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

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Sin God

Today’s topic is a concept that I’ve been contemplating for a while now.  My friend Joe likes to say, “Christians are obsessed with sin.”  Which is a pretty disturbing statement in and of itself, but, as is true to my nature, I want to take it a step further and say Christians make sin our god.  I don’t make that statement to shock you, to upset you, to offend you, or to make you feel guilty though I am certain that for some it will have those affects.  I make that statement because it needs to be said. 

I think sin has become our god because it’s what we talk about most.  I mean just think about it, when was the last time you heard a sermon that didn’t talk about some sin or another and how to fix it?  How many times do we pray begging God to forgive us of our sins wondering if He’s tired of hearing the same confession over and over again?  Our biggest focus in the church is on behavior modification and obedience.  We push away and alienate those with “worse sin” than us spouting “love the sinner, hate the sin” as our justification.  We talk about it, sing about it, pray about it, preach about it, write about it, and devote our complete focus to it.  We let our obsession with it rule and direct our lives either with the purpose of avoiding it or engaging in it.  Is that not making sin our god?

I write, speak, and teach the gospel of grace regularly.  I repetitively discuss the finished work of Christ, His forgiveness and removal of ALL sins past, present, and future.  Countless times I have spoken on the enormity of God’s grace the reaches down and grabs us in the midst of our sin and makes us saints.  Just as many times I (and Paul) have written that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Even so, do you know what the most common question people ask me is?  The one that I am asked probably once a week?

The number one question, the answer that everyone wants to know, is… “What about grace when it comes to ____________ sin?” 

It absolutely blows my mind at times how people will nod their heads and even let out an excited “amen” at the talk of God’s great love and favor for us and then with the next breath ask, “But what about when I lie to my boss?  But what about when I get angry with my kids?  But what about the woman next door and her new wife?  But what about that one guy at church with the porn addiction?  But what about MY past?

I just can’t help but be sad and think to myself, oh you poor people, you’ve missed the point of Jesus.

Here’s the thing, Satan knows he’s been beat.  He knows exactly who we are; that we are new creations in Christ and incapable of being separated from Him or His love.  In fact, I’m certain he knows these things much better than we do.  So, since he’s been beat his only power now is in keeping us from believing in and experiencing what we already possess.  His most brilliant tactic of all is that he keeps us so focused on our sins (whether those already done or yet to come) that we completely miss out on experiencing the freedom, peace, and rest that we already have.

Then, as I believe is true with all things, where our eyes are focused is inevitably what we walk towards bowing down to our golden calf of religion forged in the fires of “try harder” and “pray longer.”  We make sacrifices at an alter built with the bricks of self-loathing and self-righteousness, praying desperately for God to give us forgiveness not realizing that He already has.  We beg and plead for mercy and He, looking adorningly at Christ’s perfection in us, answers, “For what?” 

The biggest charge against this gospel of extreme grace is that it’s easy on sin or that it overlooks sin.  Critics demand we offer a solution to the problem of sin and I say, what sin?  Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that I don’t fail.  I’m not saying that I don’t participate in, experience, and cause brokenness.  I’m not saying that I’m not a complete mess at times.  I’m saying that Christ already died for that.  Should He be crucified again each time I fail?  And if Christ already died for that, if He paid that price, settled that debt, why are we so obsessed with the behavior that no longer defines us?

It’s incredibly sad really because while we’re so busy talking about sin, how to manage it, which ones to confess, how to confess them, which ones are unforgivable, and which are acceptable, guess what we’re not doing?  We’re not talking about Jesus.

Jesus, the one who we’re supposedly doing this all for.  Jesus, the one who took all our sin upon himself and carried the weight of it so we wouldn’t have to.  Jesus, the Deity who slipped into our weak and fragile skin and subjected himself to the worst pain imaginable for the sole purpose of our redemption.  He offers us His divine birthright and yet how willing we are to make sin our god, our lips wagging in worship of it.

My answer to that age old question, “But what about...”  is simply this:  it’s been paid for.  Whatever “it” is, it’s been paid for.  In the midst of the decay, the grunge, grime, and rank odor of your decomposing spirit, you were overwhelmed and overtaken by the glory and grace of Life.  So that, though you were once a zombie seeking only the next piece of flesh that would satisfy your unquenchable appetite, you have now been made alive and vibrant in Christ.  You are free to no longer live for your next meal but to feast and be filled with all that you could ever wish for or need.  Sin makes a poor god.  Let us take our eyes off it and fix them on Christ.

May you find freedom from a sin-focused life.  May you come to realize and believe that even the darkest and dirtiest of sins has already been judged, punished, and paid for by Christ.  And may this belief be the foundation for a life overwhelmed by God’s scandalous grace.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

4 Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

When I say that I learned these lessons the hard way what I mean is that I learned then by… well, by screwing up.  Which I tend to do quite a bit of and which I’m grateful to say allows me to experience God’s grace in fresh and new ways quite regularly.  So, today I thought I’d share a few of my screw ups with you all and the lessons I’ve learned from them with the hope that you get a new perspective or at the very least be able to relate to one or two of the struggles.

1) Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

I know some things about some stuff, and if I’m being honest I do like to flex my intellectual muscles sometimes… Ok, Ok, a lot of times.  Some of that probably comes from my voice and opinions being squelched at one time in my life and a desire to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  The other part of that comes from the justice lover in me needing to make sure that no (perceived) falsehood goes unchallenged and that no space of hurt goes unredeemed.  Which are innocent enough desires, but maybe a little self-involved.  So, I talk and what happens is sometimes I talk so loudly that nobody hears me.  Then I find myself frustrated and misunderstood and unheard.  I end up achieving the opposite of what I want.

Just within the past year I’ve learned that sometimes my silence speaks louder than my words.  Sometimes choosing to say nothing says everything.  I have found that I have more power in one sentence, well thought out and spoken softly, than I do in any long angry speech.  How did I learn this?  Well, by giving a lot of fruitless long angry speeches that hurt people and sabotaged my message.  Luckily, God didn’t vote me off the island! In fact, in the midst of this, He called me to speak for Him and I was once again overwhelmed by His grace.  As always, I find that He has much more faith in me than I do. 

2) Just because God brings something into your life doesn’t mean you should try and fit it into your plans.

Talk about learning a lesson the hard way I feel like there are times when this lesson still hasn’t quite sunk in!  So here’s how this usually works in my life:  God gives me some lemons. They are some pretty good looking lemons, perfectly ripe, and I think to myself, “Oh these must be for the lemonade I was planning on making!”  Well how do I know God wasn’t planning on using those to make lemon cookies or lemon meringue pie, or a nice lemon sorbet?  Well, I don’t.  I just know that I want to make lemonade and God gave me lemons.  I get one ingredient and assume I know what recipe God’s using. 

I fully believe that God brings things into our lives with purpose and planning.  I also believe that even if we make the wrong thing with our lemons that doesn’t mean God’s going to be upset with us or that somehow our lemonade will be cursed.  I’ve just learned that maybe I should ask God what recipe He’s using before I start squeezing lemons.  After all, His recipes always seem to turn out better than mine for some reason.

3) Self-care is not selfish.

So here I am, the retreat minister, who is constantly telling people of the need and benefit of resting and being still, and I am actually the worst at taking time for myself.  I have to purposely put on my calendar “Do nothing” in order for me have a day of rest.  Seriously, I schedule times of nothingness.  I know this sounds like a bad Seinfeld episode, but really it’s true!

For a long time I thought that doing anything for myself was being selfish and so I worked and worked and worked for other people until I finally just collapsed in exhaustion and burnout.  You add the belief that self-care is bad to the fact that I have an anxiety disorder and you get panic attacks, depression, and addiction.  A recipe for destruction if there ever was one! 

One thing that really opened my eyes to the fact that not only is self-care a good thing but it’s actually something needed and important, is discovering that even Jesus took time to get away and be alone and rest.  You see this several times in the gospels, especially after times that are more draining and demanding of His spirit.  He would get in a boat alone and sail across the sea or he would go for an early morning walk and leave His disciples sleeping.  I imagine during those times He took naps or maybe just laid on the beach and listened to sounds of the ocean, taking in the love of the Father.  Self-care needs to be a priority for us.  We can’t give to others if we don’t take time to receive from the Father. 

4) Independence is not the same thing as strength.

I was at a conference recently during which one of the speakers ended with this prayer, “God protect me from the illusion that I am an independent being.”  I asked him afterwards what he meant by that and he told me, “Choosing to live independently is choosing to live outside of community, and ultimately leads us to believe that it is up to us to get everything together on our own.  Where is there room for Christ in that?”

I am STILL trying to retrain my mind to see the lie that being independent is being strong.  We were created for community, to bear one another’s burdens, we were never meant to do life on our own.  Not only are we hardwired for community with one another but we were designed for community with God!  From the moment of humanity's creation God shows Himself to be a God of community, a God who wishes to walk with us in the coolness of the garden.  When we, when I, pursue independence I’m essentially saying to God, “Nah, I don’t wanna hang out with you, I’m good on my own thanks.”  I exchange His strength for my own which, is a pretty piss poor substitute. 

If you can relate to any of these, I hope maybe my lessons offered some insight into your struggle.  If you can’t relate to any of these, well then maybe you can just learn the lessons vicariously through me so you can avoid the hard part! Either way, my desire is that you see the greatness of God’s grace interwoven in the nooks and crevices of the hard lessons and that you get the wonderful opportunity to experience it in your own life. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Misfits

I’m sure it will come as a huge and utter shock to everyone when I say this, but when I was in high school I wasn’t one of the cool kids.  I know, I know, I’m sure EVERYONE assumed I was like homecoming queen or something! *sarcasm*

I was really good at weaving my way in and out of different social groups, “playing the field” so to speak, but as for actually being one of the cool kids that everyone wanted to be like and hang around… yeah I sucked at that.   The reason I sucked at that is probably because I wasn’t too great at playing the whole “look perfect, act perfect, and dress perfect” game.  I was more into the “wear baggy clothes, only brush your hair if you have to, and listen to angsty punk rock music” game. 

I think I’ve always been kind of different in the sense that I never went with the flow of what everyone else was doing.  In junior high my differentness made me a target for the ones who were better at conforming.  With that came name calling and peer pressure.  I quickly learned to wear my individuality like armor so that it couldn’t be used to hurt me.  I went to a private school and so expressing myself was quite a challenge but I managed to find a way through bright colored shoes and baggy pants. 

“I don’t care what anyone thinks about me!”  I declared.

But it did care.  I cared so much that I tied my identity to my differentness.  I wanted to be seen as a rebel.  I wanted to be known as a rebel.  This is who I was.

Because of this it was impossible for me to relent any part of myself for the sake of other people’s comfort.  I couldn’t cover my tattoos or wear pink or show my soft side because, as I would argue, that would be “hiding who I am.”  Which sounds pretty reasonable, at least it did at the time, but it sabotaged by ability to create spaces of grace for people around me.

There’s this verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about this idea of “being all things to all men” and he also talks about “being free from all so I make myself a servant to all.”  This use to be a really frustrating passage for me and each time after reading it I would curse Paul’s name and be like, “Really, dude?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!” 

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV) 
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I’ve heard some argue that these verses are proof that we need to be extra careful that we’re behaving correctly.  Recently, someone I know used the last part of that passage as an argument as to why we should mix grace and law in our sermons because “people can’t handle extreme grace.”  In essence, we should water down and conform our truth so that everyone stays happy/attending church/paying tithe.  (Insert angry Jess tirade here).

I do NOT agree with either of those things.  In fact, I’ve recently had somewhat of an “ah-ha” moment when it comes to this passage and it doesn’t frustrate me nearly as much anymore.  What Paul is saying here is not that we should bend and conform truth to fit within everyone’s belief system.  What Paul is talking about here is the idea that we should meet people where they’re at.  That we should get down in the mud and grunge of their life (or come up to their white towers) and show them why they need the gospel. 

Back to high school Jess, I was unable to relinquish any part of my “style” or attitude because my identity was tied to it, and really ultimately because I was insecure in my identity.  I lived in bondage to this identity and did all I could to tighten the shackles.  Paul is able to minister to different people groups why?  Because he is confident in his identity of freedom in Christ!  He is no longer bound to have to look, act, or communicate the gospel one particular way.  See, it’s not the message that changes, it’s the vessel. 

So what does that mean for me now?  Well, sometimes it means that I can cover my tattoos when I go to speak in more conservative churches. Other times it means I get to Mohawk my hair and wear ripped jeans and hang out with awesome youth students.  Sometimes it means I speak out for the voiceless and other times it means I stay silent and allow people to chew on and work through truth.  Some days it means I get to be a cool kid but most days it means I’m still a misfit.  And you know what?  I kind of love being a misfit!  Besides, there is one place I fit perfectly, intertwined and tangled in the spirit of my Savior, and really what could be better than that?  There may be days when I don’t fit, when people reject me and exclude me, but I am accepted and treasured by the Creator and Carver of the universe—The ultimate Cool Kid. 

God is limitless and therefore the gospel is limitless.  It is for the misfits and it’s for the cool kids, and let me tell you both desperately need the freedom that it brings.  It’s for the high society and the homeless.  It’s for the self-righteous and the self-loathing.  That’s the beauty of grace really, that all need it and all can access it. 

So, today, may you be set free from the bondage of your self-made identity.  May you come to see and be confident in your true identity as a free and flawless child of God.  May you be sabotaged by the gospel of grace.  May you embrace your misfit side and may it empower you to meet people where they’re at with the freeing power of God’s grace.  And may you be fully aware that rejects are royalty in the kingdom of God. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Only God Can Judge Me (but He Already Has)

One night this week I listened to some one speak of God with vigor and passion.  But it was not the God I know.  There was fire in his words, commitment in his voice, and energy in his eyes, all fueled by a lifetime of belief.  He called others to his cause and he was happy to do so.  But I was saddened.  That night I heard once again of a God not unfamiliar to me, the God of judgment.  The God that leaves His believers trembling in fear at the thought of falling short.  The God of demand and expectation.  The unsatisfied God. 

I sat in silence as I heard these words focusing all my energy in controlling my facial expressions so it wasn’t blatantly obvious that I was not a fan of what was being said.  I thought to myself how can anyone serve such a God?  How easily I seem to forget that I once believed in Him too.

Now, let me be clear, it’s not that I don’t believe in a God of judgement or complete and pure justice, because I do.  In fact, I so believe in a God of judgement that it requires me to believe His standard in much too high for my reach.  His standard is so high and so resolute that He is the only one who could accomplish it.  Which, as I understand it, is the whole point of Jesus. 

The way I see it is, if you believe in a God that is still judging us, you must believe that Jesus wasn’t enough.  Not only must you believe that Jesus wasn’t enough but you also must have the audacity to say that somehow your measly acts of obedience could pick up where He fell short and get you the rest of the way into God’s pleasure.  Are we really that arrogant?

One might argue against me, “There are many verses that speak of God’s wrath and judgment in the Bible!  What about those, huh?!”  Once again I repeat myself, I am not saying that God is not a God of judgment, I just happen to believe that the judgment has already happened.  If you don’t believe me, if you think God’s wrath has not been quenched, I dare you to re-read the account of Christ’s crucifixion and say to me that what happened to Jesus wasn’t enough. 

And did God do this because He was angry with His Son?  Of course not! He did this because Christ LITERALLY became the sin of the world—ALL the sin of the world. 

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:21 (NET)

He did this so that while we were actively against God and deserving of judgement, the judgement could be poured out and we could be reconciled to God FOREVER.  Now that’s some serious one way, bring you to your knees, love!

But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. Romans 5:8-9 (NET)

Look, you guys know me, you know I’m not shy about my junk (and there’s a lot of it).  You know I screw up more often than I get things right.  I fall short more often than I make it to the finish line.  I break things, because that’s what people do.  That, however, is not who I am. 

Because Christ got it right, I am perfect even when I screw up.

Because Christ finished it, I am a success even when I fall short.

Because Christ reconciled things, I am an ambassador of wholeness even when I break things.

See, it has everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with me.  That’s what makes grace so outlandish really.  The One who deserved blessing received wrath so that we might share in glory.  How could anything we do ever compare to that gift?

May you know, confidently and completely, that God is not angry with you.  May you stand boldly in the truth that there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  May you be empowered by the knowledge that God’s wrath was satisfied by Christ’s willing and chosen sacrifice on your behalf.  May you wrestle and struggle with these facts and may coming to believe them reassure you that who you are is not defined by what you do.  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Junk in the Trunk

Recently I’ve been dealing with some junk.  Some human junk.  Because I’m human and we humans
have quite a bit of junk, don’t we?  We have quite a bit of junk and we bump into one another and get each other’s junk on us and then we have more junk between each other because of the other’s junk! Confused yet? 

So I have some junk.  Some of it is my own junk and some of it is junk that got tossed on me from junky people that strolled through my life at some point.  Recently in my counseling sessions I’ve had to dig up and deal with some especially gross junk.  This is junk that I had buried so deep and had ignored for so long that it seriously stank up my world when I dragged it out.  Now, this particular junk is some that I have because someone hurt me.  Someone I loved and trusted hurt me deeply.

This junk is especially cumbersome and the longer I hang on to it the more it seems to spread and create mold and infection in other otherwise junk free parts of my life.  Now, I could easily get rid of this junk.  I’d just have to, you know, forgive the person that has hurt me the most in my life, no big deal, right?  Wrong.  There’s this war inside me where on one side of the battlefield is this desperate desire for freedom and release from the hurt of the memory and on the other side is this deep need for justice and punishment for the hurter.  And so I hold tightly to my hatred and anger thinking that it somehow gives me control over the junk. 

Forgiveness is hard.  I think it’s the single hardest thing for us as humans to do.  Why?  Because it requires us to relinquish our control.  Not only that but quite honestly some part of me believes that if I were to forgive that person for that thing I would be saying that what they did was ok, that what they did is free from punishment.  This is a lie that I have subconsciously and subtly bought into and while I grasp tightly to my control I am held captive by it.

This week I was reading once again the account of Jesus’s crucifixion in the gospels (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke, 23, and John 19).  Crucifixion is still to this day considered one of the most gruesome and torturous forms of execution and that’s just how He died.  Before Jesus even made it to the cross he was extensively beaten to the edge of death, kept up for hours, dehydrated and starved, mocked and stripped naked, and crowned with thorns (and not little rose thorns either, big ole boys) that were beaten into His skull with a rod.  I mean no wonder they had to have someone carry His cross for Him it’s amazing that He was even standing by that point!  Then after all that, that’s when He faced the most excruciating form of death known to mankind. 

One of my favorite verses is Galatians 2:20, “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 have often been overwhelmed by the implications of this verse for me personally.  That my screw ups, my sin, my failures, every time I wasn’t enough to measure up to God’s perfect standard, were nailed to that cross with Christ and that His perfection was credited to me—it’s incredulous.  When I think about that verse this way I find myself heartbroken that Christ had to endure such suffering on my behalf.  That on its own is an unfathomable love.  But… this week I had a new revelation. 

As I read the verse again this week I found my mind wandering back to my junk.  Inside me surged anger and hatred and bitterness and I began to think of all the things that junky person deserved to have happen to them, including but not limited to: being tortured, beaten, and having their reputation ruined.  And then… I had a breakdown.  I had a breakdown because a thought sneaked through my mind and I’m sure it was God. 

You mean like Christ was tortured, beaten, and mocked?

It was then that I became truly aware, maybe for the first time, that not only have I been crucified with Christ but so have the people who have hurt me.  I pictured that person, that evil awful person who deserved punishment, there on that cross dripping with blood limp and lifeless, and I wept.  I wept not because I was sorry, but because this was the first time I was happy to see Jesus hanging there on that cross.  My God… oh, my God, loved me so much that He not only cleansed me of MY sin, but endured unimaginable pain so that those who hurt me deeply would not go unpunished. 

It doesn’t make sense.  I know.  Then again, God’s never really been One to do things how we would do them so I’m not surprised much.  So what does this mean for us?  Well, it means we are free to forgive.  It means that we can let go of that hurt.  It means that forgiving them doesn’t mean they get away with it and Jesus has the scars to prove it.  It means that God loves us more than people hurt us and He’s willing to put it all on the line to prove that.  It means that, once again, His grace is more dangerous and extravagant than religion can contain. 

I’m not going to lie to you and say that after this realization all my junk is gone and I’ve completely forgiven the junk bringer and life is all rainbows and unicorns now because that’s ridiculous.  I’ve still got hurt to work through, but I’m getting better at learning to rest and let Jesus do the work.  A few weeks ago a friend of mine said to me, “People talk about healing like it doesn’t leave scars.”  Healing leaves scars.  (Just ask doubting Thomas I hear he’s seen some doosies).  It’s ok to hurt.  It’s ok to struggle.  YOU ARE FREE TO STRUGGLE.  But you are also free to have healing and wholeness and Jesus has all that you could ever want or need.  I know because I have a lot of junk and I have a lot of Jesus and you know what?  Jesus is pretty great at junk clean up. 

So may you hurt.  May you drag your junk out of that dark corner and be stunned by it’s stink.  May you cry and breakdown and be empty.  From that emptiness may you be overwhelmed by Christ’s infinite fullness.  May you experience the audacity of Christ’s extreme forgiveness and love for you.  And from it may you find the strength to forgive those who have hurt you and find that it sets free in you more than you thought was held captive.  

Monday, July 13, 2015

Counter Culture

My best friend is pretty wonderful.  She really is.  And she’s the best of all the best friends out there.  You might be thinking well my best friend is pretty great too... and that may be true but I can promise you that they are not nearly as great as MY best friend.  One of the innumerably cool things about her is that she is from Brazil.  I’m super lucky because that means, through our friendship, I get to share in and experience a different culture (and also eat lots of desserts made with sweetened condensed milk). 

Recently, over the July 4th holiday, her cousin came to visit America for the very first time.  We all went together to Kaboom Town in Addison so that he could get the full experience of an Independence Day extravaganza.  It was so interesting hearing him talk about all the differences between American culture and Brazilian culture.  One thing he said that really stuck out to me was how amazed he was at our patriotism.  He said that in Brazil, even on their independence day, people don’t wear shirts with their flag on it or have their national colors on dishes and wall art and baseball caps.  It was so difficult for me to try and picture what it would look like if we did that here in America because my way of life is the only one I have ever known.

Just like we have different cultures from country to country there is also a different culture between heaven and humanity.   What I mean is that the way God does things and the way we do things are very very different.  Humanity operates in a do to get culture.  We work 40 hours a week and we get a paycheck.  We respect our peers and we expect to be respected.  We break the law and we get punishment.  This is how humanity relates to one another.

The culture of heaven is contrary.  The thing about God is that He gives without expectation and without demand for return.  He comes and He gives and He speaks to us, us who are undeserving, us who are insignificant, us who are failures.  He says to us—“Expect of me.  Demand of me.  Require of me.”  We who are unfit to even wipe the dust from his feet are given the audacious ability to boldly demand of Him with the promise that He will give abundantly.  What a scandalous culture.

Some would shout, “HERESY!” 
And they would be right.
It is heretical to our culture because it is contrary to everything we have ever known.  It is in opposition to our very being.  It is divergent from our civilization.  And… isn’t that kind of the point?  Should our God not be different from this world? 

I am thankful that God operates differently than we do.  I’m thankful because I am painfully aware of what an unhappy and selfish god that I make.  I’m thankful because I know full well that serving a god like me leads to a life of drunkenness and depression and destruction and devastation.  I am thankful because my God is satisfied when I am gluttonous.  I am thankful because my God is patient when I am petulant.  I am thankful because my God is extravagant when I am stingy.  And most of all I am thankful because sets He free what I have bound up.

So may you discover a new culture.  May you find that God relates differently than you do.  May you be overwhelmed by a one-way love that breaks down walls and sets captives free.  And may you be fearless enough to let heaven overtake your humanity.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sinning Saints

Brace yourselves for a shocking and mind blowing announcement.

Are you ready?

Are you sitting down?

I, Jess Hays, was wrong about something. 

I know, I know, I’m as shocked as you are about this but hopefully we can get through this difficult time together.

Back in November of 2013 I wrote a blog entitled “The SinnerSaint.”  In it I presented the idea that we are at all times simultaneously sinner and saint.  I went on to discuss the argument that we are holy spirits occupying a broken body and at war with a sinful soul.  In essence I was saying, “We’re pretty screwed up but God still loves us anyway.” 

At the time this was a compelling argument, radical even compared to what I had believed for such a long time.  As I dissect it now, I realize that it was really my attempt to reconcile the destruction and devastation that I am so often bent towards and the far more radical reality that God relates to me as a holy being. 

As I think about it now I realize that I fell for a false but common way of thinking, the belief that my behavior is my identity.  I think we all believe this in some way or another, that what we do is who we are.  I mean think about it, if I lie am I not a liar?  If I cheat, a cheater?  If I murder, a murderer?  If I sin, well then doesn’t that make me a sinner?  This is how humanity labels one another—by our actions.   Even Batman says, “It’s not what’s underneath but what you do that defines you.” 

As devastating as it is to admit, Batman and God sometimes disagree and this is one such case.  As soon as we take in Christ’s perfect sacrifice we are immediately and completely made righteous, holy, perfect, and beautiful in the eyes of the Father.  This makes complete sense since because from what I’ve read about God He’s an all or nothing kind of guy, I mean, you don’t really ever see Him doing things halfway.  Oneness with Christ means all of Him in all of me, no half way, no sorta kinda, but ALL.  There are SOOOOOOOOOO many verses in the Bible (I’ll add some to the end of this post) that talk about us being righteous and perfect I just can’t see how we can call ourselves sinners anymore.

See, because divinity works differently than we do.  In Christ, our identity is not rooted in what we do but rather what has been done for us.  Who we are then becomes founded in who He is.  He doesn’t just pitch a tent in the corner of your identity; He is intimately and eternally fused with every part of who you are. 

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re reading this and thinking, “Yeah that sounds really cool and all but I still do sinful things, like a lot, and how can I be completely perfect if I sin all the time?” 

First of all, join the club! Secondly, to that doubt I say this—our belief always affects our behavior.  Here is how sly Satan is, he convinces us that our behavior determines our identity thus causing us to BELIEVE that we are sinners which in turn causes us to BEHAVE like sinners.   Talk about a vicious cycle! I recently used the analogy of a girl who is anorexic.  Every day she looks in the mirror and she sees herself as fat.  The true reflection may be skin and bones but in her eyes she is bulges and cellulose.  Because she sees herself this way she will continue to starve herself.  This is how it is with us and sin.  Though we are in fact saints as long as we look in the mirror and see a sinner we will continue to behave like one.  Satan’s goal is not to make us sin; his goal is to convince us that Jesus hasn’t already paid for it.

A friend of mine said once that he thinks as Christians we worship sin.  That’s a pretty harsh statement but I can’t disagree.  We preach countless messages on it, we pray about it, we read books on how to stop it, we get mad when other people are doing it, we lead protests and campaigns against it, it sure seems to be our biggest focus.  Has sin not become our god?

The bottom line is this we are not sinner saints.  We are saints who, more often than not, forget who we are and then behave sinfully.  Our identity is not defined by what we do but by what Christ did.   May we all take our eyes off of our sin (and everyone else’s) and fix them firmly on the God who makes all things new.  May we find new freedom to rest from our efforts to be good people as we become aware of our complete righteousness.  May we be liberated to love the people around us based on their identity and not on their actions.  And may our minds be renewed each and every day to enlighten us with a deeper understanding of the greatness of His grace. 

Galatians 2:20 (NET)
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.

Phillipians 3:15 (NET)
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.

 Romans 4:4-5 (NET)
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 8:1-2 (NET)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NET)
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 (NET)
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

 Colossians 1:21-22 (NET)
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

Friday, May 15, 2015


My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. 

James 1:2-4 (NET)

Over the past several months I have come to truly appreciate this verse.  To say that my faith has been tested during this time seems somewhat of an understatement so allow me to elaborate on exactly what that means to me at the moment.

My faith in people has been shaken.
My faith in the institution of church has worn thin.
My faith in my own abilities has been demolished.
My faith in good’s existence in this world has been rattled.

In the midst of all this something beautiful happened.  Something frustrating and painful and beautiful.  As my security was stripped away and I found myself exposed, alone, and vulnerable, I discovered how much of my worth and identity I had placed in that security.  I was so angry, really just consumed with hurt and anger and bitterness and I started saying things like, “I don’t deserve this!” and “Don’t they know how much I’ve done!”  Soon my anger revealed my self-righteousness.

The thing is, despite my self-righteous heart and desire for self-salvation from this hole of depression I was quickly sinking into, I found myself completely and utterly powerless.  Powerless to save myself and powerless to save to the people that I love.  Here in this powerlessness is when I became devastatingly aware that I had reached the rock bottom of my self.  The enormity of my pride became very evident to me as well as its uselessness, and slowly but surely I began to experience the painful liberation of God bending my will to His. 

I have become embarrassingly cognizant of the worthlessness of my own efforts, the filth of people’s praise, and how addicted I am to both of those things.  I work and strive under the guise of service while my selfishness pushes the accelerator on my motivation.  I am the chief of sinners, the master of manipulation, the essence of hypocrisy, and I am ashamed of the casualties left behind in my pursuit for self-satisfaction.


As is true to His nature, I am embraced by the Saver if sinners, the Master of redemption, the Essence of authenticity, and He is proud of me.  He is for me.  He has faith in me when I so often lack it.  I am deficient and He satisfies.  I am weary and He carries me on.  I am a failure and He perfects me.  I am broken and He completes me.  His faithfulness is not limited by my expectation and His goodness is not limited by my belief. 

See, because it’s not about me.  It’s never been about me.  My ability, my rags I’ve esteemed to be riches, are overwhelmed and outdone by the unfathomable value of His glory.  A glory that He pours out onto me with every breath I breathe before I can even form the words to ask for it. 

And so I endure.  Not simply to survive the trial but to find joy in journey.  As John the Baptist said so impeccably, “He must become greater; I must become less.” May the greatness of His grace sabotage my self-salvation plans and may there be joy in the demolition of my pride. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Tattooed Man

She sat in the familiar darkness; her body curled up as small as she could make it.  She trembled as the cold tingling of the harsh stone floor forced itself against her exposed flesh.  The musty smell of oppression and unbathed skin filled the air and she longed for freedom from this place.  She had been here for so long.  Here in this dark unkempt cell.  She had resigned from cries for help for some time now deciding that it was pointless to wish for anything other than confinement.  This was her home now, this prison.  The most unbearable part of her incarceration was not the hard floor or the wretched smell.  It wasn’t the constant darkness.  The worst part of it all was how alone she was.  Silence shook her very soul as she longed for someone, anyone, to just be with her.  Soon… she stopped longing for anything.  She became content in captivity.

One day, something changed.  She looked up from her hunched position in the corner to see something she had not seen in a long time.  So long, in fact, that she had all but forgotten what it was.  There, far at the end of her prison hallway, glimmering slightly in the distance was a light.  She squinted her eyes as she strained to see where it was coming from.  Even stranger still, it seemed that the more she looked at it the closer it got.  Soon it shone from the entryway, rays of light licking the hard concrete of her cell and she hid her eyes as its brilliance blinded her.  Her hands cupped tightly over her eyes, she could see slightly through her fingers that the light was directly in front of her now.  She felt the warmth of it kiss her skin.

Suddenly two strong hands grabbed hers and gently pulled them away from her eyes.  For a moment she was blinded, but her as her eyes adjusted slowly the figure of a man faded into view.  He was a muscular man with thick arms that were covered in beautifully artistic tattoos.  A five o’clock shadow covered his face and his short brown hair was wild and ungroomed.  He wore tattered jeans and a dirt stained white tank top.  His eyes were soft and kind and his mouth stretched into a smile that she gawked at.  Those eyes… they looked past her, straight into the depths of her spirit, and without him saying a word she knew that he loved her. 

Tears made streaks down her soot covered cheeks.  He reached up and softly wiped them away with calloused hands, and she caught a glimpse of the scars that marked his wrists.  “Don’t cry, love,” he whispered to her softly his eyes filled with compassion.  She said nothing.  She just buried her face in his shoulder and wept.   His burly arms wrapped her up tightly as her heaving sobs echoed off the walls of her cell.  When her tears finally stopped he looked down at her cradled in his arms and said, “it’s time for you to be free.”  At first, panic knotted in the pit of her stomach, but then he took her hand in his.  “Come, follow me,” his voice untangled the now web of emotions wrapped around her stomach. 

Slowly, she got to her feet, grasping tightly to his rough hand intertwined in hers.  Carefully he led her out of her cell, down the dark and narrow hallway, out the heavy doors of the prison, and into a beautiful field covered in tall grass and fragrant flowers.  The wind caressed her skin and the sun overwhelmed her with warmth.  The sweet smell of flowers and freedom ravished her nostrils.  She let go of his hand and ran recklessly through the field until finally she collapsed peacefully on the soft grass.  He lay down beside her and they stared up at the stunningly blue sky dotted with bright white clouds.  She laid her head on his chest and listened to the rhythmic thumping of his heart looking adoringly up at him.  “You are free now,” he said, “You never have to go back to that place.”  She nodded silently and snuggled into his chest.  He squeezed her tightly, kissed her forehead, and whispered, “You will never be alone again.  I promise.”  A sigh of security left her lungs and she dared to believe him.