Sunday, May 28, 2017

“The Relationship, The Rest, and The Reflection”

So, I was deep in thought today and a couple of pretty cool things happened across my sometimes meandering mind. I was thinking of something my dad and I were talking about a while back. How that God created us for His pleasure more than for His service.
You know, I don’t remember God sending Adam on a missions trip, an outreach campaign, OR headlong into some sort of a program-infested church related venture, fully equipped with maniacal marketing and a media ministry blitz!
God created Adam for friendship, and to have a great time naming animals, do some gardening, eat some amazing fruit, all while walking naked through Eden with Eve (well, maybe that last part was more me than God.)
God desired fellowship and intimacy! He didn’t HAVE to have Adam, He WANTED Adam. Remember, that whole creation thing had already been done by the time Adam was fully on the scene. God wanted to create life after His image and enjoy relationship! He desired to create human “beings”. I am often amused at how people take pride in their claims of DOING so much for God, as if He can’t survive without their efforts. We sometimes even justify busyness and lack of genuine relationship by saying we’re “doing the work of God.” A friend told me recently that they had heard a “misguided” charismatic or evangelical leader repeat the often quoted statement, “it’s lonely at the top”! The sad thing is that this statement was made in defense of not having many solid relationships. It sounded to me personally, that this statement was a rather delusional if not prideful declaration by this person that life, success, or even ministry are more about “doing” than “being”.
Look at our society today! The emphasis is on productivity, acclaim, notoriety, success (albeit a distorted view of what success is), ability to multi-task. We text, we email, we blog, we digitally network, we grab dinner at a drive through, we eat that dinner while watching tv, surfing the web, texting, gaming, etc…
Where is the time for genuine “being” in all of this! Where is the breathing, the stillness, the rest? Sadly, this is becoming the norm in our existence.
Even in Christianity, there seems to be a “busyness”, a “Martha mentality”, if you will. We justify it in a plethora of ways including sermon series, blogs, and books. We engage in a constant building, expanding, keeping up with other “stained glass and steeple symbolism”, all the while failing to simply “BE”. In Mark 3, Jesus called His disciples together first and foremost that “they might be with Him”. Then he sent them out, BUT, it was with THE POWER OF GOD, NOT their own abilities or talents. Anything of substance that we will EVER achieve or produce from our lives, will only be born out of relationship and intimacy!
And that brings us back to the garden with Adam, chasing a naked woman around the tree of Life. Intimacy was interrupted and work or “doing” became the order of life after man chose to live life separate from God—after he made the decision to go his own way. Now please understand, I’m not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, buy a Volkswagon Westfalia minivan (although those are cool, and I want one), live in tents as nomads, form a nudist colony, and move to an open field in upstate New York. Just wanted to settle that before we go on! Everyone clear on that?? Cool? Okay!
What I am saying here is that it might be cool if we rediscover God’s purpose for humanity, and reposition ourselves in a place of intimacy and relationship with THE SOURCE of everything “good and perfect”. It is ludicrous to think that we’re smart, talented, hard-working, or creative enough by ourselves to do ONE THING of substance or significance in this life! Intimacy with God is foundational and necessary to our “success” in any area of life.
What’s amazing here is that God desires to partner with us to help establish His Kingdom here on earth. He’s passionate about being with us! The God of all… WANTS US! He doesn’t “need” us, but He “wants” us! Isn’t that an AMAZING, yet HUMBLING realization!!!!!!
I’m gonna go out on a limb here, if you will allow me, and propose that much of our activity or “productivity” could be set aside and replaced with simply pursuing intimacy with God, and spending time in relationship building with Him and the people He’s put in our lives…..wait, wait….NO, I’m NOT trying to write another charismatic sequel to a certain book about us chasing after a God who is NOT playing “chase”. Neither am I trying to be a proponent of going all “spooky Jesus”, or just plain weird! I’m not saying that at all! God’s not weird! Weird people who weirdly misrepresent Him……Now THAT’S weird! I simply believe that it would behoove us to start at the beginning. You see, remember the disciples? Jesus sent them out to start “doing”, after they spent time “being”. Our doing (if it’s really of substance) must be an overflow of our “being”! Being in Him, being with Him, and being reflective of Him.
Paul said it beautifully in his letter to the Corinthian community of believers, when he wrote….”In HIM, we live, we move, we have our BEING”.
Does that sound somewhat “simplistic” to you? And yet, why does it seem to be so rarely lived out?
Perhaps it's because we are out of focus? Or our reflection is projecting through a faulty lens?
The beauty of a lens or even a prism is not the object itself. The beauty lies in what you can see through these objects. Who really notices the beauty and wonder in a lens as an object? What you can look at, admire, study, and later dream about through that lens is what moves the heart and awakens the mind. We, as creations, are to project and reflect the reality, the heart, and beauty of the Creator! The creator’s heart is for intimacy, relationship, and pouring himself into us and through us! If we do anything BUT that, including making ourselves—the LENSES—the object of notoriety and achievement, even trying to justify it by saying we are DOING or working FOR that which we should be simply reflecting, then we misrepresent the light, and we hinder the world from seeing the beauty and truth that is…..LIFE IN HIM, LIFE THROUGH HIM, and LIFE WITH HIM!
Being precedes Doing! Never “do” at the risk of failing to “be”! Our gift or calling, you know, the thing or things we think we’re really good at that God “needs” us to do for Him so He can survive……….well, these “gifts” are NOT our identity, nor should they EVER be! Our identity is lost, or rather found in Christ alone. Our “gifts”—our very lives—should be lenses by which others can look through and see Him clearly reflected! Be careful that our “fingerprints” or control of the “lens” don’t smudge the lens, thus distorting the view of our true identity!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

"Friendship--Identity Lost"

As a 47-year-old dude, I have had ample time to develop certain habits, patterns, and various perspectives about much in life. I have had numerous opportunities to "calcify" over the years relative to certain belief systems, and grow cynical toward anything outside of my rigid "comfort zone" or worldview. But thankfully, there was another choice offered to me with much Love and Grace--HUMILITY--which gave me the freedom to reach certain points in my growth and maturity, where I would have the chance to make mid-course corrections in life, and admit that I WAS WRONG, that I NEEDED TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THAT, that I would need TO UNLEARN, and then be willing to RELEARN! The latter choice was a shot to my "pesky" male ego, as well as to the general overarching sense of pride in my own humanity, ability, and "enlightened self awareness". This choice seems markedly more difficult for the male homo-sapiens to submit to. Personally speaking, it was a particular "tall order" for me to be willing to, and then commit to the process of "deconstructing" the "stuff" I've added to the foundation laid in my life by Love Himself. I have often shown the propensity to complicate the purity of simple faith with my "idea" of who I was created to be, somehow overlooking the reality that I was created IN CHRIST before I was even born, for an incredible creative purpose beyond my wildest imagination! This purpose was one that I wouldn't have to perform in order to somehow be "worthy" of, nor was it a purpose that I could achieve through being approved by others.
This revelation has really become painfully evident in my own life, in the area of friendship! For as long as I can remember, I have been viewed as a "people person", funny, outgoing, friendly, and an overall engaging, down to earth fella! I've heard this even from childhood. I remember being told by a business owner that my personality was gonna make me a lot of money. (Still waitin' on that one.) Honestly, I enjoyed and even craved the validation, attention, and acceptance that came with being perceived that way, so I always worked tirelessly trying to preserve that reputation, and always "postured" myself to look that way. It became sort of a "soft" self manipulation. I learned how to be "that guy", and even how to win people over who I thought might perhaps see me in a different, less flattering light. I'm the dude that could line 10 people up, ask their opinions of me, get 9 glowing, raving reviews, and one lone negative response, and I would OBSESS over the single naysayer. That is all I would see! That one freakin' negative! I would be consumed with strategies on how to change that ONE PERSON'S opinion of me to positive! I have been the poster child for "Insecurity International"! Everything I did, said, or tried to be, was all a result of me trying to be "that guy"! The one everybody liked, approved of, wanted to be friends with, and spoke highly of. My life was one big ol' calculated script! I wouldn't confront, for fear of being misunderstood or disliked. I would conform to a degree, in order to make others feel "comfortable" around me. I never wanted to hurt anyone, or step on their feelings IF it would somehow reflect poorly on my character or personality. I was the ultimate "relational opportunist". I would "carry on" relationships that left me feeling miserable, frustrated, or downright angry, as long as the person I was "laboring" in relationship with still thought highly of me, or considered me a "friend". Can you imagine a more pathetic, insecure, self-esteem starved existence!?!? I can, and that was my universe for a long time.
What is weird is that I hated THAT in others, and could "smell" a fake from miles away! I've never been accused of being a fake, but I HAVE fabricated my heart and "veiled" my true feelings at times as a "defense" mechanism against rejection. It's not that I wasn't being genuine, but it seemed that my "genuine" was subject to everyone else's definition of what me being genuine was suppose to look like! I GENUINELY wanted others to like me. I GENUINELY wanted to make others "feel" good so they would continue to think highly of me. I had "lost" my identity in the distorted shadows of self preservation, and the disillusionment of a self-centered existence. My true identity seemed to have been blown violently into oblivion by the fleeting, ever changing winds of public opinion. For years, I really lived clueless as to my true identity & purpose established for me IN CHRIST! I mistakenly equated my "value" and purpose with how others saw me instead of who that purpose & value were safely and securely established in, IN CHRIST!!! Consequently, many of my "friendships" have been cultivated from a self centered, self seeking motivation. It's a sobering reality to take inventory of the relationships you've "built" over the years, only to find out that they are little more than pathetic reaches for self-validation and attempts to look good in peoples' eyes. I've had to admit to myself recently that I've wasted a lot of time with people--people I didn't want to let go of in relationship, not because I valued the friendship and wanted a lifelong connection with them, but because I couldn't bear the idea of someone rejecting me, or seeing me as a bad friend, disloyal, or character deficient. Talk about a nauseating shot to your manhood! And yet I knew, that in order to discover and experience the fullness of my true identity, I would have to be willing to face this weakness, swallow my pride, risk all kinds of personal rejection, and humbly surrender to the only Strength and ultimate expression of truth and love, and NOT continue this hopeless charade of trying to be all things to all people, to somehow be liked by all!
I have found out that I can not truly love someone as long as I am concerned with their opinions of me. Now, I don't mean that I go around trying to spite people, offending them in the name of "being real", or exhibiting an honest freedom of self expression. It's just that I don't need approval, agreement, or validation anymore from anyone in order to rest securely in my identity, or to live in the enjoyment of perpetual validation! For much of my life, I lived in an enslaving identity crisis! I allowed the perception of others, their opinions and perspective of me, and my insecure heart to control my every move. What a hellish prison to live in! Only as I have discovered and am learning to rest with the ultimate Friend, His Love for me, His heart toward me, and his incredible purpose for me, do I begin understanding more how to BE a friend. I've let some people go, and evidently some have let me go, and I'm fine with that now. My confidence is no longer misplaced or subject to anyone or anything. From this point, all my relationships will be nurtured and developed from the central reality that no matter what, I am extremely and faithfully loved, perfectly validated, and deeply accepted IN CHRIST! And relationships built on THAT worldview are enjoyable, rich, selfless, and solid! All other ground is sinking sand, shifting shadows, and shallow existence. Journey on! Peace!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"We Were Meant to 'Fail'"

What if we were created with a fail system? What if all our greatest efforts, our most ingenious contributions, and even our most well-meaning ventures were meant to end in futility? What if all the accolades, notoriety, and “success” we would ever achieve in life were meant to leave us feeling like we were “still missing something”? And what about all the affirmation, and even the praise and validation of peers, colleagues, and critics, what if THEY were even supposed to leave us with a profound sense of “incompletion” and inadequacy and having to deal with the “harsh” reality of our inability to be self-sufficient? As colorful, inventive, manipulative, and imaginative as humanity is, and as “uber-intelligent” as we seem to have become, WHAT IF, in the end, we have a built in mechanism that keeps us still “in need”, perpetually powerless, and undeniably dependent on someone greater to give us significance?
And, imagine, if we were created with an incapability of conjuring up this significance ourselves by doing everything right, by following the right plans and principles, or by devoting our lives to service, selflessness, or sainthood? Surely those noble traits and commendable characteristics should garner us a measurable amount of fulfillment and sense of “worthiness”!!!
We seem to have de-volved into beings that are defined by our “gifts”, our abilities, and our “do-good” achievements. And yet what makes us who we are—the heart and spirit given to us by Love Himself—seems to receive less attention and focus. The state of being is often sacrificed for the pursuit of our doing.
Even in a “religious” sense, we measure others and ourselves by how much we serve, how large we build, how “global” of a platform we construct, or even how many Twitter followers or Facebook friends we have “substantiating” our “ministry” or public endeavors. We have gotten quite skilled in the art of justifying or “spiritualizing” busyness and productivity, even at the cost of living a life, cultivating genuine relationships, and sharing Love with those around us. So much of our lives—even the admirable aspects—are often spent laboring and investing in systems that are doomed to “fail”. We orchestrate our existence on shifting foundations that ultimately will NOT stand up to the rigors and relentless pressures of life. WHAT IF? What if the sooner we realize our failure mechanism, the sooner we can discover abundance in life?
Maybe we were created that way by grand design! Maybe we were lovingly fashioned with a flawed feature that can only be repaired by a Life outside of ours. Perhaps there is a sort of letting go, and an emptying out of all of our “perceived” human intrinsic value, grand performance, and dependence on self-effort that has to take place in order for us to be filled with actual LIFE, freedom, and peace!
A life surrendered to Love Himself has a way of organically producing life-giving fruit, and substantive achievement without self-initiated, laborious plodding efforts. When intimately connected and acutely in tune with Love Himself, we live in the constant and freeing reality that it is the efforts of One, the love of One, and the life of One alone that give significance and meaning to whatever comes from the life we live. And THAT life is not derived from our tireless toil, our natural ability, or our unwavering, pristine principles. It comes from outside of us, into our hearts, embracing us in our state of helpless inadequacy, and rescuing us into the LIFE already lived, and still living in each and every heart that will simply receive Him. Receive Him into the place of failure, that place of insufficient performance. His Life becomes yours—His abilities, His power, and His validation! And these transcend your efforts, your “goodness”, and even your “gifts and talents”. Maybe these measurables and tangible criteria ARE all destined to “fail” according to our very limited perspective. Perhaps our faith was never meant to be placed in a mythical innate human “goodness”.
Could it be that success is only meant to follow failure, or that being filled can only take place in that which has first been emptied? Maybe?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

"The Hulk Within or The Hope In Him?"

Friday nights were a highlight for me as a kid. Back in the day before cable TV, satellite, and the internet were as commonplace as power and running water, Friday night television viewing was the greatest two to three hour stretch in a pre-teen boy’s media starved existence. My Friday nights—either at my grandparents’ or a friend’s house—unfolded like this, 7:00—The Dukes of Hazzard, 8:00—The Incredible Hulk, and at 9:00--Dallas (That is, until Charlene Tilton--Lucy Ewing—took off more than just her shoes in the bedroom, and my parents said a big NOOOOOOOO to that little bit of adolescent delight.)
My favorite hour of that stretch was The Incredible Hulk. Lou Ferigno was my hero. He was the ultimate vanquisher of villains, and symbol of superhuman strength. I loved it when he would invade a scene—which was usually twice in an episode.
The thing about the Hulk, for those of you who might have been living under a rock for the past 35 years—is that he was actually the result of a horrible mistake. Dr. David Banner, on a quest to discover superhuman strength, and a way to alleviate the pain from losing his wife in an automobile accident in which he wasn’t strong enough to save her from, accidentally overdosed on gamma radiation. This mistake altered his biology, his brain activity, and his body chemistry, and gave him an “alter ego”—a sort of false identity. Because of Dr. Banner’s mistake, in times of extreme emotion or crises, this extreme metamorphosis would occur, changing the normally mild mannered Dr. David Banner into this rampaging, angry, unbelievably strong Hulk creature. Hulk somehow knew the villain in every scenario, or the person who needed rescuing in a certain scene, and would always “rectify” the situation. Of course, collateral damage was a certainty. Property would be destroyed, stuff would get blown up, and of course, the villains would receive a well-deserved beat down, or at the very least, be chased off like the cowards they were.
After the emotional, crisis-inducing stimuli were brought under control, Hulk would always find a place to chill, and begin the process of turning back into David Banner. When Dr. Banner was himself again, he couldn’t remember anything that had happened while he was the Hulk, like how did he always lose his shirt, where were his shoes, and why did his jeans always look like gauchos, torn in the same places? He could never recall his activity after his transformation into the Hulk. It was a complete memory “blackout”.
In his quest to rectify his past mistake, and improve his personal identity and image, he unwittingly created this destructive, false identity that always ruined his shoes and tore his pants. He unleashed a toxic being that would tie him to the very past he was trying to correct and prevent from happening again. There was one character in this show that really irritated me (and typifies much of his whole crooked, corrupt industry, that I’ve been guilty of berating and slamming at times even 35 years later—the media.) He was an investigative reporter named Jack Magee. His life’s work was dedicated to finding the Hulk, and getting answers as to “who” or “what” killed David Banner’s lab partner, and David Banner in an accident (Magee was mistakenly convinced it was murder.) that happened while they were trying to crack the code of how David transformed into the Hulk, and how to control it. David had to fake his own death in order to go “dark”, and find answers to this Hulk phenomenon, and how he could manage this “other” identity that he was now tied to. But Jack Magee wouldn’t let it go, and he obsessively chased Dr. Banner and any other lead he could sniff out relative to his “case”. He was like that stupid little gnat that buzzes around your eyes while you’re trying to enjoy a day fishing, or cooking out by the lake. So many times, I wished Jack Magee would have been exterminated, Hulk-style.
This show held my attention, and my imagination for years. Little did I realize, that years later, this show would resurface on a new television station called MeTV, which plays reruns of old classics and quite frankly, MUCH BETTER programs than most of the trash that’s on today. I also didn’t realize the significance and relevant meaning that the premise of this old show would have to my journey of the last 5 years.
Oftentimes, we can try to rectify a mistake from our past—maybe a relationship, an experience, a faulty belief system, or toxic behavior patterns. In the trying, we can inadvertently create a false identity. We do this by responding to the negative stimuli that we believe created the mistake from a faulty perception of who we are suppose to be—the new and improved version of ourselves. What we fail to understand is that any mistake or failure in our lives that we try to correct, if we approach it from a errant foundation of misplaced identity, will put us in a worse off state than we were to begin with. Coming to a place of realizing where our true identity is established, and engaging our issues from there, is key to thriving in life, and overcoming the issues that try to derail us.
David Banner let his obsession with not being strong enough drive him to try and create a better version of himself. He lost sight of who he really was, and instead, fixated on what he felt like he wasn’t. He created a monster—the Hulk. The things and people he remained attached to while he was trying to establish this better version of himself, proved to be negative influences and toxic burdens to his existence. Each time he would try to start a new process of controlling that better version of himself, it would inevitably awaken the ties and relationships to those things and people that framed his reality in a false existence. He would change cities, change jobs, and even change his last name, but eventually, his past would hunt him down, constantly keeping him in retreat--trying to outrun that false identity that the monster within had created. This would be his perpetually restless and insecure existence until he figured out a way to destroy the monster within, and return to his original identity as Dr. David Banner, make peace with his past, remove the connections, lies, and tainted mindsets that had sent him spiraling down a never ending rabbit hole of empty promises and failed experiments, in hopes of correcting the mistakes of his past.
As Christ followers, the foundation of our entire existence is IN HIM! Everything about our life grows from that true north point of origin. When the focus shifts to us, our issues, our inconsistencies,  or perceived failures, then these become our faulty foundations on which we try desperately to build a better version of ourselves, control the outcomes of our life, and manipulate people and circumstances according to our faulty perception of reality. We are then trapped in a self-preservation mode, where we have to run to stay ahead of the mistakes of our past, and the torturous guilt and shame we face, as a result of looking at that "past" through the lens of the wrong foundation.
In Christ, we look to His strength, His all sufficiency, His Grace, and His finished work of redemption and restoration. Our past is no longer what defines us. Christ in us, for us, and through us are what define us! We no longer have to pretend, manipulate, experiment obsessively in an attempt to create a better, stronger, more heroic version of ourself. We can cut ties to the pain, the people, and the perceptions of the past that try to forever imprison us and define us. This doesn't mean that our past didn't happen. But it does mean, that we aren't victims of it anymore. We don't have to run from it, or try to improve on it. We simply trust and rest in the place of our all-things-new identity, in Christ. And from here, by His Spirit, we process life, engage relationships, follow His wisdom in living everyday, and thrive from this, our true identity. Our "hulkish" creation was dealt with at the cross--crucified with Him. We no longer have to awaken a green, angry corpse, in hopes of trying to fix our issues, our mistakes, or our relationships. He fixed us! No more gamma ray injections, no more torn shirts, no more ripped up jeans, nosey reporter-like accusers, condemning connections, or explosive collateral damage to have to deal with. He dealt with it all! We don't have to transform into a monster to overcome the pain of our past. The blood of Jesus and His testimony have already overcome, and made us more of an overcomer than the Hulk ever was, even without his shoes.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Exchanging F-Words"

I don’t remember how old I was when I first heard “the F-Word”! But from the moment that it pierced my eardrums, it began to coil itself around my heart and mind, like the incessant controlling grip of an Amazon python squeezing the life out of its prey. Every aspect of my existence began to fall victim to its every manipulative tactic and misleading illusion. Countless decisions in my life were made under the tyrannical oppression of that word! Every relationship that I began to develop throughout my life was greatly influenced by that word and its almost hypnotic hold on my soul.
The way I looked at life, circumstances, people, dreams and goals, and especially God….I looked at through the lens of THAT powerful F-Word. My paradigms were “forcefully forged” under the heavy hand of the F-Word. THAT word used the words of others against me, and caused my perspective of everything they did to be viewed from a defensive posture with a lonely, insecure mindset.
Like a tapestry, woven patiently with “sinister” motives by the hands of time, the F-Word found it’s way into my thoughts, and my speech. At the most unexpected times, that word would establish its presence without regard for the setting I was in or the company I happened to be keeping.
The very breath in my body was not my own. It was rationed out to me—very rarely in a “deep dose”—by my cruel and cold taskmaster—the F-Word.
THAT word kept me buried in a labyrinth of lies so deep that I could hardly even imagine that there was any other way possible for me to live. I assumed myself forever to be destined to play the part of an obliging puppet on a string—performing, earning, and striving to please my master. This, however, proved a tiresome impossibility! For the F-Word keeps you grasping, pleading, begging for approval—a simple “nod” of validation for a job well done. But it’s an ever elusive nod that doesn’t come. You can NEVER feel good about yourself! That might lead to revelation—to something more, something “living”, outside the dominion of the F-Word. The F-Word HAS to keep you reaching, blindly hoping, and playing it’s torturous game of Russian roulette. It holds you like an addict, desperate for some semblance of peace of mind and stillness of soul! It will forever withhold that from you! It keeps you chained by the empty “hope” of achieving that peace through doing and saying what is right in “Its” sight. It screams continually at you, “YOU MUST EARN IT! WORK HARDER! GO FARTHER! BE BETTER”!!!
And this was my world! Until…A distant, yet inviting call penetrated my calloused heart, and my eyes caught a glimpse of something or someone outside of myself. Myself—the prison that had been unknowingly constructed through the years by the F-Word. This call beckoned me to know a “new life”, where I would only be judged by the performance of ONE. My identity and my destiny would be safe in ONE. My actions, “performances”, and good deeds would no longer be a self-initiated “mandate” or “proof” of worth and value, but they would be a compelling and willing response to the life of ONE—ONE who pursued me passionately, and offered me EVERYTHING! And this “invitation” required only that I receive and surrender to the amazing, the incredible, the life giving, without bringing any “collateral” to the table or even an impressive resume’. I was encouraged to “come empty”! I would be filled to overflowing by ONE!
This call was persistent, yet patient; compelling, yet gentle. It awakened a longing inside my deepest parts—the parts that seemed to have been forever locked away by the F-Word.
And finally, that F-Word—my “emperor”—was “de-robed” and exposed for what it was—the great lie and the grand illusion, powerless in the face of ONE! The ONE……Love Himself!
And on THAT day, LOVE offered a trade, a trade of F-Words as it were. LOVE gave me His FREEDOM, and I laid at HIS feet…… "f-word"..............FEAR!
And this journey into Love’s freedom continues as I learn and grow with each breath! Journey on!

Friday, May 5, 2017

“God’s Sovereignty or Man’s Stubbornness”

God is sovereign, we can all agree on that reality. However, God’s sovereignty, for some, is the “excuse” that many use for not understanding things that happen in life. Unimagined tragedy, pain, disasters, life events, unforeseen circumstance—the tidy, “spiritual” sounding reasoning for all these things has become, “God is sovereign”. It’s the place, though seemingly cruel at times, that many retreat to in order to find some sort of solace and respite from the overarching question that is prevalent in most of these situations…WHY?
Rather than digging in, finding a “still” place of intimacy, and waiting to discover beautiful revelations and truths that God longs to reveal about Himself to His people, we would rather speak in religious sounding platitudes, and simply dismiss or deny that perhaps the God of the universe, and passionate lover of our souls would want to reveal to us so many mysteries, and give us His wisdom to guide our steps and decisions safely around so many of the circumstances and the “whys” that so many people just chalk up to “the Sovereignty of God”. Ultimately, every person’s relationship with Father God is unique and powerfully personal. I’m not suggesting a heartless “unilateral” accusation that every bad thing that happens in a fallen world to you is actually “your fault”, but the truth of the matter is that we, as Christ followers, are not subject to the “fallenness” of a broken world. We live in Christ, where all things are new, and the old has passed away. We can only live this abundant life BY HIS LIFE and SPIRIT IN US, however. His Kingdom is our reality, not “this world”. Jesus paid the price in His finished work at the cross, for so much of what we—even unwittingly at times—subject ourselves to, or allow ourselves to be “victimized” by. Sadly, many “christian leaders” keep people in the dark concerning these Kingdom realities, thus creating a culture where the body of Christ lives way below the authority and privilege that we have in Christ. The prophet Hosea proclaimed, “Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night... My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” Hosea 4:4-6
This culture champions human knowledge, education, and intellect over the wisdom and knowledge of God. Through His wisdom is sound counsel in decision-making, daily living, direction, and those things that pertain to Life. Unfortunately, many Christians live life unaware of who they are in Christ, and how that translates to everyday living. So they progress in life with a sort of “double minded” philosophy of “naming themselves” with Christ, while living life in the futility of worldly thinking and life management. World-like living produces world-like results. Jesus explained to His disciples “in this world, you will have trouble”. He then went on to encourage them that THEIR reality could be different by understanding that they could live cheerfully, because He had “overcome the world”. Living by their Kingdom identity in Him, they could live—IN THIS LIFE—otherworldly, in a Kingdom reality. The same is true for us today, if we are willing.
Rather than the tree of Life, man chose the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Rather than the leadership of God, man chose the leadership of a king. Rather than a life of Grace and freedom, man chooses government and law. Man made the choices that led to suffering, pain, and death, yet they blame God--who offers righteousness and Life--for sending suffering, pain, and death, or allowing it to come. Man makes bad choices and then blames God for the consequences of those choices. How utterly foolish is that! In Christ, God offers an "all things new" identity, and a choice where we can have and experience abundant life, not death; prosperity, not poverty; wholeness, not brokenness; and health, not sickness! God doesn't "test" us or send us into "trials" that are associated with curses. Jesus became sin for us at the cross. His stripes paid the price for our healing and wholeness. His blood redeemed us from the curse of sin & death. When God "refines" us, He doesn't do so utilizing tragedy, sickness, or death. He can, but He doesn't send us into those places. That is a gross misrepresentation of the nature and heart of God. Choices we make may lead us into those situations, but God will not send you there. He does keep us, and teach us, and work those things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. BUT, we can avoid--through His Spirit's leading and making choices according to His wisdom--the areas of trial and tragedy. As Jesus is, so are we in this world! Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, continuously making intercession for us. He is "far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come." (Ephesians 1:20–21) Living according to our old nature (sin) will produce "death", but living according to our identity in Christ, by His Spirit, produces life and Kingdom reality.

Relevant Scriptures:

Proverbs 3:5-6

Isaiah 55:6-13

1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Amos 3:7

Ephesians 1

“That’s Just Life? I Don’t Think So”

Jesus told His disciples that "in this world" they would have troubles. He then told them to be of good cheer for HE had overcome "the world". Had I been a disciple during that time, I can imagine my reaction to His proclamation. I would have been like, "Cheer for trouble?" You've got to be kiddin'! That is preposterous!" That is the last thing I would be thinking to do during trouble. But did Jesus know something that they were not yet aware of, that would make it possible for them to actually be cheerful in what looked like trouble? Well, I happen to believe so. You see, I personally don't think the point He was making to them was that they would have trouble "in this world" as a geographic location where they lived their lives, or that they should expect a life filled with problems, troubles, and pain. (although many of them did become martyrs and were severely persecuted for Christ--something they embraced, and did understand what was before them--and made the choice to live this out.) Instead, in this instance, I think He was letting them know that living according to this world--its systems, its mentality, its rule, and its governing values--would bring them trouble. Why else would He follow the ominous news of coming trouble with a declaration that they should be cheerful? I believe that He was letting them know that HE had overcome the world--its systems, mentality, its rule, and the values that governed it--and that HIS abundant, overcoming life could be lived by them because of His finished work on the cross, and through the Holy Spirit, which they would receive. They would not have to live according to the world anymore, so they could, in fact, be of good cheer! "That's just life"--the expression often used to excuse tragedy, misfortune, or pain--is not the "rule" that has to govern our lives as Christ followers. We can live above the “that’s just life” norm, if we live by the Life of another, under His Kingdom rules. If this reality could be understood and embraced by Christ followers, it would revolutionize every aspect of the way we live our lives. We can, in fact, live "up there", while living "down here". “Up there” can govern our living “down here”. We are no longer slaves to the world we see, and the life of circumstance, emotion, and chance that most people are enslaved by. The Son has indeed set us free, and given us His identity! And because we are now IN CHRIST, we can live above and beyond! We can most certainly be of good cheer! This is more than a glorious idea, and a theoretical pipe dream. It is reality! Isn’t it time we start living it?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"When God Died"

I hate funerals! I consider them extremely morbid and senseless. I mean, you dress up (usually in dark colors) and gather around a coffin usually adorned with brightly colored floral creations. Inside the coffin, is a preserved, dressed up, mannequin like “shell” of a person, lying still and stoic, usually wearing more makeup than a female televangelist. And people walk up and stare at that spectacle, and recount stories, and cry, and shake their head, and comment on how “natural” the “shell” looks—how peaceful. And then they cry some more, and admire the beautiful flowers, and attempt to comfort other friends and family with a “patronizing” sort of hug. And then some of them walk outside for a smoke, or they step into a room with a vending machine to purchase a bag of “way past their expiration date” pretzels! I mean, WHO THE HECK can eat in THAT kind of environment!?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m ALL about honoring someone, and remembering them when they’re “gone”, but seriously? There’s GOT to be a more fitting, less depressing way to “celebrate” those dearly departed individuals, and their lives. And THIS is some of the reason why I don’t go to many funerals AT ALL! No offense to family and friends who have passed, but I choose to honor them in another way. Yeah, I guess I’m kind of weird that way. Heck, I’m not even gonna attend my own funeral. I guess maybe I’ll send a “representative”, but the “real me” AIN’T gonna be there. :-)
Anyway, I DID attend a life altering funeral a few years ago. It was God’s funeral! I know, that’s what I thought too, but yeah….he had one, and I was there.
Let me clarify….It wasn’t THE GOD—it was my perspective of Him, my twisted, ingrained, faulty, horribly distorted view and opinion of Him.
It was incredibly painful, disillusioning, and confusing to attend THIS funeral, at first. Everything I thought God was pretty much died in that “coffin” with “God”. I was left feeling mislead, betrayed, confused, and in a very “lonely” place.
I had jumped through hoops for this “God”. I had dotted all my “I’s” and crossed all my “T’s” with him. I had performed all my duties that I thought were imposed by him. I had spoken the “God” language of “christianese”, and only hung with folks who were basically clones of me, did all the “God” things, hated all the same folks and activities that I had been told God hated. I had performed all the rituals that I was sure that this God mandated for my life. I remained good, honorable, and terrified that I might displease Him, if I stepped “out of line” even one “iota”, and that was the way I was suppose to feel, right? You know, healthy, loved, and “whole” were just “pie in the sky pipe dreams”! Too easy to make mistakes, have failing performances, and even “fall away” from God. There’s no way that the real God would take a chance on wanting to be friends with me, and actually developing a love-centered relationship. He had to rule with an iron hand, not a loving heart. That’s fantasy, and it leaves too much room for potential betrayal, evil deeds, and selfish living. God couldn’t take THAT chance now, come on! The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, after all. Fear is HOW God controls his creation, right? That’s Religion 101! I had learned all the “principles”, all the rules, and all the “protocol” that had been “handed down” to me, that MUST have come directly from the “big man” himself!
But I was looking down in the coffin at so many of these opinions, perspectives, and mistaken impressions about God….and they were…..dead! How could this be?!
But something amazing began in my life that day! Standing at the coffin, I was invited on an incredible epic journey of life, love, and friendship by someone “claiming” to be God. I was extremely skeptical and suspicious. I mean, the “real” God didn’t have time to invite me on any sort of a journey—a “relational one”, at that. Surely THIS was someone preying on my disillusionment and my confusion—maybe I was about “to believe a lie and be damned”! THAT was in the bible too, and I’d heard it quoted a bazillion times. And naturally, that meant me—and how an angry “god” would deal with anyone who dared ask questions. I’d been told that by the “higher ups” that spoke as the mouthpiece of this God. And, since God had just died, I’d just have to remember to do everything right now, everything all the talkin’ heads told me to do, IF I was to be reunited with “God” in heaven, in the “sweet by and by”. All those things I’d been told ABOUT him…no way they were wrong. The fear and terror I felt toward God were healthy, right? The performances, the image conscious existence I lived, that was ALL a part of how I earned God’s acceptance and validation! I mean how else was the creator of the universe gonna keep his creation “in line”—constantly afraid of screwing up, and facing the “terrible” consequences?! How dare this guy “inviting” me at the coffin, try to “con” me into something that wasn’t motivated by fear or high standards of performance!!! This had to be “fluff” and fiction!
But…..something was so compelling about this being, claiming to be God! I couldn’t look away! I had never actually had any “normal” conversation from an honest heart with God—only fearful pleading, and self-deprecating confessions full of angst and “false humility”. That’s the way we are SUPPOSE to communicate with God, isn’t it? The more we beat ourselves up and be-little our lives, the more “worthy” we become of His attention and care! And anyway, God doesn’t “invite” us to anything, He “commands us”, true? We don’t have a choice in any matter. But this God…He invited me, even with all my confusion, my fear and trepidation—all my sacred cows AND anger. He didn’t even ask me to “straighten up and “be perfect as He is perfect”, before I joined Him on this journey. He told me all my baggage was welcomed!
He invited me to ask ANYTHING! Question Him about every why, when, or who! He even encouraged me to vent (often times with colorful—quite “UN-christianese” language) all my frustrations! He simply offered His love to me, and He asked me to trust Him. He expressed excitement over having a growing love relationship with me. He told me my mistakes were welcomed on this journey. He said my fear could be laid at his feet, and he would trade me His peace and love! He also told me that my life was not a performance, but a process. He let me know I wasn’t on a stage, but I was in a relationship. He even assured me that this journey had no “probationary period” where if I didn’t perform up to a certain standard by a certain time, He would abandon me. His words were, “I won’t leave you…ever, so just live, learn, and grow in my love!” He even told me that His love in me, and His power living through me would enable and empower me to live the life that He promised! I mean, THAT took all performance-induced pressure off of me!!! INCREDIBLE!
As we closed our “initial” conversation at the funeral for “god”, He encouraged me to leave what I had “known”, believed, or thought right there at the “coffin”. He let me know that this “funeral” NEEDED to happen, that He had been waiting on me to finally show up. THIS was not the end for me, but it was actually the “beginning” of the LIFE I was born for! This funeral was about ME letting go of grossly distorted, misrepresentations of HIM! He gently shared with me that I could choose to let go of all that garbage (I think He actually used the word “crap”) and embrace the freedom that living in His love offered me. He explained to me that if I chose to join Him on this journey of love and life, it would be an adventure of faith—there would be questions, frustrations, and maybe fear from time to time, BUT, they would NOT disqualify me on this journey, they would only provide opportunities to go deeper in His love, His power, and His wisdom—an incredibly fulfilling love relationship! And so, at that funeral that day, I was resurrected! My life began a long adventure—an amazing epic of Love! I don’t know how far along I am on this journey, and it doesn’t even matter. The only thing that matters, is that I’m with Him, God, Love Himself! Ever so often, we stop and have funerals and resurrections. It’s fantastic! I’m starting to LOVE funerals, because NOW, with Him, I know that they are simply RESURRECTIONS and Revelations about the heart of Love Himself, and the way that heart beats for me! What a life!!!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

“And Now, A 25-year Reflection”

The further I travel on my journey, I’m discovering a ‘weird paradox’ unfolding…I seem to have less self-confidence, less self-navigated direction, less self reliance, fewer answers, yet more expectancy, more faith, more trust, more peace, & so much more dependence on and closeness to Abba Father! I’ve been reflecting on the last 25 years of my life. What a journey! What a wild, colorful, at times, beautifully frustrating journey! I have experienced every emotion imaginable, and often times, in extreme forms. I might add here how absolutely thankful I am for His mercy, His patience, and His understanding of my “human frame". I remember reaching the place where I questioned everything I thought I knew, every principle I’d ever been taught, and every belief system I’d been exposed to that was touted as “truth”. This is an incredibly scary place to be at first, especially if you were raised as an american, bible belt version of a “christian”! There is no shortage of people who will perpetuate & “peddle” fear to you, and “warn” you of deception, error, and “evident” rebellion in your life that surely must have led you to the unthinkable—asking questions. But I discovered that Love Himself isn’t intimidated by our questioning, our searching, our frustrations, or our doubts! I’m safe with Him! He knew my heart, and was not about to let me fall from His loving hands! Truth invites investigation! And when I realized that, what a freedom! I decided to let Jesus, Love Himself, define truth through the process of His life, growing in me, and expressing through me! I figured since HE is the “way”, the truth, & the “light” of life, that I should probably let Him lead this journey! And He even gave me His Spirit to guide me, to surprise me, to enlighten me, and to blow my mind! And so I did it, I questioned everything! I laid everything on the line, & was willing to start over! And so I did! I “boiled down” my “absolutes” to 2 beliefs. First, There is a God, who sent His Son to die for me & save me, and Secondly, He was buried, rose from the dead, ascended back to the right hand of the Father, and then sent His Spirit to live in me, and help me live His Life! In my mind, everything else was “fluff” and up for debate! And my journey has continued! And what a freedom that is! Oh what a Love! Oh what a Savior! Oh what a life! I’ve found out that Jesus doesn’t hang out or reveal His heart through religion. Even though so many in religion seem to “speak” for Him, and emphatically keep Him in boxes and boundaries that are easier for them to “control” and manage, thus controlling & “managing” (through fear, legalism, shame, and condemnation) so many people, some of those same people that Jesus is reaching for, and pursuing passionately! It absolutely leaves me “dumbfounded” how replicated the pharisees of Jesus’ day are today in religious culture, including evangelical, fundamental, & “emergent” movements! It’s the same “spirit” dressed in suits, skinny jeans, robes, collars, or “hipster” shirts! They all seem to be “sanitized” versions of the systems of the world. No, Jesus reveals His heart through a transforming, powerful love relationship! And He reveals His Kingdom that way too! Jesus taught that the Kingdom was not “here” or “there”, but was within! It can’t be contained in systems, ideology, or human logic—common sense, in other words! It’s truly amazing how God knows so perfectly well how life is suppose to “work”! And the awesome thing is that Jesus finished that work on the cross! And because of that ultimate Love reality, the supreme gift of Grace, we can journey through this life in peace, joy, abundance, and trust by His Life, and through His Spirit! Through this journey, I have found out that the Gospel—His Gospel not the version that has enslaved so many on the performance treadmill of human goodness & “righteous effort-ing”—truly is good news! And that’s where I started. That’s where I continue each day. In Him! By His Spirit! And through this growing, incredible relationship, He is revealing His kingdom in me, and as this process has continued, He is revealing it through me as well! I can’t wait for the amazing adventure to unfold, a little (or hopefully alot) more each day, as I continue journeying with Love Himself! I suspect that if the next 25 years are anything at all like the last 25, it should be revolutionary in such awe-inspiring and amazing ways, that you may wanna stay tuned for the “sequel”.