Take chances. Abandon all the rules. Ditch the recipe. Color outside the lines.

Monday, September 30, 2013

4 Selfless Acts That Make Me Selfish

I don’t know about you guys, but when I hear the word “selfishness” it is immediately followed by a rush of thoughts and emotions, none that are pleasant.  Interestingly enough, the word “selfless” produces equally unpleasant feelings.  This is due, in part, to what I believed (and learned from my religion) it meant to be “selfless.”  My journey through grace has taught me how completely messed up my view of selfishness was.  Here as just a few of the things that I thought would mean I was being selfless:

1- I can’t do anything for myself (i.e. time alone, spa days, resting, ect.)

This one pretty much covers what I thought selfishness was.  I thought that anything I did just for me was selfish and that meant that most of my time and energy was spent taking care of everyone else.  This produced a very worn down and beat up Jess.  It’s important for us to take time away just for ourselves! Taking time to rest and do something nice that’s just for you is not being selfish; it’s being healthy.  Don’t forget, even Jesus took time away from the crowds to rest and recover!

2- I can’t focus on healing my own pain if others around me are hurting.

I still fall into believing this one A LOT!  I want to care for, help out, and support the people I love, which is a fantastic desire! However, many times it led me to forsake my own healing in pursuit of their’s.  This led me to an extreme breakdown as the people in my life watched with disbelief, “I thought she had it all together.”  It’s a dangerous lie that Satan whispers to us because it takes a pure desire of love and twists it into something powerfully destructive.  It’s important to remember that we cannot heal others unless we are healthy.  I mean, you wouldn’t let a doctor with pneumonia treat you for your cold would you? 


3- I must always put myself down.

For an extremely long time I believed that if I ever thought of myself as being good enough, even for a moment, then I was being prideful.  This caused me to beat myself up, be harsh and critical of my mistakes, and sabotage myself when anything good came my way.  This way of thinking makes us consumed with our mistakes and takes our focus off of others and God, which actually makes us more self-focused rather than less! 


4- I can’t be happy with who I am right now because I can always be “better.” 

Such a dangerous lie this is to believe!  I struggle with it daily as the little voice inside my head calls me broken.  It’s so easy to believe that voice as we hear it, not just in our heads, but also from every corner of our lives.  Even our churches tell us we are “works in progress” that God is making more holy as we live lives more in line with Him.  That is a lie straight from the mouth of Satan himself!  It is FINISHED.  We have been forgiven, perfected, and made holy already and our own works (even so called “righteous” ones) do nothing to gain us more with God; we already have His fullness!  It’s ok to be excited about that!  It’s ok to walk around with a smile on your face because you know that even though you don’t always do perfect things, you are perfect!  That is not being selfish; that is living out of who you are in Christ!

All of these attempts on our part to be selfless actually make us more self-focused.  Accepting these things as true makes us consumed with self as we begin to believe that we can gain our freedom, peace, and happiness on our own.  We will always follow after what we believe will fill our emptiness, thus giving selfishness power through our perceived duties.  Humility is not shown by approaching God with fear, but with confidence.  Confidence that says, “I know I don’t deserve all of Your favor but I am so thankful that I have it!”  Humility is being willing to give up our religion for something bigger.  Humility is choosing to stop doing and to start being. 

So my challenge to you is this:  Just be.  Be who you are and throw a party about it!  Find hope and joy in knowing that the desire of God’s heart is that you let Him love you.  Be free, my friends.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

3 + 3 = 1

This week has been filled with wonderfully deep discussion with my friends and loved ones who I also happen to call my fellow church members.  I have also been reading this book (for the third time) called “Grace the Forbidden Gospel” by Andre Van Der Merwe.  If you haven’t read this book and want to learn more about all this grace stuff, stop what you’re doing and go buy it right now! (I will even include the link for a free PDF version of it at the end of this post).  Anyway, back to what I was saying, re-reading this book reminded me of a really cool concept that the author wrote about which I think is worth discussing.

That is the concept of the three parts that make up us as humans.  It’s really cool that we have three parts because God also has three parts (Father, Son, and Spirit) and this, to me, is a beautiful picture of how we were created in His image.  Be warned:  This is a pretty deep subject but I promise to be as simple and clear as possible!

“Now may the God of peace himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -1 Thessalonians 5:23

Spirit = our essence, who we truly are

Before we know Christ our spirit is dead and only capable of doing, thinking, and being evil.  When we take in Christ’s sacrifice as our own we become one with him in spirit and our spirit becomes alive.  That means our essence and the essence of Christ himself are intertwined, bonded, FUSED together as one.  Our essence, then, becomes as holy, blameless, and perfect as the essence of Christ.  Our spirits have no want for or capability to sin any longer. 

You wanna know something really amazing about God?

He relates to us spirit to spirit.  He sees, loves, gives into, blesses, and hangs out with who we really are; perfect and one with His Son!  That means the things we do have no effect on how He relates to us.  That’s pretty awesome, right?!  Now, you might be thinking, “If our spirit, who we really are, is perfect then why do we still sin?”  That’s a great question that brings me to the other two parts of us. 

Soul = mind, will, intellect, personality, and emotions

Our soul is the expression of who we believe ourselves to be.  It is how we relate to others, how our mind process, and how our emotions react to things.  When we are made alive in Christ our soul is the part of us that still struggles with sin. This makes our soul the part of us that is in continual need of retraining or renewing to act out of who we are in Christ.  So when we hear verses like the one over in Romans 12, the soul is what these verses are talking about. 

“Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”

Let’s face it, we live in a sinful world where sin is our natural reaction to emptiness.  This is nothing new which is why we find in the New Testament that when the soul is discussed it is usually in opposition with our spirits; here it is called “the flesh.”  Check out some of these verses about our flesh:

“For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.” - Romans 8:3-5

“But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.” -Galatians 5:16-17
Our souls will always act out of who we believe that we are.  This makes it extremely important to fill our lives with things of the spirit and continually refocus on the perfect and pleasing essence that grace has made us. 

Body = skin and bones, outer shell, vessel

Of course, we all know that we have a body!  It’s pretty obvious because we look at it every day.  We make sure it’s clean, smells good, and is covered.  We do things to make it look better or catch more attention; our body is the most obvious part of us.  This leads us to assume that we are bodies that just have a soul and a spirit.  That is a wrong assumption.  We are a spirit that has a soul and lives inside a body.  Our bodies are simply our temporary vessels that last us one small lifetime.  Our body will follow either our soul or our spirit; whichever we give control to.  It does nothing and controls nothing on its own.  It is just what the soul uses to express who we believe ourselves to be. 

Do you have a headache yet?

This is deep stuff!  The more I understood this concept though, the more grace and my perfection through Christ made sense to me.  It’s worth researching, digging into, and being hungry for.  Grace is so simple and yet there is so much depth to it.  It keeps deep minds like mine intrigued without making God hard to relate to.  I really love that about God.

So, my challenge to you is this:  Live as a spirit.  Pursue things that bring you peace, joy, and completion over things that offer only temporary highs.  This will cause the other two parts of you to fall in line.  Dare to think outside the box; God is much too big to fit in one. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

4 Ways the Church Misses the Point

I really love football on a slightly obsessive level.  I spent my college years surrounded by football players and coaches and fell in love with the defensive side of the game.  A good friend of mine is a coach and he coaches the defensive backs (the guys at the very back of the defense).  He would always say that he could tell where one of his players was moving out of place just by watching where his helmet was pointed.  He told me one time, “Your body will always go where your eyes are.”  Ah, how true is that?  Wherever our focus is, that is what we will follow after.  That got me thinking about what our focus is on in our churches.  The more I thought about it, the more I discovered some areas where our helmets are pointed the wrong way.  Here are a few places where I think we completely miss the point:

<1> We focus on behavior.

Personally, I believe this is the absolutely number one way we miss the point.  We look at people, see their evil actions, and write them a prescription for some good Christian things to make them stop doing those actions.  We fail to see that behavior is a result of a mindset not the cause of it.  Evil actions are only a symptom of something deeper, darker, and more dangerous that is going on in someone’s heart, and there is no amount of duty that can heal them from it. 

“And you were at one time strangers and enemies in your minds as expressed through your evil deeds,  but now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death to present you holy, without blemish, and blameless before him” –Colossians 1:21-22 (NET)

Our behavior is a result of what we believe about who God is and how He relates to us.  The above verse makes it pretty clear that we are holy, without blemish, and blameless.  He relates to us as blameless people; not in anger, hatred, or disappointment.  Our focus should be on teaching people who they are not on fixing what they do.

<2> We see corruption in the world but not within the church.

How quick we are to see the darkness of this world.  How often we preach of its dangers, speaking mostly of the overtly obvious sins found “out there” such as drinking, drugs, or violence.  How easy we overlook the corruption hiding behind our own stained-glass windows.  We teach messages fueled by guilt and hand out lists to our people in frantic attempts to get them to act better, seem put together, and look happy.  There is darkness sitting in the pews of our churches, unopposed, destroying the lives of those who venture there to find hope. 

I know I talk quite a bit about the short comings of the churches built on cornerstones of law, but I think even those who are grace centered struggle with something similar to this.  Only, we become too focused on the corruption within the church and we fail to ever talk about the depravity of our world.  This world is a mine field of emptiness.  There is evil that wants desperately to destroy us all and we should talk about that with our students, in our churches, and within our homes.  The totality of the Bible is not a battle of law against grace, some things are just a war of good versus evil.  Let’s not be too quick to assume that everything in the Bible speaks to our specific battle.  Satan’s only limits are the ones we choose to put on him.

<3> We are more focused on numbers than our people.

Right, so, this one hits a nerve with me.  Why are we so concerned with how many members our church has?  Is God going to cut our funding if we don’t recruit enough players?  Will He write us off as a lost cause if we don’t keep enough butts in the seats?  Maybe I’m just crazy, but I really think we should focus more on the people who are there than on those who aren’t.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I totally believe that everyone needs to hear the awesome, life changing truth that is found in church!  However, I think if your main goal is getting people in, then you will lose the hearts of those who are already there.  We cannot neglect the lives and hearts of our people in search of new bodies to pack our sanctuaries.  Preach truth, live in love, and ignite desire in those who are there and don’t be surprised if more people come looking for what those people have.  If you build it, they will come. 

<4> We call our people to be leaders without teaching them how.

The place where this happens most often is in our youth groups.  We call our students to be something great, to change the world, and to lead revolutions.  I remember many times hearing voices of church leaders tell me, “You are meant for something great, you need to be out there showing people what a good Christian looks like. “  Another popular one was, “You are an influence on your classmates; be a Godly example.”  Those things sound really great.  The problem was no one ever taught us how to do those things.  I was deeply broken and, quite honestly, the only influence I was capable of being was a bad one.  If we call our students to leadership without guidance we will only get a bunch of broken people trying to put others back together while they themselves fall apart.  We cannot call our people to be revolutionaries unless we first teach them what a revolutionary is.  One can only relate based on how they are related to; similarly one can only lead if they are first led.  Be the revolutionary you wish your students to be.

It’s time we lifted our heads up.  It’s time we refocused on what is really important.  It’s time we became relevant to our world.  Let us clear our eyes and purpose our hearts to be something great in a world urgently in need of what we have to offer. 

Clear eyes, love in your heart, can’t lose.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Grace -VS- Reward

This funny thing happens to me sometimes when I listen to sermons and/or just people talking about Jesus and such.  At times, I find something exciting and worth diving into that really is just a sub point in the entire message.  This past Saturday was one of those times. My pastor mentioned this concept of confusing grace with reward.  He hurried off back to his main point (which was equally as awesome), but I was intrigued by this concept. 

I think this is a common and easy thing to do, especially with us God people.  Something great happens to us and we assume, and even say, that great thing came from God’s grace.  What if it was just something good that happened to you?  We do the same when bad things happen, thinking God must be upset with us. 

There are rewards in this life because this world operates on a reward/punishment system.  Not all good things that happen are because God is extra pleased with you and not all bad things happen because He is angry with you.  So, I think we should look at how reward and grace are different and then you can decide which you think God operates by.

Limited by our own abilities –VS- Dependent on God’s ability

Living for reward is strictly limited by what we can achieve.  If we lack the ability to be good, make the perfect choices, or do the correct actions we miss out on the fullness of the reward.  This also makes reward fleeting as it only lasts as long as our ability to do those things lasts.  Grace is quite different.  Grace is dependent on the ability of God to keep his promise and on the ability of Christ to be pleasing enough to Him.  Grace frees us from having to be able all the time and instead puts that burden the shoulders of Christ.  Where reward fades away the glory of grace shines without ceasing.

“Atta, boy!” –VS- Deep undeserved love

Reward is simply a pat on the back, a gold star for our spiritual success chart, or an “Atta, boy!”  Its pleasure is shallow and momentary.  Reward attempts to feed the emptiness of our soul with crumbs from the King’s table.  Grace is deep.  It calls out to us in the midst of our brokenness.  It pours out love on us when we are most unlovable.  It has the power to quench the emptiness and satisfy the hunger of the famished soul.  Reward leaves us hungry, our stomachs growling for the next satisfaction to come our way.  Grace sets a feast before us, letting us stuff our faces until we can’t take in any more. 

Result of us being enough –VS- Makes us enough

Reward comes only after being enough.  We hear over and over again from our world how truly inadequate we are.  Our heads are filled with beliefs that in order to make a difference we need to get ourselves together first.  Reward demands that we look, act, and talk the right way before we are good enough to really be anything worth wild.  Grace doesn’t work that way.  Grace comes in at height of us being not enough and lavishes on us.  It takes the broken, screwed up people that we are and makes them enough.  Enough.  Enough even to share in the favor of the Father to his Son.  Enough to enjoy the riches of forgiveness, love, and acceptance.  Enough to move mountains and shake worldviews.  Enough to be something bigger than we ever imagined.  That’s the power that grace has. 

Earn to receive –VS- Favor in the midst of failure

Reward says we must do in order to get.  This makes sense, right?  We only get our allowance after we’ve cleaned our room, we only get love after we’ve given it to someone else, or we only get praise after accomplishing something great.  That’s how reward works; we do enough, we get enough.  Grace drenches us in a hurricane of favor even after our greatest failures.  It comes to us in fullness even when we least deserve it.  It gives us glory while we are cowards and calls us holy while we stink of dirtiness.  Grace breaks all the rules, disregards all the expectations, and calls the undeserving its friend.

I believe that God is always pleased with me.  I believe that He is constantly pouring the fullness of his blessing and favor over me.  That means when bad things are happening to me He is just as pleased with me as when good things are happening.  He doesn’t give me any more or less favor… I already have it all!  Reward is so fleeting, so empty, and so very worthless in the end.  I can never be enough on my own, I can never be full on my own, and that’s why I will choose grace, every time.  Pick grace, my friends, and live a life unlimited by what reward can give.

Friday, September 6, 2013

4 Judgments We All Make

I was going to write about this earlier in the week but thought, “No, I don’t really feel like dealing with the backlash of it..” Well, you can see that I totally won that argument with God.  Judgment is something that we all do.  We do it daily, even about silly things that don’t really matter.  If someone tells me that they don’t like old school rock and roll I reserve the right to judge them as completely uncool; I’m just warning you ahead of time!  Here are a few of the more relevant things we all judge people about:

-1- Appearance

No one wants to admit to this one, but, honestly, we all do it.  I definitely do this… a lot.  Mostly, I judge people all dressed up in fanciness thinking to myself, “Really? Is that necessary?”  Also… if you are going to wear clothes let’s please make sure they match, please?  I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to tell people they need to not wear brown shoes with black pants, but if that escalates into us making assumptions about who that person is based on what they look like then we have a problem.  There was a time in my life when I looked pretty rough, and it was true that my life was rough.  That did not mean, however, that I was a lost cause or in need of people to come “win me to Jesus.”  Now I have tattoos, gauged ears, and short spikey hair.  That causes some people to make immediate assumptions about who I am.  I think it’s important for us to remember that just because someone looks different doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with them; it just means they’re different.  Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all the same?

-2- Politics

I am not a Republican.  For all of you who just had a heart attack, chill out, I’m not a Democrat either.   My mother listens to Mark Davis and WBAP in the morning (which is my cue to put in my headphones) and she is probably one of the most educated people I know in the politics arena.  I totally respect and admire that about her.  I just am not a fan of government, besides that, I have much more important things to worry about than how many vacations Obama has taken.  I just have a problem with people who mix religion with their politics, making God out to be the avenger of their party.  Jesus lived under the government of his day.  He even told people they needed to pay taxes and honor the government.  Paul called to church to respect and honor their government, as well (which, by the way, was viciously murdering Christians).  Not only that, but we should respect and honor one another.  Isn’t the God we serve bigger than what color state we live in?

-3- Lifestyle

I think I might get some strongly worded emails in response to this one but I am going to write it anyway.  I have friends from every walk of life to be imagined.  I have gay friends, married friends, divorced friends, friends who are in gangs, friends who grew up in church, friends who were and some who still are addicts, friends who hurt themselves, and even older friends.  I tend to attract the kinds of people who are different.  I have heard all their stories, watched their lives, and faced their hurts by their side.  I understand them.  And they understand me.  Why is it, we look at other people whose lifestyle is different than ours and judge them instantly?  I’ve heard many judgments shot my way about my own lifestyle that leaves nothing but a bitter taste in my mouth towards those people.  What if this judgment is coming from within the walls of our churches?  We then become disqualified from ever making a difference in the lives of those at whom we shoot our darts of judgment. It is time we were more focused on people’s hearts than on their actions.

-4- Judgment

We all have judged the judgers on their judgment before.  Yes, I did try to make that sentence as confusing as possible.  I do this one pretty much daily.  I am very quick to cut off or pull away from people who, I perceive to be, overly judgmental.  Like I said, I have friends of all kinds, and I am extremely loyal.  That means if you have a problem with my friends; you have a problem with me.  I call for justice on those with pointing fingers as mine is pointed back at them.  I enjoy the extravagance of grace while refusing to give it to those judging me.  We can use the excuse that Jesus was harsh with the Pharisees, but really that’s just an excuse.  I will always be the first to stand for the cause of grace.  I will not back down and I will not be silent.  I will call you out on your sermons fueled with legalism and your pews filled with condemning glances.  But, that doesn’t mean it’s ok for me to become like you.  I will not disqualify you from the opportunity of freedom that grace brings.  I will not stop loving you and wanting the best for you.  I will not back down and I will not be silent because you need to hear that there is something better out there.  I promise it’s much more fulfilling.

Obviously, I’m not innocent of the crime of judgment.  I have, however, found that my judgment of others lessens with every scoop of grace I take in.  The more I learn about how God sees me; the more I am able to see others that way as well.  It’s time we all took on the challenge to be something different.  Let us dare to be the ones who forsake the chains of judgment for the liberty of love.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

5 Church Curse Words

I have a feeling that some of my friends are reading this just to see if I actually used curse words in it.  I’m definitely not great at filtering myself or taming my sailor tongue.  More often than not, when I get passionate or frustrated the uncensored Jess runs wild.  I think there are some church curse words too.  You know what I mean, those words that we aren’t really supposed to say in church.  They become the unspoken awkwardness that hides in our pews and keeps us from being authentic with each other.  Here are a few of the church curse words I learned growing up:

1> Failure

We don’t talk about failure in church.  We do this thing where we just talk about the surface struggles when we’re together like our dislike for reading the Book of Numbers or the lack of prayer we’ve offered up for the “fallen” people we work with.  It leaves no room for people to be real about the depth of their struggles and causes people to hide their failures and pain.  Hidden pain can do nothing but fester and it soon becomes a monster that eats away at you from the inside until you feed it with the emptiness of this world.  I can’t help but wonder that maybe if we talked more about our failures with other believers we might actually find the hope we so desperately crave.

2> Sex

“Um, that is inappropriate, we don’t discuss that here.”  Why the hell not?!  Do you think if you just ignore the issue of sex that somehow it will just go away?  The Bible talks about sex, why can’t we?  I have news for you; our young people are hearing about sex from everywhere BUT church!  It’s all over the TV, in our schools, weaved into our social media, and talked about amongst their friends.  The only place not talking about it is the church.  Shouldn’t we be talking about it with them?  I don’t mean giving the typical “God says no sex before marriage that’s all that matters, oh, and here’s a purity ring.  Now go be an example and make God happy!”  Do we really think that is real?  It’s time we were real, raw, and honest with our youth about sex.  If they don’t learn it from us, they will learn it somewhere else.

3> Depression

This one hits closer to home for me.  I do struggle with depression; less than I did but it’s still a very real part of my life.  I’ve heard messages preached on depression saying that it is just another demon that can’t afflict the true believer.  We play the “ok” game in church a lot.  “How are you today?” Ok.  “How was your week?” Ok.  “How are you feeling?”  Ok. We say it over and over again, trying to convince everyone and ourselves that it’s true, when really we are absolutely not Ok.  Depression sucks life, energy, and hope out of you.  It’s something we should be fighting in the church not hiding. 

4> Addiction

“There are no addicts in my church!”  Wanna bet?  I have this crazy belief that 99% of people are addicted to something.  Some things we don’t even know we are addicted to.  My biggest was, of course, alcohol.  I also struggle with busyness addiction which comes in a close second.  Addiction creeps into more than just the overtly obvious places such as porn, alcohol, or drugs. You can be addicted to duty, addicted to work, addicted to control, addicted to power, and even addicted to religion.  To me, addiction is what keeps you up at night worrying about what will happen if you can’t get your fix, if you can’t fill the emptiness.  Addiction is something we need to discuss in church because we hold the key to recovery… fullness.  Grace fills up and overflows; it’s addiction’s worst enemy.

5> Freedom

Ah, freedom, my favorite church curse word.  It’s one that has been forbidden from our pulpits for fear of losing control of our people.  We think that if we teach people about freedom then they will take advantage of it, sinning extravagantly.  I think there is power in freeing people.  I have found that people are much better at doing what they want to than at doing what they are supposed to.  If we shackle people to religion we will get nothing but a fa├žade of purity while the inside of them rots away.  Freedom allows people to run full speed after a God who is more concerned with pouring his favor on them than with raining down his wrath over their smallest missteps.  Freedom has a power to heal brokenness that is unmatched by anything else.  It’s worth the risk of allowing people to run into the arms of sin, finding nothing but slavery there. 

I think it’s time we went uncensored in our churches.  I think it’s time we broke all the rules and screamed these unspoken words from the tops of our steeples.  Let us be defined by our authenticity and not by what we do in the dark.