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

Friday, June 28, 2013

6 Marks of a Manly Man

After a small vacation from a blog circuit as I finished my first ever book (which I hope you all will read), I am back again feeling inspired this morning.  This month at church we have been going through a series about what a man of grace looks like.  My dad is a wonderful picture of that to me and the older I get the more aware I become of what a fantastic man of grace he is.  My little brother is no exception and, as he entered adulthood this year, he has followed in the footsteps of grace that my dad walked before him.  So, I thought I would come up with my top six marks of the manly man of grace pictured in the two manliest men I know.

1- He is a passionate defender of the weak.
So often tough guys are pictured as the ones who pick on those weaker than them.  It’s an easy way to feel strong and powerful.  True manly men are defenders of the weak and protectors of those under them.  True manliness is pictured by meekness, strength under control.

2- He is always in search of new ways to take in and give out grace.
Men are hard wired to be the initiators.  True manly men are in pursuit of ways to initiate grace in every relationship in their lives but know that in order to give that out they have to take it in from God first.  They show grace to others even in their times of hurt and struggle.

3- He is a promoter of peace.
I live in Texas so…. Usually manly men are the ones shooting things and/or talking about shooting things.  There is a time to stand up and fight but men of grace know the value of peace.  They promote and create spaces of peace within their homes, jobs, and churches.

4- He will stand behind what he believes is right even if it makes him unpopular.
He does not back down, does not surrender, and never gives up on what he believes is right.  He stands behind his wife, children, and friends when they take a stand for what is right.  Even if he stands alone, man of grace will not balk when it comes to what he knows is right.  My dad is a beautiful picture of this in my life and is ALWAYS the first to stand in my corner when I take on the fight for what is right.

5- He is honest about his weaknesses with those he trusts.
A real manly man knows he’s not invincible and is aware of his struggles.  He confides those in the people he trusts and those he knows love him so that he doesn’t have to battle those struggles on his own.  He is honest about his hurts and real with those around him.

6- He loves without strings.
The most difficult part of living in grace is the giving of love to those who haven’t done anything to earn it.  This is especially difficult for the men in our lives who work so hard and do so much for all of us.  Men of grace love and lavish without expectations of anything back.  They are the ultimate picture of Jesus to us.

It’s so common in our world today to see men who crave power, pleasure, and position.  It’s time for a revolution to break out among the men of this world and for the manly men of grace to rise up and shine.  Remember, you are not defined by what you do but by who you are; love, perfected, and one with Christ.  Live manly. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

I’m a big fan of the unknown stories in the Bible.  You know the ones I mean, those stories you hear in Sunday school but never really pay attention to.  Some you may never even hear in your lifetime until you end up being sucked into a crazy blog about grace and you ask yourself, is that story really in the Bible?  I get excited at the prospect of learning something new from the stories I never knew existed or just never really paid attention to.

One such story is that of Mary and Martha.  Jesus came to Mary and Martha’s town and Martha invited Jesus over for dinner.  I picture it in a modern day setting where Jesus is hanging out in the recliner talking about his passions, telling stories of his travels, and laughing at his favorite memories.  There’s Mary, sitting on the couch wide eyed, listening to all Jesus has to say and enjoying time with him.

Martha, however, is back in the kitchen, slaving over the stove, making sure the table is set with the good plates, and working on her famous lasagna.  All the while, grumbling that Mary isn’t in there helping her.  It doesn’t take her long before she decides to make her frustration know. 

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.”

I can imagine the look on Jesus’s face, I’ve seen it in my mind many times.  He shakes his head, smiles, and responds in a voice that just puts you at ease while simultaneously reminding you how silly you are.

“Martha, chill out, stop worrying and just enjoy being with me like Mary is.”

How often in our own lives do we become so distracted by doing things to prepare for Jesus that we miss out on being with him?  We want to do the right things, be the right influences, and win the right people to him.  Jesus longs for us to rest in him, hang out with him, and take in all that he pours out onto us.  He doesn’t want us to do things to earn his praise; we already have it, we just have to sit down with him and take it in!

Interestingly enough this is the same Mary we read about earlier in Luke who comes to Jesus and cries at his feet, pouring expensive perfume on him, and wiping it up with her hair.  Jesus declares her forgiven and she walks away forever changed.  The next time we see her it’s here in the living room with Jesus, taking in all that she can from him.  Now that, is what I call experiencing grace!

*Luke 10:38-42 (Mary and Martha)
*Luke 7:36-50 (Mary Meets Jesus)

*John 11:2 (Mary is Anointer of Jesus)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

5 Verses i Never Knew Were in the Bible

I’ve been in church a long time and I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about the Bible and what was printed on its pages.  I didn’t have the whole thing memorized or anything but I thought I had it down.  The more I research and scuba dive in the depths of grace, the more passages I find that I had no idea were even in the Bible.  This proves to be amusing to by dad and my pastor when I get all fired up about my discoveries.  Here are just a few verses I found that I never knew existed.

1-  “Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” –Romans 5:20-21

For a long time I had no idea this verse was even in the Bible!  Maybe it’s just me but I always thought the purpose of the law was to make people right with God if they kept it.  The reality of the law is this, it’s impossible to keep it.  That was the point.  Its purpose was to show us our need for grace, our need for a sacrifice outside of ourselves, our need for Jesus.  The point of the law was to show us how precious grace is, how impossible it is to earn, and how desperately we need it. 

2-  “Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” –John 12:42-43

This little nugget I found while doing some research into Jesus’s life.  I had no idea that people in the higher class and even among the rulers believed in Jesus!  Those are guys you don’t really hear about much other than when Jesus is getting on to them.  They believed in him but wouldn’t admit it because they were afraid the Pharisees would throw them out of the synagogue.  I wonder how many people believe the message of grace but won’t admit it because they are afraid to get thrown out if their churches, private schools, and Sunday school classes by the Pharisees of our day.  Do you love the praise of men more than the praise of God?

3-  “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

This verse has become a staple in the life of Jess because I find it so absolutely accurate.  I was once an enemy, in God’s eyes? No! In my own mind!  Because I did bad things? No! The bad things were just an expression of how I thought God saw me.  Then something amazing happened, Jesus came, and he didn’t just make me right with God, he didn’t just forgive my sins, he made me HOLY and BLAMELESS and WITHOUT A BLEMISH before God.  You can’t be sort of holy, sort of blameless, and sort of without blemish.  Those are all or nothing statements and we are ALL of them.

4-  “What then shall we say that Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh, has discovered regarding this matter? For if Abraham was declared righteous by works, he has something to boast about—but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation. But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.” –Romans 4:1-5

The yellow part is what really sticks out in my mind.  Abraham did nothing to earn God’s favor, he simply accepted God’s blessing and had faith that God would do what he promised him.  That’s all, and God says, “Boom! Righteous!”  So often within the church we try to become more righteous by our acts of service in the name of God.  We are driven by our obligations to family, friends, church, and God.  All that God wants, all that we have to do is accept the depth of blessing and grace poured on us and have faith that God will do what he’s promised us.  That’s when God chimes in with his same old, “Boom! Righteous!”

5-  “And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work.” -2 Corinthians 9:8

This verse is located in a passage talking about giving and service within the church.  It speaks to our motivation.  I, often times, find myself feeling empty and pulled in a hundred directions by all the ministries I’m involved in.  That’s when I have to remind myself of the excessive grace being poured on me and let it fill me up.  Then it begins to overflow and it fuels my desire for service, giving, and community with those around me.  Remember, you can’t give out what you haven’t received.

Did anyone else know these were in the Bible?  They’re awesome, right?!  So, my advice, for what it’s worth, don’t just assume you know what’s between the leather of your Bible and don’t just listen to what is being preached at you from it.  Dig in, go exploring, find some new species and share them with us fellow revolutionaries! 

Monday, June 17, 2013

6 Myths I Learned in Church

I grew up in church and I’ve heard some pretty interesting things from the pulpits, pews, and the people who fill them.  The more I dive into the truth of grace, the more I discover that some of the things I was taught, and even believed, were really just myths.  Here are a few of my personal favorite myths I heard in church.

1-  My relationship with God is perfect but my fellowship with him gets messed up when I sin.
Personally, I think this is just the Christian nitpick to justify teaching that we need to do good things to get God’s blessing.  Though it does make sense in the human mind that our failures cause God sadness or disappointment, God doesn’t work that way.  God has never done things the way we do them so what makes us think He’s going to start with this one?  We are 100% right with God, fellowship, relationship, and any other ships. 

2-  God turned His back on Jesus while he was on the cross.
What?! God didn’t do that?! I think this one gets attached to the myth that God can’t be in the presence of sin.  Which really doesn’t make sense if you think about it because, I mean, God and Satan had a face to face throw down over Job and I’m pretty sure no one could argue that Satan is sinless.  My thoughts on this particular myth is that Jesus statement of “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  was exactly how Jesus felt at that moment.  The weight of the world’s sin was on his shoulders as well as all the guilt, shame, and disgust that comes with sin.  How many times have you felt as if God has forsaken you? When, in actuality, He is still right there, holding you in His arms, you just can’t feel it in that moment.

3-  God expects us to give 10% of our earnings as offering.
First off, giving out of duty is without meaning and if you are doing it expecting God to bless you for your pennies in the plate then you will be sorely disappointed.  Secondly, it’s not about the amount you give but simply that it’s out of the desire of your heart.  God loves a cheerful giver.

4-  Extremes are bad.
This one I have talked about some in my writing.  So often we want to mix law and grace in together before we serve it to the world in the name of balance.  We chant “everything in moderation, nothing in excess” as if that phrase came straight from the mouth of Jesus.  God lives in the extremes.  He is all inclusive in his grace, excessive in his love, and irresponsible in his forgiveness. 

5-  God is disappointed, sad, or mad at me if I’m not doing the things a Christian should do.
(See number 1).  God is not and never will be anything but completely pleased with you.  Jesus’s payment was for ALL sins.  Not just the ones we’re sorry for, not just the ones we do good things to make up for, but ALL sins. 

6-  Jesus disliked the Pharisees because they taught and followed the law.
Jesus taught and followed the law.  What?! Yep, He did!  So… does that mean Jesus disliked himself?  No, Jesus’s issue with the Pharisees was their inserting of human tradition and regulation into the law so that it was easier to follow.  Oh, and the fact that they were breaking their own rules and taking advantage of their positions.  The point of the law was your inability to keep it and your need for sacrifice to make you right with God.  This is why Jesus makes statements like, “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.  But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”

Have you heard any of these myths in church?  Have they shaped your belief of who God is and how He sees you?  I have never been more confident in anything than I am in the fact that God sees me as perfect, offers me freedom, and demands nothing from me.  I will gladly sacrifice all I am and all I have for that truth, not because it’s expected of me but because of the depth of desire it creates within me.

*Matthew 5:43-44 (NET)

Friday, June 14, 2013

5 Nobodies That Became Somebodies

One of the things I really love about God is how frequently he takes nobodies and makes them important. All throughout the Bible you find instances where God takes the people you would least expect to change the world and makes them great.   More than that even, He takes the parts of them that they see as inadequate and makes them enough.  I find encouragement in these stories filled with broken people that God used to fight his revolution.  So, here are my top 5 nobodies that God made somebodies.

1-  Peter the Rebel Fisherman:
Ah Peter, my kindred spirit, quick to smart off and slow to listen, he was constantly getting himself in trouble.  He was just a dirty fisherman when Jesus found him.  He smelt of the sea, his hands worn and cut from a life of hard work.  He was a redneck of his day, uneducated and looked down as part of a lower class, made hard by people’s perception of him.  Then Jesus comes along and he calls him to something different.  From that point on we see Jesus pushing Peter to something different and, even in his hot headedness, Peter is loved.  Even after peter’s flight and denial in Jesus’s time of greatest need, he is shown favor.  After everything, Jesus calls Peter to be a leader of his church, a general in his revolution.

2-  Rahab the Prostitute:
Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho, you know the walls come tumbling down Jericho?  Not only did she live in the city her house was built in as part of the wall.  Joshua sent in some Israelite spies to check out the city but the king found out that they were there staying with Rahab.  He sent soldiers to her house to find the spies.  Rahab had cleverly hidden them up in the roof. She told the soldiers that the men had come to be her clients but that they left already and she sent the officers off into the night to look for them.  She then pledged her loyalty to the God of the spies, these men who came into her house, I imagine for the same reason all men came to her house.  She had faith in something bigger than herself.  The entire wall of the city crumbled when the Israelites came to take the city, but her house stood unharmed.  She was taken in by God’s people and not only that but was put into the direct line that Jesus would come from!  That’s pretty cool right?

3-  Ehud the Physically Handicapped:
I bet not many of you have heard of this guy, right?  He’s one of my favorites!  Ehud was left-handed, not a big deal in today’s world, back then it was a different story.  In that day, when you had too much taco bell the left hand was the one you wiped with.  Left-handed people were rare and considered dirty and handicapped, looked down on for their short coming.  Back in Ehud’s day, the nation was ruled by an evil and incredibly fat king named Eglon.  One day Ehud came before the king carrying with him Israel’s tribute payment (basically like their taxes).  Hidden under his robe was a double-edged, 15 inch long dagger strapped on his right thigh (opposite of what a right-handed person would do).  When the guards patted him down they didn’t think to look there, I mean, why would Israel send a handicapped person before a king?  He told the king he had a secret message for him and Eglon sent away all his men.  Then Ehud grabbed his sword and killed Eglon, who was so fat that the sword disappeared in him and also… he crapped himself.  Now that is humiliating! After that, Ehud went on to rule the nation of Israel for 80 years!

4-  Moses the Stutterer:
I think almost everyone knows who Moses is.  He was a great leader and powerful hero of the Bible.  Did you know that when God first called him he wanted God to find someone else?  He begged God to send Aaron along with him to speak for him because Moses had speech issues.  Most scholars say it was a lisp or a stutter (now I can relate to that) neither of which are very intimidating when you’re demanding freedom for a nation from an evil Pharaoh!  Now, no one even hears about that, they know Moses for what God did with him and through him. 

5-  David the Kid:
David is an inspiration.  God first destines him to be king of Israel when he is the youngest of his brothers and just a simple shepherd.  He goes on to slay a giant with nothing but some stones and a lot of faith.  Later he royally screws up by having a woman’s husband killed and having an affair with her.  Still, God calls him a man after his own heart.  He is probably the most famous king of Israel and a major hub in the Jesus gene chain!

All five of these people didn’t expect to be anything great, they were just normal people.  Broken, poor, trapped in a life they wanted out of, hiding from their flaws, and revolutionaries for God’s cause.  I get excited reading stories like theirs because I’m a nobody too.  In my brokenness he shines and in my under qualifications he makes me enough.  I am happily one of God’s ordinary revolutionaries.  

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fear and Freedom

Inspired by my dear friend and soul sister (shout out to the Shazbot) today’s topic is fear.  I have a very odd and unique fear… of chickens.  Go ahead, get it all out, it is SOOO funny!  They are evil little beings that like to peck your eyes out and claw at your brains! I’d much rather face zombies than chickens any day!  My little brother has a somewhat more rational fear of spiders.  So, of course, as is my sisterly duty, I hide various rubber spiders throughout the house for him to find and be scared by.  It’s rather amusing when he goes in for a shower and I hear a scream followed by the loud bang of him knocking over things in his attempt at a quick retreat from the extremely deadly lifeless spider I had hidden on the bathtub. 

Everyone has fears, it’s the natural make up of a human being.  No one had to tell you to be afraid you just were.  From the moment you heard that clap of thunder that sent you running to the safety of your parent’s bed, you knew how to fear.  As we grow up our fears begin to change.  The fear of the storm becomes a fear of being a good enough mom so your children will run to you during it.  Fear takes on a different face and it reaches into every part of our lives, especially our relationships.

It all starts with how we think God relates to us because how we think God relates to us is how we will relate to others.  I was never a big fan of the repetition of the phrase “fear God” that I heard in the church.  I definitely was afraid of him, afraid I wasn’t good enough, afraid he was always angry with me, or afraid he was constantly waiting to punish me every time I screwed up.  Church people like to define that phrase as “respect for God.”  They always used that analogy about a child who touches a hot stove and gets burned, then he learns to respect the stove’s power so he doesn’t touch it anymore.  I was always like ummm no, he got hurt that’s why he’s not touching it, duh!  No, I think fearing God is much more than that.  I don’t think God operates by burning his followers when they reach out to touch him. 

With things like this, I think we miss out because we speak English.  When I say. “I fear chickens” and when I say, “I fear God” they sound the same.  Similarly, I say I love my dad and I love coffee, but do you really think I love coffee as much as I love my dad?  Of course not!  They have very different meanings and different depth even though they are the same word.  Doesn’t English just suck sometimes? Shh, don’t tell my mom I said that!

So, I looked up the two different meanings of the word “fear” in the dictionary. The first one is what we always think of when we hear the word fear, “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.”  Common sense, right?  Well here’s the second one, “reverential awe.”

The first form of fear is deadly one.  It will destroy relationships, dreams, and self-esteem.  If you live in fear of God, that he will withhold blessings if you fail and strike you down when you don’t measure up, then you will only end up depressed, worn out, and frustrated.  If you live a life driven by fear it will keep you from chasing your dreams, being real with those around you, and even giving love to the people closest to you.  It can destroy marriages, wound your children, and make you feel worthless.  Fear… does not come from God.

The latter definition of fear, however, is one to get excited about!  Reverence in awe, those words have a little more depth than just respect.  I live in zealous reverence and complete awe of God.  Not because He demands if of me, but because he came to me in my brokenness and made me whole.  He met me in my moments of not enough and made me perfect.  He saw me when I was most unlovable and poured his favor on me.  I fear him because, though he deserves so much more, he calls the rags I offer him enough. 

Which one drives you?  Reverent awe that comes from desire or a fear keeping you from living in peace?  I urge you, my friends, to jump first and fear later.  Find bravery in taking in how perfect God sees you.  Live fearlessly.  Love extravagantly.  There is freedom on the other side of fear.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Step 8

When I first started out on this journey to a different life I did some silly things.  Looking back, it’s pretty obvious that I really didn’t get this whole completely forgiven and completely free thing.  I made list of all the really awful paths I had walked down and all the junk I had done to people who didn’t deserve it. 

Well, it was part of the program.  Step 8, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”  To me it was something more than that though, it was my check list.  I was determined to do equally as many good things to balance those out. 

It wasn’t really about earning God’s favor as much as it was just me feeling intensely guilty and unworthy of love from even other people because of my past.  I would do things like sabotage the good things that would come into my life because I didn’t feel like I deserved them.  The one thing I was an expert at was pushing away people who would try to get close to me, demanding over and over again to know what they wanted from me.  You didn’t think I just magically got all better as soon as I realized God loved me, right? 

No, taking in grace is and always has been a process for me.  Sometimes I think we as Christians get impatient.  We want to win people to Christ and throw our Romans road three step plan at them and expect it to change their lives.  Even within churches like mine, grace extremists, we want people to just get grace like it’s something easy to take in. 

Personally, I know I definitely get impatient, simply because I know how life changing it is and I want everyone to experience that.  I get over critical of those trapped in a system driven by doing and I forget about my lists.  I still expect people to be punished when they hurt the ones I love and forget God sees them just as perfect as he sees me. 

We all struggle with that system sometimes because, well, that’s the way of this world.  The pattern of this world is one of duty, deserving, and demanding.  You know, whenever I read in the Bible about the ways of this world or snares of this world I always thought it was those obviously bad things like sleeping around, murder, idolatry, and lying.  Those things are really just symptoms of the sickness of trying to do enough or thinking others haven’t done enough for you.  Why do you cheat on your wife?  Because she isn’t meeting your needs and fulfilling your desires.  Why kill someone?  You want something they have, they’ve wronged you, or you’re just a psychopath. 

We all operate in the system sometimes and when we find ourselves wandering down that path that is when we have all the more opportunity to take in God’s excessive grace.  The deeper we trek into the do/get system the more power grace has to free us.  It’s crazy how it works that way!  So now I make different lists, ones that help me know when I’m going down that road of do/get, not check lists to make sure I’m doing all that’s demanded of me. 

Here is my list of hazard signs on the road of do to get:
  • I believe God is angry/sad at me when I mess up
  • I am constantly comparing myself to others
  • I am afraid to be honest with those around me because they may think less of me
  • I expect things back from others when I do good things for them- this can even be as innocent as expecting a thank you for a gift or kindness when I forgive a hurt
  • I feel wronged if others don’t work as hard as I am
  • I am driven by and control other around me with guilt
  • I feel the need to constantly point out to others how they need to improve
  • I am easy to anger and slow to forgive

Those are ones for me that tend to creep in faster than others.  As great as this list is to help remind me to watch out for those things I have one other list that brings much more power into my life. One that fills me with peace and joy every time I read it, which is quite often.  Are you in suspense yet?

Ok, well here it is, my list of the things I am confident in because of grace:
  • Worldly consequences are not a result of God’s punishment
  • I am loved in the midst of my failures
  • My relationship with God is at odds only in my mind and not through his eyes
  • I don’t have to live in fear EVER AGAIN
  • I am not defined by my past
  • God’s full blessing is mine even when I’m living in sin

That list is the one that changes me.  It makes me passionate for God, hungry to learn more, and anxious to let it flow out of me.  That list is slowly making the previous one insignificant.  I am more confident in grace than I have been in anything ever before.  This is my step 8 in the grace program.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Peace, Dude.

I have this journal that a friend of mine gave me when I graduated from high school that I have, since then, always carried with me.  It is covered in scuff marks and filled with my rants of anger, rawness of hurt, excitement in discovering grace, and even some random quotes from my pastor that I have tucked away to help me drive my point home when needed (thanks Brian). 

These days I use it to jot down blog ideas, verses I want to research, and bible study ideas.  The margins are filled with notes to myself and doodles from when I was processing what exactly I wanted to say.  This morning I opened it up to pick a topic to write about from my hurricane of ideas.  It fell open to a page I hadn’t looked at in a while. 

It was about a year into my recovery that I began to get very real with my therapist.  The shakes were finally gone and I could at least hear the word beer without wanting to run to the nearest liquor store.  A new struggle began to present itself in the form of facing the junk that drove me to that place.  It was a scary place to be for me, I mean, the whole point in drinking was so that I didn’t have to deal with the junk.  For a whole year she made no mention of church or even God for that matter unless I brought it up, which let’s be honest, was pretty much never since I was pretty pissed off at Him. 

She was patient, and calm, and let me be real.  Every day, she would just listen, sometimes asking questions that I didn’t have an answer to and would send me home determined to have an answer for her the next day; and every day, from day one, when I walked out the door she would put her hand on my shoulder, look in my eyes, and say “I love you, Jess.”  Every day for a year my response was the same, “Umm… you don’t even know me!” 

Then that day came, a year into being sober, I plopped down into my favorite chair in her office and popped the top on my diet coke.  I barely had time to get my first sip down when she just came out with, “Why do you hate God, Jess?”  I’m pretty positive I almost spewed my coke all over her.  “I don’t hate God… I just… I’m never going to be enough for Him… I’m pretty sure He hates me.”  She shook her head the way she did when I would curse at the stupidity of boys and declare my decision to become a nun.  “Is that why you act so tough all the time?  Because you think if God hates you everyone must?”  I shrugged my shoulders, “I don’t know.  I guess so.” 

I tried to change the subject but she was just a stubborn as me and she pushed deeper.  “I know you don’t like church, why is that?”  That one I was more than happy to answer (I am going to censor this one for the conservatives in the audience).  “Church. Ha! Because all church is a bunch of hypocritical jerks who care more about how long your skirt is than if you actually want to know about God.  It’s so freaking stupid all they do is just tell you over and over again how worthless God thinks you are while pretending to be perfect at the same time as their own families are falling apart.  How can someone want that?  I don’t meet the requirements of being a “good” Christian and I’m glad because I don’t want to be anything like those people.  I mean I’m saved but I don’t know if that’s enough anymore.” 

Wow so I remember this like it was yesterday, every word, and I remember looking up at her when I finished my spew of anger to see sadness in her eyes.  I felt bad about what I said for the first time in a long time.  “I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings… I know you’re not like that.”  She smiled but her eyebrows still furoughed in sadness.  “Jess, I am truly sorry for those people who hurt you, who told you that you weren’t enough and made you think that God hates you.  Jesus, is enough.  You are enough.  God loves you for all that you are, in your brokenness and anger and hurt.  Embrace that and you will find peace like you’ve never known.”

That’s when I realized the sadness in her eyes was for me. Well of course I then balled like a toddler as she pulled out her Bible for the first time in a year, and showed me what is now my favorite Bible verse, “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.”  I’d seen it before but this time it meant something different. 

I desperately wanted freedom, I craved peace, I was tired of having to be hard and tough constantly.  I left there that day with puffy eyes and plenty to think about, I didn’t know then but that would be my first step on a long road that led me to the power of grace.  As I walked out, just like every other day and with exact same look as the 364 preceding it, she looked in my eyes and said, “I love you, Jess.”  This time I found myself wrapping her up in a hug and whispering, “I love you too.” 

I didn’t sleep at all that night but the next day I walked into her office more invigorated than I ever had been.  We talked for the rest of the week about finding peace in my life not just with God but with my family, my friendships, and my job.  I started to see that the more I found peace with God the better I was at bringing peace to the other relationships in my life. Which makes sense to me now looking back because you can’t give something out that you haven’t received.  That weekend I wrote this in my journal:
Finding Passivity 
Peace finding presence in passiveness
So long hidden by aggressive fists
Suffocated by bitterness
Built up and driven by a hit list 
 Never has been felt such relief
Like a fire extinguished to save what’s underneath
Once clenched tight now released
Allowing reality to finally be seen 

She didn’t know what she was starting when you asked me that first question that day, on second thought, maybe she did.  Grace and peace they have the power to transform a person.  Church, religion, and duty all fall short in that area.  Restraint cannot change actions any more than a strait jacket can heal a sick mind.   Pursue peace, my friends, but be ready for it to change your life.  Be ready to become a revolutionary.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Saplings and Sacrifice

Let’s talk about heritage.  Here in America, and probably in other nations too I’m guessing, we have business men who come from a lineage of other business men.  This makes for lots great movies in Hollywood when the son to a powerful CEO decides he wants to go join a band instead of running a company. 

Where you come from helps shape who you are.  Whether it be in you following in the footsteps of your predecessors or choosing to run the opposite direction hoping to never turn out like the ones who walked before you.

 Me, I come from a LONG line of preachers, I’m talking LOOOOONG, like all the way back to the circuit riding preacher days!  There’s some baggage that comes with that fact along with a heavy burden to live up to the expectations associated with that role.  I’m thankful for my dad who planted a seed for a new family tree and, though it wasn’t always the case, I can say with certainty now that he has freed me from any expectation of perfection and is one of the most authentic pictures of grace I have ever seen.  He has achieved things on his journey of grace that I used to swear up and down were impossible, and for me are still a far-fetched dream.

So now, dad has started a family tree of grace and even though it is still a sapling, it’s comforting because, in the words of Eric Church, “I come from a long line of sinners like me.”  I am surrounded by grace in my church, at home, and around my friends.  It’s very real and very tangible to me.  So much so that I forget how it used to be, how I used to hear things so spiritually depressing and think, wow that is hard truth everyone needs to hear that!  However, I live in a world driven by that system so I do have reminders of that old life. 

Such a reminder greeted me this weekend in the form of a church flyer.  On it was this verse, “Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.”  That is Luke 9:23, a verse I have heard probably 50-100 times in my life and have believed it to mean exactly what the flyer said it did.  “Jesus makes it very clear that unless you are willing to deny yourself and take up your cross daily, you cannot be His disciple.”  Those were the words that burdened my heart as I read them to myself.  They unleashed a flood of memories from that life and the emotions of them came rushing back.  It goes on to talk about the cross as an instrument of death and our responsibility to sacrifice daily and die to ourselves daily as our way of seeking to please God. 

My heart is heavy as I write this.  I used to believe that… I used to passionately defend that mindset… but all I found in it was emptiness.  If your goal is to please God by sacrificing yourself, I have news for you… you will fail every single time.  The point of the cross was for Christ’s sacrifice to make us right, to set us free, and to bring us life.  The point of Him taking on the cross was so that WE DON’T HAVE TO. 

Let’s add verse 24 in there and I’ll tell you what I think this verse is really saying.  

“Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’”  

What if Jesus’s point was not for us to be crucified daily, do enough daily, or nail ourselves with guilt when we fail?  What if Jesus’s point was that we should deny ourselves (our efforts, our sacrifices, our expectations, and our duties) and take in daily that his sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, was enough.  Maybe that’s why he goes on to say that if we try to save our life through our own efforts or sacrifices we will lose it, we will never be enough. 

When we let go and accept him as what makes us pleasing to God, whew, now that has saving power!  Jesus knew it would be a daily struggle, he knew the world would scream at us that we need to be doing more to get from God, He knew it would be painful and frustrating and difficult to accept because our flesh is in constant warfare with His spirit that tells us we are perfect in God’s eyes.

I understand the struggle, I still fight the battle, thinking I need to sacrifice more to gain more of God’s favor.  My heart aches for those who look at this flyer and believe, as I once did, that it is powerful truth.  I tend to create controversy at times with what I write here in this blog and I am sure this time will be no different.  My motives are not ones of aggression but of peace.  There is so much peace out there for you if you just stop trying to gain something that you already have. 

There is rest from the weariness of sacrifice.  There is hope from the brokenness of failure.  There is freedom from the reality of unmet expectations.  My heart for all of you is to see how incredibly, unconditionally, and incomparably much that God loves you.  Take in that love and dare to plant little saplings of grace in the lives of those around you.  Grace and peace be with you all.  

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cups of Coffee and Power Rangers DVD's

Confession:  I, Jess, sometimes get excited about really silly things.  For example, the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers from when I was a kid is now on DVD, and yes, I did scream like a little girl when I saw it in Walmart and immediately bought it without looking at the price tag. 

Another one?  When the band leader at church starts singing an old school rock song during band practice I stop, midsentence of my other conversations, and start professing my love to the band.

 Also, any time I go somewhere and there is unexpectedly a pot of coffee ready, I will melt into a puddle and forever praise the name of wherever that place may be. 

Now that you all know how much of a nerd I am, I will coyly tie this in to my next point.  I think we get too excited about the wrong things in the church sometimes.  We cheer for the building fund filling up, the number of people we’ve lured to our pews, and how many of our children can recite John 3:16.  Don’t get me wrong, those are all great things, but really they are just cups of coffee and Power Rangers DVDs and have little value in the big picture. 

We have passion for God but it’s for gaining his favor by doing good things in the name of Christian service.  We think to ourselves I will be closer to God if I tithe more, go on visitation, read my bible, pray constantly, do my quiet times, memorize verses, never drink or smoke, and win people to my way of thinking.  Those things are great things but if you are doing them in order to gain something from God then really that’s not passion for God that’s just passion for yourself. 

There is a verse in Romans that covers this exact situation.  The Jews and the Christian Gentiles were at odds.  The Jews still believed you had to live by the law (doing things to be right with God) and the Gentiles were all about liberty through grace.  Then you have Jewish Christians (much like churches in America today) who tried to mix law with grace and call it balance.  The book of Romans is filled with the conflicting Theology between these groups and Paul consistently reminds us that we are completely righteous through Christ’s sacrifice. 
“I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.”
Zealous is a good word. Most of the time it gets translated as passion, but really it’s more than that.  Zeal is eager desire, enthusiastic diligence, and fervor for a cause.  Zeal makes you strive, push, and grasp at that thing you are zealous for.  Often times our zeal for God leads us to the thinking that we can somehow get more from him if we try harder. 

We have the fullness of God’s favor, grace, pleasure, and righteousness.  Yet, still, we strain to make our own righteousness as if we could in some way out do Christ’s sacrifice that made us completely right with God.  We are righteous. You can’t get any more righteous you just either are or you’re not.  You are alive or you are dead, there are no such thing as zombies (sorry to all the gamers out there). 

I am zealous.  Zealous for the revolution of grace.  Zealous for a Christ who doesn’t just save me from hell and then expect something from me as a thank you, but for a Christ who made me his bride, died for my freedom, and infused me with his own standing with his Father.  That… is something we should be excited about!

*Romans 10:2-4 (NET)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pictures of God

Everyone has their own idea of what they think God looks like.  Some people’s picture of Him even changes over time.  When I was little I always pictured God as a giant who had a Santa Claus beard, always was sitting on a big throne, and was very shiny.  I grew up and God started looking more like my dad, who would hold me while I cried for no reason and throws up the “rock on” sign every time I play my guitar.  So I thought, I wonder what other people think God looks like?  Of course, I went to the place where all the mysteries of the universe are answered… Google.  I added some pictures of what Google says God looks like.

Apparently the white beard thing is pretty popular which makes me feel somewhat normal… if you don’t get the Bruce Almighty reference with the first picture, you should be ashamed of yourself!  Everyone has their views, the world sees God differently even than we inside the church do.  Behind our stained glass windows we have different views and expectations of God. 

In some churches you hear about a God who demands perfection and keeps a tally of the times we screw up.  Others speak of a God who is timid and really just created us only to stand back and watch us run around trying to figure things out.  When you grow up in the church you get used to hearing things about God that don’t really catch your attention anymore over time.  Things like “God is with us” or “God is a jealous God” or even “fear God” (the latter I am going to be silent on because I’m still struggling with that one). 

All three I have heard countless times and they hardly register in my mind anymore.  That is, until I hear songs with words like "If Our God is for us then who could ever stop us?!" and  "He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy."  Music hits me differently and, like this past Saturday, sometimes causes me to pull out my phone in the middle of church and start frantically typing the truth I gain from it. 

Our God, whew our God, is not just WITH us, He is FOR us.  He fights for us, sacrifices for us, and gives into us.  He created this planet for us and when we screwed that up He sent His son to die for us.  He’s not just this passive friend who tags along beside us, No he is the brother in arms who joins our revolution!  He is jealous for us, not in anger and selfishness hoarding us away like some precious ring with mystic powers, but because He is in a passionate love relationship with us and longs for fellowship with us. 

He longs for us to experience the oneness we have with Him.  His love is a hurricane, wow I’d say that’s a pretty accurate description!  No one can stop, predict, or control a hurricane.  We are trees powerless to do anything but be overwhelmed by his excessive love for us.  God, to me, is so much more than I grew up hearing about in church. 

He is unpredictable in His blessings, excessive in his love, at times frustratingly inclusive in his grace, reckless in His mercy, and actively involved in my life.  I am increasingly grateful for a God who is patient in my stubbornness, love in my anger, peace in my anxiety, and calm in my restlessness.  My God looks at me, sees all that I am, and says, "Rock on, baby!" That.. is who my God is. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Balance in Extreme

So sorry for the long few days of silence this week, I have been working on writing a bible study series and was working on putting the finishing touches on it.  It is taking all my self-control to steer away from the topics covered in it because they are very exciting to me! Of course, I don’t want to give anything away to my girls group who will be my guinea pigs for testing it out!

Every time I sit down to write something I am going to use to teach people with; I always learn something.  It’s not always related to the subject I’m researching even, sometimes there are just little nuggets of truth I find every time I open my Bible that are very applicable to life.  This time proved no exception and as I dove deeper into the background of the passages I was using I found myself going down rabbit trails leading me to more interesting truths.

I’ve always known a lot about the Bible, the stories, the history, and all the little facts that really impress church people when you can spout them off.  I used them mainly for making my Sunday school teachers look stupid and showing off to the kids in my Bible classes.  My dad is probably the smartest guy I know when it comes to all the Bible stuff and what’s more amazing to me is the passion he has for it.  I remember many times when I was little when he would come home so excited about learning something new that my little brother and I would sit at the dinner table wide eyed while he told the story of his new found knowledge.  Now I’m the one coming home anxious for him to read what new things I have learned.

Today’s little nugget is this, did you know that there were men among the rulers who believed in Jesus but were too afraid to admit it because of what the Pharisees would do to them?  Maybe it was just me but I always thought that Jesus’s followers were mostly the poor or the social outcasts and definitely not any of the religious leaders that’s for sure!  Don’t believe me? Here ya go!
“Nevertheless, even among the Jewish rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue. For they loved praise from men more than praise from God.”

When I first read this I was confused somewhat, I mean, this is Jesus we’re talking about right? So if they believed in him why would they be so scared of the Pharisees?  Then things clicked with me.  The Pharisees were their spiritual ties to God, getting on their bad side was essentially getting on God’s bad side.  It was engrained in their minds, they had grown up hearing that their whole lives, not only that but losing standing with them meant losing standing with everyone.  It would bring great shame and they desired that praise from the people around them.

How true this is to how we operate today.  We have leaders within the church telling us the grace message is wrong because it encourages people to sin or that extremes are evil so we need balance between grace and justice.  So then even the pastors who believe in the freedom found in grace water down their messages and mix them with a little law so they can say they aren’t extremists.  They sell out because, let’s face it, everyone desires that praise from men.

I understand why they’re scared because I’ve seen Pharisees throw people out of the church, question their integrity, and intimidate with guilt and the fear of being shamed.  You didn’t think that was all just in Jesus’s day did you?  Look around you, check your churches, your schools, and your Christian radio stations, you will find them there.  They will tell you things that sound good and logical because our minds have been hardwired to the ways of this world.  God is much bigger than that.

I am an extremist.  I always have been one to go big or go home, both in my successes and in my failures.  Now I am all about extreme grace because that’s the only thing that changed my life.  My advice is to be courageous. Stand for what is right even if it costs you the praise we all crave.  Open your eyes to how proud God is of you even when you mess up.  I promise you will find much more balance in the extremes.  

*John 12:42-43