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

Monday, December 30, 2013

Chick-fil-a Chats and An Uncomfortable Calling

One of the side effects of being a passion driven person, such as myself, is a drive and pursuit of learning when it comes to what you are passionate about.  That coupled with my slightly stubborn personality makes it a rare occurrence when someone truly challenges my beliefs or way of thinking.  I am confident in what I believe about grace and, in turn, who I believe God to be, that core will never be shaken because I know it to be truth.  There are, however, rare and beautiful times when I find myself in belief challenging conversations.

Now, when I say belief challenging it’s important to know what I don’t mean by that.  I don’t mean discussions in which one side is attacking the other due to a difference of beliefs.  I don’t mean a discussion where one or both parties call the other names (i.e. heretic, blasphemer, or sinner).  I definitely don’t mean conversations in which the Bible is used to beat down instead of build up the other person.  Those are not belief challenging conversations those are dysfunctional conversations where God accomplishes nothing and Satan accomplishes everything.

I crave belief challenging conversations.  Ones that are filled with extreme thoughts and new outlooks.  Ones that make me go home and comb the tattered pages of my Bible researching.  Ones that leave me without a definite answer. Ones that end in hugs and thankfulness for differing opinions.  Oh, how I love those discussions!

I felt so privileged to get to have one of those very conversations this weekend with some, much smarter than me, fantastic people.  We sat around the table at Chick-fil-a talking about deep subjects that none of us agreed on and all tried to figure out some of the more mysterious things about God together.  None of us gasped at the others’ crazy statements about God.  No one was aghast at someone else’s challenging comments.  We all left with new things to think about and we all left just as loved by the others as when we sat down. 

I drove home that night pensive and excited; I had so many new things to learn about.  That’s one of the wonderfully frightening things about God, I think:  That there is always more to learn about Him and that He never chastises the one who comes looking.  I really love that about Him.

I want desperately for everyone to experience that, for everyone to have their thinking about God challenged and their passion for Him awakened.  The uncomfortable side to that is hearing His voice, once again, call me to be the one who creates spaces of learning for others around me.  We’ve been in this ongoing battle, me and Him, as He beckons me to ministry.  The struggle of wanting everyone to experience exciting conversations about grace and God but feeling inadequate to initiate them rages within me.  Usually our conversations go something like this:

GOD: “Hey, Jess, let’s go do this thing!” 
ME: “Umm.. no thanks.  I’m not really qualified for all that leading people and teaching them about You stuff.”
GOD: “Sure you are! You’ll be great! Do you want me to like knight you or something? I can do that.  I’m God.”
ME:  “No thanks.  Besides, women aren’t supposed to be pastors and leaders and such, didn’t you read that part in Your book?”
GOD: “You never were very good at following the rules.” 
 ME:  “I have NO idea what you're talking about! *ahem*  I don’t know… I feel like people wouldn’t really want to have me as a leader, I’m kinda a mess!
GOD:  “I’ll bring some towels.”

So it goes, the epic standoff.  The truth of the matter is that I have plenty of good excuses but not really any good reasons.  My head knows that He’s got it all taken care of, that He knows what He’s doing calling a mess like me to be His voice.  The truth is I’m just afraid. 

Afraid of not being very good at it but still loving it.

Afraid of being so excited to lead that I turn around and no one is following me.

Afraid that I’ll build and ark and none of the animals will show up.

It doesn’t make much sense really, God has a pretty good track record when it comes to putting butts in the seats.  I think it might be about time that I stopped doubting my ability and start trusting His.  Wow, I squirmed in my seat a little just typing that.  What kind of person would I be, after all, if I called others to bravery while I cowered away from my calling?  The kind of person I really dislike, that’s who!

So… with shaking hands, witnessed by all you wonderful people who read my ramblings, I am jumping onto this crazy ride without seat belts.  I think it’s time I saddled up even though I’m scared to death (John Wayne would be proud).  It’s time to forsake my comfort zone for a new adventure.  Anyone wanna tag along for the ride?  

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Grinch

Those who know me know that I am not a big fan of the whole Christmas holiday.  My friends jokingly refer to me Grinch as my annoyed groans quickly follow the start of Christmas music.  The moment the Christmas spirit fills the crisp winter air, I can be found shivering in the corner with my “Bah Humbug” attitude in full swing.

It’s not that I totally hate Christmas; I just dislike most things associated with it.  The rampant consumerism that terrorizes malls across the country, leaving retail workers exhausted and unappreciated, makes me frustrated.  Those with less are looked upon with pity rather than empathy. 

Christmas is also the time of the year when Christians get especially territorial, making sure to correct anyone who might let slip a “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  After all, keeping the Christ in Christmas was one of Jesus main preaching points.  I’m pretty sure it was in the Sermon on the Mount somewhere. 

Then there is the element of family time at Christmas.  Though, I dearly love my core family unit of four, the holiday season requires venturing to the extended family territory which is not always exciting.  The family dysfunction found on both sides of my family brings me sadness as I watch those who have forsaken peace for bitterness and attention lifted up and people, like my parents, who have sacrificed more than anyone knows, trampled under their feet.  Any time we have to spend an extended amount of time in places of turmoil it makes me seriously wonder why I ever gave up drinking.

Those are the main reason why I tend to be more Scrooge like around the holidays, but this year has been very different.  Someone asked me a strange question recently that has been on my mind ever since, “Jess, how does it feel to be so loved by everyone?”  I didn’t really know how to answer that question because I had never really thought about it.  Admittedly, I am one who is quicker to see where I am rejected than where I am accepted. 

It’s also a new thing for me, to be so loved.  Most of my life any of the popularity I possessed was due to my successfulness as a conman.  Never before have I been seen in the authenticity of who I am and loved completely as I am by so many. 

The Christmas season has made me more aware of how beautiful a reality it is, to be seen and loved, faults and all.  I don’t know why it came as such a surprise to me, how much it made me love Christmas, because, really, unconditional love is what Christmas is about. 

Truly unconditional love; one that motivated a God, who had nothing to gain, to sacrifice all He had so that we could have everything.  The breathtaking scandal, that He would put on the fragility of humanity, coming in the most vulnerable of forms, and make us fall in love with Him as only a baby can. 

This God who knew from the moment of the first breath out of His infant lungs that His purpose here was to die, gladly came to be our Savior.  And He came not in strength and power but as a child, unable to do anything for Himself. 

How beautiful a love is this.

Then this precious baby, the illegitimate son of an unwed teen mom, lived and died for me.  To offer me complete forgiveness, acceptance, love, and righteousness, all while I was hanging Him on that cross. 

How beautiful a love is this.

So often we confuse Jesus and Santa Claus, in the church.  We make God out to be this watchful old man who checks His list to make sure we are measuring up before we get any blessings from Him.  We forget about that dysfunctional night in a manger that smelled of animal dung and wet hay, when God gave us the only gift we could ever need, without us ever earning it.

How beautiful a love is this.

This year, I have been showered with love by my friends, my church, and my family, though I feel as if I haven’t done much to deserve any of it.  I find myself overwhelmed at this very tangible reminder of that baby who came to give me righteousness in the midst of my brokenness. 

Remember that baby, not just this Christmas, but every day.  His grace and love for you is yours in every moment, not just the ones decorated with red and green.  Remember you are loved, my friends, live out of that truth today.

And to all the wonderful lights of love in my life, the Whos in my Whoville,  thank you.  For all that you are to me.  I am truly overwhelmed by the depth or your love for a tattered soul like me.  This Grinch’s heart grew two sizes this year. 

Grace and Peace to you always, my friends!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

4 Reasons Why I'm a Heretic

I have encountered quite a few opposing people along my radical journey of grace.  Of course, I know they exist, but it still never ceases to surprise me that not everyone is quite as excited about this whole liberty and full favor through Christ thing as I am.  To some degree I understand their opposition.   I preach a message that is different; one that is seldom heard, foreign, and new to them.  It makes sense that not all would be accepting of it. 

As with most things that we don’t understand, people find comfort and control in labeling me.  I have been called by many names; the recently trending name seems to be “Heretic.” 

Heretic is kind of an odd word.  It’s one of those words that only church people use, like you never hear one biker dude call another a heretic because they disagree on what motorcycle brand is better.  So, I had somewhat of an idea what that word meant but I wanted to know the exact definition of what a heretic really was.  *cue theme music* Good ole Webster to the rescue! *applause*

Heretic [herÉ™tik] [n.] 
1:  a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially:  a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth
2:  one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.

Well, if we go with the first definition any member of the protestant church would be a heretic so for the sake of this discussion let’s just use the second one, shall we?

“One who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine.”

Yeah, that’s a pretty accurate description of me I’d say!  Confused?  Here are four reasons why I’m a heretic:

(1) I believe God sees me and relates to me as completely holy.

The common belief and teaching in the church today is that, though Christ’s death results in eternal security, God still sees us unholy because of our sin.  We must, therefore, try hard to progressively get better thus becoming more holy in His eyes.  I believe that Christ’s sacrifice covered ALL of my sins, even those I haven’t committed yet.  That means that when God looks at me He sees my oneness with His Son, making my holiness before Him solely dependent one Christ’s holiness before Him. 

(2) I believe that good works come after receiving blessing, not before.

I hear, quite often, within the church this idea of God’s blessings being linked to how well we have lived within our religion.  This creates fear that if I don’t behave, serve, or do enough then I will miss out on receiving His blessings.  I believe that, because I am a child of this world, birthed of the flesh, and driven to depravity, anything good, lovely, selfless, and charitable that comes out of me is only as a result of Christ making over my spirit.  I desire to do good things because ALL His blessing, love, and forgiveness has been poured on me and ignites that desire in me.  Blessings first, obedience second. 

(3) I believe that God shouldn’t be limited by our religion.

Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of the universe, we are pretty small minded beings.  We cling desperately to what we think we can control as we draw lines and build walls around people and things in our lives that we wish to limit so they can be understood.  Of course, we are no different when it comes to our God.  We use our religion to water down who He is so that He is easier to drink in.  God is so much bigger than our expectation of Him.  He is the master of coloring outside the lines we draw around him and is much too big to fit inside the box we try to cram him into.  I learn new and exciting things that challenge what I believe about him daily.  If religion means I have to forsake the waterfall of God for a stream; I want no part of it.

(4) I am a Jesus follower.

Do you know what Jesus was killed for?  Do you know what the charge against Him was?  It was blaspheme.  Jesus was a heretic.  He stood in opposition to the religion of His day.  He offered hope, peace, and love in a world of regulation and rule keeping.  He dared to show a God who partied with prostitutes and counted thieves among His friends.  He showed deity as washing the feet of confused fishermen and befriending the unclean.  He was truly a dissenter of the accepted belief of His time.  I want to be who He was.  I want to love when it’s not easy.  I want to embrace the abrasive.  I want to befriend the unclean.  I want to eat with the outcasts. 

If my decision to be who Jesus was makes me a heretic; I gladly plead guilty to that accusation.  The God of grace is hard to take in especially for those who have found such comfort in the god that they have shoved into their comfort zones.  I will joyfully live life sharing the sentence of Christ and continue to spread my heresy to all who will listen.  I hope one day you will join me.

Grace and peace with you always, my friends! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rock and Roll Worship

I realize that the last few posts before the grand site makeover were kind of downers.  I’ve mentioned before my struggle with depression.  It makes certain stretches along the road of life feel like treks through Gloppy’s Molasses Swamp and makes me more aware of the darkness that tries to hide so carefully in the shadows of my heart. 

What makes those times really tough is when the places where I normally find escape from the darkness seem only to snuff out more light.  In those times I feel like I’m outside the moment, watching life play out around me, numb to it and distant from it though I’m in the middle of it.

My week of depression was finally coming to an end as Saturday quickly approached and I held hopefully to the knowledge that soon I would be at Encounter with people that I love, hearing a message of hope.  Saturday came not soon enough but my expectations were unmet and I walked away that night sorely disappointed, cursing at God, “I JUST WANT TO BE HAPPY!” 

Still all I felt was worn.

I sat in my car, clutching the steering wheel tightly and resting my forehead on it.  My shoulders slumped forward heavy from faking confidence, I reached over to turn up the music.  92.5 is the best Classic Rock station in the Dallas area and a frequent favorite of mine when I’m upset or feel especially rock star like, that night was the former. 

My chest tightened as anger and emptiness tightened their grips on my heart.  At the same time, my head spun with the knowledge that I had to go be strong again in just a few short minutes.  I choked back the tears that I was tired of crying.

Then beautiful words hit my ears.

They didn’t come from a sermon or a worship song or even someone all that spiritual; they came from a rock and roll band. 

Carry on my wayward son 
There'll be peace when you are done 
Lay your weary head to rest 
Don't you cry no more

I’ve heard Carry on my Wayward Son by Kansas about a thousand times because, let’s be honest, it’s a great song!  That night it was different.  That night it wasn’t just an awesome rock and roll song with some badass guitar solos; that night, it was worship.

I didn’t find what I was looking for in church that evening.  The message seemed heavy on my already burdened heart and I fled for fear of having to deal with why I hated it so much.  My church family, while always loving and warm, I felt distant from that night.  Everyone wore smiles and I just felt alone in my gloom. 

One of the truly beautiful things about God is that He is not limited by our expectations, the walls of the church, or places of spirituality.  God is weaved into every stitch of the fabric of our lives.  That means, for people like me, sometimes He uses rock and roll songs to get his message across. 

We are so quick to see Satan corrupting things once meant for good, stealing innocence, and defiling purity.  Why is it we don’t think God can make something glorious out of the secular? 

I am continually surprised by how frequently God speaks to me through unexpected venues.  It makes the truth of who He is so much more real to me the more limitless He proves Himself to be. 

I awoke the next morning with a smile on my face and a light heart, happily at rest once again.  I realized that embracing grace and following after Christ doesn’t mean you always have the answers, or even that you will always find them when you go looking.  It means that God never stops pursuing you even when you feel stuck and distant.  His peace and rest are always there for you even when you feel weary and in turmoil.  Even though it may take us a while to hear that, He never stops telling it to us, even if that means he has to use the music that your mom says is too loud.

I am increasingly thankful for every day that passes knowing the God of grace I have so passionately fallen in love with.  It is because of Him that my days of darkness, though still present, are fewer. 

So, my challenge to you is this; be aware of the God of rock and roll worship.  Find Him in the unexpected places.   See His limitlessness.  Who knows, He might just make you fall in love with Him all over again. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Jesus Wept.

Last night, for the first time in a very long time, I sat in a room with people that I love dearly and felt out of place.  The room overflowed with warmth and rang with laughter but I couldn’t stop feeling cold inside.  I tried to put my struggle into words but fumbled and stuttered out only a scratch on the surface of what I was feeling.  I’m much better on paper.

So many answers, floods of opinions, solutions to my problems filled my mind and I couldn’t help but feel a little more weighed down by good intentioned words of wisdom.  Sometimes I just want to be held and reassured that someone else doesn’t have the answers either.  The evening ended with exclamations of feeling God’s presence in the room and all I could think was, “Well, He sure as hell didn’t show up for me!”

I feel like darkness is my reality as of late.  I find no satisfaction in places with the answers.  So many answers.  Do we really have all the answers?  There are days when I feel like I should just shut up and go away, when there is so much happiness and I just hurt.  Does everyone have those days?

We talk about needing balance and it makes me feel more estranged as my adventures with God seem to be awkwardly imbalanced as I chase Him down winding roads of extremes.  It’s hard for me to see balance in a God whose Son walked this earth saying things like, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” and, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”  Which translates to black and white thinkers like me who genuinely desire peace that, that desire will never be met. 

In some moments I feel so intensely close to God and in others He feels painfully distant.  That is the struggle of being a broken human with a holy spirit, I guess.  I drove home, tears of anger streaking my cheeks, red from the cool fall air.  I screamed at God. 

He was silent.

Sleeplessness plagued me and words of brokenness inked the tattered pages of my journal as I tried desperately to draw near to Him.  Dual personalities waged war for control within my soul, cries of injustice screamed for resolution and whispers of forgiveness sighed for rest.  Two opposing truths tore me apart from inside myself.  The clock passed from PM to AM effortlessly and exhaustion forced me into sleep. 

This morning I awoke early.  As I sat on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands, rubbing away the dark circles under my eyes, a fleeting thought tip-toed through my mind; Jesus wept. 

Jesus wept.

That was all.  Just two little words.  Jesus wept. 

He did, you know.  In fact, He did more than once.  He wept bitterly and irrationally for the loss of His friend even though He knew moments later that He would raise him from the dead.  He threw himself on the ground in brokenness the night before His death and cried out in desperation to His Father for escape from His appointed future.  He wrestled with it.  He wanted to run away.  He wanted support from His friends.  He wept.

I guess if the God who created this world, who slipped into skin and walked it with calloused feet, is allowed to weep then I am too.  I take comfort in that. 

I will end with hope, though it is a small flickering flame for me this week, because the smallest of lights shines brightest in the darkest of places.  The happiest of ever afters came at the end of the story that began with “Jesus Wept”:  That God might be near to us even on the nights when He feels painfully distant.  I will take comfort in knowing that the most beautiful endings come after tears.

Jess wept.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Embracing Arrows

As I sit here and stare at this blank screen, my cursor rhythmically taunting me to write down all the things I really want to say but definitely shouldn’t because, you know, grace and all that, I find myself conflicted.  Sometimes I feel like positivity either stands just out of reach or sits on my head and threatens to fart, normal people call that writer’s block. 

There are days when I find negativity so much easier, so much more tangible, and thoughts of butterflies and warm fuzzies really just make we want to hurl or flip someone off.  I guess maybe that makes me a bad Christian?

I don’t talk about my pain very much.  Sure I talk about my past and struggles with religion but I don’t even really talk about what tears my heart apart right now and I guess I never really paid attention to that until recently. 

Have you ever heard those people give their “testimonies” that go something like this, “Years ago I USED to struggle with porn addiction but NOW I am leading 4 Bible studies, training to be a missionary, and only wear Jesus T-shirts!”  Those always translated to me as “I used to have problems but not anymore!” which for people like me, whose reality is often depravity more than holiness, seemed completely unattainable.  It made me so mad that no one would ever talk about their pain.  Then, this week, I realized I don’t really talk about mine either.

I play tough on a regular basis, dawning my metaphorical tights and cape before stepping out of my phone booth into the world of relationships.  It keeps the tattered heart of a vulnerable girl locked away and protected.  Still, as much as I’d like to convince myself otherwise, I’m not bulletproof. 

I really hate Christians sometimes.  They are so harsh and unrelenting.  At the first sight of something different, outside of their system, they swiftly jump into attack mode using the Bible as their weapon of choice to cut down those at all different from who they are.  The world, they call their enemies, as to justify the unyielding battering of the broken with their religion.  I find myself on the other side of the line they’ve drawn being beat down with words of condemnation, named a heretic for daring to stand opposed to them. 

I feel so conflicted by the need to protect the abused and the desire to show grace to the abusers, though they don’t see their need for it.  There I run, up and down on the wrong side of that line they have drawn, trying to comfort the wounded while being a pin cushion for the arrows of anger and arrogance aimed at my back under the accusation of treason to the God that I do it in the name of. 

I am so conflicted.

Do I speak out or remain silent?

How can I show grace to two opposing sides?

I don’t know.  Sometimes it keeps me awake at night. As I toss and turn, my craving for justice and the gentle whisper of grace tear me apart.  I remember those arrows in my back and I cry because they hurt; I’m not bulletproof.  And I wonder if my craving is for me or for the broken ones that I claim it is. 

I find some solace in knowing that I'm not alone on this side of the line. Tattooed Lutheran pastors, curly haired single moms, worn out passionate coaches, and punny pastors with ugly pocketed shirts, stand on this side, taking care of the broken and embracing their arrows with me.   God reassures me that it will all make sense one day.  I honestly don’t know if that’s true but I hope that it is.At the end of the day that hope is really all we have, isn’t it?  People can stand up and say that they used to have problems and don’t anymore but when the darkness of this wretched world claws at that Sunday School skin they hide behind the nasty truth of their brokenness will ooze out.  We are all the same underneath it all, that skin we hide behind.  We are all terribly broken. 

Maybe that’s the point.

That we are all terribly broken and God is wonderfully gracious. 

That He sees our brokenness as beauty and offers to give us completion.

That we don’t have to understand it all.

That we can cry about the arrows in our backs.

That He won’t be angry at us when we choose our cravings over our whispers.

Maybe that’s the point.

I don’t really know.  I don’t have the answer or a way to eloquently end this with something warm and fuzzy to be inspired by. I am just going to cling white knuckled to that hope and believe that’s that point.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Name Tags and Tattoos

I made a recent discovery this week about a passage that I have heard quite a few times but never really listened to before.  You know what I mean, one of those verses that we quote and get quoted to us that, with the first word, trigger our ADD and we suddenly become distracted selective hearers that forgot to take their Ritalin.  This verse is one of those verses.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:1-3 (NET) 
I’m sure most of you have heard that verse before.  Probably 9 out of 10 of the sermons I have heard on it use this verse as the starting point to “reassure” us that Jesus was tempted and did not give in so the same is expected of us. 

That’s great.  Jesus was tempted, He felt what we feel, we aren’t alone, He understands, blah blah blah.  Yeah, I get that and yes it’s wonderful that we have a Savior who can relate to our struggles but I always heard those things and thought to myself… buuuuuut He’s Jesus so, I mean really it wasn’t that big of a temptation!

It was not until this week that I realized what verse immediately precedes this one. 

After Jesus was baptized, just as he was coming up out of the water, the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight.” Matthew 3:16-17 (NET)

Do you see the beautiful picture here?!

The Spirit of God came and called Jesus His Son.  God named Him enough, loved, pleasing, and pretty freaking delightful!  God gives Christ His Spirit and with it His identity.

Then Satan does what he always does using the same lie he always uses.  He says to Jesus, “I know you were just told that you are a loved son, but if you REALLY are the Son of God you better prove it!”

Isn’t that a familiar lie?

“I know you’ve been told you are loved even when you fail, but you need to do some things to prove it!”

“I know you’ve been called enough but if that’s really true you should get up at 6 am and read your Bible.”

“I know you’ve been told He is one with you but if that’s really true you should be cleaning up your act.”

The oldest war that rages between God and Satan: God’s gift of identity and Satan’s questioning of it.  God’s gift of freedom and Satan’s addition of requirements.  God’s completed contract and Satan’s insertion of fine print.  It is Satan, not God, that is in the details. 

This is not a new story.

Just this week, Satan tried to stick a new nametag on my chest.  He tried to convince me that my love for the broken and my pursuit of freedom made me unfit to hang out with Jesus.

I began to believe him and that made me angry.

Who the hell is Satan, or the church, or any one of us to say who Jesus gets to hang out with?  He doesn’t play by our rules anyway.  He called a boy to fight a giant, a fisherman to start his church, a prostitute to find his empty tomb, a murderer to spread his message, and a thief to write his gospel.  He is in the business of new identity.

He tears away that flimsy name tag that Satan foolishly thinks will stick to reveal “enough” tattooed across our hearts.  As if Satan even stood a chance.

I guess it comes down to which identity we choose to live by.  The tattoo will never go away or rub off but it is our choice whether we show it off or cover it with the crumpled name tags that have been delivered to us by those around us. 

Luke’s telling of this story begins with these words, “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…”  Jesus walked away that day secure in His identity not because He was God, but because He was full of the Holy Spirit.  That same spirit that is fused with us, moving and working within us, that’s what made Jesus secure enough to tell Satan, “Shut up, dude!”

What a beautiful picture of how truly powerful we have been made.  How glorious it is that our identity can never be stripped from us even when we don’t believe it.  Our gracious Father looks down on us and says, “This is my dear one; in her I take GREAT delight.”

So then, let us delight in being delighted in.  Let us rest in His being at rest.  Let us find peace in knowing He is pleased.  Let us embrace our identity and show off our tattoos.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Sinner Saint

I am always on the lookout for new authors, pastors, and teachers of the radical message of grace that I love so much.  My most recent discovery (thanks to a fantastic friend) is of a wonderful woman named Nadia Bolz-Webber.  She is a self-proclaimed “snarky” female pastor covered in tattoos and completely uncensored.  Upon a friend of mine sharing an article about her with me, I immediately hunted down her blog (Click Here for the link) and read everything she has written over the past four months as well as bought her most recent memoir “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of aSinner & Saint.” (Which I am halfway through after only two days). 

Her beautifully messy way of relating to God and speaking of Him in a way that is so intensely personal hits a chord with me.  I watch videos of her speaking and am drawn to the obvious authenticity with which she claims his relentless grace.  One thing jumped out at me that she wrote in her book, “We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.”

That statement greased the wheels in my mind as I began to dissect how true it rang for me. 

I have spoken before of the three parts that make up as humans; the body, soul, and spirit.  Still I struggle with a constant desire to be a saint but the reality that I am still a sinner.  This is the divine war; a Holy Spirit living inside a broken body with a selfish soul.  Thus giving us an amazing capacity to destroy but also an equally great, and often greater, capacity to love. 

The choice then becomes ours; who wins?

Our sinner’s soul will attempted to convince us we must work harder to get better while our saintly spirit defines us as enough. We will screw up, give in to temptation, break promises, and think to ourselves that we can’t possibly be loved by a holy God.  Our spirit whispers to us, “You have already been forgiven for that.” 

We assume that we must be either a sinner or a saint when in reality we are both because we have not yet escaped this wretched world. 

The scandalous thing about God is that He only relates to us as saints, spirit to spirit.

How delightfully rule-breaking it is for the Holiest of Holies to choose the broken heart of a sinner to call His temple.  Yet, He picked me and you and all those like us, the under-qualified, undeserving, and unexpected. 

Now we walk this earth as sinner saints, the imperfection of our souls revealing the truly divine perfection of our spirits that cry out to those in need, “Let me give you rest.”  How glorious it is that our actions of a sinner never make us any less of a saint before Him! 

I am excited by my new found hero of the faith and comforted by the things I have already learned through her sermons.  I am so glad God has no limits on who He can use to wave His flag of revolution.  Embrace who you truly are, my friends, and join the revolution!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Grace: The Beautiful Mess

So often we see grace as being the solution to a better life, to a incessant smile, because that’s what we all crave.  We want to be able to arrive at a place and finally be able to sit down and rest after fighting and clawing our way to get there.  When that doesn’t happen we doubt that grace, freedom, living without law, is really worth all the trouble.  We question if it is really even true. 

In so many ways choosing to live a life driven by grace has made things easier.  It has freed me from having to worry about what others think of me.  It has given me confidence to know that God is not disappointed, angry, or saddened with me.  It has filled me with a desire to shower love on those that I care about.  It has even given me the ability to reach the outcasts, broken, and forgotten. 

Grace makes other things harder.

If I choose to live by grace that means I actually have to show grace to other people (I know, shocker, right?)  It means that when I am attacked I choose the path of peace.  It means that when on the receiving end of words of aggression I must respond with gentleness.  Choosing to live that life sometimes makes me a victim, soft, and silent. 

You might ask why I would choose that life.

The answer is really something quite beautiful.

I choose that life because the wonderful thing about grace is that even when I fail to show it, as I so often do, I am not disqualified from receiving it.  There is no cut off, no point of being not enough, and no time of unforgiveness.  Even when I betray grace I am not betrayed by it for at my weakest it is at its strongest and that is what makes it such beautiful mess, really. 

So many times I am a complete failure at practicing what I preach and still God refuses to stop using me as his messenger.  He looks at me and says, “Peter, who denied me in my need, feed my sheep.”  How can I not follow a God who offers me such redemption and puts the glory of a holy message in the fumbling hands of a ragamuffin saint? 

That is what is so difficult about grace.

It wraps me in a state of simultaneously loving and hating it.  My desire to be devoted to it is sabotaged by my inability to be consistent in it, thus tearing me apart and holding me together in the same moment.  It is beautifully messy and awkwardly perfect as it scandalizes my perception of justice with its constant unfairness. 

And I choose it.

Because it chose me.

In my addiction it beckoned me.  In my failure it exalted me.  In my dirtiness it embraced me.  In my emptiness it satisfied me.  I am forever ruined by grace.  It has made a mess of my life and how beautiful a mess it is!

For that reason, I will strive to be for others what it has been to me.  Though I will fail often, I trust that Christ in me will be seen for His power is made perfect in my weakness.  Let struggles come and attacks rise up against me for I will cling tightly to the grace that is set before me, not as a destination to reach one day but as a state of being in this midst of it all. 

His grace is more than enough.

Take heart, my friends, in knowing that even when you feel as if you are not enough for Him; He will always be enough for you.  Rest in the knowledge that even when you feel dissatisfied in Him; He is satisfied with you.  Be brave enough to see the beauty in the mess and the glory in the failure. 

Choose grace.
It has already chosen you. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Truth About Perfection


That is a scary word.

So many negative connotations accompany it that it brings with it an oppressive cloud of inadequacy.  Our world offers us many definitions of, roads to, and pictures of perfection; each one convincing us that we are just aren’t quite hitting the mark.  Then begins our desperate attempts to convince ourselves that it’s ok if we don’t. 

“Nobody is perfect!” we say.

We hear about perfection in the church too.  It’s spoken of as a far off state of being that we will reach “someday” and that’s ok with us.  It keeps us hopeful as it sparkles dimly in the distance encouraging us of how great we might be after death.  Still we strive for it.  We stack up our accomplishments, our great godly deeds, and think to ourselves “Look how good I am!”  Then we fail.  We hide it, brushing it under the rug, pretending it’s ok.

“Nobody is perfect!” we say.

Two different worlds telling us the same lie.  The lie that we can never be perfect and to never stop trying.  The lie that leaves us hearing nothing but the voice that screams, “You will never be good enough!”

Do you want to know the truth?

You are perfect.  Right here, right now, in this moment while you read this, you are perfect.

All those years ago when Christ, the perfect man, willingly walked to His death; sin was defeated.  Death was conquered.  The power of the law to condemn us was stripped away and His perfection was offered to us, the dirty and broken.  When we accept that, when we take in that free gift that is offered to us who don’t deserve it, our spirits become one with his.  Everything thing he has, the essence of Him, yes, even His perfection becomes ours! 

“By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world.” -1 John 4:17 (NET, emphasis added)

We are perfect because He is perfect!  Our status of perfection then becomes based on how perfect He remains before the Father.  We have no ability to be any more or less perfect than we already are!  As Jesus is, so also are we!  You can stop trying your best to be “good enough” for Him, for others, or even for yourself.  Stop holding tightly to your achievements of goodness or using them as footstools to mount your high horse.  Rest.  Just be who you are, His perfect one.  Live out of that. 

I leave you with a verse.  May it be an encouragement, inspiration, and reason to throw a party for you!  Grace and peace with you always, my perfect brothers and sisters.

“Therefore let those of us who are perfect embrace this point of view. If you think otherwise, God will reveal to you the error of your ways.  Nevertheless, let us live up to the standard that we have already attained.” –Philippians 3:15-16 (NET)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

4 Lies That Religion Tells About Grace

As many of you who follow my blog know, I grew up in church. Not only did I grow up in church, but my family was in the ministry business, which meant I was in, around, and hearing about church constantly. I heard quite often of God’s unconditional love for those outside the church and his patience with unbelievers, but it seemed that once you were “on God’s team” His favor was something you had to work hard to gain.  This drove me away from Christianity and left me with a skewed view of what grace really was.  The more I learned about God’s grace and love for me apart from my efforts, the more I was able to distinguish some of the lies that I was told and still hear today about grace.  Here are my top four lies that religion has told me about grace:

[1] Teaching grace means that you are throwing out the law.

         This lie is number one for a reason.  It is definitely the most common argument against teaching grace and actually reveals a twisted view of the law.  If we believe that the law is attainable, that our right living can somehow gain us favor from God, then we have a pretty low view of the law and a pretty high view of ourselves.  The message of grace views the law as a perfect and unachievable standard; one that can only be reached by accepting Christ’s completion of it on our behalf.  The choice to live by grace shows that you have a high view of the law, not a low one! Christ did not come to throw away or get rid of the law; He came to complete it! After accepting Christ’s sacrifice, God sees us not as if we had never sinned, but rather, as if we had kept the entire law for our whole lives!
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.” –Matthew 5:17 

[2] Grace deals with eternal security not daily living.

        This lie is not necessarily one that is said outright; no, Satan is much smarter than that.  Maybe it was just my personal experience but any time that I heard about grace in the church it was in terms of something to come.  God’s grace became my ticket out of Hell (or fire insurance as the clever ones called it) but it had little impact on my daily life.  Grace, then, had the power to save my soul from Hell but not my life from addiction.  Viewing and teaching grace in this light makes it weak and watered down.  Grace has the power to transform lives, heal marriages, break addiction, and restore relationships!  Why would we want to limit its power to usefulness only in death?  Let us abandon the bonds we’ve placed on grace and find freedom in how reckless it really is!

[3] Those who teach grace ignore sin.

         As with most things, those who don’t regularly sit under teachers of grace make assumptions about what they teach.  I absolutely believe that there are some gracers out there who completely ignore the sin of their followers and puff themselves up with how accepting they are; the same thing happened in Paul’s day too!  Does that mean we should throw out grace altogether?  Or worse, should we mix it with some law?  Of course not!  Grace is not an overlooking of our sin; it is a cleansing from it.  Grace does not ignore our brokenness; it heals it.  Grace is not a pain killer; it is a cure.  Grace does not teach us to ignore our sin but rather to live out of the forgiveness we have already received for it, letting that become our drive towards a desire to do good.  Grace, then, is not a license to sin but an ignition of a desire not to.

[4] Those who say we don’t have to be obedient to receive blessing cheapen grace.

        Tullian Tchividjian says it best, “Grace works without requiring anything on our part.  It’s not expensive.  It’s not even cheap.  It’s free.”  How can we cheapen something that is already a free gift to us?  In fact, those who choose to live a life driven by doing good to gain from God, actually make Christ’s sacrifice worthless! 
“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not set aside God’s grace, because if righteousness could come through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” –Galatians 2:20-21
Grace is incapable of being made cheap.  It was bought with a high price, the blood of one who loved us more than we can ever imagine when we least deserved it.  The price has been paid in full so that we might enjoy it free of charge!  Grace cannot put on layaway, making a payment every paycheck, hoping one day we get to enjoy what we worked so hard for.  It is ours, in fullness, right now.  Let us freely enjoy the lavish love of our Father!

Have you heard these lies before?  Do you find yourself believing them without even thinking about it?  Dare to doubt what your religion has told you.  Be brave enough to believe that God’s pleasure is not dependent on your obedience.  I guarantee that you will find freedom from worry, peace in the midst of struggle, and a genuine desire to live a life of love!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Tattoo Cliff Notes

Some people in church get uneasy when you start talking about tattoos.  I think some of that comes from the fact that in the past, those with tattoos were the rough ones, the bad apples, and the trouble makers.  Church people gasp at people who weave into their congregations covered in tattoos, “You’ve defiled your body!”  Surprise, surprise, I am not one of those people. I have tattoos that I love.  They are a part of me, an expression of who I am.  They are the cliff notes of my story, the Ebeneezer's of my journey.  They spark conversations with strangers that lead to the discovery that not all Christians are judgmental and stiff-necked.  Johnny Depp put it so well when he said, “My body is my journal and tattoos are my story.”  This is the tattoo cliff notes version of my story.

JJ- A friend lost.

The first tattoo I ever got was this little heart with “JJ” in it.  It was one of those typical first tattoos, but it meant something deeper to me.  JJ was one of the most amazing women I have ever known.  She knew me better than anyone and was one of the few people I would let call me out on my junk.  She always pushed me to be the best version of myself.  I remember that day when I told her that I wasn’t going to go to college.  The very next day she had a stack of college applications set in front of me, “Jessica, you are going to college!”  She was amazing.  I was on a mission’s trip in Mexico when I got the news of her death.  I was broken.  More broken than I had been in a long time. 

For a long time I felt guilty that I wasn’t there by her side that night, but I know now that I was right where she would have wanted me to be.  I wrote a memorial for her and we dedicated the pathway to the kindergarten we were working on that week to her.  Her death made me feel again.

In those first weeks of my sobriety, she was my motivation.  I just really wanted her to be proud of me.

Endure- “to support adverse force or influence of any kind; suffer without yielding; suffer patiently; to have or gain continued or lasting acknowledgment or recognition, as of worth, merit or greatness.”

The next tattoo I got was during my sophomore year of college.  I was in the midst of my sobriety journey and at the center of a relational hurricane.  People that I loved were falling apart and I was in the middle of it all.  I had cut ties with home and my church there as anger and bitterness began to consume my thoughts and plague my nights with sleeplessness. 

I was going to therapy at the time for my plethora of issues.  After an outburst of anger and an exclamation of my desire to give up, Doc asked me, “Do you know what the word ‘Endure’ means?”  As she reached for a tattered book on her shelf I replied with a shrug, “to survive, I guess.”  She licked her fingers and flipped through some of the yellowed pages then read aloud, “to support adverse force or influence of any kind; suffer without yielding; suffer patiently; to have or gain continued or lasting acknowledgment or recognition, as of worth, merit or greatness.”  She looked up and me with kind eyes, “Jess, enduring is about more than just surviving, it is about thriving.  Life will make you suffer.  It will forcefully influence you with its anger and brokenness.  Enduring isn’t just about making it out alive; Enduring is about realizing how much you are really worth and letting that become your unyielding motivation to thrive!” 

The next day I used my money that was supposed to be for books to buy a tattoo, the Chinese symbol for endure on my right shoulder.  Even though it resulted in a (deserved) tongue lashing from my mother, it has since served as a reminder that endurance is about more than just getting to the finish line.

Trust- “stand by your words”

A year and a half passed after my enlightenment on endurance.  I grew strong and healthy as I began to wade into the deeper waters of what grace could do.  There were still parts of my heart that I had walls built around as the sting of open wounds still made me tense up.  Someone walked into my life that forced me to face those walls and consider what I was missing by not being brave enough to tear them down.  I had forgotten what it was like to be able to trust anyone as all those who had been granted that privilege had utterly abused it.  This person taught me what it really meant to be able to trust someone. 

Soon my ability to trust led to discovering the need for me to be someone that could be trusted.  I was a really REALLY good conman.  I could lie pretty well and convince most everyone of what I wanted them to believe about me, all while wearing the mask of being a really good person.  This was beneficial when I lived a life on the dark side but as an increasing desire to do good grew within me, the cons left me feeling empty. 

I made a decision to embrace honesty in the same way I do most things… radically.  I decided that I was going to tell the truth about everything all the time.  No finding loopholes, not mincing words, just pure unadulterated honesty.  This caused quite a few people to walk out of my life as the dirtiness of who I really was came to light.  Still, I found freedom in honesty.

I decided that I wanted a tattoo to mark the new milestone in my life and thought, once again of a Chinese symbol to match my “Endure” memorial.  I found the Chinese symbol for “trust” and upon further research, discovered that, translated literally, it means “stand by your words.”  I was soon in the tattoo chair as the whir of machine, smell of antiseptic, and squeeze of the hand from the person I trusted most, soothed me into rest. 

Destemido- Live Fearless

Last, but most certainly not least, my most recent tattoo.  Five years into sobriety and deep into the depths of grace, I have regained some old friends and made so many new ones.  My two best friends on this planet, have become my spaces of safety and beacons of grace in my life when I have needed it most. 

Carolina and I have only known each other for a little over a year but I feel like I have known her my whole life.  She is Brazilian and she tries to teach me Portuguese while laughing at my accent.  That’s ok, don’t tell her but sometimes I laugh at her accent too! ;)  When I told her about wanting to get a new tattoo to mark my newest pursuit of a life free from fear she suggested I get it in Portuguese.  I couldn’t have agreed more!  Her friendship is one of the things that keeps me brave, keeps me striving to escape fear, so to have it tattooed in her language couldn’t have been more perfect. 

It was about six months ago now that I got “Destemido” etched across my wrist while Carolina and Briana stood by with smiles of support.  It will forever be a memory I treasure and an added reminder that perfect love drives out fear.

Well, there you have it, my story in tattoos!  Now you know why I love them so much, each one marks a part of my life that I never want to forget.  There will be more to come as I cross new bridges along my journey of grace.  I can’t wait to see what new wonders and joys there are for me to take in on the other side of them!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Freedom and Phobia


It keeps us from so much.  It infiltrates our minds with thoughts of inadequacy that fuel our belief of worthlessness.  It burrows into our hearts and ignites a twinge of worry when we are asked to be real with those close to us.  It hides itself in our religion and tells us that no one would accept us if they knew the real us, not even God.  It is a destroyer of authenticity and freedom.  It is a liar.

I have lived a life of fear.  One that drove me into the arms of addiction as fear convinced me that dealing with the depth of my pain was too much to bear.  It built up impenetrable walls around my heart, reinforced by broken promises and voices of condemnation.  I believed every lie that fear told me, holding white-knuckled to the addiction, bitterness, distrust, and toughness I thought would bring me release from the emptiness fear planted within me. 

I felt helpless.

I felt alone.

I believed that I was a victim.

That’s another lie that fear tells us; that we are powerless.  That we are the victim.  It offers us self-pity as a remedy but it only holds us captive, tightening fear’s shackles tighter and tighter around us. We are not powerless.

We are loved by the One who fashioned the universe with his words… even when we are afraid of Him.  We are treasured by Perfect Love, the essence of love itself.  Fear has no power here. 

It’s time we were brave.  It’s time to risk the shattering of our hearts for the sweet taste of freedom.  It’s time we dared to believe in that Perfect Love.  Even if our first steps are labored, our knees shaking with uncertainty, and the voice we use to cry out to Him is nothing more than a squeak of timidity, we must choose to believe in that Love. 

Then something glorious will happen.

Fear will be driven out!

It will flee yelping in pain as Perfect Love overcomes us with whispers of worth and a promise of perfection.  Fear has no power here.

Soon we will become beacons of honesty beckoning the broken to our shores.  We will find peace in the ability to be real with those around us and discover that we aren’t as alone as we once believed. We will embrace our moments of failure as Perfect Love assures us that we are without fault.

Dare to let Perfect Love drive out your fear.  Jump first and fear later.  Take heart in the abundance of grace that is lavished on you right now.  Live fearless.

There is freedom on the other side of fear.

By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love. We love because he loved us first. ~1 John 4:17-19 (NET)

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.