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

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)