Thursday, June 27, 2019

"Images, Power Struggles, and Creative Gifts"

It’s never easy to deal with rejection—actual or perceived. No matter how old or mature you get, the sting of it never becomes an enjoyable experience. When loving others is at the core of who you are, it’s hard not to take it personally when you feel as though others don’t receive you, validate you, or respond positively to you. We learn how to interpret rejection early in life, and if we aren’t taught where our value is rooted and grounded, it can have toxic effects in our relationships and the way we look at and accept ourselves throughout our lives. Growing up in today’s culture, where there are innumerable external stimuli that try and have a voice in defining us, it’s absolutely necessary that we connect to our intrinsic, God-given value and worth. We live in a culture that offers a plethora of forces and influences that seek to tie our identity and worth to what we do, how well we do it, and how others perceive our performance. Trying to survive, much less thrive in life is impossible without having an understanding and confident faith in who we are in Christ, regardless of what we do, how we look, or how well others think we do what we do. Creative and artistic people can easily fall victim to this epidemic of misplaced and distorted identity because of our need for validation, and we often seek that validation in the approval of others relative to our creativity and talent. Having a revelatory perspective and understanding of who we are in Christ and His heart for us gives us the freedom, confidence, and security to create out of an overflow of who we are in Him, instead of trying to establish our worth or identity based on what we do while living under the constant pressure to perform. Living securely in God’s purpose for our life, and freely in who He created us to be in Christ produces a natural and effortless flow of uncontrived expressions of creativity, grace, and power that clearly reflect the heart of God to humanity. I am friends with some gifted, creative, but wounded and jaded souls here in Music City. They have been used as curb appeal and drawing cards to various ventures and ideas of strong leaders. Being a creative person myself, I understand the personality styles and vulnerabilities of these people. I experience them firsthand. I've been victimized by those "Type A" self-professed leaders, who recognize our need for validation in our gifts, and learn how to manipulate and exploit those areas for their own agendas, ideas, or selfish promotion. Sadly creative individuals have had withdrawals made from us repeatedly, and our abilities promoted and showcased in order to bring clout, appearance, and credibility to the influence and enterprises of strong personalities who are "building something for God", but once those creative souls and their talents have been used up or considered no longer a part of the leader's vision, they are discarded with hardly a life-giving deposit made in their lives or genuine encouragement as to where their identities and value truly exist and grow from. To those misguided leaders, a creative person’s value is found primarily if not exclusively in their gifts, instead of their hearts and God-given purpose. I had a conversation with another minister a while back, and he told me that if someone wasn't focused on helping him build what he was trying to build, then he probably wouldn't be interested in spending time with that person or developing the relationship. I was appalled and speechless at that response, and in my opinion, there was so much wrong with that statement that I considered a rebuttal to him useless. Unfortunately, that mindset is incredibly rampant in church building, planting, or leadership culture today. If you're not playing in their sandbox, they have no interest in developing relationships with you or exploring God's direction or process in the holistic health and success of your journey. As long as the potential exists for you to bring your gifts, talents, or abilities to their team, vision, or local expression of church, they'll wine you and dine you, but when you cease to be a viable commodity to their particular God venture or supposed vision, you suddenly lose your appeal, and in many cases, you are marginalized and stereotyped as a rebellious creative person, trying to build your own thing, or not being “true” to the particular vision, whatever that means. It can become a classic case of the “Saul and David Syndrome”. And trust me, I've heard all the charismatic clichés, leadership catchphrases, and supposed justifiable reasoning from the builders or visionaries as to the "stewardship" of their time and efforts, and the need of focusing only on what they are "called" to build and the people in their organization. But in my experience, their distorted reasoning doesn't hold water. That may be the thinking in corporate American culture, but it's diametrically opposed to Kingdom culture and the way Jesus modeled that culture for us. Jesus has already built His church. He's the head. He doesn’t need us to build Him anything. We are simply members of His body, citizens of His Kingdom, sharing our gifts, talents, and hearts for no agenda but HIS. Bottom line, it's either His Kingdom or it's yours, and the way you view relationships with others who don't bring equity to your ventures says a lot about what Kingdom you're advancing. When we humbly allow the Holy Spirit to conform us to the image of Christ and His heart of Kingdom living, community, and creativity, we will realize that our talents, our influence, and our identities are not about us establishing our brand, building a following, or creating an image to be approved or validated by man. They are simply gifts given by our Father to reflect Him in everything we do, to enjoy an abundance in life in every aspect of our being, and to live restfully, joyfully, and creatively to bring heaven to earth—His will, His Kingdom, on earth, as in heaven. What a transcendent peace and unspeakable joy to live effortlessly in the flow of the “unforced rhythms of His Grace” in our MiDentity, in Christ, securely beloved and pleasing to our Father. This is Life lived with all things new!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

“The Reality of Truth Is Greater Than The ‘evidence’ of Facts”

The light of His truth leads us where the darkness of our emotions and circumstances can't see. Evidence can be deceiving. Truth can be hidden. It seems easier to believe that the evidence of what you see defines your reality. It seems harder to rest in His truth, which at the given time might be hidden. Faith must remain in His truth, not in the supposed "evidence" of the moment. And as you grow in your identity in Christ, the Holy Spirit will make it “easier” to rest. Living according to the Spirit will become your first response, not your last resort. Feelings always align with truth AFTER the manifestation of truth’s answer. Faith aligns with the truth BEFORE manifestation takes place. Feelings are fickle. Faith is firm. Truth isn’t established by experiences but can be confirmed through them. The identity of Jesus wasn’t established by His miracles, but rather by the word of His Father. However, miracles confirmed the reality of who Jesus was. Neither truth nor experience should be discounted. They must remain in the proper order, however. Truth is established only by the word and confirmed through experience, not vice versa. Experiences can change, but the Truth remains. You have to speak to your emotions and circumstances sometimes. “Be silent emotion & circumstance! You are NOT the voices that decide my reality. You change like the wind and are as fickle as the waves in a storm. My reality and my identity have already been established and abundantly nurtured within the steady, strong, and faithful arms of Love Himself!” I REFUSE to accept current circumstances and emotions as my reality! Evidence and Truth aren't always in agreement. We choose to believe and declare as reality either our inheritance in Christ, His love for us, His word to us, and His grace and favor over every aspect of our lives, or our current state of living, our circumstances, or our emotions. TRUST HIS HEART! TRUST HIS WORD! TRUST HIS TIMING!

Monday, May 27, 2019

"After All, It's All Him"

It’s been 52 days. At times, the emotions have been all over the place. My awareness of what has happened has seemed a bit “hyperactive”, but it’s real, nonetheless. I’ve made conscious efforts to correct things in my behavior, my focus, and my emotions. I’ve been thankful, so very thankful. I’ve learned to view the heart attack as a “gift” from God. Not that He “sent it”, that’s preposterous to look at Abba that way, He doesn’t “send” bad things, or things related to curses to His beloved children. But He has revealed to me what was going on inside of me, and the perspective that I had erroneously looked at certain aspects of my life through. He has indeed “worked all things together for the good”, and I believe it is only the beginning of “the good”. In the coming days, months, and years, I believe that the corrections, alignments, and processes that the Holy Spirit has helped and will continue to help me engage in, will revolutionize my life in a plethora of ways.
The emotional seesaw has continued. Some of that may be the process of my body and mind adjusting to this new and improved “normal”. Some of it may be a heightened awareness of how fragile my humanity is, and some of it is most likely the enemy-induced lying spirit of fear, dread, and insecurity. I’ve even “deduced” that some of what I’m feeling is the sting of unfulfilled desires, dreams, and passions that I’ve yet to see unfold. Dealing with a potentially life-threatening episode has tried to entice my mind to go to those dark places where the lies try to fill my thoughts with how I’ve failed to do so much for my family so far, and how the choices (or failure to make the right choices) has kept me in a place of poorly providing for my family, and after feeling stuck in a spinning, cyclical state of deferred hopes and closed doors, I have been drained of my energy and my vitality to even try to dream, plan, or enthusiastically go after those objectives for my family and me. On the one hand, I have been truly transformed in areas of my life and my mindset, but on the other hand, I still wrestle with the “why’s and when’s”. WHY do the circumstances still seem stuck in a mind-numbing ride on a merciless, mundane, merry-go-round of trapped sameness and lack? When will I see the fruition of all the God-given hopes and desires of life and living?
Somehow, I can only arrive at this conclusion (without driving myself insane, or into another health episode). The whole ride of my life, including these seemingly sabotaged and cyclical seasons of barrenness, has nothing to do with what I have or haven’t done. Could it be that for over 20 years, God has been preparing us for this time, and this time for us, including answers, opportunities, abundance? It seems absurd to my natural mind. I mean doesn’t insanity mean to do the same thing over and over, yet expect different results? I think that’s an inaccurate definition formed from a shallow perspective. God does, in fact, lead us in patterns of repeat (see the children of Israel on their epic journey). But the way out of “repeat” has more to do with His timing, purpose, and process than it does with our performance or lack of. Religion and its pious sounding, principle-following eager minions always find a way to make life in Him, and our relationship and journey with Him, about US—what we’re not doing, what we’re doing wrong, and what we need to do more of.
Sermon series, books, seminars, and lectures provide us with an overkill of “plans”, recipes, steps, opinions, interpretive perspectives, and formulas to make us better this or better that. But the reality is this, OUR HUMANITY IS WOEFULLY BANKRUPT OF GOODNESS. We can’t follow enough guidelines or behavior modification practices to “arrive” at the life that Jesus wants us to enjoy! And we can’t live His life by “being better”, doing more, or being shamed into more “holy” behavior. I’ve read so much, listened to so many talking heads, and followed so many teachings through the years, hoping to finally get all the tumblers to align and unlock His answers, His blessings, His favor, and His direction in my life, that my brain has nearly flatlined!!!! Sadly, these are the things that modern Christianity seems to be built on! No wonder so many people burn out, give up, turn away from God, and grow incredibly cynical, fatalistic, and negative. Humanity—even in our most sanitized state—is filthy, and incapable of following a path of principled performance into that abundant, Kingdom-filled life that Jesus came to give us. That’s why He gave us His Spirit! He alone brings transformation, favor, power, and desires fulfilled. Once we recognize and accept that we are unable to humanly achieve the life of the Spirit through our principle following, behavior modification, or formulas, and live in complete dependence and surrender to the Spirit’s work and power in our life, THEN we will experience what Christ in us and through us can look like in every facet of our lives. THEN we can experience breakthrough, wholeness, and abundance. Meanwhile, we continue wandering around the same mountain, the same maddening cycle of repeat. We motivate one another by the “what could be, if only we could finally ascend that mountain” mindset. And we write more plans, more books, more sermon series, and more principle following flow charts to correct some part or parts of us that will hopefully align us with His approval and willingness to answer us in our areas of need and desire. We strive to “hit” on the magic formula that will finally unlock His promises and bring their manifestation in our lives.
But it’s only in giving up, that we experience breaking through! It’s only in realizing that HE is all in all…our EVERYTHING! Only by His Spirit, and by surrendering every part, every effort, and every principle to His control, and His empowerment, that we will walk in the fullness of His heart and His plan for us, resting and trusting in HIM alone! As a child completely and totally dependent on the love and provision of their Abba, we can confidently declare and live without fear or doubt, and with an expectant heart and mind! We no longer vacillate between fear and faith because we know His perfect love for us, and His heart for His children. We can rest assured in the desires that He places in us, as we delight in Him, and as we focus on our intimacy with Him in every aspect of our lives. His Spirit guides us, aligns us, and empowers us. It’s all HIM! In HIM, we live, we move, we have our very existence, our “MiDentity”.

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Worship Wars"

Worship is a life lived in Christ that expresses itself from the inside out through His very Spirit in us, not merely an emotionally engaging experience or event that evokes familiar feelings through outward expression or cathartic moments. Spirit, Life, and Truth are so much more meaningful and fruitful than emotion, music, and song! To me, substantive music & song are "overflows" and natural results of Life Worship NOT overly hyped substitutes for! Without Life Worship, sounding brass & tinkling cymbals are all that remain! And yet, so much emphasis and priority in popular "worship" culture are placed on brass, cymbals, expressions, emotions, events, and moments even in the absence of Life Worship that permeates every facet of our existence! True worship is evidenced in transformational life, not the emotional experience!  The religious environment I was raised in placed a premium on emotional experience, cliché-filled catchphrase preaching, and image-focused, fear-driven behavior modification. Worship was presented as a feeling, a style, and cathartic expressions in corporate settings, instead of a lifestyle. (Romans 12:1-2) Thankfully, the grace of God has helped me unlearn so much throughout my journey. I had to learn that It’s not about living FOR Christ, but rather living IN Christ. It is about an intimate relationship, identity healing, and Holy Spirit transformative, Kingdom living. You can’t live the abundant life that Christ came to give by “rote”, following principles, or behavior modification. Living as a son or daughter is so much more than an emotion or an experience. It is a reality that encompasses every aspect of life! Be careful not to confuse emotional expression or passionate conveyance with anointing. Our emotions can be manipulated by those who are skilled at creating “environments” and moments, leading us to confuse those “feelings” with the anointing. Anointing can’t be manipulated, nor does it manipulate the emotions. Although our emotions may be engaged as a result of an encounter or moment, the anointing brings a presence and power that remain long after the emotions from a cathartic moment or “atmosphere” are gone. This confusion has perpetuated “worship wars” within church culture, where denominations that facilitate and promote certain musical “styles” and corporate worship environments erroneously claim a sort of superior, more authentic anointing over another. An organ and a choir have no more anointing than a 21-year-old hipster on an acoustic guitar. The anointing transcends feelings or familiar “atmosphere”.
     I'm 49 years old, raised in a "church" environment for many years of my life, and I've observed trend after trend in worship music and styles. I really don't consider worship a trend or a style. Genuine worship is spirit & truth--not stylistic preference, or emotionally satiated "cathartic" experiences. The ultimate expression of worship is our life lived in Christ, honoring and glorifying Him by declaring His love, grace, and glory, and reflecting the heart of God to others. To me, it's just as much a worship song when it tells a personal, everyday story of a life lived In Christ, where happenings, occurrences, experiences, and circumstances--even "non-religious" sounding ones--are seen through the lens of our identity IN HIM, as it is when a song is written specifically to be easily sung corporately, where the lyrics themselves focus on theology, Christian terminology, and familiar catchphrases about God. Worship music is so much broader than a "marketable" niche, and a cottage industry within the church world. Our lives IN CHRIST shouldn't be "compartmentalized" and separate from what some would call "the real world", so why should the music we create, and the art we express? When one’s worship and church engagement becomes more about preferred, familiar cultural and traditional experiences and feelings than it does about life transformation, intimate connection to God, and reflecting the heart of Christ through cultural impact and deep community, you have lost sight of what “church” and “worship” are really all about. This reality seems painfully evident in the “Bible Belt” church and worship culture that I've observed for much of my life. Recreating feelings and experiences through “familiar” methodology and shallow connection are not what is at the heart of God for the mission and expression of His body in this world. It's puzzling how some people have to have certain familiar, comforting, even "euphoric" emotional experiences, in order to feel a "worshipful" connection to God. Their "goose bumps" or emotions HAVE to be continually engaged outwardly even if there are no signs of Spirit-led, inward transformative works taking place. They are constantly on a quest to re-create these moments & encounters, and oftentimes miss the ever-present presence in the day-to-day or what may be considered by many to be mundane, because of their obsession with the emotionally manipulated familiar. Some seem to reach a place where they "worship their worship". They appear to have an overwhelming allegiance to "worship nostalgia". When God desires to lead us into an unfolding adventure of Love & Grace, some have a tendency to resist, and even criticize those who would follow after Father instead of "fawning" after the familiar! Even when delivered from bondage, and the tyranny of slavery, the children of Israel reached a point of longing for the familiar of an enslaved existence... "In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, 'If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”(Exodus 16:2-3) Emotions are a natural part of who God created us to be, but how incredible and pure it is when those emotions flow from the inside out, uncontrived, natural responses to a growing love relationship with an amazing Savior, who daily unfolds His Life, His Kingdom, His Love, His power, & His revelation in us and through us--even in unfamiliar, unscripted, peaceful, & unconventional ways, and in wide open places! It isn't born within the stained glass & steeples. It's not conceived in a feeling or a song. True worship--It doesn't originate in the movement of chords or melodies. It isn't created in dramatic recitations of deep thoughts or religious philosophy! It flows from a relationship between almighty God and the apple of His eye! It's expressed and seen in His Love for His people, flowing through them to others, and through the "everyday" Kingdom life He invites us to live! Worship is a life, powered by His Spirit, energized by His Grace, and lived in abundance! A life of reflection, the reflection of ONE! The manifestations and emotional expressions are not orchestrated or manipulated, but rather, they are natural, overflowing praise responses to the finished, perfect work of ONE, and the amazing Life, Power, & Wonder found in the growing relationship with that ONE, Love Himself!
     Sadly, there are those who insist on rigidly holding to symbols and styles over the source and substance of worship. They exhibit a kind of self-righteousness and judgmental arrogance. They hold militantly to tradition and preference, while wrongly elevating those factors to the status of "truth" or "genuine" praise and worship. They equate spiritual depth, presence, and sincerity of a true worshiper's heart with a stylistic presentation, genre', structure, and emotionally driven performance. They display a religious spirit, bent on recreating and even preserving the old wineskins while discrediting any vessels of the new wine that do not conform to the old order. They refuse to acknowledge this, and instead, choose to double down on their seeming misunderstanding of the essence and meaning of worship, and insistence of holding on to their sacred cows and false "gods". Who are these next-gen “Pharisees”? Who are “they”? They are distracted, misdirected Christians engaging in…worship wars!

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 living according to our new identity in Him--our “MiDentity”--and it 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 #MiDentity517 #InChrist

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 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… 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.