Thursday, June 27, 2019

"Images, Power Struggles, and Creative Gifts"

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

Saturday, June 8, 2019

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

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

"After All, It's All Him"

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

"Worship Wars"

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