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”

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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Why Good Friday is My Favorite

 

     I’ve often heard preachers assert that Easter is more important than Good Friday. “There’s no point to the Cross if there is no Resurrection,” they say. And while I love to celebrate Christ’s triumphant victory (I think we far too often live with a defeatist mindset in the Church), I’d like to suggest that Good Friday is actually the highest and holiest of feast days. It may seem totally backwards and offensive to our clouded minds, but the brutal death of Jesus on the Cross is where God’s glory is most powerfully put on display for all to see.

Christ and Him Crucified

     St. Paul is famous for saying, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” Why was Paul so obsessed with the Cruciform God? Because Paul saw that the cruciformity of God’s nature is the FULLNESS of God’s nature. The Crucifixion is where God opened up His heart and showed us all that is inside. This where we get our purest definition of Who God eternally is and what He is eternally like. Herein lies the most outstanding of beauties!

     At the Cross, we see that being King of Kings looks like being the Servant of All.

     At the Cross, we see that being Omnipotent looks like being laid down and broken in selfless love.

     At the Cross we see that true strength looks like power under restraint, poured out in sacrifice.

     At the Cross we hear God Himself saying, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

     Here we learn that the Lord’s desire to offer mercy, to have relationship with us, to practice vulnerability, and to embody a genuinely unconditional love is not just part of His agenda. It is His agenda. All other character traits we might attribute to Him must be re-defined in light of this mind-blowing moment of clarity.

The Way God Operates

“His defeat is itself His breakthrough.”

     Jesus hanging on the Tree is the Logos — the logic of God. He may look defeated, but His defeat is itself His breakthrough. In shedding His blood and releasing His last breath, Jesus finished the work that needed to be done, once and for all (see John 17:4, John 19:30, Romans 6:10, and Hebrews 10:10). We might even go so far as to consider the idea that Resurrection is only the fruit and the affirmation of Christ overcoming the “wisdom of this world” on Calvary. His atoning sacrifice is where He carried out His own Sermon-on-the-Mount philosophy for life to its fullest extent.

     What a success!

     Our hearts are not won to the Lord because He has coerced us into worshiping Him. We are won by the bleeding heart of the Lord that loves us to no end. Likewise, we in turn extend His grace to others not by pressuring them, convincing them with arguments, or giving them threats of retribution.

     We choose the low road. This is the Way of the Cross.

Isaiah 55…

return to the Lord…for he will abundantly pardon.
‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are My ways higher than your ways
    and My thoughts than your thoughts…'”

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You Have Full Permission to Indulge

Often I find myself having discussions with other believers about God’s nature and character. It’s not unusual for someone to express to me, “My view of God is changing and expanding. I need to know though, is it really okay for me to explore the idea that He is as good as my heart is coming to believe? Shouldn’t I try to maintain some sense of Him being [insert judgmental, controlling, retributive, etc.] too?”

It seems to me that our souls actually need to be given permission to trust that God is radically good. We need to be told that there are no contradictions to God’s goodness within His personality. This is often a struggle though, especially for those of us who are well versed in traditional schools of theology that painted a more confusing picture of the Divine as we were growing up. Sadly, much of the Christian world is responsible for using the Bible to portray this false “balance” within God’s heart. That is, a balance between Endless Mercy and Harsh Judgment, Life-Giver and Destroyer, Intimate Friend and “Holy, Scary King…” etc. etc. Of course we don’t straight up acknowledge that is is the idea we are presenting. This is the impression honest seekers of truth are left with nevertheless.

Our souls actually need to be given permission to trust that God is radically good.

God spoke to me through a vision on 11/11/2011 that helped me as I was starting to grow in clarity on these matters. I was approaching Him in prayer, and I pictured in my mind the Throne Room in Heaven. Ephesians 2:6 tells us we are already seated in heavenly places in Christ, so I wanted to make that position of intimacy and authority with the Lord my starting place for communion with Him.

As I looked toward the Lord, I felt Him say to my heart, “Look at Me!” I realized I was shamefully looking down a little, rather than confidently looking Him in the eyes. I lifted my gaze, and when I did I saw His two beautiful eyes of fire that the Book of Revelation speaks of. They were warm and radiant. Immediately I was hit with the realization that they were gateways to His heart. The impression that I received was that one is the eye of Grace and the other the eye of Justice. Both eyes though were blazing with a fire that poured from the same pure heart. It is a heart of burning Love.

This was a metaphoric lesson I needed to learn.

The vision ended, and I was left with this feeling that God is for me. He’s never against me. I was liberated to indulge in my love for God’s grace, knowing that that grace consists of the same substance as His justice. The two are flawlessly in union with each other and in no opposition in how they shape God’s perspective of myself or the world.

Since this experience, I’ve learned a lot from Scripture and study that has convinced me God is only and always loving. It’s not just something that is “technically” true to me anymore. I am gorging myself on His goodness, His grace, and His love for me. Through this process I am finding it only to brings me greater health and maturity. It even gives me better discernment when needing to recognize false gospels and heresies that would seek to interfere with my relationship with Jesus.

Now I want to be a voice that gives others the freedom to search out the endless depths of God’s goodness.

So to those of you who are starting to revel in God’s extravagant kindness, but wondering if this is safe… 

Don’t over-complicate things.

Don’t feel you have to have an immediate answer for every objection that comes to your mind when you doubt that God is really as enjoyable as you find Him to be.

Don’t let tradition or skepticism hinder you from thinking outside the box and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead you.

Let God take you on a journey of discovery, and be willing to follow Him wherever He brings you.

I promise, as long as you are falling deeper in love with the Man Christ Jesus, you will not regret it. There is a feast to be had for you (Isaiah 55:1-3). You have full permission to indulge in 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!

Grace, Guilt and America’s Sins

A few months ago I was having a conversation with someone about the depths of America’s guilt in mistreating marginalized people groups. We discussed this country’s abuse of Natives, African slaves, Japanese people kept in internment camps, etc. I was the one pointing out that our nation has a lot of embarrassing parts of its history. As the discussion went on, this individual responded by saying, “I thought you were all about grace though? Why are you talking so much about our guilt?”

I realized that this is a sincere question. How can someone who constantly feasts on the message of grace also get so serious in talking about our failures and weaknesses?

If we see the doctrine of grace clearly, I believe it will actually only encourage us to take responsibility for how our actions are affecting others around us (personally or as a society). Let me explain.

I understand the Gospel of Grace to be the solution to the problem of shame. Shame says we are defined by our failures. Grace says we have an identity in Christ that transcends our performance altogether.

Shame says we are defined by our failures. Grace says we have an identity in Christ that transcends our performance altogether.

Grace also nullifies the fear of punishment. As a redeemed child of God I get the dignity and blessings that Jesus earned for me, rather than what I have earned through my own lifestyle choices.

Further, my very real sins have all been cleared. In a sense it is as if they never occurred. The Lord declares, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).

All of this tells me that I don’t have to live in a fear of negative karma coming to haunt me all my life. I join with the writer of Psalm 5 in saying, 

But let all who take refuge in You rejoice;
    let them ever sing for joy,
and spread Your protection over them,
    that those who love Your name may exult in You.
For You bless the righteous, O Lord;
    You cover him with favor as with a shield.

As grateful as I am for grace, I also believe in acknowledging guilt. I still recognize that I have messed up – and at times continue to do so. Sometimes I may even screw up in massive ways! Having a confidence in God’s continual covering of grace actually enables me to see my fault without feeling condemned about it. 

If you know that your actions do not define you or your future, it’s much easier to swallow the fact that your actions are not always good. Or maybe even that they are sometimes terrible ones. Your conscience can grow more sensitive to correction, precisely because you are no longer afraid of being a failure anymore. You’re not trying to hide from admitting your own potential for error. You know that Christ is your only righteousness anyway.

All that said, a sincere trust in God’s grace will sometimes call us to take inventory of our actions and to rise to a higher standard in how we treat one another. We can’t always ignore the repercussions our choices have had on our neighbors and justify that attitude in the name of not wanting to be “sin-conscious.” Grace moves us to be conscious of others… even if it is uncomfortable or painful to realize just how unkind we have been toward them beforehand.

We cannot undo our failures. To try that would be self-righteous of us. But as believers we can admit our responsibility in creating very real problems in this world, and — by the grace of God — we can work together to create a better future.

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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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John Crowder on “The Shack”

If you’ve followed me on social media in the past it might be no surprise to you that I’m a huge fan of the YouTube-speaker John Crowder. He always gives a fantastic articulation of the Good News. It gets me so stoked!

I will probably be posting John’s videos here fairly often, because when they come out it is often one of the biggest highlights of my day. And I love sharing things that I love.

Check out this video John published recently about something else I’m a big fan of — The Shack. 

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Be Perfect…?

It’s surprising what kind of things you will discover in Scripture when you mature in your understanding of who God is.

Matthew 5 didn’t used to be one of my favorite portions of the Bible. After I first started to grasp the goodness of the Gospel, passages like this were not ones I was especially drawn to. The Sermon on the Mount in this passage sounded like it was just more talk about our need to perform better to appease God, rather than to rest in His amazing grace. After my heart soaked in the revelation of grace for several years though, I finally could see this portion of the Bible as actually being super practical to life.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says in verse 48. That can sound intimidating. Some preachers will say “perfect” just means “holy,” “complete,” or “mature”… but those words still sound difficult to live up to.

I now recognize that the whole passage gives us a picture of what being “like your heavenly Father” looks like. It looks like being meek and servant-hearted. It looks like being gentle and peaceable. It looks like being forgiving, humble, and embracing persecution.

When we realize how extravagantly our Lord demonstrated His merciful heart toward us through His life, death, and resurrection — our hearts likewise become tender towards God in reciprocal love. As a result, we further become tender toward OUR enemies. If we are truly touched by the kindness we were shown by our Savior, it is a natural progression for us to learn to embrace the “Sermon on the Mount” lifestyle. We want to treat others as great as we have been treated by the Father!

I believe this is why Luke, when writing in his account about the exact same speech that Jesus gave in Matthew 5, ends the Sermon with a different word. He quotes Christ as saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

What….!

Could it just be that to be “holy,” to be “perfect as our Father is”… is simply to express divine love like Christ models (1 John 4:8, 10)? Maybe it’s God’s exorbitant loving-kindness and mercy that makes Him so outstandingly distinguished from the “imperfect.”

Luke 6:32 -36 (English Standard Version)… “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

God is not challenging us to reach for a standard He knows we cannot attain. He’s given us mercy, and as we learn to savor it, we are also expected to give it away freely. 

Suddenly, “holiness” doesn’t seem so elusive and abstract to me anymore.

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