A Healthier Approach to My Spirituality

My whole life I’ve had preachers tell me I needed to “crucify the flesh” within me in order to be close to God. “Yes, He is always present, but it’s His MANIFEST Presence that is cut off from us because of our sinfulness.” The solution? Lots of time in isolation crying out to the Lord. Continual pleading for forgiveness. Subjective experiences with the power of the Spirit that would hopefully, finally “mortify” at least some of the power of sin over my life…

A Broken Pattern

I bought into this kind of messaging and I put it into practice. I would hunger and thirst after the manifest Presence. I desperately spent endless hours confessing and renouncing my failures, asking God to cleanse me of every wicked thought or deed. And I chased manifestations of the Spirit like they were Pokemon… “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

Truth be told, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do at that time for a spiritual high or for a reassurance that I was currently “right with God.” The problem was, it was all temporary. It was cyclical. I’d sin, or even just feel what I perceived was a temptation, and I’d be reminded again of my depravity. I was acutely aware of the apparent distance between myself and the One I wished I could better serve. Any security or assurance I had previously felt would escape me, and I’d be stuck in a mental battle with “conviction” until either 1) I started feeling like I was performing better or 2) I started thinking I’d had a revelation on how to get it right the next time the devil came to test me.

If I ever did seem to succeed at walking in obedience and in peace for a while, I was made to second guess myself by sermons telling me that I needed God to search my hidden motives all the more. After all, “nobody is perfect!” I wouldn’t want to get prideful!

My perpetual prayer was for God to transform me. To deliver me. Essentially, to fix me. All the while, I believed I was “legally justified” and technically in right-standing with God. I just couldn’t seem to get such ideas to bring me consistent comfort.

A New Message

Eventually, I came across some crazy grace-preachers who were preaching a message I’d never heard before… A message that struck me as heretical at worst, or “out of balance” at best. Like Paul, they taught that I was already thoroughly “dead to sin and alive to God” (Romans 6:11,14). That I am no longer “in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God is within” (Romans 8:9). That Jesus actually finished the job of crucifying my old self, and now “it is not I who live but Christ who lives within me” (Galatians 2:20). That, by some mysterious miracle 2,000 years ago, I “have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). According to these guys, I “have been made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10)… Most confounding of all, they said I couldn’t be any closer to God than I already am, for “he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1st Cor. 6:17).

At first it was hard for me to stomach these radical, absurd notions. Nevertheless, I quickly began to recognize that the depths of my being overwhelmingly resonated with such truths. In a variety of ways, the Spirit of God clearly gave His stamp of approval to these teachings over and over. Through Scripture, I further began to find that these concepts were not just “part” of the Gospel. My research revealed that these concepts were ALL over the whole New Testament (and in much of the Old) — infused in the entire proclamation of Christ’s work.

Slowly but surely, I began a serious, intense religious detox. I was “deconstructing” before it was ever a buzzword. All the while, I fell more and more in love with the person of Jesus and more convinced of both His utter goodness and His insane loyalty to me.

Laying aside my self-righteous piety, I broke up with spiritual desperation. I abandoned my BS repentance rituals. At last, I let go of my confused commitment to what I called “self-denial” (which was really just self-loathing and shame with a nice coat of paint on it).

Very New Results

And would you believe it, my sense of connection with God improved exponentially. I started becoming aware of His nearness and activity in every area of my life — every day. Even on my worst days. I started having many more wild and frequent manifestations of the Spirit and His gifts in my life too, to the degree that I had to get used to NOT having dry-spells anymore. Confoundingly, despite being told that my willful, ongoing sin would push Him away — I even felt close to the Father when I recognized I was practicing bad habits! 

Over time, this all helped me only want to invite Christ’s leadership into my decisions all the more… I welcomed His input on my choices, not because I was still afraid of what would happen to me if I didn’t do so. Rather, it was because I was genuinely confident that He was invested in my well being for the long haul, through thick and thin.

Somehow, all these changes further gave me confidence to become more authentically vulnerable with both God and with other people. I generally quit shying away from discussing my weaknesses, failures or embarrassments. Because of that, I started developing a level of intimacy in my friendships that I didn’t even dream was possible. In the process, I came to see self-acceptance and Christ-like self-sacrifice as working together in harmony (instead of being in tension with one another).

I still embrace the need to address areas of dysfunction in my mindsets and behaviors, of course. Nevertheless, I’m done trying to in any sense improve on who I am. With that, I’ve completely ceased feeling like I get out of touch with God’s nearness! My prayer-life has only been enriched, and with so much less effort than it ever took me in my adolescence…

No Barriers to His Presence

My point in sharing all of this is to encourage you to stop buying into confusing, self-contradictory, mixed-messaging. Give yourself permission to take a deep-dive into the unconditional love and unmerited favor God so freely gives to you. Further, carefully filter through any voices that tell you there are prerequisites or qualifications needed for you to experience oneness with the Lord. 

If we can just quit tripping ourselves up with traditions and arguments that deny the Finished Work of Christ’s Cross, we CAN experience a more substantial satisfaction and contentment in everyday life. Even on our worst days and in our hardest seasons! After about a decade of living this way, I can guarantee it is real and it is better than what much of the evangelical and Charismatic world portrays as possible on this side of the age-to-come.

Lean into the faithfulness of God. He is here, He is for you, and He is endlessly accessible. He refuses to define any part of you by your decisions, and there are no barriers or obstacles standing between the two of you.

 

“Too Much Grace”

I often hear people say, “We need grace, but we don’t want to take advantage of it. We don’t want to take it for granted…” Or they’ll say, “Yes there’s grace, but we also need….” Fill in the blank. It’s as if grace is seen as something that needs to be limited or counterbalanced in order for people to be motivated properly to walk in integrity. As if it can potentially be bad for our spiritual health and our growth if we overdose on God’s goodness.

I say, if we are afraid of having “too much” grace it is probably because we don’t understand the essence, value or function of grace very well. Grace does not necessarily always produce the kind of behavioral modification we are looking for, sure. It’s not utilitarian, pragmatic, or formulaic. It does, however, transform the human heart like nothing else…

Continue reading “Too Much Grace”

Quick Book Review: “Unpunishable”

 

Yo . . .

Buy this book.
Read this book.
Underline the heck out of this book.

• Really great, counter-cultural relationship advice (applicable for all settings) from a professional counselor with high-level expertise.

• Really great perspective for how to deal with the failure of leaders in a way that’s deeply restorative and Gospel-informed.

• Really excellent, thorough theological work on how punishment/retribution/manipulation/insecurity deserves no place in our lives in how we treat one another or how we seek to respect God properly under the New Covenant.

Every disciple 100% needs this kind of perspective-shift.

> See on Amazon.com!

(No I am not getting paid to advertise…haha.)

Book Review: Live Like Jesus

     Recently I finished reading Vineyard pastor Putty Putman’s new book, “Live Like Jesus.” It was

so

dang

good.

     It will be hard to put into words how much I loved it. I will most likely be re-reading it in the not so distant future, just to enjoy it further.

     God has been teaching me so many of the concepts in this book for the last ten years of my life through many different books, teachings, and resources. I often say I have personally gone through a drastic reformation. Throughout this time though I have never found one single book that encapsulates all the main themes of what God has been showing me. Live Like Jesus surprised me by succinctly piecing together these key ideas — each of which I believe have potential to bring widespread change to the way Christianity is expressed in this stage of history.

     I almost wish the book was titled something like Reformational Truths That Will Blow Your Mind. I think that would do much more justice to the contents of its pages!

     This book explains, among other things,

  • why sinning does not make someone a “sinner”
  • why born-again saints with a new nature are able to sin and contradict their true nature
  • why being forgiven and regenerated are not the same thing
  • how being conscious of our union with God enables us to experience the same supernatural power that Jesus walked in
  • how the Gospel impacts not just individuals, but all of society and creation
  • how we effectively handle suffering in our lives with a Christ-like mindset

     Over and over again Putty dissects and assesses the most fundamental pieces of our understanding of the Gospel and gracefully brings new light on what we are looking at. The readers is left at the end feeling incredibly empowered and enlightened. I personally wish I had a book like this ten years ago to save me some of the trouble of sorting my doctrine out over all the time it has taken me!

     Before reading this book I already knew that Putty was one of my favorite living communicators and thought-leaders. This book only re-enforced that for me. It is a resource I will definitely be recommending and giving away far and wide, as I am confident the truths inside of it can apply to anyone who is seeking to walk out their faith in a healthier way.

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Audio: Brian Zahnd on OT Violence

Have you ever wondered why parts of the Bible command grotesque injustice in the name of God? Lately this has been a question I haven’t been able to ignore as much as I could in the past.

I’ve wanted to trust the Scripture’s authority, but also reject any image of the Divine that does not match what I find in the character of Christ as revealed in His meekness on the Cross. And many of the very dark passages I’ve been reading in the Old Testament lately just didn’t seem easy to explain.

I came across this sermon preached by Brian Zahnd, a dude who often has fresh insights on the goodness of God. I feel like he pretty artfully laid out this problem with Scripture and provided a Christo-centric response to it. It’s a very thought provoking talk.

Take a listen and see if you can agree with Brian’s conclusion that Jesus alone is the only “inerrant, infallible Word of God” . . . .

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A Justice-Infused Gospel

Isaiah 61 starts out,

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
 to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God…”

     Jesus used this very passage of Scripture to describe the purpose of His ministry (see Luke Chapter 4). I was struck tonight by the reality that these verses say nothing directly about Jesus coming to save sinners from their guilt or to deliver people from divine wrath on the Day of Judgment. There are plenty of Scriptures that reveal how the Gospel addresses such worries, but Jesus explained His own agenda by listing a somewhat different set of problems He would confront.

     While there is definitely a spiritual form of each of these issues — Christ clearly expressed opposition to poverty, depression, slavery and corrupt criminal justice systems. God’s favor was to be revealed to the oppressed of the earth, and vengeance upon all the strongholds that dominated His children.

     Sometimes I think we make our presentation of the Gospel too ethereal. We talk a lot about God’s forgiveness, justification, Heaven, and the Resurrection. All of these are topics worth deep and repeated exploration. But we somehow have divorced these doctrines from their relevant applications in the here and now.

     God, however, has not.

     I believe Christ’s mission remains the same today as it did the day He stood up in the synagogue to read from this passage in Isaiah. He is the fulfillment of this great prophecy, and where His presence is made known today we should see a manifestation of this reality playing out. A restorative justice should be executed in society everywhere Christ’s ambassadors are releasing His message.

     Let’s trust God to use us to materialize His Kingdom in our scopes of influence in a greater way. As it is written in Isaiah 9:7, “Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”

     Amen.

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A New Starting Place

I find the following passage of Scripture profound in revelation…

Acts 27:22-31 reads,

     So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

     “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

     “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed His offspring.’

     This passage is incredible. It sounds starkly different from the way the Gospel is communicated today.

     Notice that Paul does not call his hearers to apologize for their sins in order to attain a relationship with God. Notice he does not start from a place of saying God is distant, needing to be appeased before He will draw near. Paul does not speak to this prebelievers as outsiders waiting to be given the gift of acceptance. He speaks to them as if they already belong in the family of God. It seems they already have His sustaining presence fueling their lives.

     They simply need to repent (i.e. change their idea about the nature of God) and trust in the One who was raised from the dead on their behalf.

     This reminds me of Psalm 82:6, which says, “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” This was a verse Jesus quoted to defend His own divinity (John 10:34-36). It suggests that we are all numbered among God’s children.

     Modern preaching often presents Jesus as being the “bridge” to God — the One who can help us cross a big divide and get back into a place of nearness with the Lord. The truth is Jesus is God Himself, and He proved through His incarnation, death and resurrection that He is willing to dwell among us and fight for our well-being whether welcome Him to or not.

     Christ demonstrated that God is never withdrawn from us. He loves to befriend even the most sinful of humans.

     If we want to really help others wake up to see God for who Jesus revealed Him to be, we must stop offering a narrative that begins with separation from the Divine. Further, we must reveal to our brothers and sisters their truest identity, which has been unchanging from the creation of the world.

     We are God’s offspring. Our life is and always has been found in Him.

     As we preach the Good News to the lost, let this revelation be our new starting place.

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Salvation from… God?

I don’t know who originally created this meme, but I saw it on Facebook a while back and had to screen shot a picture of it:

This is laughable, but the maker of this image has a really good point. 

Most of what I’ve known as the Gospel my whole life was a message of love, forgiveness, and mercy… set against the backdrop of a God who gave violent retribution to those who refused to accept His salvation plan. It wasn’t always clearly stated, but there was this underlying idea communicated that Jesus came to save us from God ultimately. If you took your theology studies deep enough, you’d see this very dark message hidden in the details.

Fortunately, I’ve come to be convinced that salvation really is a gift from a perpetually good God who has NEVER been set against us. It was we who were opposed to him, not the other way around. Memes like this though provide good commentary on the way we have utterly perverted and miscommunicated the Good News we have been entrusted with.

I’m not going to go into a deep theological discussion in this post, but I wanted to post it as simple food for thought. We should ask ourselves, “Does our understanding of the Gospel ever make God look like the bad guy unnecessarily?” If so, we shouldn’t be surprised when masses of millenials are rejecting it.

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Meet John Crowder

Back around 2006 – 2010 I was super caught up in the “Prophetic Movement.” I had experienced God’s supernatural power in dramatic ways as a child, and this new movement was exporting tons of teaching on how to continue to explore the ways God speaks and touches people today. It was really exciting to me.

The problem was, I still didn’t know the Gospel that well. And most of the leaders of the Prophetic Movement had a very limited concept of what the Gospel actually was.

Thankfully, I discovered a YouTube preacher named John Crowder. He was popular in the Prophetic Movement for a short time, until he really started to expound on the root of all prophetic experiences — the Gospel of Grace. Crowder began to preach exclusively on the goodness of God as it was revealed at the Finished Work of the Cross. This was uncomfortable for those who liked him just for the Holy Spirit manifestations that he had been walking in.

By some miracle I continued to listen to Crowder even when it constantly challenged me. Over time he became one of the most influential thought leaders in my life.

I would like to introduce you to John Crowder as well. If you’re up for it, check out the following videos from his YouTube Channel. The first is an introduction, and the three following that are classics of his that I have watched over and over.

If you like them, subscribe to his channel and continue to let your brain-washing deepen. You will not regret going through the detox this Good News brings!

A Broken Cycle

Religious people often live in this cycle of sinning, feeling distant from God, getting depressed, trying to repent, feeling better about themselves…

and then sinning again.

It’s the most unfortunate thing. I believe it is what makes so many people give up on their faith or find spirituality unappealing in the first place. And the whole cycle is totally unnecessary.

True Christianity wasn’t supposed to be centered on our relationship with sin. It was always about Jesus, the Person of the Godhead who proved the Lord is loyal to us. He’s not intimidated by our sin.

Jesus exposed the fallacy of the idea that our sin separates us from God when Christ — who is fully God — came and lived with sinners. Then He died on the Cross, not just “for” our sins, but according to 2 Corinthians 5:21 He actually “became” sin itself.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV)

God-in-the-flesh became sin, and He didn’t stop having a divine identity because of it. Further, the Father did not separate His Presence from the Son here because of the sin He was carrying to the Cross. Rather, the Trinity stayed fully intact. Second Corinthians 5:19 tells us, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” God was “in Christ,” even when the perfect Son assumed our sinful identity. The Lord was not letting sin(s) stop Him from being radical, loyal, Love — even in that most shameful of moments.

God never withdraws.

This ruins the idea that we need to somehow do anything ourselves to get back on God’s good side when we fail. God is always on our side, even when we are not on His. We don’t have to climb back into His manifest Presence somehow. The Manifest God already came down and got into our presence.

The Manifest God already came down and got into OUR presence.

When I sin these days, I am careful with how I go about the “repentance” process. I might say some kind of heartfelt apology, but not because I worship the kind of Father who withholds forgiveness until I admit my failure. He teaches me to love more unconditionally than that, as a reflection of how He has loved me (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:23). Besides, I know that our relationship is not based upon me getting it right in the first place.

When I repent, I express to God that I care about His feelings, and I move straight to discussing with Him how I might find ways to change the thought-patterns that led to the bad decision I made in the first place. I don’t question whether or not God is still with me and for me, in any sense, for any amount of time.

Don’t let yourself come under any kind of shame in the name of practicing “humility” and “repentance.” It will only slow you down in really growing and maturing. Plus, it can keep you from fully enjoying the grace God gave so freely to us already — grace that we are qualified to likewise share with others freely.

In other words, guard yourself from trying to get back into union with God. Jesus already did that for you. Any efforts on our part to repeat that Finished Work will only lead to an endless cycle of regret.

For your own good — don’t waste your time on that.

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