Wednesday, August 22, 2018

"Identity Reflection"

What if we as Christ followers focused more on reflection than correction? When we reflect the heart of Christ to others, Christ in us draws them to Him. By His grace through faith they receive salvation, and His Spirit in them will take care of the correction and transformation in their lives. That seems pretty obvious, right? The problem is, religion--including some western expressions of Christianity--is built on the "correction" narrative. Much of the emphasis is on personal performance, principle following, behavior modification, and shame and fear-based living. It should be on pointing to and reflecting His Heart, His Love, His Power, and His Cross! Ultimately, it seems that those who focus on a “corrective” narrative have more faith in the fallibility of humanity, and their ability to point out the error in others, than they do in the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to lead & guide into truth, and the redemptive love of Christ to affect and correct the lives of people.

"Seeing As A Son"

When you understand your new identity in Christ, you no longer have to focus on the fallibility of the flesh, the brokenness of the fallen world, or on shaming ourselves into principle-laden behavior modification. That "sounds" humble, spiritual, and all, but it's actually prideful and self-righteous. We are NEW creations in Christ, and we can live every aspect of our lives from THAT reality by the Holy Spirit in and through us. We're no longer shackled by the confinements of human nature in a sinful world. In Christ, we are no longer "sinners saved by grace". We were, but now, we are sons & daughters of the King, set free to live in the reality of our all-things-new lives! #MiDentity517 #AllThingsNew #InChrist #AboveAndBeyond

"Faith Over Feeling"

Faith isn't intrinsic in humanity, but feelings are. Faith is established in eternal truth, while feelings are established in temporary circumstance. Faith is stronger than feeling, and though it may take time to see, Faith will get the final word, and what you believe for in faith will come to pass, even though the feelings and circumstance may evidence the opposite at present. We are called to a life of faith not feelings, in Christ. This is completely counterintuitive to human nature. That's why, as Paul said, "The life I now live (in the flesh) I live BY THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD." I have to live my "natural" life from HIS supernatural faith. #DontGiveUp#DeclareTruth #SensesLie #Stand

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

"My Journey To Freedom Through My Fight To Forgive" (In Process)

My biggest issue over the last 20 plus years relative to growing in grace, and living in the freedom and fullness of Life and my identity in Christ, has been learning to forgive every voice, movement, or messenger, who, under the guise of truth, christian living, or religious performance, has completely misrepresented and distorted the heart of God toward me and others, His character, His purpose and desires for me, His word to me, who I am IN Christ, and the reality of what the gospel really is. It took a long time to dump that junk, and get healed. I struggled for a long time with the insincerity and arrogance of people who claimed to speak for and represent the voice of God, and the controlling, manipulative ways in which they duped and shamed people with passionate & sincere hearts toward God, who had legitimate questions and doubts about their relationship to Him, and His heart and plan for them. I've seen scads of people through the years who have been damaged personally, had their families wrecked, been marginalized, ostracized, and falsely labeled by self-righteous "insiders", and had their faith turned to cynicism and a completely jaded perspective as a result of this religious travesty, and complete misrepresentation of Father God. I watched as much of modern day church in America had a way of keeping its followers in enough uncertainty and question to be able to control them, or “lead” them into conformity to a religious system and construct, instead of pointing and encouraging them, without self-serving motives, into a growing, life-giving, intimate relationship with Christ. Modern day pharisees would justify this spiritual “shell game”, since it had become quite the career builder and entrepreneurial venture to “build” churches, influence people, and market ministry. Maybe they feared that if they sincerely espoused the power and simplicity of Jesus, the reality of the gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit within His followers to live free, abundant, committed lives to Christ without "strings" of allegiance attached to an institution, personality, or group, they might risk losing their market share, or having their “bottom line” affected. So they became “educated”, and schooled in the commentaries, the Greek, the Hebrew, the lexicons, and so forth, getting “puffed up” with all the spiritual sounding knowledge they could, adding titles and educational credentials to their names to validate their “right” to lead and tell others how to think and what to believe. They appeared to parse it out a little at a time, with a "new revelation" here, a "fresh" interpretation there, or an out-of-context scriptural spin or twist so the “sheeple” would have to continually keep coming back under their leadership to make sure they were living rightly, and getting the right answers--to "keep" their salvation current & "sure". Confusion, mistrust, and even cynicism would set in. In a sense, these “ministers” and spiritual “leaders” sort of became substitutionary relationships with God for them. They controlled through fear, shame, and a personal performance, principle-following narrative. They took on the role of middleman between God and the people. Sound familiar? I wondered what it would be like if Christian leaders were actually more interested in genuinely connecting people to their identities in Christ, equipping them in their gifts and callings, releasing them to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in every aspect of their lives, encouraging their journeys into His abundant life for them, even if it didn’t include their continued loyalty to or involvement in that leader’s particular venture or organization? Many of them instead seemed to be more focused on building something, "franchising" their faith or movement for the sake of "evangelism" or "winning the lost", establishing their reputation or philosophy, or gathering a following through promoting their influence and perspectives. I thought I was over alot of that stuff years ago as I transitioned out of religious performance into a love-transformed life of grace and power in Christ, but as God began to correct my perspective, and realign me with my true identity in Christ, the light of His love, grace, and truth, unearthed the "ugly" in me. What a vulnerable journey and process it has been. I am learning to let go, forgive, allow Him to love, through me, the “perpetrators and purveyors” of the injustices and misrepresentations of God toward people, and stop trying to be the crusader and activist for those who have been so hurt and disillusioned by religion. God has been reminding me patiently and lovingly that that is NOT my fight, that “they” are not the enemy. I have a call to love and to reflect Him toward the others by His Spirit in and through me. Only His Spirit can lead and guide others into the freedom of truth. The only way to experience freedom from lies, is to encounter the Truth Himself, to reflect that Truth above all--even opinion and tradition--and to begin to see yourself, and others the way HE does! The question is, are you willing to risk reputation, rejection, and even some "relationships", and humble yourself in complete honesty and trust to a loving Father by allowing Him to do this work in you, even if it means letting go of so much baggage and misinformation that you have accumulated as a result of living in a fear-based, shame-inducing, performance-driven existence?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

"The Frustrations and Facades of Following In Faith"

The greatest frustration of faith is to live on earth in constant belief in the reality of who God is, His heart for us, His desire for an abundant life for us, and what our identity in Christ means practically; but to live that faith life here on earth, so far at least, without much evidence in the natural reflecting those spiritual realities that our faith is built on. Living up there while living down here. At what point does my spiritual reality manifest in my natural circumstances?
I've grown stronger in my spirit over the past 3 years than I could have ever imagined, and I've grown more secure in my identity in Christ than ever. However, the weaknesses of my flesh have never been more glaring, my emotional "dumps" on God have never been more honest, frustrating, and raw. What a paradox...as my Spirit strengthens, my flesh grows weaker. The toughest thing is trying to live "up there", while living "down here". And yet THAT is how we can live because of Christ in us. Our spiritual reality has authority over our natural existence. But what a tough transition it is to begin living that kind of life though. It's the process of giving birth to the new. Can anybody relate, or am I losing my freaking mind?
If I could ask God one question (two parts) face to face right now, it would be, Just how long do you consider long enough for one to stay in the same, tortuous, fatigue-filled season of struggle and obscurity? And, what is the purpose continually torturing me by what appear to be glimpses of breakthroughs into a new season, only to realize that those glimpses seem to only be cruel mirages for me to painfully observe, while continuing to languish in the same cycle of mind numbing sameness and oppression? By the way, you're not God, so save your religious answers, and empty platitudes of piety for someone else. These are real questions that arise in the very real struggle of living in faith, growing in intimacy with God, and settling into my identity in Christ. By the way, there ARE answers to these questions, but you have to be willing to hear the answers from Him alone.
For me, the fatigue has been a cumulative process. Mentally mostly. The waiting and preparing for so long has just kind of reached a tipping point. I'm discovering the priceless treasure of meditation, and praying in the spirit more than I EVER have. I have finally reached a place where I am more dependent on God for every stinking thing in my life. I have literally reached a point where I have no trust in my ability as a human to make any decisions. I have to lean on the wisdom and understanding of God for every single thing. That is completely counterintuitive to the nature of a man. We are protectors, providers, and defenders. That's been a humbling reality and process. I've been in a position where I have not felt like a provider, defender, or protector. When all the while, God was simply leading me to the place of my ultimate strength – depending on him for all of that. My understanding of my identity has been completely revolutionized! So many Christians don't have a clue as to what it means to actually have our identity in Christ! My ideas of what I thought human reasoning and common sense were have been blown to bits! It's just like what Paul said, when he said "the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the very faith of the son of God!" Everything about my life, including what I consider my strong points, have to be lived from the very life of Christ in me. Paul also said that, "In my flesh there dwells no good thing." Wow, I have discovered that first hand!
Do you ever ask yourself, can I possibly be as screwed up as I feel? Why else does the process of becoming seem to take so long? The unraveling of self is messy. But healing is messy too. Just ask any surgeon. It's in the maddening messy where we are tempted to say, just sew me back up, and keep me medicated. I'll just "manage" my misery. But healing, and wholeness will never be achieved that way. Sadly, in the natural, pain management has become big business. Killing one slowly while "managing" symptoms, without really dealing with root causes. It's the same way in our lives. Religion has devised systems of "pain management". They call it "shame management", or even sin management. I've been an open book most of my life, or so I thought. God has revealed to me that I've been selective with the pages that I freely open. It's a defense mechanism, where I try to preserve an image toward others, overcompensating for my issues by putting an outgoing, compliant, even humorous, somewhat self-deprecating persona out there as an attempt to be approved, accepted, liked, and valued. Those parts are an open book, but I've been very self-preserving and manipulative about which parts of me I let others see. Well, God has unlocked every cave, every secret passageway, and every self-protecting mechanism I had. He has laid me bare, and it feels like all hell has broken loose at the same time in my emotions, my mind, and my circumstances. It has left me feeling spent, numb, and facing the reality that I am desperate for Him in every area of my life. Now, even those things I thought were my strengths, I have no confidence in them any more. I have been made painfully aware of the reality that there is such a futility in humanity. And yet, God loved humanity so much, valued us so highly, that He gave His all—His own Son for our redemption. And, He chose to deposit His Spirit in flawed humanity, so we could have new identity—sons and daughters of a King. He chose us as His heirs, and as joint heirs with His only Son, Jesus. And now, in vessels of clay, He has deposited treasure--His heart, and the privilege to live His Kingdom and His will here and now. What a privilege. What a love. What a Life. What a God!

Monday, April 2, 2018

”Grace, Fearful Risk or Secure Reality?”

Grace is the scariest possibility to one whose spiritual identity and reality are rooted in systems of merit, shame-based performance, and a fear-motivated existence. No wonder the cross, the gospel of the Kingdom, actual identity in Christ, eternal security, and the Grace of God expressed through the atonement are such threats to man-made systems of control, behavior modification, and shame. The blood of Jesus and the cross set us free from the power by which those systems operate. Once people are set free from the power of sin, fear, and death to fully live In Christ, led completely by His Spirit, then man can no longer control with methods of sin management, the threat of punishment, and fear of being rejected, unloved, and judged by God. When the Son sets us free, it is definitely a "FREE INDEED" freedom! When Grace is revealed to you, it produces a passion for intimacy and closeness with God through our Life in Christ! That's freedom!! It doesn't, as some legalists would presume, produce a licsentious desire to live self-indulgently, satisfying every whim of our human nature! That's bondage. Grace is not a theoretical "idea"! It is not a "catch phrase" to legitimize some other message! It isn't license to live a self indulgent, careless lifestyle! It is LIFE! It is BLESSING, FAVOR, & ABUNDANCE! It is our IDENTITY, In CHRIST! It is HEALING & WHOLENESS! It draws us to the heart of God, not to the edge of the line between right & wrong! Grace changes the very desires of your heart. When you know your identity in Christ, fear becomes a non-factor. That's why Grace and religion don't mix. The day that religion ceases and relationship begins, is when we stop trying to "understand" God and striving to please Him, and instead start to enjoy "knowing" Him, and abiding in Him through Christ in us, our hope and our true identity. Striving keeps the focus on our performance, but abiding keeps the focus on Him. Understanding comes through abiding, not striving. The more you understand what Grace is and how it covers EVERY aspect of living, the more you realize how opposite it is from so much of what recent cultural religious tradition has taught us that it is!! I believe that the greatest persecution to the message of Grace & the finished work of Jesus at the Cross, will not come from sinners looking for a savior, but rather the self-righteous and religious, looking to save themselves.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Only By His Spirit"

The feeling of uselessness, loneliness, laziness, and fatigue has plagued me off and on since the summer of 2014. It’s hard to explain, since during that time, my relationship with God, the revelation of His heart for me, and the discovery of my identity in Christ and what that means, has grown more than ever before. It’s a confusing dilemma to deal with. The revealing of what the Grace life looks like practically, and the understanding of how a Kingdom citizen can live “Heaven on earth” can only be experienced in the spiritual reality by His Life in us lived out by the Holy Spirit. I’m convinced my flesh has become weaker, my emotions have become more sensitive, and my mental state has come under an incredible attack from the enemy. Fear, depression, anger, and low confidence seem to be relentless threats against me. It must be true that as I grow in my Spiritual reality, my flesh weakens, proving the fact that I cannot in my own strength, discipline, creativity, or performance—even on my “best” days—live out the abundant life. It requires daily—even moment-by-moment—surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. The moment I give credence to my flesh, a snowballing effect takes place that affects me in my mind, my attitude, my choices, my responses, and my perspective. It is a negative place that I cannot remain and try to fight my way through. I will lose for sure. The enemy is an expert on human nature, and has a way of using our supposed “strengths” against us as our greatest vulnerabilities. If I am to overcome and prevail, settling into my true identity in Christ, I have to surrender, rest, and trust in His power, wisdom, and peace working in and through me. It’s as simple as that, though not at all “easy” for the flesh to do. But it’s not by might, power, or performance, but by His Spirit alone. Everything in our culture is designed to appeal to our flesh. It’s a fight, but it can be won! This is the victory that overcomes the world—even our faith. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of our testimony. When Jesus was bombarded by satan in the wilderness, even those attacks ceased when Jesus declared His testimony—His allegiance to His Father. The enemy is stubborn, but greater is He that is within us, than he that is in the world. BY. HIS. SPIRIT.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

“Compared to What?”

My daughter Zoe is incredible! I see so much of me, when I was a kid, in her now. She is shorter than most of her friends. She has a “fire” to be the best at whatever she does. She doesn’t like to lose AT ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY to her sibling. She will often seek my approval at her performances, and yes, sometimes simply so she can gloat of outperforming or outshining someone else. She likes to compare, especially when the outcome of the comparison paints her in a flattering light, or garners her some positive reinforcement and validation. :-) She’s smarter than I was though, so hopefully, she’ll deal with her “competitive issues” sooner than her dad, and not fall into that subtle trap of defining herself by what she does, how good she is at it, or how many people notice how good she is and continually let her know.
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

“What To Do When You Can’t Be You?”

Many of us have had issues on the journey to accepting and even thriving in who we are. Being comfortable in our own skin seems to be at times little more than a fantasy, or romantic notion not likely to become a practical reality in life.
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

“Competition—Rivals, Rights, Identity Crisis”

Sitting in silence, clad in crimson and white, I readied myself for battle. For me, and anyone else in my home for that matter, Gameday--especially this game against a hated rival--is a better experience for all, when I'm watching in solitude, in my man cave, with no one else within five miles of me. For me, Alabama football was more than a game. It was serious, life-altering, and of eternal importance. And tonight, there was a lot more riding on this game than usual. Alabama was undefeated, and poised for another championship run. The only team standing in their way was the team that I cursed with every breath--their fans, their coaches, and even every citizen of the state that was home to THAT team--the LSU Tigers. The soap opera that had grown from the drama surrounding this rivalry was epic, A saga even more intense than anything ever dreamed up on a Hollywood set. Our coach had performed one of the most miraculous turnarounds in our team's history. He brought the championship swagger back to Tuscaloosa. The only problem was, a few years earlier, he had done the same thing in Baton Rouge. He had brought LSU from virtual obscurity in the football universe to a national championship in 2003. Less than two years later, he abandoned the "bayou bengals", and bolted for the NFL, leaving Tiger nation in a sports-world sort of dark ages. He left the state under a cloud of curses and Louisiana voodoo! As "football fate" would have it, the NFL was not a fulfilling experience for our coach, and at what could be considered for the BAMA faithful, "dawn's early light", our athletic director seized the opportunity to woo this coach to the college football mecca-the University of Alabama! As it turns out, his woo was true, and Nick Saban became our coach in 2007!
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

"Is Your Life More Than Theory?"

Do you wake up everyday expecting, or hoping? Do you hope for the strength to simply survive the day, or do expect to thrive in whatever circumstance the day throws at you? I’m finding out that the choice is mine to make. No, I didn’t say that the choice to choose EVERY circumstance is mine to make, but the responses to those circumstances are. We are emotional beings. Abba created us that way. Every single person on the face of the earth has SOMETHING that they respond to emotionally. When a person tells me that they’re just not emotional, I don’t believe them. It’s true that some people may not show their emotions as expressively as others, and what gets one person “going”, may have little effect on another person, but search the hearts of each person, and you’ll find at least a handful of happenings that can engage their emotions. When you recognize the power of human emotion, you learn how to manage and channel that power toward positive responses. And those who don’t recognize it, are forever at the “mercy” of their emotional state at any given moment. Emotions were never meant to be leaders in our lives, but rather followers. They are extremely poor and misguiding decision makers. When emotions control your heart, that creates for a rather dysfunctional and inconsistent life.
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

“Distracted and In A Ditch”

Several years ago, my wife gave me a well deserved, yet loving “verbal” shot to the “manhood”. She told me that I had been an angry person for a rather lengthy period of time. WOW! No defense for that! Now, the “old” me would have fashioned a “defense” that would’ve made Matlock proud— a line of legitimate reasoning, and a diversion of some sort to take the heat of accusation off of me, but there was no use for that. Not this time! She was as right as rain! It took those kind yet piercing words to bring me face to face with a fog of emotional angst that I had allowed myself to be drawn into. The journey I am on from fear into love, though a steady, day by day process of growing, is not without its seasons of needed reminders, corrections, and times of re-focusing. I know these seasons are not unique to me either, so don’t sit there in a smug, self righteous tone as you read, thinking what a freakin’ pathetic idiot he is! I had been angry! Angry at God, at myself, at life, at others, at delayed answers, at our culture, at our political system, at the weather, at traffic, at our incredibly slow postal service, at crowds, at lines, and a few other ridiculously trivial things! It’s often been said that confession is good for the soul, but it sure has a way of “humbling” you when you read back the confessions “on paper”, and see how “insignificant” so many of the things are that have “motivated” the emotion of anger in me. How did I get there? I was so excited about my development, my process, my journey! Why this “setback”? Or IS IT really a setback at all? Love has been winning me into an amazing space! So where did I “space out”, hit the shoulder, skid into a ditch, and get stuck in the muck and mire of my “madness”?!? Emotions have a way of ambushing you when you least expect it. It can start with something so subtle, but then, at “hyper-speed”, it can accelerate into an avalanche of anger. Then, at least for me, I’m left scratching my head and wondering What the holy heck just happened?!?!?!? Then the downward spiral of regret, self loathing, feeling of defeat, and repetitious apologies begin. It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day”. You watch the pattern play out, and feel helpless to change it! Have you ever experienced that in YOUR journey?
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

“Lesson Learned, Freedom Found”

Because of my nature, personality, and "reputation" as an outgoing, funny, "people person", it use to be hard for me to let people go in a relationship. Haunted by insecurity, and driven by their validation and acceptance, I found myself continually trying to be what people expected me to be in order to be liked & approved. Talk about an epic identity crisis! For years, this relational mindset had detrimental and destructive effects on my journey into realizing my identity in Christ and the freedom of His Grace & Love. I continually tried to maintain and preserve relationships--even through a sort of "life support", when in fact the plug should've been pulled long before--, always posturing to control the opinions and outside perspective of me from others. Through the years I discovered that many times I did this NOT to solidify and deepen the relationships with people, but only to preserve my image in their eyes and make me out to be the "good guy", faithful friend, and long-suffering compadre'. This would create in me a sense of obligation to continue to try and maintain these relationships, including those which were draining, needy, controlling, and mostly one-sided. What I finally realized is that I could never truly love people as long as I was concerned with their perspective and opinions of me. All my relational decisions would be manipulated for the benefit of my own self preservation. Genuine love cannot grow in that kind of environment. This went on for years, until the Grace of God helped me accept and understand that some people are just not meant to walk with you for very long on your journey, and much less into your destiny with you. Many of them may only see you and relate to you in a certain way, and as you progress and develop into your identity, purpose, and the person God created you to be, they often times no longer relate to where you are and who you are becoming. When you cease to be what they need you to be in the relationship, they no longer consider you relevant. God has helped me see that "seasonal" people cannot be forced into anything more, regardless of how "letting them go" might "soil" your reputation as a "friend". You don't need to take this personally! There is an amazing freedom now, freedom to live in unforced rhythms of Grace, allowing my life to flow from my intimate connection to God through Christ! Relationships don't have to be contrived. They flow naturally from our Life in Christ! Not everyone is gonna validate you, celebrate you, walk with you, understand you, or even like you! That's fine! In Christ, we are perfectly accepted, loved, and validated, and that's what really matters! So, I've had to let some people walk right out of my life, and others, I've even been kind enough to eagerly show them the door out of my life personally. Of course, I wish them the best as they find their way in Grace, and I hold no bitterness! Your value is not decided by the opinions of others, and your significance in life isn't determined by anything other than the Love of your Creator, and His heart toward you! Accept that, rest in that, keep your eyes on Him, and open your heart to the amazing Life that Jesus came to give you! And people, well, God will lead you to them, and also lead them to you as opportunities to share His Love, His community, His Grace, His Life, and His Heart with them, some for a season, some for a day, some for a moment, and even a few for a lifetime! Let Him orchestrate your steps and your relationships! May this encourage you, who may struggle for validation, acceptance, and purpose, looking for it in the approval of other people. I pray you experience the freedom that comes through seeing your worth and value in Christ alone, and you discover that nothing can change His heart of Love for you! You are unique, perfectly loved & accepted by God in Christ! THAT'S what defines you, and makes YOU PRICELESS! Journey on!