present “WHO”, you can be at peace with where you are now on your journey in Him, and stop worrying about how you will be when you get to your later “IT”. Journey on!
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Experience is certainly a willing, though sometimes calloused teacher on this fascinating journey. I've found that settling for the familiar can be the greatest threat to fulfilling your God given purpose. The children of Israel, Lot's wife, and the rich young ruler all chose the folly of the familiar, and it derailed their destiny.
In my own life, through the leadership and grace of the Holy Spirit I've learned to recognize the familiarity of toxic people, environments, and mindsets from my past that have a way of creating identity crises. When I engage them, and allow them to participate in my life, they can cause me to forget who I am, my purpose, and where I derive my value and significance. Many of them remind me of everything I loathed about my old nature and my misplaced heart. They can have the appearance of being harmless, and they can disarm you with the feeling of the familiar. But make no mistake, they are out to manipulate your identity, sabotage your purpose, and make you a prisoner to fear—fear of man, fear of rejection, or a fear of failure. I am learning to identify where some of the pitfalls and vulnerabilities can hang out, and how insecurities I allowed to take root in the heart, as a result of some of my life experiences, can hide in subtlety, lurking behind faces and places. They will try to reemerge at every opportunity to distort God’s purpose for my life. These mindsets, systems, people, and environments wreaked havoc on my emotions, my self-confidence, and my identity. Reminders of what I hated in my own life were often awakened when I got around certain people in certain environments, and I listened to the conversations that emerged, as hearts were revealed, and motives were unearthed, reminding me of what God mercifully led me out of.
Sometimes the familiar has a way of pulling us back time and time again because it seems safe and comfortable. But giving in to it leaves you feeling unfulfilled, insufficient, misguided, and out of focus. Once God invites you to engage in His much grander purpose for your life, nothing less will ever satisfy or fulfill that deep calling and longing inside, and you will always feel incomplete as long as you attempt to entertain the familiar and settle for such a less than, shallow and superficial existence. Answering His invitation can oftentimes bring you to a place of solitude, loneliness, and silence, as you leap “blindly” into the wide-open spaces that you’ve never before experienced. The leap is completely safe though, for He is carrying you, carrying you beyond the clamor of the crowd, the praise of your peers, the noise of the naysayers, and the opinions of the oppressive. And He’s calling you to His heart, to a Grace filled existence, to an acute awareness of His presence, and to a keen sensitivity to His voice. It’s a place beyond the grip of your control or ability to manipulate the outcomes. He has freely given to you the abundant Life in Christ, filled with Kingdom opportunity, significance, and purpose.
Yes, it may be unfamiliar, but you have been prepared for this, and He has prepared it for you. You can’t give in to the illusion of “safe” that the familiar will offer. The familiar fights faith at every turn. But only faith can take you to your destiny. You’ve been created IN CHRIST before the earth was formed to live the humanly unimaginable life! As we remain willing to allow His spirit to conform us to our true identity, He will take us through the unfamiliar into the most secure, rewarding existence we could ever imagine. And that life is for now—His kingdom coming and His will being done IN EARTH as it is IN HEAVEN! The familiar experiences, people, or places can never make that kind of guarantee.
"For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
--Romans 8:22-39 (ESV)
Wednesday, July 12, 2017
The obsession to be “right” in opinions, perspective, and viewpoint has fueled debate, arguments, and even self-professing “God-endorsement” of our ideas and philosophy. Christians have grown quite skilled in co-opting God to endorse their belief systems, misrepresenting His Word, and using shame and condemnation as their strategy for exposing wrong in others, while highlighting “right” in themselves. I find it interesting; however, that the Christ so many of them claim to speak for and represent, didn’t “handle things” at all the way many of His “followers” do today. He didn’t come protecting His reputation; conversely, He made Himself of no reputation. He didn’t defend the position of the religious culture of the day. He came speaking truth in love, and proclaiming Life everlasting, God’s Kingdom, and His heart. I’ve heard it described this way, “He didn’t come to take sides, He came to take over.” He only did what was in agreement with the will of His Father. He came to seek and save that which was lost—proper identity and right standing with God. He was on a mission of saving, not condemning. He didn’t compromise the reality of right and wrong, nor was he "soft" on sin, but He knew that darkness becomes a non-issue once the Light is turned on. He didn’t allow Himself to become embroiled in surface, appearance focused debate, or symptomatic results of a much deeper issue. He reached for the hearts of people, and offered them Life, Grace, Freedom from sin, and Transformation in their lives and lifestyles—the things that characterized WHO HE WAS, and who we are, once we are IN HIM.
Somewhere along the timeline of Christianity, identity has been lost, or distorted at the very least. The body of Christ has become more focused on righting wrongs, exposing transgressions, and zealously standing for noble causes, than they are at simply living life from the source of their true identity, IN CHRIST, by His Spirit working in and through them. They’ve cursed the darkness, exposed sin, and made the sinner feel condemned as they are made increasingly conscious of their sin, all the while, the church seems to be failing to accurately represent and walk in His Light, turn His light on in the darkness, and focus the consciousness on the cure for sin—the finished work of the Cross of Christ. The Gospel has been misrepresented, and distorted to the point where “good news” has been replaced by noble sounding “right living” through following principled lists of do’s and don’ts, self-discipline, righteous appearances and personal performance.
One thing much of Christianity seems to have forgotten, at least in our country, is that the abundant Life that Jesus gives cannot be lived out by the “goodness” of feeble humanity. We can’t “copy” the way Jesus lived by rote from our strength, good deeds, or self discipline. It still takes the Life and the power of the One who gave that Life through Christ. He didn’t come to make us better humans, who are more skilled at following lists, performing flawless, morally astute lives before an admiring public. He came to make us new creations! Every part of us! The Gospel is the “holistic” good news! It covers every single aspect of our living.
I’m convinced that the defining negative issues of culture through the eons of time would have been non-issues had the body of Christ been more interested in sticking to THE GOSPEL, encouraging living from identity in Christ in her members, and pointing people to the Cross of Jesus, instead of vacating her leadership role in the world, retreating to divisive religious subcultures, co-opting the systems of the world, building institutions, personal kingdoms, and attempting to become “relevant” IN the culture instead of presenting the relevance of Christ TO the culture. The body somehow got sidetracked in dissention among her own tribes, and division of theology, philosophy, and doctrine. And sadly, much of the division at its core, was over semantics. What a devious and masterful divisive tactic of the enemy. The church became reactionary through the years every time an issue of culture and Godlessness manifested, instead of proclaiming Christ the answer in a proactive sense before those issues came into being. She was always one step behind the culture instead of determining the culture, by declaring and manifesting a “new” culture—the Kingdom Culture. She created an “us versus them” mentality with people in the world instead of exercising her God-give authority against the spirit of the world, while copying their systems and adopting their mindsets. She failed to see the real enemy and became victimized by the deception of symptomatic evidence—taking up “religious” causes against others, instead of being the ambassadors of Christ and taking up HIS mission and heart. The real enemy lulled the church into distractions, taking her eyes off of the real enemy and the real issues of peoples’ hearts. The church became involved politically, financially, and socially with the systems of the world, while trying (but failing) to effectively “package” those systems in a sanitized presentation. A mixture message, a mixture mindset, and an instability to consistently function in power, Grace, and authority—the very things Christ empowered her with.
It shouldn’t be a shock to the church when the world acts and lives like, well, the world! But it seems that it is, and that her primary role is to combat culture at it’s surface level. In doing so, the church has vacated a leadership role in culture, and the vacuum left there was eagerly and quickly filled by the forces of darkness. By the time the church sees the enemy manifest, she begins to lash out and react at the symptoms and the victims of the real enemy--the people. She goes after “flesh & blood”, while all the while quoting scripture--from memory instead of passionate belief, Grace, and authority. And the spirits of darkness—where the real war should be waged—laugh as the “us versus them” narrative continues to be echoed on every front in the name of defending truth and righteousness. And people are victimized, criticized, condemned, and marginalized. The church is mired in a debilitating identity crisis. She seems to be fighting FOR “righteousness”, justice, and truth, instead of fighting the real enemy FROM that position. The whole earth is groaning for the sons and daughters of the King to take their rightful position of ushering in His Kingdom and His will in earth as it is in Heaven. But the swatting at the flies continues. The distractions of the symptoms is clouding the reality of the genuine heart needs. And the church in identity crisis fades deeper and deeper into a “sanitized” and irrelevant section of culture, continuing to “take up” righteous causes, humanitarian issues, and moral justice campaigns. But they are in the defensive posture, and slowly but surely being driven into silence when it comes to the direction of the nation.
It is time for the citizens of the Kingdom to reconnect, re-engage, and declare who we are, who defines our reality, and WHOSE Life we live by in every aspect of life. We are IN CHRIST. New creations. Old things are gone. All things are new! This changes everything. In every area of our existence, we can move in abundance, authority, power, love, and grace, because our DNA, our identity is BRAND NEW. The finished work of Jesus on the cross gave us NEW IDENTITY! Our DNA flows from the blood of Jesus. As Jesus was, so are we in this world! As the body of Christ with many members, it is time for us to begin to declare, to believe, to live, and to advance His Kingdom! Christ has paid it all, finished the work, and guaranteed the outcome! Now, He invites His body to take their place, take the fight to the real enemy, which ironically has already been defeated. He has empowered us to take every territory back, and proclaim the words of the prophet Isaiah, which were later echoed and fulfilled in Christ, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD."
This is our identity! The church needs to BE and walk in what we were created to be. She is not an institution, a religious idea or organization, an entrepreneurial venture, or a political force fashioned after the systems of the world. She is ALIVE, the life giving, organic, Grace-infusing, powerful body of Christ, the bride of a King! She is on a mission of reconciliation and redemption, not condemnation. She is not a cultural reaction, she was created to determine the culture for Christ, and manifest the Kingdom with no end. It’s time to reflect our King, and to represent the face and the heart of our Savior, Jesus! Abundant Life in every area of existence is ours through Christ. He is the answer for all. He is the cure for culture, and the Hope for every person. Our true identity awaits, revealed in Christ, and lived out practically and powerfully by His Spirit in us, covering us with His Love and Grace. Do you remember who you are?
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
All human efforts to earn His Grace, Love, and approval through performance, good deeds, or "righteous resumes", end up as mere legalism, works, and law based living.
Only One has ever truly pleased the Father. It was His own Son, Jesus. We spend years working and working trying to "please" God. The only way to please God is to live in the Life of the Son in whom He was "well pleased". We can only experience this IN AND THROUGH HIS LIFE, By His Spirit!
Tuesday, July 4, 2017
Proverbs 29:25 lets us know that we can remain ensnared, enslaved by a cruel taskmaster—“the fear of man”! The Message translation reads this way…”The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.”
So many of our words are calculated, premeditated, and “staged” with the sole purpose of being viewed acceptable & validated in the eyes of people. That’s part of the human condition. It’s the part that can immobilize our growth & development into our new identity—IN CHRIST! Through HIS Life, we have been set free from the need to perform for people, ourselves, or even for God Himself! Before we had breathed even one breath, we were validated in HIS eyes! We were loved and accepted completely & perfectly, with nothing else to prove! We have been emancipated to simply respond to, and willingly accept the Life we now have through Christ! We can now live for an audience of ONE, and HE doesn’t hold us to a standard of performance! It’s like our kids performing for us, no matter how pathetic & UN-OSCAR-WORTHY the performance may be, they are OUR children, and we rave over their performance because they belong to us, and we see them through the unwavering lens of love! Imagine HIS perfected love that so far supercedes our finite ability, and transcends our failed attempts to perform flawlessly! HIS love that found us and pursued us when we were at our worst! THAT LOVE has set us free to simply live a life of “surrendered response” instead of self-initiated efforts! When the eyes of our hearts are opened to THAT love reality, we start experiencing a freedom that puts us at rest, that restores our joy for life, and that keeps us in a place of peace as we live ALREADY APPROVED, VALIDATED, AND ACCEPTED, and without the chains of human opinion and peoples’ perspective of us enslaving our lives! What an AMAZING life! His life! His gift! And it’s already been paid for, FOR US! It’s our decision to respond! To reject or to receive! To reject, keeps you on the treadmill of image, performance, and trying to be good enough. To receive, releases you into the life and benefits of being HIS child, living in HIS love, and by HIS life! HE was good enough! He finished the performance! You ARE free! FREE INDEED! Journey on! Peace!