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.

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!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

“The Gospel of Grace, A Segmented Perspective or A Holistic Life?”

Though the God of Grace passionately pursues us and values our heart, His grace has a way of "demoralizing" our humanity. But this is indeed a great thing. His strength is magnified in our weakness. Our human effort, hard work, and goodness resumes are worthless in the eyes of Grace. Maybe this is why so many fail to LIVE in Grace in every aspect of life. Pride causes us to preserve, protect, and manage our humanity, instead of admitting weakness, vulnerability, and depending COMPLETELY on the finished work, strength and Life of another. Holiness has 100% to do with our right standing with God because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross! It is 100% what Jesus did, and 0% what we do! His life in us produces a holiness that is reflective of Jesus. Christ did not come to make us better human beings, he came to make us new creations! Plain and simple, it is "intrinsic" in human nature to try to somehow take some credit for our goodness, holiness, and righteousness. This is nowhere more clearly seen than in modern evangelical-type religion. Holiness has everything to do with our position in Christ Jesus, and nothing to do with what we can produce through our behavior modification or will power. Repentance is not even initiated by us. The goodness of God leads us to repentance. And repentance is not simply being sorry for what we have done wrong and gotten caught up with. Repentance is a change of heart, mind, and direction. A surrendered response to the finished work of Jesus Christ. This produces holiness in our lives. We are the righteousness of God in Christ. Christ did it all! He became sin for us, and became our righteousness and holiness! I hate to break it to all of the "spirit filled" Boy Scouts, but we can't earn enough merit badges, or try to enforce enough of that same condemnation-laden, legalistic mindset on others, to earn one drop of holiness. "Be ye holy as I am Holy" is not an objective that we have to achieve through works and performance, but rather the reality of who we are in Christ!! Once in Him, His Spirit supernaturally produce holiness through our surrendered self. It's through His life! An Apple tree doesn't have to try to produce apples, it produces them because that is the life that is in the tree. Our life in Him began also on a tree--the cross. Therefore, only from the life we receive from, and In, He who gave all on that tree, do we produce holiness. In Him, we live, move, and have our identity! What security! What good news! And this Gospel can make you prosperous in every facet of life. True prosperity is realized the more we live every area of our life IN CHRIST, by His Spirit. As long as we try to live this life in a double-minded manner, from our flesh, only occasionally engaging in, and seeing glimpses of His Spirit, our lives will remain unstable. The abundant life that Jesus gives is holistic. Jesus DID in fact become poor that we might become rich, He was wounded that we might be healed, and He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God In Him. His will is for us to be "holistically" prosperous, lacking nothing, as we are being conformed to the image of our true identity, in Christ. The abundant life we have in Christ flows against the tide of conventional thinking. Grace-based living doesn't follow the principles and patterns of earthly mentality, nor is it subject to natural law-religiously speaking, or otherwise. We live the Grace life by the laws of the Kingdom of God. Make no mistake, there is a lot of earthly mentality that exists under the cover of christianity. These are certainly evident on the fringe extremes of the christian faith. On the one hand, the minimalist, activist type who tries to denounce any material possessions as “blessings”, while promoting extreme suffering as the “sign of spirituality”, and the self-indulgent, image-obsessed type who thinks materialism is the litmus test for blessing, while seasonal “suffering” is a “sign” of a lack of faith. Neither extreme seems to understand the meaning of Grace and prosperity. They simply represent and reflect polar opposite "flavors" of the same condition--legalism. Grace doesn't need balance from our varying human “perspectives”. It IS the very balance of our existence.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"How Will 'IT' Look?"

When you reach that place of “I’ve Arrived”, how will “it” look?
When you achieve the goals that your life has been consumed by, how will “it” look?
When you are finally comfortable in your own skin, and you’ve effectively dealt with your insecurities, how will “it” look?
When you’re able to confidently and somehow defiantly grin at your critics and detractors in that “how do you like me now, sucka” tone, how will “it” look? When you become the one that others turn to for guidance and coaching instead of you being the one stumbling through your existence, groping for answers & meaning, how will “it” look?
When you become “sought after” after years of “seeking after”, how will “it” look?
When you become “significant” after years of occupying an obscure space, how will “it” look?
When your decisions are no longer governed by your fears, but by the reality of LOVE HIMSELF, and the security of that LOVE, how will “it” look?
When you’re no longer in a place of “proving your worth to others” but resting secure in your infinite worth to One, how will “it” look?
In our hearts and minds we imagine what “IT” might look like to us and others when we arrive at the place that we’ve been on a seemingly insatiable quest to finally discover. The “IT” is the “finished, better, fixed” version of our self. The “IT” is what we effort arduously to create in the perception of others and even in our own distorted vision of who we think we should or want to be. The “IT” is our identity that we have mistakenly believed is defined by what we do, how we perform, or who we know. The “IT” is the lie that we buy into at an early age. The “IT” is what we’ll forever be chasing but NEVER finding within our own strength or most stringent disciplines. The “IT” that our heart is hungry to see revealed is not an “IT” at all. It is an established, tangible reality! “IT” is a “WHO”! “IT” is a Life! IT is THE Life. “IT” cannot be lived through faultless performance, or behavioral modification or manipulation. “IT” can only be realized through living another’s Life! Not through self-motivated initiative, but rather a surrendered response to a finished process! A process that was already perfected, once, by One….for you, for me! So the pressure to find and achieve the “IT” is a misguided “pipe dream”. The “IT” is not what hopefully will be, but it’s the “WHO” that is available NOW, for our past, our present, and our future! The “WHO” is fully alive, present, active, and reaching for YOU! You have nothing to prove to the “WHO”! You’re already completely accepted and APPROVED in Him! His life and love are completely yours, even at your worst! When you live the life of the ever present “WHO”, you can be at peace with where you are now on your journey in Him, and stop worrying about how you will be when you get to your later “IT”. Journey on!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

“The Disappointing Illusion of The Familiar”

Life is a grand, ongoing adventure, and an amazing journey! Knowing what I know now, would I change some things about past experiences or decisions if I could? Sure! But would I trade places with ANYONE on the planet? A resounding NO WAY! I am thankful for the process that has led me to where I am. The events, the lessons, the people, the frustrations, and the time invested has had a collective hand in bringing me to the place I am now, and to the man I have become and am becoming. I have a profound sense of thankfulness to God for His mercy, grace, and love for me. My experiences, my relationships, and choices made on my journey have not all been great and enjoyable by any stretch of the imagination; quite the contrary, some of them have been downright forgettable and regrettable. But I can't allow bitterness from the past to pollute my present, or flaw my future. The past has brought me to right now. God is faithful, and has kept me through every chapter, every disappointment, and every rejection. He has led me through every step and every season. In Christ--my true identity--I have the promise of a completed and amazing work in me. He began it, and He will make it thrive, beyond my greatest imagination and fondest hopes!
Experience is certainly a willing, though sometimes calloused teacher on this fascinating journey. I've found that settling for the familiar can be the greatest threat to fulfilling your God given purpose. The children of Israel, Lot's wife, and the rich young ruler all chose the folly of the familiar, and it derailed their destiny.
In my own life, through the leadership and grace of the Holy Spirit I've learned to recognize the familiarity of toxic people, environments, and mindsets from my past that have a way of creating identity crises. When I engage them, and allow them to participate in my life, they can cause me to forget who I am, my purpose, and where I derive my value and significance. Many of them remind me of everything I loathed about my old nature and my misplaced heart. They can have the appearance of being harmless, and they can disarm you with the feeling of the familiar. But make no mistake, they are out to manipulate your identity, sabotage your purpose, and make you a prisoner to fear—fear of man, fear of rejection, or a fear of failure. I am learning to identify where some of the pitfalls and vulnerabilities can hang out, and how insecurities I allowed to take root in the heart, as a result of some of my life experiences, can hide in subtlety, lurking behind faces and places. They will try to reemerge at every opportunity to distort God’s purpose for my life. These mindsets, systems, people, and environments wreaked havoc on my emotions, my self-confidence, and my identity. Reminders of what I hated in my own life were often awakened when I got around certain people in certain environments, and I listened to the conversations that emerged, as hearts were revealed, and motives were unearthed, reminding me of what God mercifully led me out of.
Sometimes the familiar has a way of pulling us back time and time again because it seems safe and comfortable. But giving in to it leaves you feeling unfulfilled, insufficient, misguided, and out of focus. Once God invites you to engage in His much grander purpose for your life, nothing less will ever satisfy or fulfill that deep calling and longing inside, and you will always feel incomplete as long as you attempt to entertain the familiar and settle for such a less than, shallow and superficial existence. Answering His invitation can oftentimes bring you to a place of solitude, loneliness, and silence, as you leap “blindly” into the wide-open spaces that you’ve never before experienced. The leap is completely safe though, for He is carrying you, carrying you beyond the clamor of the crowd, the praise of your peers, the noise of the naysayers, and the opinions of the oppressive. And He’s calling you to His heart, to a Grace filled existence, to an acute awareness of His presence, and to a keen sensitivity to His voice. It’s a place beyond the grip of your control or ability to manipulate the outcomes. He has freely given to you the abundant Life in Christ, filled with Kingdom opportunity, significance, and purpose.
Yes, it may be unfamiliar, but you have been prepared for this, and He has prepared it for you. You can’t give in to the illusion of “safe” that the familiar will offer. The familiar fights faith at every turn. But only faith can take you to your destiny. You’ve been created IN CHRIST before the earth was formed to live the humanly unimaginable life! As we remain willing to allow His spirit to conform us to our true identity, He will take us through the unfamiliar into the most secure, rewarding existence we could ever imagine. And that life is for now—His kingdom coming and His will being done IN EARTH as it is IN HEAVEN! The familiar experiences, people, or places can never make that kind of guarantee.

"For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.[j] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
--Romans 8:22-39 (ESV)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Flag of the Day, Married and Gay, & Angry Zealots Have Their Say"

Considering the toxic, volatile vibe in the country that has erupted over the last few years, I thought I’d do my part to lob a “verbal” incendiary device into the fray. I can assure you, no offense is intended. Divisiveness has seemed to dramatically intensify, over the last few years in America. No doubt, this has been augmented and exploited by an overtly biased media. A racially motivated, tragic hate crime in a house of worship, an absolute “brewhaha” over flags, two separate SCOTUS rulings—one, an especially historic ruling—and an angry group of Christians that haven’t been this riled up since possibly the crusades. Now, I’m not gonna argue here, or present a case for one side or the other. That’s not the point of writing this. While I do agree that the SCOTUS woefully overstepped its bounds, and with politically biased interpretation, legislated from the bench, redefining a God-ordained institution that was NEVER established by them in the first place, and did so in arrogant defiance to the will of a majority of citizens, I’m not here to take a red versus blue, liberal versus conservative political stand here. My purpose goes much deeper to the real issue, and the root of the cultural chaos we are now witnessing. The real issue is being overlooked, and drowned out by the meaningless noise, distractions, and diversions caused by behavior that is simply a smokescreen. The true enemy of humanity is orchestrating this smokescreen skillfully and with sinister motivations, and so many are complying with his tricks, smoke and mirrors, and illusions, like mindless mice following the evil pied piper. The enemy knows how to engage emotions, and he is a master manipulator of the human mind. If he can create an “us versus them” narrative, and through diversion, divide the attentions and focus of both sides, causing them to level attacks against one another, then he can desensitize people and divert the “action” and attention away from the real disease, and the Cure for the chaos of culture.
The obsession to be “right” in opinions, perspective, and viewpoint has fueled debate, arguments, and even self-professing “God-endorsement” of our ideas and philosophy. Christians have grown quite skilled in co-opting God to endorse their belief systems, misrepresenting His Word, and using shame and condemnation as their strategy for exposing wrong in others, while highlighting “right” in themselves. I find it interesting; however, that the Christ so many of them claim to speak for and represent, didn’t “handle things” at all the way many of His “followers” do today. He didn’t come protecting His reputation; conversely, He made Himself of no reputation. He didn’t defend the position of the religious culture of the day. He came speaking truth in love, and proclaiming Life everlasting, God’s Kingdom, and His heart. I’ve heard it described this way, “He didn’t come to take sides, He came to take over.” He only did what was in agreement with the will of His Father. He came to seek and save that which was lost—proper identity and right standing with God. He was on a mission of saving, not condemning. He didn’t compromise the reality of right and wrong, nor was he "soft" on sin, but He knew that darkness becomes a non-issue once the Light is turned on. He didn’t allow Himself to become embroiled in surface, appearance focused debate, or symptomatic results of a much deeper issue. He reached for the hearts of people, and offered them Life, Grace, Freedom from sin, and Transformation in their lives and lifestyles—the things that characterized WHO HE WAS, and who we are, once we are IN HIM.
Somewhere along the timeline of Christianity, identity has been lost, or distorted at the very least. The body of Christ has become more focused on righting wrongs, exposing transgressions, and zealously standing for noble causes, than they are at simply living life from the source of their true identity, IN CHRIST, by His Spirit working in and through them. They’ve cursed the darkness, exposed sin, and made the sinner feel condemned as they are made increasingly conscious of their sin, all the while, the church seems to be failing to accurately represent and walk in His Light, turn His light on in the darkness, and focus the consciousness on the cure for sin—the finished work of the Cross of Christ. The Gospel has been misrepresented, and distorted to the point where “good news” has been replaced by noble sounding “right living” through following principled lists of do’s and don’ts, self-discipline, righteous appearances and personal performance.
One thing much of Christianity seems to have forgotten, at least in our country, is that the abundant Life that Jesus gives cannot be lived out by the “goodness” of feeble humanity. We can’t “copy” the way Jesus lived by rote from our strength, good deeds, or self discipline. It still takes the Life and the power of the One who gave that Life through Christ. He didn’t come to make us better humans, who are more skilled at following lists, performing flawless, morally astute lives before an admiring public. He came to make us new creations! Every part of us! The Gospel is the “holistic” good news! It covers every single aspect of our living.
I’m convinced that the defining negative issues of culture through the eons of time would have been non-issues had the body of Christ been more interested in sticking to THE GOSPEL, encouraging living from identity in Christ in her members, and pointing people to the Cross of Jesus, instead of vacating her leadership role in the world, retreating to divisive religious subcultures, co-opting the systems of the world, building institutions, personal kingdoms, and attempting to become “relevant” IN the culture instead of presenting the relevance of Christ TO the culture. The body somehow got sidetracked in dissention among her own tribes, and division of theology, philosophy, and doctrine. And sadly, much of the division at its core, was over semantics. What a devious and masterful divisive tactic of the enemy. The church became reactionary through the years every time an issue of culture and Godlessness manifested, instead of proclaiming Christ the answer in a proactive sense before those issues came into being. She was always one step behind the culture instead of determining the culture, by declaring and manifesting a “new” culture—the Kingdom Culture. She created an “us versus them” mentality with people in the world instead of exercising her God-give authority against the spirit of the world, while copying their systems and adopting their mindsets. She failed to see the real enemy and became victimized by the deception of symptomatic evidence—taking up “religious” causes against others, instead of being the ambassadors of Christ and taking up HIS mission and heart. The real enemy lulled the church into distractions, taking her eyes off of the real enemy and the real issues of peoples’ hearts. The church became involved politically, financially, and socially with the systems of the world, while trying (but failing) to effectively “package” those systems in a sanitized presentation. A mixture message, a mixture mindset, and an instability to consistently function in power, Grace, and authority—the very things Christ empowered her with.
It shouldn’t be a shock to the church when the world acts and lives like, well, the world! But it seems that it is, and that her primary role is to combat culture at it’s surface level. In doing so, the church has vacated a leadership role in culture, and the vacuum left there was eagerly and quickly filled by the forces of darkness. By the time the church sees the enemy manifest, she begins to lash out and react at the symptoms and the victims of the real enemy--the people. She goes after “flesh & blood”, while all the while quoting scripture--from memory instead of passionate belief, Grace, and authority. And the spirits of darkness—where the real war should be waged—laugh as the “us versus them” narrative continues to be echoed on every front in the name of defending truth and righteousness. And people are victimized, criticized, condemned, and marginalized. The church is mired in a debilitating identity crisis. She seems to be fighting FOR “righteousness”, justice, and truth, instead of fighting the real enemy FROM that position. The whole earth is groaning for the sons and daughters of the King to take their rightful position of ushering in His Kingdom and His will in earth as it is in Heaven. But the swatting at the flies continues. The distractions of the symptoms is clouding the reality of the genuine heart needs. And the church in identity crisis fades deeper and deeper into a “sanitized” and irrelevant section of culture, continuing to “take up” righteous causes, humanitarian issues, and moral justice campaigns. But they are in the defensive posture, and slowly but surely being driven into silence when it comes to the direction of the nation.
It is time for the citizens of the Kingdom to reconnect, re-engage, and declare who we are, who defines our reality, and WHOSE Life we live by in every aspect of life. We are IN CHRIST. New creations. Old things are gone. All things are new! This changes everything. In every area of our existence, we can move in abundance, authority, power, love, and grace, because our DNA, our identity is BRAND NEW. The finished work of Jesus on the cross gave us NEW IDENTITY! Our DNA flows from the blood of Jesus. As Jesus was, so are we in this world! As the body of Christ with many members, it is time for us to begin to declare, to believe, to live, and to advance His Kingdom! Christ has paid it all, finished the work, and guaranteed the outcome! Now, He invites His body to take their place, take the fight to the real enemy, which ironically has already been defeated. He has empowered us to take every territory back, and proclaim the words of the prophet Isaiah, which were later echoed and fulfilled in Christ, “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD."
This is our identity! The church needs to BE and walk in what we were created to be. She is not an institution, a religious idea or organization, an entrepreneurial venture, or a political force fashioned after the systems of the world. She is ALIVE, the life giving, organic, Grace-infusing, powerful body of Christ, the bride of a King! She is on a mission of reconciliation and redemption, not condemnation. She is not a cultural reaction, she was created to determine the culture for Christ, and manifest the Kingdom with no end. It’s time to reflect our King, and to represent the face and the heart of our Savior, Jesus! Abundant Life in every area of existence is ours through Christ. He is the answer for all. He is the cure for culture, and the Hope for every person. Our true identity awaits, revealed in Christ, and lived out practically and powerfully by His Spirit in us, covering us with His Love and Grace. Do you remember who you are?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

“Sin Conscious or Christ Conscious”

Social media newsfeeds have been going berserk for some time now! So many christian leaders seem to be obsessed over sin. They are "touting" terminology such as "hyper-grace", cheap grace, or "easy believism". They are vilifying (based on biased journalism or hearsay) prominent ministries that are rumored to be promoting or "going soft" on sin, and they are perpetuating an overwhelming perspective of gloom and doom pronounced over people who won't play in their sandboxes or espouse their own "personal" kingdom agendas. It's obvious by this that their focus has become something other than THE GOSPEL--the power unto salvation, and the power over sin--, and Jesus Christ and Him crucified. What they don't seem to understand, or simply won't admit, is that TRUE GRACE, and an encounter with the transformative power of Christ in us, make this "hypergrace" (technically, not even a biblical term) a non-issue. The need is that we promote and maintain a continuous focus on the finished work of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us!! The culture and mindset of church and religion seems to thrive on making people sin conscious, thus keeping them under some sort of legalistic control, perpetuating a "self-righteous", personal goodness performance mentality, in order to build their individual kingdoms. Religion does not work without some level of self-loathing, fear, or an angry God. If the attention and focus were on the power of genuine Grace and the reality of our identity in Christ because of His finished work at the cross, we would understand and see that the 10 commandments of the old covenant are now the 10 promises of the new covenant through the power of Grace, and our response of faith to that. Christ in us makes sin no longer an issue. His Spirit working in us and through us aligns us with our true identity in Him, instead of keeping us enslaved to and focused on the sin nature, which consequently was crucified with Christ on the Cross. Focus on the new nature, not the old. The reality is, once we are in Christ, we are new creations. The old is GONE, and all things have become new! Live life from here, and sin has no voice in the equation. The only way to live AS Christ is to live IN Christ!!! He IS our very life! "In HIM, we live, move, and have our being!" It is impossible to emulate Christ from our humanity through good works, acts of nobility, or "principle-driven" behavior modification. "In my flesh dwells NO good thing!" Galatians 2:20--"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." The amazing reality is this, because of His finished work on the cross, THIS is how we can now live..."As He is, SO ARE WE IN THIS WORLD"!!!
All human efforts to earn His Grace, Love, and approval through performance, good deeds, or "righteous resumes", end up as mere legalism, works, and law based living.
Only One has ever truly pleased the Father. It was His own Son, Jesus. We spend years working and working trying to "please" God. The only way to please God is to live in the Life of the Son in whom He was "well pleased". We can only experience this IN AND THROUGH HIS LIFE, By His Spirit!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Free At Last"

Slavery! The very word can make you “flinch”! We recoil at how reprehensible the concept is! We shake our heads in regret that such a travesty could happen to ANY human being, or any race or group of people! But it did! And, it still does! Most of us barely even realize the reality that WE just might still be slaves! Yes, many of us WILLINGLY, yet unknowingly participate in the bartering of our minds, our hearts, and even our souls, through selfish desires, emotionally driven choices, and thoughtless, careless uses of our words. WE ARE SLAVES! Much like the slavery during the Civil War era, sadly, our emancipation has been completely paid for, and yet we continue to walk around clueless, still living under the tyranny and oppression of an evil yet defeated slave master!
Proverbs 29:25 lets us know that we can remain ensnared, enslaved by a cruel taskmaster—“the fear of man”! The Message translation reads this way…”The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.”
So many of our words are calculated, premeditated, and “staged” with the sole purpose of being viewed acceptable & validated in the eyes of people. That’s part of the human condition. It’s the part that can immobilize our growth & development into our new identity—IN CHRIST! Through HIS Life, we have been set free from the need to perform for people, ourselves, or even for God Himself! Before we had breathed even one breath, we were validated in HIS eyes! We were loved and accepted completely & perfectly, with nothing else to prove! We have been emancipated to simply respond to, and willingly accept the Life we now have through Christ! We can now live for an audience of ONE, and HE doesn’t hold us to a standard of performance! It’s like our kids performing for us, no matter how pathetic & UN-OSCAR-WORTHY the performance may be, they are OUR children, and we rave over their performance because they belong to us, and we see them through the unwavering lens of love! Imagine HIS perfected love that so far supercedes our finite ability, and transcends our failed attempts to perform flawlessly! HIS love that found us and pursued us when we were at our worst! THAT LOVE has set us free to simply live a life of “surrendered response” instead of self-initiated efforts! When the eyes of our hearts are opened to THAT love reality, we start experiencing a freedom that puts us at rest, that restores our joy for life, and that keeps us in a place of peace as we live ALREADY APPROVED, VALIDATED, AND ACCEPTED, and without the chains of human opinion and peoples’ perspective of us enslaving our lives! What an AMAZING life! His life! His gift! And it’s already been paid for, FOR US! It’s our decision to respond! To reject or to receive! To reject, keeps you on the treadmill of image, performance, and trying to be good enough. To receive, releases you into the life and benefits of being HIS child, living in HIS love, and by HIS life! HE was good enough! He finished the performance! You ARE free! FREE INDEED! Journey on! Peace!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

“A Reminder About Bitterness and Rejection”

Bitterness and unforgiveness will derail your destiny faster than anything. And yet in our humanity, we are most susceptible and vulnerable to these two things. The only way to overcome them is to live our life, not from the limitations of our humanity by the futility of self-discipline, religious principles, or will power, but from the reality of the abundant, overcoming life we have through our identity in Christ, by the power of His Spirit. Bitterness and unforgiveness often have roots in rejection. Have you been rejected? Have your gifts, your talents, your personality, your work, or your heart been ignored, overlooked or rejected by your peers, those you admired, a loved one? Jesus was despised and rejected, even by His own people, and those He came to save. He wasn't negatively affected though. Why? He was completely accepted, validated, and approved by His Father, even before His first miracle or message. At His baptism by John the Baptist, He heard, "This is my BELOVED Son, in whom I am WELL PLEASED." Those words were all that mattered. In Christ, those words are to YOU too! Don't allow any root of bitterness from rejection to grow in your heart. REST confidently in the reality of WHOSE you are, and HIS heart toward you! Rejection doesn't have to define your reality or your identity! IN CHRIST, you are accepted, beloved, validated, and treasured! THAT is my identity! THAT is who I am! Man's rejection is insignificant in light of the reality of my true identity! Good news! Bitterness toward anyone will keep you from living fully in your identity In Christ! It's the great thief of the riches we can enjoy living in Christ. Don't let it hang out in your life. In Christ, we were given authority over it. It's our choice though, to live with it, or get rid of it. Don't settle for an anemic, “Christian-lite” life. The earth is groaning, waiting for us to take our rightful place as Sons & Daughters of God. We’re not waiting on God. He’s done it all, and Jesus has sat down. It’s our choice. I’m tired of making excuses for my humanity. I’m focusing on the perfection of Christ. That is my identity! As long as we allow our old nature to be an “excuse” for not realizing the “Hope of Glory”—Christ, living through us in every aspect of life, it will be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"Whose Wings"

It's just a fact of our nature. We humans simply can't help it. We just love to elevate our experiences, our work ethics, our good deeds, and our accomplishments to a place of using them as standards, measures, litmus tests, or examples for people to follow in order to attain a certain level of success or goodness. That gives a delusional sense of rightness or arrival on our part, so we can justify leading others, and conforming them to our ideas and standards. We use our experience to shame others into performing up to our standard, in order to somehow be validated in their work and experience. The reality is, our so-called strengths have a way of becoming weaknesses and vulnerabilities in our own character. The purpose of anything good that might come through us, is to point back to the only true source of anything good--Father God! The strongest are those who recognize their human weakness, and are completely dependent on the strength of Him from whom we derive our true Identity, In Christ. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall.” The higher we rise or succeed, the more vulnerable we become. There is greater temptation to lean on our own strengths, abilities, and experience. The enemy knows this, and camps out in those subtle spaces in our lives where we think we are strong, qualified, or dependable—the places where we are more aware of what we think we CAN do, instead of humbly knowing what we CAN’T do, and that we can ONLY do from our identity in Him! We must be acutely aware of our dependence on God, and the need for intimacy with Christ—living life from Him, in Him, and through Him. It’s all Him! Human nature tends toward self-reliance and personal performance, and it resists dependence, especially when we experience a level of “human success”, validation, or even power. The higher we fly, the more needy we are, and the more crucial it is to rest under the shadow of HIS wings. THAT’S how we truly fly.