Inspirational

The THREE R’s to Loving Yourself

»Posted on Mar 24, 2018 in Inspirational | 0 comments

There’s an old story from the Polynesian Islands called Johnny Lingo and his 10 cow wife. It goes like this: In those days and in that part of the world, if a man wanted to marry a girl, it was necessary for him to pay her father a dowry. Usually the expected dowry was a single cow but depending on how badly the man wanted his bride, he might even go as high as 3 maybe 4 cows.

Now it just so happened that Johnny Lingo was in love with Mahanna, a young girl from the next island over – a woman, who, let’s just say all the villagers agreed, her father, Mokie, would be lucky to get even one cow for her. She was slouched and sallow and sullen, and when Johnny arrived to bargain for her, shrewd old Mokie asked for 3 cows because he thought at least that way, Johnny Lingo would have to offer at least 1 cow in return.

Johnny squinted his eyes for a minute and then he said, “Mokie, 3 cows is a lot but it’s not enough for my Mahanna. I’ll give you 10 cows for her hand in marriage.” Everyone was stunned. Mokie agreed before Johnny could change his mind. So Johnny paid 10 cows for poor sad Mahanna, and with all the villagers snickering behind his back, he went home with his bride.

It was some time before anyone heard from them again, but it so happened that one of the villagers was on a trading trip to Johnny’s island and so he popped in for a visit years later. When he arrived, this stunning young woman met him at the door. She stood tall and straight, face glowing and her eyes shining. Stammering, the villager asked for Johnny Lingo.

After they exchanged pleasantries, he asked Johnny, who was that beautiful woman, to which Johnny replied, “That was my Mahanna.” He could tell the villager was having difficulty lining up the beautiful woman he had just met with the memory of the ugly girl who had left the island so many years ago, so Johnny explained. “What girl can be truly beautiful if she believed that she was only worth 1 or 2 cows to her man? No, we’re as beautiful as we’re told we are, and a woman who’s told she’s worth 10 cows will become a 10 cow wife.”

So question for you: Do you see yourself as a 10 cow woman? How many of us see ourselves as worthy of God’s attention and love?

Because HOW you see yourself – your sense of worth and value – defines everything about your life: Your ability to withstand the hard knocks of life, to remain grounded and resilient when the storms come roaring around to knock you down. Your capacity to reach your God-sized dream, to take risks that will include failing, facing our fears, facing giants that oppose us. Your ability to love your neighbour as yourself.

And truthfully, even your ability to love God fully.

Because loving God means trusting him, and trusting him means feeling utterly and completely safe with him. And feeling safe with him means knowing with an unshakeable confidence that he loves you and has your back, no matter what.

Do you love yourself? I mean, really love yourself? Not in a “Wow, look at me, I’m so great” way but in a “Whoa, I am a Daughter of the Most High King”?

My sneaking suspicion is that the answer – for many of us – is a resounding NO.

When we’re born, we are born tabula rasa – without knowledge or understanding of ourselves, the world, others, and God. It’s our life experiences, especially with our primary caregivers, that begin to imprint our sense of our worth, as well as who we think we are.

Every newborn needs to answer two questions: 1) Are others reliable and trustworthy to love and protect me? and 2) Am I worthy of being loved?

Loving YourselfThe answer to these two questions form the basis of our attachment. Attachment is a system that explains the principles and emotions of relationship – how they work and how they don’t, how we feel when we’re with the ones we love. Our ability to love and connect with others is based on our attachment to our primary caregivers.

Picture a baby being born: her awareness of herself and of others is shaped by how her caregivers respond to her needs. Her brain is hardwired to learn, and her neural pathways are ready to be established based on her experiences.

Research now shows that our brain’s neural pathways are hardwired based on our attachment experiences. God has created us to be in relationship – with himself and with others, so our brains actually develop in the context of relationship experiences. We are discovering increasingly each day how dependent a child’s developing brain is on its mother’s sensitive, attuned and responsive care – these early experiences literally shape the chemical processes in the brain responsible for how we control our impulses and calm our strong emotions.

As a result, fear of abandonment is the fundamental human fear – it’s so basic and profound that it emerges even before we have a language to describe it – it’s so powerful that it activates the bodies autonomic nervous system and kicks in our fight or flight reaction if we fear we are going to be abandoned.

All of us have experienced rejection and broken trust – it is the reality of living in a broken world with broken people. But layer on top of that this reality – what happens if you grew up in an abusive home – where the very people who were supposed to love and protect were the source of injury? What does that teach you about love and relationships?

And even if we grew up with stable, attuned and loving parents, ALL of us have experienced attachment wounds – times when our parents couldn’t be there for us, times when in their humanity as parents, they made mistakes and forgot us, or were unnecessarily angry with us, or were too stressed or sick to really be there for us.

Remember a child doesn’t have the ability to think, “my mommy is stressed right now and that’s why she’s mad at me.” Instead, that child thinks she was a bad girl or it’s her fault that her mom was so upset. Can you see this?

Out of those experiences, we automatically begin to believe lies such as:

I’m a nuisance.

I’m bad.

I’m only loved if I’m good.

I’m on my own, no one is there for me.

People can’t be trusted.

There’s something wrong with me.

I’m only loved if I do something for others.

Oh, we know in our head that these aren’t true, but our hearts are still entrapped in responding to these lies as if they were true. We still struggle with deep insecurities about out worth and our love-able-ness. And these insecurities, my friends, will prevent us time and time again from loving ourselves. Because deep down we wonder if we really are worth loving. If you REALLY knew me…

My friends, we have to actively fight for our sense of worth and value. We need to take an offensive stance, not a defensive one. If we are in defensive mode, it means we have to spend all of our energies trying to fight off the arrows that others and the world sling at us, so we never take back any ground. We end up reacting time and time again, rather than proactively taking a stand and choosing to live out of the truth that we are God’s beloved.

I want to offer up 3 R’s for you to remember how to actively fight for your sense of worth:

  1. Reject the Lies of the Enemy

The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8 that the enemy is prowling around like a roaring lion to devour us. We know this, but we often think of that more as “big bad wolf” maneuvers, like he’s going to take us down in one fell swoop.

The enemy is actually much more slick than that. He’s a master tactician. He studies us, knows our vulnerabilities, and he stages a steady campaign to devour us. If we saw him coming, we’d be all over it fighting him off. Instead, he gets inside our head, and feeds us a steady stream of subtle lies over a long period of time. He uses our experiences and our traumas and our fears, and whispers lies to us. The ones that are exquisitely designed to get inside our psyche and mess us up.

The most effective strategies in warfare (listen, I watch all these spy series on Netflix so I’m an expert) when you’re trying to break down an enemy during an interrogation is to get him to question what’s true and what’s not. Twist, twist, twist – take the truth and give it a spin to it so all of a sudden, it takes on a nefarious meaning.

One of the most effective counter-strategies is to use TRUTH as your weapon. When I get triggered and I’m struggling with feelings of shame or self-criticism, I will say “truth prayers” out loud to myself: “Thank you that I’m holy and blameless in your eyes. Thank you that there is now no condemnation because I am in Christ Jesus. Thank you that you delight in me and dance over me, etc”. I say these truth statements out loud because my brain thinks and also hears it, which helps reinforce them and overwrite the lies resounding in my head. But most importantly, I’m doing spiritual warfare like Jesus did when he was tempted in the desert by the devil, when he spoke Scripture out loud. I keep going until my feelings subside and I am feeling a sense of groundedness and peace once again.

  1. Resist the Standards of the World

My friends, you are not of this world and the things of this world are passing away. Remember who rules this world – and let me just tell you, he is not our friend. We know that, but why do we let ourselves be defined by the standards of this world?

Just look at the media and you can already see very quickly which standards rule – our looks, our successes, our material goods, who we know. Oh, and of course, what other people think about us. Because it’s all about how many followers we have on social media and how many likes we get for our posts.

Listen, I’m not pointing fingers. I spend waaaay too much time planning out my outfits, obsessing about my weight, watching the number of likes on my last post, and looking jealously at the successes and beauty of other women. Arghh… I wish I didn’t do that, but all of us get caught up in the world’s standards.

But the worse for me is how often I let other’s insecurities define me and tell me how I should act and who I am. I stew for far too long when I think someone doesn’t like me, or someone says something critical or judgemental about me. Arghhh…

My commitment to myself and to God is to track myself and to be intentional about what I choose to think about or look at. I ask God to regularly help me. These are the Scriptures I’ve been meditating on and praying back to God, “Open up before GOD, keep nothing back; he’ll do whatever needs to be done: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day and stamp you with approval at high noon. Quiet down before GOD, be prayerful before him. Don’t bother with those who climb the ladder, who elbow their way to the top… Stalwart walks in step with GOD; [her] path blazed by GOD, [she’s] happy. If [she] stumbles, [she’s] not down for long; GOD has a grip on [her]hand.” (Psalm 37: 5-7; 23-24 MSG)

Can I just say… can we please celebrate and support each other as women, rather than tearing each other down in our insecurities and jealousy? We tend to compare ourselves with other women and see them as rivals. We struggle with feeling inadequate in the shadow of amazing women. And so we can be mean to each other. We can judge each other harshly. So let’s stop with that already, ok?

  1. Rest in Who You are as Gods Beloved Daughter

In my head, I KNOW that I am God’s beloved daughter and I know that I am of infinite value in his eyes. I hear that truth in my mind, and I even believe it at times, but all too often, I don’t live it in my life.  Why do we have a hard time believing this truth?

Since the Garden of Eden to today, when Eve took a bite of that apple, she left for us two legacies that still haunt us to this day. From the time Eve was tempted by the Serpent and she took that bite of the apple, she began to feel SHAME, and out of that shame, FEAR of being naked before God, and so, she hid herself.  Shame and fear began to control her and dictate to her what she should do, even forcing her to turn away from the only One who could free her and heal her.  Eve ran away from LOVE.

Eve ran away from the one thing she was designed to need, the one thing that would create safety for her – to be in relationship with God. Science now tells us what the Bible has been telling us for years: we are created for relationship – with each other and with God.

In fact, science tells us that relationships heal. But all of us have stories of relationship wounds, disappointments and betrayals. So life tells us that relationships hurt.

But here’s the ironic truth – the most natural and best place to heal from trauma is in relationship with someone you love – that kind of relationship heals. All of my skills as a psychologist cannot compare with the emotional cues from a safe attachment figure.

The most effective way to deal with distress is to turn to a trusted other. That means that as a Christ follower, God is the place we take your vulnerability to – God is the source of healing, safety, and connection.

Did you know that when you’re facing a traumatizing or painful situation, if you hear the voice of a trusted and safe person, it’ll access your emotional part of the brain? That’s why when we focus on God’s truths and hear his voice, it’ll calm us and help us deal with the situation. Proximity to an attachment figure tranquillizes the nervous system.

Don’t let the enemy lie to you about your infinite worth in God’s eyes. Don’t let shame and fear cause you to run away and hide from LOVE. Don’t let the pain of life mask God’s love for you, and his desire to be in intimate relationship with you.

read more

Self-Care for Women

»Posted on Oct 21, 2014 in Inspirational, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments

exhausted woman

Today’s post is primarily for women because they are often neglected in their focus on caring for others and their responsibilities. But it’s also helpful for men to watch this video so they can better understand and support the women in their lives.

In fact, many of the women I counsel are overloaded with too many demands, and they struggle with worry, guilt and failure. They will often take care of others, but leave no time to take care of themselves. And as Christians, the stakes are even higher as we’re taught about sacrificial living and serving others, and so we “should” ourselves into a breakdown.

One of the things I’ve noticed about women is that we are terrible at self-care. And we struggle with feeling guilty if we were to be so “selfish” as to care about ourselves. On top of that, women today are expected to be educated and successful as professionals, yet we’re also expected to be great wives and mothers. But doesn’t it sometimes seem as if we can’t win? We’re judged if we’re too career focused, but we’re also judged if we chose to be stay-at-home moms. And so, we struggle with feeling like we’re a failure in both realms. How do we pursue the calling God has placed in our lives– whether as a professional, pastor, or stay at home mom? And how do we move forward in spite of how we may be judged, criticized or misunderstood?

My hope is that the video in this blog will encourage us to a place of greater self-acceptance and self-care so that we can be authentic women after God’s own heart.

 

YouTube Preview Image
read more

Pursuing the Full Life

»Posted on Mar 17, 2014 in Inspirational, Personal Growth, The Fully Lived Life | 0 comments

still waters

Be Still

The busyness of life, the din of competing demands, the pressures of responsibilities and the seduction of pleasures all shout loudly to drown out the quiet voice of our Father inviting us to his heart.

Oh, we may sense the emptiness in our soul, but what do we do? We fill it with more stuff, more activities, more busyness, more distraction. That is not the way we’ve been designed to live, and so our joy and peace will always fall short and we will always be hungry: “Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’” (John 6:35).

In our time-starved, increasingly cluttered and hyperactive culture, we have become so conditioned to instant gratification and fast-paced, adrenaline-driven activities that we’ve lost the art of patience; we’ve forgotten (or never learned) how to cultivate relationships with others; we rarely slow down enough to enjoy the gift of life, or savour the beauty of our world and the joys of loving others.

And similarly (and possibly as a result as well) we fail to connect with God: we somehow believe that if we spend a quick hour a week at church that somehow our lives will change. People are disconnected and marriages and families are breaking down because no one has time or patience to invest deeply in what really matters, especially in our friendship with our Father.

Instead, it begins with drawing close enough to hear God’s whisper, closing the door if necessary to shut out the noise, going outside if that’s what it takes to escape the distractions. And it grows as you spend more and more time with him, opening your heart to him and letting him see yours.

God’s a Whisperer

Do you hear that? It begins with drawing close enough to hear God’s whisper. It also begins with opening up your heart to the possibility of a dynamic relationship with your Father, and the hope that he wants to be in communion with you. It doesn’t have to be dry, distant, formulaic, legalistic or superficial.

Have you ever developed a close friendship with anyone without spending time together, sharing your hearts, listening to each other, and enjoying laughter and the pleasure of each other’s presence? Why then do we think we must follow some rules, go to church, read our Bible, and pray our list prayers to somehow have an intimate relationship with our Father, that somehow that’s how we can know him and be known?

God Longs To Spend Time with Us

If we start with the premise that God longs to spend time with us, can you let that truth sink deep into your heart? And would that change your perspective enough to encourage you to make time for your Father? The truth of God’s love and longing for us is woven throughout all of Scripture, and his actions since the beginning of time continue to echo that truth.

Lest you measure your relationship with God based on the number of times he speaks to you, please hear me: hearing God speak to you happens more as you become aware of it—but focus on doing life with God and inviting him into the inner recesses of your heart, all the good, the bad and the ugly and trust that he is there, interested in you and willing and speaking to you as your heart is made ready to hear. Prepare your heart to hear by presenting yourself to him, regardless of the outcome.

It’s also about savoring God like a delicious feast, taking time to enjoy all the subtleties of his flavors. Sometimes it’s just about hanging out with your Father for the experience of being together without any deep dialogue.

Being Alone with Your Best Friend

There is no formula for developing a close friendship with your Lord, but being alone with our Father moves us from head knowledge of his love for us to real and experienced felt knowledge. It takes us from dry theology to a knowing deep in our soul.

And time alone with our Father is so worth it—it is life-giving, life-illuminating and life-changing. No one can communicate that to us but the One who knows us completely and loves us without reservation. Until you spend time alone with God, you won’t experience this truth for yourself. And he does that in private, just you and your best friend alone. Quiet yourself for a moment, and I promise you, God will meet you there.

You hear that? God will meet you there. This is key to living your life as God created you: if you were looking for the secret to happiness or the key to eternal youth, this is it. This is the true FULL life, something we all so desperately need but so often miss in our frantic pursuit of all the substitutes.

Stop and listen. Pursue the full life that Jesus wants for you.

To read more about this, check out The Fully Lived Life: Rescuing Our Souls from all that Hold Us Back.

 

read more

Dreams to Change the World

»Posted on Mar 10, 2014 in Inspirational, The Fully Lived Life | 0 comments

God Rigs Our World

Do you believe God has rigged the world so that fullest life only works when we embrace risk and live by faith? This is good news because all our own attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others kill our soul.

Safe is not how we were meant to live.

How often do we lose sight of this? As we traverse through all the toils and dangers of adventuring with God, there is so much to bring us joy and delight as we choose to pay attention and notice. I know for myself. I struggled to understand the extravagance of God and instead pictured a life of following him to mean only sacrifice, suffering, and deprivation. Don’t get me wrong—there are no guarantees that we will avoid suffering. God has warned us we will have trouble (John 16:33).

But if I choose instead to focus on the experience of the ride, notice the beauty around me and the simple pleasures he is showing me, if I delight in a life that’s lived in full communion with my Father—then perhaps I will be living a life that is exactly as he’s created me to live.

 The Dangerous and Unpredictable Flow

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a life of adventure with our Father. I refuse to return to my life of drudgery and safety. I choose instead to live a life of journeying on the wild, unpredictable and dangerous rapids of a life lived fully for God.

Even as I choose this life, I am realizing that maybe this river I’m in, this risky, dangerous, powerful, unpredictable raging isn’t the dangers of life but a representation of God’s Spirit—powerful, dangerous, beautiful, implacable, forceful—yet breathtakingly beautiful. Being in the flow of his Spirit is scary and unpredictable—yet deeply adventurous and fulfilling, the way life is meant to be lived. Don’t fight it—go with it. Being in the flow is the point. Being in the flow is the adventure—and along the way, there will be many experiences and encounters.

Lest you think that a life of adventure isn’t for you, that somehow God only has big plans for “important” people, consider the ordinary, common people God has chosen throughout the history of humanity: He picked an unknown teenage girl to bring his Son into the world; He chose a simple fisherman to be the “rock” upon which his Church was built; he chose a young Jewish girl named Anne Frank to teach us about the suffering of his people during the Nazi occupation; he picked a dairy farmer’s son in Billy Graham to bring the gospel to millions of people worldwide. God doesn’t choose only those who are smarter, more gifted or more eloquent than you are. God chooses us regular folks.

But there is a catch: God looks for people who are willing to live on the edge—people who have a deep longing for a life of significant impact. People who believe that he can and will do the impossible through them. People who are willing to be foolish for God, who are desperate to see God move profoundly in this fallen, broken world of ours, who long to see their dreams come to fruition—dreams to change the world. Is this you?

To learn more about how you can change the world, read The Fully Lived Life: Rescuing Our Souls from All that Holds us Back.

 

read more

The Antidote for Our Inner Critic

»Posted on Nov 5, 2013 in Inspirational, Personal Growth | 0 comments

 butterfly heart

So I am seriously on a mission.

This past weekend, I was one of the speakers at a women’s conference and I have to say, I met some incredibly gifted and wonderful women – beautiful inside and out. I could not have been more blessed by encountering these lovelies – my heart was so full by the end of the day.

But to a person…every single one I connected with struggled with insecurities, self-doubt and an inner critic that tore them down. You know what I’m talking about? That voice that constantly points out your flaws, weaknesses and screw-ups. That voice that says “you can’t”, or “you’re not enough”. The voice that keeps us isolated, with a wall around our hearts. The voice that cripples us.

You’ve seen the Dove YouTube video of women describing themselves denigratingly; you’ve seen the video of moms criticizing themselves, only to be brought to tears by the truth of how their children see them. And I see this in my office time and time again – not just with women but also with men. The negative chatter that goes on inside our heads is out of control.

I am enraged by this tactic of the enemy, who seeks to tear down and devour us with his lies. I am filled with a holy discontent that burns inside me to change the way people see and talk about themselves. These are lies from the pit of hell! And to make matters worse, we take these lies and beat ourselves up by it, over and over again.

Think about it: if you’re parents, would you ever let anyone call your kids the names you call yourself? Would you allow negative and bullying words attack your children like you regularly say to yourself? So why would you do the same thing to one of God’s children – YOU?

God is crazy in love with you. As Brennan Manning puts it so aptly, God is “love-crazed” for you!

Can you picture that? Love-crazed? God is love-crazed for ME?

If those words don’t feel real to you, consider whether you have allowed the hurtful experiences in your life to dictate your loveworthiness. I know I have. Do you see yourself as a reject or a misfit? Do you see yourself as unlovable? If there’s pain in your heart as you read my words, consider whether that pain has attached itself to you through wrong conclusions you have made about yourself.

When you feel rejected or unworthy of love, you must be careful not to take on these misbeliefs as part of who you are. God never intends us to suffer because of believing lies. He is a God of Truth. Therefore you must see these pains as false, so that they don’t paralyze you or prevent you from loving and being loved. God is love-crazed for YOU. He created you to love and be loved. You. And me. That is your destiny and your identity, regardless of how life may have tried to convince you otherwise. Fight for this truth.

Free Is Unconditional

While God does allow pain into our lives – sometimes excruciating and unexplainable pain that we need to wrestle through with him – he never desires our pain, nor does he intend for us to experience the pain of believing lies. Our Father is a God of truth, and so his heart breaks when we remain trapped believing lies of our soul’s enemy. The truth is that God knows absolutely everything about us – every ugly, broken, sinful, and beautiful, treasured part of us – and he loves us exactly as we are.

We get so inured to the words “unconditional love” that we forget what that truly means – free from any and all conditions. This means that Our Father’s love for us is completely independent of whether we believe it or not, accept it or not – it just is.

Whether we believe it or not, God loves who we really and truly are. He calls us to come out of hiding just as we are. No amount of spiritual surgery can make us more lovable to God. But instead of believing this to be true, we project onto God our worst beliefs and feelings about ourselves. We fail to believe in God’s love because it just doesn’t feel true.

Negative experiences weigh heavily on us and easily over-ride the truth of Scripture or the wonderful spiritual experiences we have. Instead we allow the experiences of the fallen world and the taunts of the enemy to create in us feelings of inadequacy, inferiority and insecurity about our worth. These feelings imprison many of us, keeps us in deep bondage. We know we’re sons and daughters of God, but we don’t live freely – we don’t experience the full life we are intended to have.

You are the Beloved

I don’t know about you but I have a hard time wrapping my head and heart around the truth that this great, big, holy, unknowable, all-powerful, awe-inspiring, incomprehensible God of ours loves me and is intimately involved in the tiny details of my life. It’s hard for us to grasp that degree of perfect love and the value we have in God’s eyes, particularly when faced with the intimate knowledge we have of our hidden flaws and sinful thoughts and compulsions, and battered about by the scorn and rejection of the world. It’s almost impossible for us to anchor ourselves in the truth of our identity as our Father’s Beloved, especially given the competing din and lies we hear in the messy, painful and broken pieces of our lives.

Can you hear your Father’s voice calling out this truth to you?

Can you hear the words of your Father: You are My Beloved? Stop right now in the middle of the busyness of your life; put aside all of your neuroses, self-doubts, self-rejection and anxieties. Pause long enough to listen to the words of your Father: You are My Beloved.

This is what we all deeply long for. We yearn to know we are adored, that we are special and loved uniquely, not in a generic way. We want to know we matter. That we hold a special place in our Father’s heart, a place no one and nothing can ever rival or take away from us. Jesus loves me, this I know. Without this certainty in the core of our being, we will misinterpret every painful aspect of our story.

Otherwise, the sorrow that God allows in our life will feel like abandonment or cold-heartedness on his part. Without this foundation of knowing we’re our Father’s Beloved, we will move precariously through our life, trying to prove our worth and earn belovedness through approval, performance or achievement.

The One Jesus Loved Dearly

The other day, while reading the familiar passage in John 13 when Jesus was spending time with his disciples just before he was heading to the cross, it struck me anew how our identity as His Beloved is key to how God sees us.

After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus was reclining around the table with one of his closest friends, John. In verse 23 (The Message version), John writes of himself, “One of his disciples, the one Jesus loved dearly, was reclining against him, his head on his shoulder.” Curious, I did a search through the book of John and saw that John referred constantly to himself as the one Jesus loved: in John 19:26, “Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved”; in 20:2, John describes himself as “the other disciple, the one Jesus loved”; further in 21:7, “Then the other disciple Jesus loved said to Peter…”; and in 21:20, “Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind.”

I especially love the Amplified version of John 13:21: “One of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [whom he esteemed and delighted in]…” Precious words of Jesus’ deep love for his friend. John, a simple and uneducated man, of humble beginnings and no great import. What a powerful way to describe oneself! Having walked daily with Jesus, having experienced him as the human manifestation of God the Father, having opened himself up to Jesus (to the point where he reclined with his head on Jesus’ shoulders, or in other translations, “on Jesus’ bosom”—NASB). His intimate relationship with Jesus, defined him, the one Jesus loved dearly.

Nothing is more important than capturing well the core of your belovedness.

Will you join me in this mission? The world needs to hear this truth. Let’s live as God’s Beloved and allow his love to flow out of us to others. Everyone desperately needs this truth.

 

Ephesians 5:1, 2 MSG: “Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.”

 

 

read more

Religion Versus Relationship

»Posted on Oct 22, 2013 in Inspirational, Personal Growth, Psychology and Faith | 0 comments

 

Last night, my friends and I had a very lively discussion about doctrine and theology. (Lest you think we’re that spiritual and intellectual, this was interwoven amongst discussions about sex and fruit flies – don’t ask.) Our discussion came out of a recent series of blogs posted on social media about the extreme stance taken by some preachers. Sadly, as these blogs have spread like wildfire, we have seen self-righteous anger and judgement spewed from one Christian to another. And this is “brotherly love”? Why do we do this to each other? Sigh…

What was especially sad to see was how in their misguided attempt to prove doctrine and “right” theology, these preachers completely missed the boat on what Jesus came to do. They were so set on their rules and “truth” of their doctrine that they missed the very truth that Jesus came to set us free – not by law but by grace. By fulfilling the law on our behalf. They were so intent on proving they were “right” that they didn’t see how they were breaking God’s commandment to love their neighbours.

This breaks my heart as I regularly see defeated Christians in my office, beaten down by shame, having been judged by church leaders as wanting, having lost all the joy that’s their heritage as a follower of Christ. Wrapped up in the tentacles of legalism, they’re victims of spiritual abuse by leaders, family or spouses who use shame and the law to control them. These Christians come wounded into my office and wonder if they’re missing something.

Rules Versus Relationship

I have a friend who grew up in a strict Christian home and faithfully adhered to all the rules of her faith, never questioning the expectations that had been placed upon her. When minor troubles hit her safe and uneventful life, she simply smiled and said the trite phrases Christians say to themselves, such as “God is faithful,” convincing herself that she was “fine.” In conversations with her, I sensed that she didn’t truly connect to the truth of God’s love for her and her identity as his beloved daughter beyond a superficial nod to the empty words she quoted.

My heart ached especially for her because I knew that when the winds of storms came into her life – you know that kind that has the power to knock us senseless – her shallow faith and deadened heart would fail her. But the deepest sadness for me was that she wouldn’t encounter the real and living God in her neat and tidy Christian life, shored up by the empty strength of the rules of her religion rather than the rock solid foundation of a genuine relationship with her Father.

The truth is, I was like this friend at one point in my life. Proud of all the Scriptures I had memorized, content in all the ways I was disciplined enough to pray and read my Bible (unlike many of the struggling Christians I judged around me), and self-satisfied with the times I was able to resist sin and take the “higher road”. My bookshelves were full of books teaching me how to be godly, all underlined and highlighted to help me remember all I had to do.

I didn’t realize I was heading towards a huge tumble off the precipice of pride, a sustained time in the desert far away from God. Isn’t such a fall inevitable once you can’t sustain your level of effort? My motivations were genuine. I wanted to be obedient to God, but in my pride and attempts to be holy in my own strength, I lost sight of what it really meant to follow Christ.

It was only when I realized how completely parched my soul was and how deeply I still struggled with insecurities about my value as a child of God – especially with, if I was honest with myself, my constant failures in following the rules (the good old sin-confess cycle) – that I began to recognize something was missing in my walk with God. It was only when I realized how much of my life was based on drudgery and empty obedience that I started to question my faith journey. It was only when I recognized how hard my heart had become and how judgemental I was becoming about other Christians whom I saw struggling all around me that I awoke from the religious fog I was in.

The “Gospel of Sin Management”

That’s when it struck me: how much of my Christianity was based on tasks, obligations and “shoulds.” All the things I thought I ought to do and believe—they were well-meaning, certainly, but in my religiosity, I realized I was essentially cutting God out of my life, telling him that I didn’t need him, that it was up to me to do the Christian walk. And the fruit of this? Enormous pride, self-righteousness and a parched spirit, secretly weary yet having to maintain the mask of a “good Christian.” It was when I finally began to let go of my religious self-effort and performance-based Christianity that I began to experience Jesus as the true Living Water that began to soothe and restore my dry, weary spirit.

“You have your heads in your Bible constantly because you think you will find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” (John 5:39-40, The Message). Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy, “History has brought us to the point where the Christian message is thought to be essentially concerned only with how to deal with sin: with wrongdoing or wrong-being and its effects. Life, our actual existence, is not included in what is now presented as the heart of the Christian message, or it is included only marginally.”

Thus Dallas describes the gospel we have today as “gospels of sin management”. Sin is the problem and Christianity is the cure. Knowing what’s right – getting our doctrine right – and living it out in our lives becomes our primary focus. It becomes not just our way of life but the source of life. But notice this – the Pharisees knew more about the Bible than most of us ever will, and it hardened their hearts. Knowledge just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And because we are ever-inventive, it’s not enough that we follow the rules of the Bible religiously, we have to rewrite the Law to emphasize things that we don’t think too highly of: No Dancing Allowed. No Playing Cards Allowed. No Secular Music. And if that finger-shaking isn’t enough, we add in all the things we have to do in exchange for approval from heaven: Thou must serve every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Thou must read the Bible daily for at least an hour. God is now seen as the obsessive tax auditor eager to find fault with anybody and everybody.

Jesus Came to Fulfill the Law

There’s an important distinction here, critical to our understanding of what Jesus meant in chastising the religious leaders of his time. Sometimes, in our fervent attempts to focus on God’s grace rather than legalistic religiosity, we swing too far the other way and forget the importance of the law in God’s eyes. In confronting the Pharisees, Jesus was denouncing their self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy; he was confronting them on a form of religion that was all law and no grace.

People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, and institutions. People love Oprah and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because our North American culture wants a safe, comfortable God who comes without the strictures we associate with traditional Christianity. But the offering of forgiveness and grace was never to remove the law – it was to fulfill it, and that’s very different. Jesus is the answer to our complete inability to fulfill God’s law on our own. Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). He founded the church (Matthew. 16:18), and he established church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).

We have zero capacity on our own to fight sin – we weren’t designed with a sin management gene because we were originally meant to be perfect and in full union with God. So maybe, just maybe, being a Christ follower is more about being with him – knowing him with our mind and our heart, allowing his love to change us – than it is about knowing the rules and trying to get them right. I just sat under the teaching of a couple who were in their 70s, and I loved how they kept finishing each other’s sentences. Is that what a lifetime of love and relationship does? Maybe the more time I spend with Jesus in relationship, he’ll start finishing my sentences so that I truly speak for him and love others for him.

The grace that forgives is also the grace that transforms – and it is a grace that transforms us from the inside out. Following Jesus is more than keeping rules, but it’s not less. Be honest about your brokenness, not giving up and sinning freely – instead, it’s in that acknowledgement of our brokenness we realize our desperate need for Christ and we can humble ourselves before him. It’s only then that his power can help us pursue holiness.

So let’s recognize that not one of us has the final answer on God, Jesus or the Bible. If we did, we’d be God. Let’s focus more on relationship than on religion, trusting that as we fall more and more in love with Jesus, he will give us the ability to live life more like him – loving, grace-filled, and holy. Let’s love one another, not judge each other. Please, people, let’s show the world we are Jesus followers by how we love our brothers and sisters.

 

read more