The Journey

A few months ago marked my 44 years of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. 

However, in many ways, I still feel like a young Christian that is stumbling over nothing, falling The Journey Logodown and having to pick myself to try again.  I never thought that the journey to become like Christ was as long as it has been for me.  I thought I would be there by now, but it seems I’ve only just begun.

As I write those words, I wonder if I’ve been too open about my walk and struggle in my Christian walk. I have had people comment to me in the past about how shocked they were to hear how I had struggled in my life. They could not believe that I failed in my first marriage and in my ministry. The only words I could come up with in response was that I was sorry I let God and them down. 

It is something that I live with everyday. I am torn between what could have been in my ministry and where I am at today.  The lessons learned from my failure has made me so much more compassionate towards those that have failed or struggle in this life.  Something that I did not even consider in the years that I was in the ministry. 

My failure broke me.  The price of failure has been one that I am still paying for even after 20 years.  

Truth is, I am not a person that finds joy in sharing my failures.  But one thing iindexs true… I have had more than my fair share of them.  I have to be honest and try to not deceive anyone into thinking that I have everything in my Christian walk all together. I surely cannot deceive myself, I have to live with it everyday.

So how do I be an open book and not be honest about my past failures?  It would be easy to just write generic, short little gleeb articles that give advice with no experience. I see them all the time.  I cannot do that.  I try not to give advice.  I write to remind myself of the lessons learned by my failures and successes.  I try to influence by being an example of what can happen in your life when you take your eyes off of Jesus Christ. I try to give the reader something to ponder.  The truth is my life has been one to be used as an example of caution. If it can happen to me… it can happen to you.

My relationship with God cannot be summed up in a FACEBOOK post. I read catchy little Christian phrases on FACEBOOK that annoy me to no end. Often they are posted by people I know personally and I want to pull my hair out.  I get so frustrated because when people favorpost them, it seems to me that it dumbs down the real relationship a person should have with Jesus Christ.  That somehow by posting if you love God… re-post this message and He will do you a favor.

I do not want to speak for God but I do not think God is not in the business of doing favors for me or you just because we re-post this.

Here’s my up-front disclaimer: I’m not fond of Christian jokes and one-liners. I might be a terrible stick-in-the-mud, but when I pass a church marquee sign posting a “Christian” message, I wince. Although I fight the urge, I read it. And sometimes I need to seek God’s forgiveness for the thoughts that enter my mind after my car has passed by.

I drive about 30 miles to work everyday. On my drive I pass a church where they post phrases on their church marquee. They change it often.  Before Election Day, it read: “To find God, turn right and go straight.” I am sure every left-leaning friend I had would be outraged by what it said. 

Another time the sign read, “If God gave you the same priority you give Him, would you be saved?” My instinctive response was a low growl. I wasn’t being convicted by the Holy Spirit; I simply have an adverse reaction to being smacked in the head with weak theology. God gave me all the priority He intended by giving His Son to die on the cross for me. Salvation comes from the acceptance of His Son and His death that paid the price for my sin. My salvation is not dependent on my priority on any random day.

Why do we insist on using catch phrases to attract our community to Christ?

I understand people are well-meaning.  I am trying extremely hard to not judge but this week I have read FACEBOOK posts such as:

“God answers knee-mail,”

“God loves everyone, but probably prefers fruits of the spirit over religious nuts.”

“Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”

“Why do some people change churches? What difference does it make which one you stay home from?”

“WARNING! Exposure to the Son may prevent burning.”

“Don’t make me come down there–signed God.”

Or consider the church sign I passed while driving to work this week. 

It read, “WARNING! Exposure to the Son may prevent burning.”

My response is always the same: “Huh?”

Do we really want to guilt people into worshipping with us? When people read these messages and the out-loud response is, “See? THAT’S why I don’t go to church!” we’ve failed our community–and our faith.

Sure, I get it. But why does it make me crazy? Statements like these are patronizing, condescending, and place the reader on the defensive side of living.  It cheapens the journey that most of us are on.

StonesI am not innocent of doing it either, here’s one that I am guilty of posting –  “Turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones.”  

As if!  You’re still on the ground with a bloody nose and scrapped knees and I’m trying to tell you how to take those stumbling places and grow? Come on!  Catchy little slogans do nothing to help you or me grow in Christ. I need Christ and I need Him constantly!

And, to be honest, it doesn’t take a stone to make me stumble.  I’m pretty good at stumbling over sand, over a crack in the sidewalk.  It’s never something big thing or I would avoid it.  It’s always the little things that cause my fall, my failing…..and then I grieve, beat myself up and tell God I’m sorry, I won’t do it again (but I will)….and that I should be past all of this by now, but I’m not.

And, then, like a child, embarrassed by my failings, but suffering in my pains, I run back to God and am welcomed by His grace, his love and forgiveness.  I’m always embarrassed to face Him, to come to Him and tell Him “I did it again!  I’m so sorry!!”  And He forgives, He bandages my wounds and He offers to walk with me even as I stumble along.

Are we really trying to reach out to those who are far from God? If the answer is “Yes,” we need to speak and write the words that others understand and will respond to positively.

The FACEBOOK audience is composed of moms and dads, children and grandparents, friends and facebook3neighbors that do not know Christ. They are overworked, tired and stretched to the limits emotionally, mentally and financially to consider the importance of having a relationship with Him. They are searching for something more meaningful than Christian one-liners. All too often they are searching in the wrong places.

We have an incredible opportunity to reach people for Christ.  But it will not happen with a catch-phrase posted on FACEBOOK and truth be told it will not come from any of my writings and postings to this blog site. It will only happen when we meet and love people where they are at in life.  It will happen when we develop relationships that are deeper than FACEBOOK postings.

My desire is to have my writings be an encouragement to those that want to reach others for Christ. I want to show people that my journey has been one to note because of the lessons that can be learned from it.  I have no belief that my words will reach the masses but maybe they will reach one WELCOME-your-churchthat will be encouraged to live for Christ in a deeper way and reach others for Him.

As far as reaching people on FACEBOOK.  Let me just say that if you insist on posting those Christian one-liners, please make sure your other postings and life live up to those postings. 

As for church marquee signs, perhaps we simply need to say, Sunday Services: 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. All Are Welcome!

With God’s spirit, those words might be more than enough.

 

 

 

I Think It’s Called Heaven

The world we live in is filled with anger, rage, violence and pain. We look for peace, long for peace, but fail to find it. We call for tolerance, but it eludes us. 

How can we find that one thing we all want, desire and need… peace?

I grieve over lost lives, broken hearts and bitterness of the soul that has made peace, forgiveness and love more elusive than ever.

But, there is a passage of scripture that offers the solution to all of this.  It’s a difficult passage, in fact it’s impossible.  It means we have to set our own desires, our own wishes aside and put others ahead of ourselves.  It’s impossible without the help of God.  


It’s impossible unless we humble ourselves and put others first.  


Here’s how Jesus described this life that can change everything…

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive 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 Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.  Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”              Luke 6:27-38

Can you imagine how our world would change if we treated each other in this way?  

Without God’s help that’s impossible,  but imagine a place where this is the way everyone lives.

  I think it’s called…  heaven.

Of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men and Hoping To Find A Better Way

As I scan my timelines, I see battles. I see people taking sides over current events.

Good people.  Well-meaning people. All with different opinions.  All saying they are not arguing The-problem-with-arguing-with-idiotsbut just trying to prove they are right and that the person who disagrees with them is not just wrong but that they are an idiot.

Who is right and who is wrong?

To be honest most of the people I see making comments and posting on FACEBOOK do not have clue as to what they are talking about. Most of them have grown up in protected environments and have NEVER faced anything remotely close to what is going on in the news. That includes me as well.

I find it so ridiculous that so many of the posts on my FACEBOOK wall are re-posted from satire political sources. If you are re-posting stuff without doing some research to see that it is legit then why bother? All you are showing is your ignorance. If you’re getting your news from “The Onion” or any other satire site and thinking it is real then you have a serious problem.

Here is NEWS for you… ALL NEWS SOURCES and the Republicans, Democrats and the much hated, Tea-Party ALL have sites that are filled with propaganda. All of these “sources” have agendas and they play all of us. I constantly get posts that when truly researched there is just enough truth to stay on topic but the trouble starts in the details of the articles. Most of it is WRONG. Again… those of you posting  those things, please at least try to do some research.

People try to come off on FACEBOOK as if they have the answer… they are right and if you disagree wrong_thumbyou are naïve, uneducated and/or just plain stupid. They present themselves as having the answer to all problems because so many of them post and comment on things such as the issues in Ferguson, the Eric Garner Death in New York, Immigration, Amnesty, the Keystone Pipeline, Voter ID laws, Fracking, Global Warming, Net Neutrality and a boatload of other topics.  Now most of these people I know. I know where they come from and I know where they grew up. In most cases I know their education level. Most of those I see post barely got out of high school and if they did go on to college they surely did not take the subject matter to be the experts and know-it-alls they come off to be on FACEBOOK.

Now before you think I am coming off as being the only “smart one”… I am not. I learned long ago that FACEBOOK is not the arena to discuss or have legitimate debate about issues of politics, science, music or Christianity.  Truth is… I don’t have all the answers and I don’t waste my time trying to convince people to change their mind on FACEBOOK.  I know what I believe and I know what I think.  People are entitled to have their opinion and have a right to believe what they believe. But just because you think differently from me does not make you right.

I have discovered that those issues I tried to convince people was right when I was 30 years old were really wrong now that life experience has shown me how wrong I was.

I don’t care if you post what you believe or even what you think… but if you are trying to use FACEBOOK as a platform to change people’s minds you are crazy. People do not want to discuss or debate…they want to ARGUE. I have yet to meet anyone that said…”Wow, I am glad you posted that article from (Blue Nation Review / Fox News) cause it changed my mind and now I am going to become a (liberal / conservative)”.

So who is right and who is wrong?  That’s not for me to decide.

Again, truth is… none of these well-meaning people have the “right” to tell the other that they are wrong or right.  It only causes a deeper divide in this country.

We are more polarized than ever. No matter what side of the coin you are on… each think that the person on the other side is wrong and an idiot. There once was a time that we could find common ground… now I think we have lost that in America… sadly I think our country will never be the same. HERE IS MORE NEWS… WE ARE ALL TO BLAME FOR THIS!!!

At least for a few moments can we experience  “peace on earth and good will to men” even if that simply means with those friends that disagree with you.

For this moment, for this season, can we put down our verbal weapons? Can we call a truce?

Can hate not be so strong?

There has to be a better way.

Can we try to finish 2014 and enter 2015 with peace and hope of goodwill where there once was division, hate, unrest and hateful words.

In this Christmas Season… let’s have our conversation stay out of the mine fields of division and let’s love our families while we can regardless of which side of the argument they fall on. My prayer that we honestly experience peace on earth in our relationships and in our families.

Merry Christmas and let us all hope for a better way.

Then They Do

Then They Do.

Being Grateful Everyday

I cannot let November get away without doing something to reflect and remember why I should be grateful each and every day for my life. It is easy to let the negative in life over shadow the positive. I-will-be-grateful-for-this-dayI want to be grateful about my blessings each and every day of my life. 

I was reading today that the power of gratitude has been scientifically proven. According to the article, you can have more health, wealth, and increase happiness with being more grateful.

Why wouldn’t we all want that? 

That little question has helped me realize even on my hardest days I can always think of
things that made the day okay and make me grateful.

As I write this from my computer, I notice that my furnace is making my home warm.  My television is on in the background, music blares from my headphones and my wife is making dinner from a kitchen stocked with modern appliances and clean, running water. 

I don’t live in a big house. It’s not located in a neighborhood filled with SUVs and white picket fences.  But I’ve got more space than I need and I’ve got more things than I need.

Our bills are paid and sometimes, there’s even a little left over.

All things to be grateful for. 

But I am discovering that what keeps most people from being grateful is the false picture they have in their mind as to how it is supposed to be. So many people I know live this life with false expectations.  They feel entitled and deserving of things not worked for or earned.  It isn’t about “stuff”.  It’s not money or status…and it certainly won’t be found in the pursuit of those things.

The secret to gratefulness is hidden away in the ordinary moments we experience in search of the extraordinary ones.

That being sgratitude2aid, there needs to be a distinction between what being thankful is as to being grateful. The dictionary defines gratitude as a state of being grateful; Gratitude is a noun. Thankfulness is defined as aware and appreciative of a benefit; Thankfulness is an adjective.’

It seems gratitude is the state of being and thankfulness expresses that gratitude.

I choose being in a state of gratefulness.

Life should teach us that if we have food in the fridge, a roof over your head and spare change in your pocket we should be thankful – but they will never make you grateful. You can’t assess your true level of gratefulness by looking at your checking account or your 401k.  Because we struggle to feel satisfied. We fight urges to compare and complain. We wrestle with feelings of jealousy and failure.

Why is that? It’s simple really.

From my personal experience, I have discovered that you have to dig a little deeper to find that really makes you grateful.

Now time and space do not permit me to write about everything that I am grateful for but here are few things that being grateful is all about….

  • The old memories of a time you laughed so hard with childhood friends that it hurt, but you couldn’t stop and didn’t want to. These memories cross my mind often.
  • It’s growing up having a few great friends, and the one you tell your secrets without fear of judgement or betrayal.
  • It’s the remembered “innocence” of believing in the wonder of a Christmas morning.
  • It’s the love you have for your mother, the center of your universe growing up and the pride of your family.
  • It’s the memories of a brother and grandparents that have passed on before me.
  • It’s remembering the moment you accepted Jesus Christ and your life would never be the same.
  • It’s the memories of swimming and playing ball on long hot summer days.
  • It’s the memories of the first time you fell in love.
  • It’s receiving that diploma after working so hard for it.
  • It’s holding your child in your hands for the first time.
  • It’s the cherished memories of bedtime stories, ballgames, school plays and graduations.
  • It’s finding your one true love when you thought love had passed you by.
  • It’s picking yourself up and having an opportunity to start over… another second chance.
  • It’s still having to catch your breath when your wife walks in the room.
  • It’s having a true understanding how lucky you are to have her in your life.
  • It’s the smile on your wife’s face when you come home at night.
  • It’s the way she instinctively reaches for your hand when you walk by her side. 
  • It’s about the home she has made for you.
  • It’s date nights with my forever love, the long talks, and getting through the hard days together.
  • It’s fighting back the tears of joy when your grandson says, “Hey Grandpa”.
  • It’s when a young man takes you to dinner to ask for your blessing… and it’s when your daughter calls you to tell you she said “Yes!!”.
  • It’s when your children take time to talk to you.
  • It’s a heart that’s still beating strong.
  • It’s the phone call from your doctor saying the tests are clear.
  • It’s the clear memories of three close friends that are now in heaven.
  • It’s still having a friend that is as close to a brother as it can get. 
  • It’s the reminder of spiritual scars and the Grace of God that keep me focused on Jesus Christ.
  • It’s the picture frozen in your mind of the most beautiful sight you’ve ever seen.
  • It’s looking back at the footprints that you left behind that are good and honorable and the ability to forgive yourself  for the footprints that weren’t.
  • And simply put…It’s family.

Don’t miss being truly grateful this Thanksgiving.

Remember… the secret to true gratefulness is hidden away in the ordinary moments we experience in search of the extraordinary ones.

 

Then They Do

(NOTE: I wrote this on Thursday, November 6th… I am just getting brave enough to post it.)

Oh yeah… tonight was a tough one.

When I say “tough” let me be quick to point out that the word is relative.

Then They doI knew that it was coming and I know that it is going to bring great joy to our family.  But it still was a tough night.

It is one of those nights when you try to look for that chapter in the parenting manual that covers how to handle these type of situations.

Truth is there is no manual. It doesn’t matter if you have been through it before, nothing prepares you for it.  Even when you know it is inevitable.

It is about seeing your child make a decision that they have waited their whole life to make. It is about pushing them where you can while allowing them to make their own choices.  It is about knowing the consequences of those choices.  It is about trust. Trusting them to apply everything you have tried to teach and them trusting you as a parent to let them go when it is time.

I must admit there are tears.  Yes… in the privacy of my hotel room, I am in tears… but not tears of sadness.

When you aAndre and Cassidyre a parent there is so much you anticipate. You assume things. You dream big dreams for your children. You want all of those dreams to come true for them.  You hope and you pray that the dreams you want for them will somehow become dreams that they want as well.

Her mom has waited for this moment since the day she was born. And I have been wishing for her dreams to be fulfilled since I married her mother. Yet, I feel thoroughly and utterly unprepared for this.

Just moments ago, Cassidy called me with the news, the news of a lifetime. Andre popped the question and she said yes. They both decided!—he is the one for her, and she is the one for him—they’ve each found their life partner. We are thrilled for them and my words cannot express how happy we are for them. And though the last few days I’ve known and anticipated this, I am speechless now as I ponder on what to write.

A lifetime of advice can’t come from one note. So I won’t try to cover everyCasssidy Ringthing here and now. And she doesn’t need me to. We have a year of planning.  I know that the time will go quickly but for now I want to stop and just say I am so proud of Cassidy.  Always have been. She has made our job as parents easy.  I trust her and I am confident in the decision she made tonight.

As it was when Crystal got married, I have a year before I will not have to wait up for her to get home at night. A year before it will no longer be my responsibility to make sure she is ok. I have waited for these days to come and you think you are prepared for them. You want all the dreams they have dreamed of to come true… then they do.

And it is then you realize you are not prepared at all.

These lyrics really hit home tonight…

I look over at their pictures,
Sittin’ in their frames.
I see them
as babies:
I guess that’ll never change.
You pray all their lives,
That someday they will find happiness.

Then they do, and that’s how it is.
It’s just quiet in the mornin’,
Can’t believe how much you miss,
All they do and all they did.
You want all the dreams they dreamed of to come true:
Then they do.

No more Monday PTA’s,
No carpools, or soccer games.
Your work is done.
Now you’ve got time that’s all your own.
You’ve been waitin’ for so long,
For those days to come.

Then they do, and that’s how it is.
It’s just quiet in the mornin’,
Can’t believe how much you miss,
All they do and all they did.
You want all the dreams they dreamed of to come true:
Then they do.

As a parent we will face moments when we will “help them find their wings but we can’t fly for ‘em.” Wisdom tells us there will be days when we wish we could step into the moment for them.

But it’s not our stage and it’s not our spotlight.

We’ve gotta let her go.  Life is to be lived moving forward.

You want all the dreams she dreamed of to come true… then they do.

 

Sunday After Sunday

Sunday after Sunday, I have the same thought. 

Sunday after Sunday, I forget to put it into words. 

There is this guy at our church that inspires me every single week. He doesn’t sing (that I’m aware of). Hestage_20lights-R doesn’t plastage_20lightsy an instrument or lead worship. He doesn’t stand up and preach (at least not verbally). He doesn’t run the sound, lights, usher or speak a word. Sadly, I don’t even know his name.Stage Crew

What he does speaks to me every single week.  After our worship team is done and as the Pastor takes the platform, he appears from behind a door. He quietly moves on the stage, sets up a stand, places a bottle of water on it and puts the makeshift pulpit on the stage. Then he quietly disappears to his seat somewhere among the rest of us.

And this speaks to me.  Every.  Single.  Week.

I wish you could see this guy.  I am sure he doesn’t think what he does has any impact on the service. He has no idea what a ministry he has.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (1 Corinthians 12:4)

This is the sermon he preaches each week while never saying a word. 

PreachEvery Sunday when I see “this guy” do what he does, I’m reminded that we are all given different kinds of gifts. We’ve got an incredible worship team. They sing like I could only dream to sing.  Jae Sims is our worship leader and he has ministered to me like no other worship leader I have ever heard. The guys rock the guitars and make me wish I would have taken lessons and practiced a lot. The people who do the sound and lights and video and usher and greet….all important. All great.

And then there’s this guy….the one that does something that needs to be done and does it so well.

He preaches a sermon by his actions and he thinks no one notices.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:27)

What I enjoy about “this guy” is that he is fulfilling his purpose. Again, I don’t even know his name. His “sermon” is short but the message is strong.

Do what God designed and gifted you to do.

Do it with joy.

Do it even when you don’t know others are watching.

Do it even when you don’t feel 100%.

When you use your God-given gifts, that thing that comes naturally, you’re doing so much more than a job or duty. You are bringing Him glory. You are inspiring others to do the same.

There’s this guy that preaches a sermon Sunday after Sunday and never says a word.

Makes me stop and think about the sermon I am preaching today by my actions. 

How about you?

Walking Worthy of The Call

Walking-Worthy-Web-Banner

Reading over Ephesians 4 over and over again the past few days has led me to pray for God to do a much needed work in my life.  

 Read it slowly:
 “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all HUMILITY and GENTLENESS, with PATIENCE, BEARING WITH one another in LOVE, eager to maintain the UNITY of the Spirit in the bond of PEACE” (Eph. 4:1-3).

Look at what I am called to live out every day of my life.

Humility.  Have I ever had any humility?

Gentleness.  Anyone who knows me well knows this is never a term that would be used to describe me.

Patience.  Nope.  And the older I get, the worse it seems.  This shouldn’t be!

Forbearance.  This one I really am in the middle of learning, but I am a slow learner.  It often involves shutting my mouth and taking my own selfish, ugly heart to the Lord instead of to another person.

Love.  Just learning how God loves me constantly reminds me of how my love pales in comparison and fails others.

Unity.  Often I am more concerned about myself than the unity of the body.

Peace.  Oh, I say I want it, but am I EAGER to do what it takes to maintain it?  Like denying myself?dividerLord, I am Yours.  Do in me all the work that needs to be done so that I look more like Your Son who exemplifies all of these character traits perfectly.  

Forgive me when I choose to live contrary to Your way as put forth in Your word.  It’s a choice.  A sinful choice. Make my heart grieve over the sinfulness of those choices.  

Thank You for Your great patience with me in this work.  

Please show me progress occasionally so that I am not discouraged.  

Thank You that I can read Your word, every single day to remind me of the work You are accomplishing and want to complete in my life.  

Thank You that the work needed is dependent on You for You are faithful.  I just need to be like Paul, enslaved to You so that I may walk worthy of Your calling.

Amen.

 

Being Real: Confessions of a Recovering Legalist

I have been attending church pretty much every Sunday since I was nine years old. 

I am not uniqBeing Realue in that… I am sure many of you who are reading this can say the same thing. 

My church did indeed preach the Gospel. 

Salvation was offered to those that trusted in Jesus Christ and believed that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect, sinless life and was crucified on the cross to pay for the debt of sin that mankind had committed.  He rose from the grave three days later and now sits at the right Hand of God.  All an individual had to do was ask the Lord for forgiveness and accept Him into their life.  That is still what I believe.

However, growing up in a church that tied the reality of your relationship with Jesus Christ based more upon the length of your hair and your basic overall appearance is not what everyone else experienced. 

The church during that period of time was caught up in what was commonly called “legalism”.  The word “legalism” does not occur in the Bible.  It is a term used to describe a belief that emphasizes a system of rules and regulations for achieving spiritual growth and evidence of salvation.

The truth is, however, even true believers can be legalistic.  As a believer who has endured the worst that can come from the judgment from other believer’s, I can speak with authority on this subject because I am a recovering legalist.

I spent a good portion of my life judging other people in their walk with Jesus Christ.   For many years, I sat back and did my spiritual evaluation of other believer’s, all the while my own spiritual flaws were masked and hidden by my own self-righteousness.  It is one of the greatest shames I carry in my life. 

I have always said that my greatest failure in life was not the fact that my first marriage ended in divorce.  My greatest failure is that I was part of something that judged and hurt those that struggled in this life.

I am a recovering authority on the subject of legalism.  However, it is not the intent of this post to cover all the issues that come with this subject but I do want to discuss a few of them.

I have always referred to the principles of legalism as “the list”.

dont_listIt was the first thing we gave to new converts. The list was made up of all the things that you were supposed to do and not supposed to do if you wanted to keep God happy and remain spiritual.

Most of the things on the list were good things—some of them even came right out of the Bible.

But some of them didn’t.

They were passed along to me from several sources, some from the traditions of my church, some from my training and education but mostly they were instilled in me by my Pastor. I was “taught” that if I did the things on the list that my life would be good. It was like a bill of goods…if you invested yourself into keeping the list you could reap the benefits of God’s blessings and find true happiness in this life. I bought it… hook line and sinker.

The “list” really came down to one question: “Real Christians don’t ______?'”(You fill in the blank).

Jesus died and rose again, martyrs were split in two, and the Church has prevailed for almost two thousand years against the gates of hell so that Christians today can live out this ever important testimony to a waiting, watching world to tell themselves that… Real Christians don’t ____?

Well, I believe it’s time to get a few things straight. The world isn’t waiting for Christians; the world doesn’t care.

In fact, by a large margin it is only other Christians that care about what other Christians do or don’t do.

Why have Christians made such an important issue out of keeping to this list? I believe it’s because we want something clearly identifiable that will distinguish us from the world. We want to be different. We want being “born again” to evidence itself in some clear, tangible way in our world.

That much is good, but Godly men and women have historically distinguished themselves in much more important ways than keeping a list of do’s and don’ts. 

Christianity gravitated to this list of do’s and don’ts because it spells out the distinctiveness so clearly. However, the problem and the danger at hand is that being born again can become a simple matter of following a prescribed formula as opposed to living a vibrant joyful walk with Jesus Christ.

Not that there aren’t any do’s and don’ts in the Christian faith.

Can you SpotThe New Testament is full of directives for Godly behavior. But the Biblical guidelines are much different from the ones found in popular Christianity, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the difference.

The rules for behavior in the Bible deal with less noticeable things and it involves commands which are harder to fulfill than the non-issues that we have created for our own Christian identity.  So we need to ask ourselves a few questions…

  • Which is easier to follow: Real Christians don’t envy or Real Christians don’t dance?
  • Which one gets noticed first: Real Christians don’t lust or Real Christians don’t smoke?
  • Which is harder to comply with: Real Christians love their enemies or Real Christians go to church on Sundays?

To tell a believer that they cannot dance, smoke and that they should go to church each and every Sunday is easy to define and expect from a believer.   Obviously aspects of behavior such as envy, lust and loving our enemies are so much harder to define and to follow.

I can maintain the “list” and still fail in the envy, lust and loving my enemy’s part and many other tenets of God’s desire for my life. 

Truth is…I believe maintaining a list of do’s and don’ts is a dangerous way to assume Holiness and approval from God.

But that is not how the legalist sees it. The legalist creates their own manageable system of weighing and measuring people.  They become like the Pharisees, who regulated righteousness into a long, involved list of steps and procedures, cumbersome indeed, but fulfillable.

So, in many of our churches, I’m afraid it comes down to maintaining this list of:  Real Christians don’t ______ for many believer’s.  They never have to grow past the need for the list and never really have the need to learn or experience what grace truly is. There isn’t any need for them to do so.

Don’t you think Jesus Christ died for something more?

That being said… many of the principles on the list were good ways to live your life and I am sure good ways to keep you on the right path. But surely they were not absolutes as they were presented.

More importantly none of them had virtually nothing to do with my salvation. Without sounding like an immature Christian, the length of my hair, the music I listened to or the fact that I went to the “movies” should not have defined my Salvation. What it actually did was reduce my spiritual walk to a list of bare-minimums-I-have-to-do-to-be-a-Christian.

I struggled with keeping up to the tenets of the list.  My spiritual life was at best “yo-yoSurvey questionnaire” Christianity. Keep the tenets and all was good… fail at one and you were failing and falling fast away from God.   

My walk with the Lord was filled with up’s and downs. Mostly downs because I couldn’t keep up to the standard of the list.  It did not keep me from trying…I was taught the list was the key to my successful walk with Christ.

The problem was what the list did to my Christianity. It became way too much about performance, and not enough about the reality of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Spirituality” became more of an issue of conformity and obedience rather than living out the fruits of the Spirit as God intended.

The progression of the list leads to what I call “the line”

The line is when you consistently keep the tenets of the list.  When a person kept enough of the list to be what they felt was “spiritual” they could draw a line of distinction between themselves and from those who did not.   If a person could make it to the line, he could feel good about Measure Uphimself and his personal relationship with God.

By measuring up to the line, a person could feel like he was good with God. And he could also feel like he was better than others. I cannot help but think of it as spiritual arrogance.

But sadly “the line” leads to “the look”.

Appearances became the most important part of life. And what was seen on the outside was prioritized over what was happening on the inside.

It’s not that some good things weren’t happening on the inside in my life—they were. But things like peace, love and joy weren’t as important as the Bible says they should have been. And no one was judging my spirituality by that. They were judging me based upon the tenets of the “list” and how close I was to their “line”. 

Both of these things made the “look” all the more important in my spiritual walk.

list2When you are a legalist, you spend a lot of time evaluating others, making sure they measure up. What does their “list” look like?  Does their list include all the important things that are on my list? And where is their “line”? Is it up there where it should be?  Or could I consider myself more spiritual since my line is higher? And do they “look” like they should? Or could I look down on them for looking weaker than me?

This evaluation was often called by some pastor friends as “fruit inspection,” which obviously refers to the verse in Matt. 7:20 where it states, “Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”

All masked in the name of spirituality, when in actuality it was judgmentalism.

Many Christians wait and watch to be entertained by the latest episode of spicy details in the rise and fall of another believer. What we have here is not just another failure of a believer but clearly an in-house problem among our body of believers as a whole.  notgossip_lg

From my personal experience, sometimes the greatest gossip opportunities are the very “prayer meetings” we have in some of our churches. Prayer requests masked in the intent to “share” a little of what we heard or know about the failure of another believer.

Nothing but plain gossip if you ask me… but that is another discussion for a different time and place.

One of the most troubling things about legalism is that it keeps us from growing to be totally dependent on God.  Jesus saw legalism in the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known for their rules, but never for their discernment. Here’s the thing: When we depend on a checklist of rules to determine our decision-making process, there is no room for discernment. The Pharisees’ mindset would be “Give me the law. I want the rules so that I don’t step out-of-bounds.”

Following a checklist rules reveals something else: it reveals a lack of faith in God’s leading in the lives of others.  It says, “My confidence is in man’s teachings” rather than in Christ alone.  But God has a much better way. His way requires a daily surrendering of our will to His.  His way bears fruit.  It’s not burdensome and it’s not bound by legalism.

Ironically, I’ve been wrestling lately with the flip side of being a recovering legalist.  I struggle with judging and we_all_sinbeing critical of those who are caught up in throes of legalism. I find myself making fun of them.  I find myself even thinking that I am somehow superior to them because I see the error of their way and I found the right path.

This type of judgement is just as bad.  It shows my attitude and posture towards other Christians in whom I perceive the tendencies of legalism. Christ has been so patient with me, yet I’ve not always been as patient with them.

Instead, I’ve become so preoccupied with what I perceive to be their tendencies toward an imbalanced judgement of others and a separatist denominational spirit that I’ve sometimes lost sight of God’s grace in their hearts and ministries. This too is a legalistic tendency and needs to be erased from my life.

I also see that attitude among other believer’s that have come out from that background.  The very same haughtiness and judgment that I have witnessed in those that held to legalistic rules and regulations I see in those who are critical of  legalism.  They have no idea that they are just as guilty.

Thank God for Grace… after all, it’s His work, His power, and His presence in our everyday lives that becomes our true source of confidence and strength as we follow Him together.

I am still in recovery and I have a way to go. But now instead of keeping my eyes on the deeds and actions of others, I will fix my eyes on cross of Calvary.  I am starting to see forgiveness much differently than I have in the past. In the past I would simply ask God to forgive my unforgiveness of others… the older I get I see that God wants me to ask forgiveness of those that I have something against. Like Jesus Christ who forgave those that betrayed Him, I need to forgive those that have done me wrong.

So if you can relate to this story, please let me know… there is strength in numbers.  I need to continue my path to recovery and your invited to come along for the journey.  Maybe we can all find forgiveness along the way.

 

Is God Good All The Time? Really?

A friend posted this photo on Facebook this morning. It’s a slogan I’ve heard many times. I’m sure you have as well. We all “know” it’s true, but if we are honest we would admit that sometimes it doesn’t feel like this is true for us. If godisgoodwe were honest we might rewrite it, “God is good all the time…but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it.”

How do you answer the question, is God good…all the time…really?

Truth and reality are often in conflict in a fallen world. What we know and what we experience are often in conflict as well. If we were able to be really honest, we…like Job…would say, “I know God is good, but….”

So what is the good we are talking about? What does it mean that God is good?

Does it mean that things always go my way, work out for me and that I am always healthy, always happy, always have all I need? Are my circumstances the good we are to focus on?

I have watched some who would have called themselves Christians teeter on the brink of belief when faced with the question, is God really good? I listened to a man I have prayed with many times tell me that I could go ahead and pray for his loved one if I wanted to but that he didn’t see that all that prayer was really doing any good. I saw that whatever measure of faith he had to that point was broken. As far as I know, he is still reeling.

I wonder what this man and many others like him expect from God.

Much like this man, I know that when I was young my idea and expectation from God was much different from what it is today. When I was young I expected God to make everything I touched be a success. I prayed to win the game, I prayed that “She would like me”. I prayed for God to keep me from getting caught when I had done something wrong… God was like my “get out of jail free card”. Because God was good… He HAD to bless me and take care of me.

It started when I was real young…

God is great, God is good, Let us thank Him
For our food. Aaaa-men.

That was what my sister and I prayed as a blessing over the food when we were kids.

God is GoodWe were ingrained with the idea that God was innately good. Abundantly good. A quick look around our childhood proved this idea correct. We had abundant food and though we may not have been setting the fashion trends in our school, we had plenty of clothes and a roof over our head. My sister and I never doubted that God was good.

Why would I have even questioned if God was good?

In addition, that was what I learned in my church. For many years, I have heard it repeated over and over again.

In various ways, God’s goodness comes up in plenty of “Christian” conversations:

• “Got the test results back. No cancer. God is good!”
• “I’m so glad I waited. He’s such a good husband and daddy to our kids. God is good!”
• “They offered me the job! God is good!”
• “Loving the view from our balcony of the sun coming up over the ocean! God is good!”
• “Tithes and offerings and attendance are up. God is good!”

Not to play devil’s advocate here, but would God cease to be good if your tests revealed cancerisgodgood1?  What if you were the lady who waited on a Godly man but remained single? What if you didn’t get the job? Is God still good if your family seemed to be the only one not spending a week at the beach this summer? If your church was on the edge of irrelevancy, would you still say that God is good…all the time?

Or maybe–if you have identified your current situation in the above scenarios–I should ask, is God any less good?  What happens when bad things happen to good people and good things happen to those who are bad?

Is your faith journey a “what have you done for me lately” faith?

Does God ever get a break from blessing you in order to–I don’t know, maybe corIs-God-Really-rect you or teach you?

Or… 

Is God more of a genie in a bottle, ready to bless you if you can just figure out the right formula to control Him? How little difficulty does it take to derail your faith?

We need to answer these questions so we can honestly answer the all important question of whether God is really good all the time or not.

Do you want me to wrap it up, give you a nice, neat answer? One that can give you the secret to turning on the uninterrupted faucet of God’s goodness in your life?

I’m not that guy. You see…

  • I’ve prayed fervently with a clean heart for friends with cancer. Some have survived that evil monster; others have succumbed to it.
  • I have witnessed men of God, preachers, that have prayed fervently to remove the burden of depression in their life, only to have the prayer seemingly go unanswered.
  • I know of Godly, faithful men and women who have lost a child at birth.
  • I have sat in the living room of the parents that have to deal with the loss of a daughtertaken way too soon from this earth.
  • I have personal friends that are widowed way too soon in this life.
  • I have witnessed some really bad things happen to people who were faithful to God.

So…is God really good?

I say yes.  Not in a childhood yes kind of way or a Christian cliché kind of yes, but yes, nonetheless.

What we really need to understand and accept is the fact that life is hard.  God never promises that we will not endure the pain that this life can give.  As a matter of fact, God tells us that we shougod-is-goodld expect it.

If we don’t accept that simple idea we will find ourselves disappointed, bitter or worse….we will give up on this faith walk with God. The truth is that “God is good” is not at all about my circumstances, but is all about His nature and His character. Because He is good even my difficult days are a blessing because a good God is in charge of my life. Because He is good I can endure financial troubles. Because He is good, cancer can be part of His kind work in my life.

When I make His goodness about my circumstances I will quickly become disillusioned….but when I make His goodness about His nature and how He deals with me then even bad day, difficult problems and health issues change because a good God rules my life.

Is God good all the time? YES! And even when life isn’t so good, wonderful, sweet, loving and good God is working through it all for my good and His glory.

So… is God Good All the Time?

the answer…

God Is Good… All the Time… …and All the Time… …God is Good!

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