Say the Words: The Bridge Between Forgiveness and Identity

Okay, so I know I promised a ‘part 2’ in my last post; however, I figured a) I’d delay for some storytime and b) You guys wouldn’t mind a change of pace. Accordingly, I’ll retarget the aforementioned sequel to next weekend. 

So yesterday, I’m eating lunch with some colleagues when suddenly an open question becomes an answer to my silence. An opportunity to share now a moment to care…just without the words.

Deep down, my subconscious begins to skew…

I thought they said life wasn’t supposed to a spectator sport? I should be in the game, not the sidelines! Why did I accept this invitation anyway?

Granted, I’m embarrassed having assumed the question was for me when it was for someone else. Still, I’m desperate to quench this oral craving. Time to take the plunge and jump in, I think to myself.

And so I do. Five minutes in…the first unforced tangent, I carpe diem the crap out of it. Like an open book, I’m elated knowing where I’m going, where I’m stopping, and where I’m headed in this midday manuscript.

What could go wrong’, I wonder. ‘I just need to wrap up my say and head back to the bleachers. Get in, get out, and go home happy.’

And for a while I’m right. After a relay question to stitch the rabbit trail, I‘m not only out, but home happy – the start of 18 hours of muted conscious.

That is until this morning’s 5:30 am wake-up call – a muffled ‘Beautiful Day’ ringtone softened by the tune of leftfield conviction.

You totally hijacked that conversation,” I hear.

Sensing that familiar twilight echo, I quickly realize God is talking to me.

When you go to work today, make sure you apologize to the person you cut off.”

*Sigh* “Okay, God. I get it. You got it. Like my most popular Slack, ‘Will do’.”

Hours later, I’m back in the office, a couple convos into a steady rhythm when my time comes to apologize. Without hesitation, I pivot off a talk of the times to the words of the time.

About yesterday. I know you probably thought nothing of it. Certainly didn’t mean anything by it. But I just gotta say…I totally hijacked that conversation yesterday. It would have been better for me to listen than chime in out of fear of not being heard. Will you forgive me?

Like butter to burnt toast, I smell the melting – this friend of mine, a fairly recent acquaintance, touched by such sensitivity.

Wow, you’re a man of God, aren’t you,” she says.

Uhhh…yes. Yes, I am a man of God. This is true. Can’t argue…” I stagger.

At this point, I’m reeling like a teenage pop-fan in 2012, stunned by this one direction¹. In no way did I expect the dialogue to end up here of all places.

Yet, as I reflect back, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

‘Cause truth is: Whether we’re owning a misgiving or repenting for a fault, asking for forgiveness always helps us rediscover who we are. Sure, we may feel like a horse being led to water, eager to rid ourselves the yoke of apology. But as I learned this morning, there’s not only grace behind an “I’m sorry”, but identity calibration as well.

As for the apology, some would say I had nothing to apologize about. But for me, I’m glad I had something to own. For when we own something, it only proves we’ve accepted what’s been given in the first place. And while this could look a number of different ways, I submit at the core of it all is a gentle, gracious reminder that we are loved in and through weakness. Even when we’re not perfect, there’s at least room to be perfected – the space in between the sweet spot of our identity.

Selah.

Later this spring, I’ll discuss this forgiveness/identity dichotomy in greater detail. For now, here are some verses we can revisit for next time…

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high.~ Luke 1:76-78 (ESV)

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”  – Luke 7:47 (ESV)

Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ…” 
~ 2 Corinthians 2:10 (ESV)

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.”  – 1 John 2:12 (ESV)

‘Til then, you got this, people of God…

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Footnotes

  1. Youth pastor joke from my LEGACYouth days (see linked text)…
Photo cover creds: Healthy Beginnings

 

Work as Freedom: Hearts of Flesh (Part 1)

Inspiration passages: Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26-27; Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10

Backdrop passages: 2 Corinthians 3; 2 Corinthians 5:13

Core concept 1: God has qualified us to communicate the Gospel as Kingdom influencers; however, to walk in this competency, we must receive hearts of flesh in place of hearts of stone.

It’s no secret the world bombards us with the idea success is an identity we achieve through ability. If we want to get something, we got to first become something; if we want to reach ‘x’ status, we must set an ‘x’ goal; to reach an ‘x’ goal, we must get there by ‘x’ effort, etc.

However…

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For example, you may have a counselor’s heart, but doubt its validity since you’re not a licensed counselor. The world would say until you receive the proper credentialing, you’re not a counselor. But to God, you are a counselor because that’s what He’s made you to be. Of course, you may have much to learn and have to wait a few years until certification. But this doesn’t mean you’re not who God has called you to be.

You see, the world wants you to think it’s all about the process…that what you hope to be can only be accomplished through how you get there. But think about it: In order for there to be a ‘how’, there has to be a ‘what’ and for there to be a ‘what’, there has to be a ‘who’, right?

The question is: Who do we believe when it comes to who we are?

While the outcomes are many, by allowing God to be the answer, we can know the sweet reality that not only is our salvation secure for those who believe (Romans 10:9-10), but our purpose, our destiny,  and our future as well.

Accordingly, growth and improvement should not be seen as functions of development, but of yielding. After all, what you hope you are, you already are because your identity is not a matter of be-coming and self-refining (heart of stone thinking), but be-lieving and aligning (heart of flesh thinking).

This in mind, if what you seek to experience has already been prepared, why not enter into God’s best with a ‘yes’  than effort with a sigh? Why not accept His ‘realized new’ than take a chance missing it all for the sake of going your own way?

Core concept 2: To receive a heart of flesh is to believe God always sees the ‘finished you’. Accepting this sets us up to experience radical life in the Spirit…to be transformed through the Spirit’s inner power.

Consider this illustration from my dad/Gate senior pastor, Steve Fry (8:46-11:30)…

As created (or in this case, painted)…

…there’s amazing freedom to be found when we accept our future as known and pre-determined rather than unknown and self-determined.

Understandably, this can be challenging to accept since we often seek to control our destiny through achievement and effort. We think as long as we work hard and ask God for the right things, they’ll be given to us and to a certain extent, this is true; however, if making requests to God and modeling faith through excellence are detached from alignment, are we not craving what He can give versus valuing what He creates?

If so, dare to view present and future struggle through David’s Psalm 51:10-12 heart-cry, where he asks not only for a clean heart, but a new one! (more on this in a sec)

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As Paul emphasizes in 2 Corinthians, we’re not changed into a new creation, we are made as a new creation. We aren’t born again through accrued improvements; we’re born again through the Spirit’s transformative power which enables us to become what God has and continues to declare. As for us, all we have to do is align to God by His Spirit and walk His appointed paths through daily tuning and reliance. In a sense, that is life in the Spirit – an ongoing presence meets power, abiding meets trusting reality with God.

Think of this way: If the Good News is ‘Jesus is alive and has set you free‘, then by extension, you don’t have to earn your freedom because your efforts aren’t the keys to your life. Instead, you can relish in your freedom knowing you don’t create it by self-effort, but discover it being present with God.

Core concept 3: Believing God sees the ‘finished you’ allows you to embrace helplessness and surrender your veils.

When Paul mentions ‘veil’ five times in 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, it’s easy to assume he’s talking about revealed glory; however, when we consider v. 17 and its modern-day application, we find Paul is doing, at least, three things:

  1. He’s linking Christ’s finished work on the Cross to our finished person (to see freedom through the lens of the New Covenant is to accept both Cross and weakness as the plan for our transformation). 
  2. He’s charging the church to fearlessly turn to the Lord.
  3. He’s cautioning the body against obedience through self-effort.

Concerning point #3, it’s worth noting even when we do the right thing, if the act is rooted in fear, our hard hearts will remain since trust is self-reliant. That’s why the flip-side is so radical. To do the right thing by trusting God is to allow God’s tender heart to tenderize your own. This is evident when we turn to Jesus in moments of dependence, desperation, and/or negative thinking. When you turn to Jesus, you’re essentially abandoning fear of conviction and exposure for the sake of discovering new levels of His nature, character, and glory. It’s the ultimate ‘His fullness exceeds my voids‘ proclamation…an acceptance of God and His desire for us to know His heart out of abundance, not fear.

As mentioned in Core Concept #2…

God doesn’t want to change your heart; He wants to give you a new one! He doesn’t want to improve you; He wants to take out your heart of stone and put in a brand, new heart of flesh. 

Yes, God is able to fully restore health (Jeremiah 30:17), relationships (2 Corinthians 13:9-11), fortune (Job 42:10), strength (Isaiah 40:29), and the joy of our salvation (Psalm 51:12), but with our hearts, our inhabitable being, He never stops wanting to go deeper; hence why God implants new hearts in His people so the larger dimensions can contain the future ‘more’ He’ll inevitably reveal.

As for our response, remember we don’t believe the right things so we can experience the cool buzz of God’s presence. We contend for them so the glory of Lord can fill our spaces…work, church, living, family/friends, etc. God desires His created to be free from performance and fear-based systems of thinking; however, we can’t tap into this desire if we try to effort our way there. Instead, we must yield our way to His way. That’s the hope of glory meeting the Good News as modeled in our own life!

Final Thoughts:

  1. Stop trying to be a Christian and turn to Jesus regardless of how you feel
  2. Accept God’s acceptance of yourself
  3. Pain is real, but irrelevant when you consider we are his workmanship created not only for good works, but for fullness from our finished future. Side note: Combining Colossians 2:10 and Ephesians 2:4-10 is super fun!)
  4. (see graphic below)

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from your effort, self-reliance, systems of performance, and the deepest of emotional hurts.

Stay tuned next time for ‘part two’ when I’ll discuss how this theology works in the marketplace. ‘Til then, praise the One with the key not only to your heart, but your future as well.

Selah.

Cover creds: Heartwell
Content inspired by ‘New Heart’ series @ The Gate Community Church

Proverbial Life: A Quick Guide to Possessing Your Soul

Context: This post was inspired by a May 16 conversation with my dad prior to his Sunday AM message @ The Gate Community Church on May 19. Moving forward, any content centered on internal endurance (and/or a ‘Proverb outside of Proverbs’) will be categorized into this new series called ‘Proverbial Life’.

It’s a complicated theme in Scripture…

God, as love, authoring His will in the deepest still; the epitome of fellowship perfecting faith before it could create.

No question, the infinities of life are complex, sometimes intimidating; however, when we consider God at the beginning, we converge on a central truth:

We were made for connection (for love, with love, by love)…

…to pursue peace with all people1

…and to be unity in community.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in a day when relationships are compromised by  busyness, striving, even insecurity. Perhaps you’ve encountered similar barriers wondering how to navigate around them.

If so, I want to encourage you with a Proverb that somehow found itself in Luke 21.

But before I dive in, allow me to uplift the down heart reading this…

  1. You are not alone. You are not here by accident. You are a treasure. You are an asset to an unshakable Kingdom. You are a chosen child of God. Just marinate in these identity statements a bit.
  2. If you’re not in the rhythm of daily dying2, staying the course in any situation will be challenging. An odd segue, I admit, but one I speak from wanting you, the reader, to surrender all trust in God knowing He understands your wants, needs, desires, and dreams better than you do.
  3. In writing this, I don’t want to downplay the struggle of connecting to those preserving their rhythms, content with you being on the outside looking in. I get it. If there’s one mountain in recent church testimony, it’s this. Still, even though the purest of intentions can become unyoked priorities, you can’t take on the wrong burdens even if you’re the only one who sees them.

Having said that, let’s dig into the Word…

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By your patience possess your souls.” ~ Luke 21:19 (NKJV)3 4

By your endurance you will gain your lives.” ~ Luke 21:19 (ESV)

By your [patient] endurance [empowered by the Holy Spirit] you will gain your souls.” ~ Luke 21:19 (AMP)

Stand firm, and you will win life.” ~ Luke 21:19 (NIV)

Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.” ~ Luke 21:19 (MSG)

As expected, wording varies upon translation, but the general concept is the same. When we reference this verse to Matthew 4 and note the heart of Jesus, we find the Son of Man walking in authority by the power of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere he went in this power, every time he returned in this power. Even when Jesus was tempted, Jesus was centered in his identity by…you guessed it…the power of the Holy Spirit.5

Often times, when we think power of the Holy Spirit, we think wonders and miracles, but for Jesus, the most frequent manifestation of the Spirit’s power in him was his reliance upon the Father to possess his emotions. A simple anecdote upon first glance, but one with significant applications when we consider Jesus was tempted in every way like we are today. This in mind, we can’t take lightly the vain thoughts we tolerate in place of deferred hope given the power of fear ultimately numbs us to the power of the Spirit.

Again, Jesus is the way we must model. To him, his ‘standing identity’ wasn’t mutually exclusive from his identity in God. He knew to walk in real authority, whether resisting the enemy or healing the sick, he had to possess his soul to keep it from ruling him. The more opportunities he had to cultivate endurance in this way, the more he walked confidently in his identity and the authority that overflowed.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting Jesus never asserted his authority as a self-evident right, but out of a posture of rest. This is key for us concerning spiritual warfare. To say Jesus asserted his authority out of rest means he didn’t contend for authority with the enemy; rather he exercised it knowing he was free from needing God to approve himself and defend his rights.

This, in turn, allowed his faith to flow from identity and empowered him not to be offended that his purpose was rooted in dying.

So in a weird sense, we should delight in the fact God tests us through relational voids6 given His heart is to refine our rest and trust in our ‘loved by God’ identity. Not to suggest every relational lack is a test from God. I’m just saying when we look at how Jesus lived and what He longs to develop within us, how can we not be grateful knowing our patience can mature as we master our inner man? How can we not be excited our ego-triggered fears can be subdued by the same power Jesus abided in?

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Bottom line: Every day is an opportunity to die to self, receive God’s life, and discover our purpose through our ‘loved by God’ identity.

Accordingly…

  • Next time, you’re alone, remember Jesus was often alone…yet relied on the Father in those moments.
  • Next time, you feel judged, remember Jesus was constantly misunderstood, even in praise…yet consistently ran to the source of his confidence.
  • Next time, you feel drained, remember Jesus was tired on many occasions…yet knew the fruit he bore strengthened his perseverance. 
  • Next time you feel disconnected or discouraged, remember to rejoice as you suffer in steadfastness!

After all, God is always up to something special, something incredible beyond your comprehension. Just keep your eyes centered on the perfecter of your faith, surrender what you think should be present in your life, and stand firm regardless of how you feel…

…knowing no matter what happens…

…the Creator of your soul will be there to gain your souls.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Hebrews 12:14 NKJV
  2. To the will of your flesh
  3. Putting NKJV first since I like the way this translation catches the Greek
  4. Patience in Hebrew refers to suffering in steadfastness
  5. So while there’s truth in viewing this verse as a bottom line for a well-disciplined life, the whole point is what connects standing firm to winning life…and that is the power of the Spirit.
  6. And conflicts
Cover photo creds: WallpaperUP

Messiah’s Misfits: Why The Name Says It All

So recently I’m reading 1 Corinthians 4 when suddenly it hits me…

…of all the chapters in all of Paul’s letters, arguably the greatest content on vocational perseverance can be found in v. 9-13 when Paul discusses the nature of true apostleship.

 Let’s check it out…

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” (ESV)

It seems to me that God has put us who bear his Message on stage in a theater in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We’re something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We’re the Messiah’s misfits. You might be sure of yourselves, but we live in the midst of frailties and uncertainties. You might be well-thought-of by others, but we’re mostly kicked around. Much of the time we don’t have enough to eat, we wear patched and threadbare clothes, we get doors slammed in our faces, and we pick up odd jobs anywhere we can to eke out a living. When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen. And it’s not getting any better.” (MSG)

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles at the end of the line, like men sentenced to death [and paraded as prisoners in a procession], because we have become a spectacle to the world [a show in the world’s amphitheater], both to angels and to men. We are [regarded as] fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are highly esteemed, but we are dishonored. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty; we are continually poorly dressed, and we are roughly treated, and wander homeless. We work [for our living], working hard with our own hands. When we are reviled and verbally abused, we bless. When we are persecuted, we take it patiently and endure. When we are slandered, we try to be conciliatory and answer softly. We have become like the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now.” (AMP)

Now, before we dive in, we must understand the broader context.

First, what is the nature of true apostleship? Going back to 4:1, we find the answer: Those who minister Gospel hope as servants/stewards/ambassadors of Christ no matter the cost. The Amplified breaks it down further describing these servants as those who are certain in adoration more than they are uncertain in anything else. Essentially, apostleship goes beyond the office of apostle and involves anyone who is willing to be salt, light, and life in places where there is none. If you are being a faithful steward of God’s call on your life, you’re engaging your apostolic anointing! Whether or not you have a mobile ministry is moot compared to God’s faithfulness being reflected in what you say and do as you draw people to Christ (Colossians 3:17).

Second, how do we abide in the nature of true apostleship? Verses 7-8 give us a hint when paraphrased: We have not only been given everything for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but every reason to trust the Lord as our portion (Psalm 73:26)¹. Accordingly, as we reference God in reverence², to live as Christ (Philippians 1:21) becomes the foundation to our perseverance and influence regardless of setting and trial. After all, “there are different kinds of [work], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work (1 Corinthians 12:6).

Finally, we arrive at v. 9 where Paul employs some serious poetic license. Messiah’s misfits (MSG), prisoners of spectacle (AMP, ESV), an accident in the street everyone stands around and stares at…these are all powerful metaphors and similes reminding us there is no earthly honor in apostleship. If, by chance, we are pursuing any glory apart from what is rightfully God’s, our endurance will not stand, but if our satisfaction is rooted in being complete with Christ (Colossians 2:10), if our contentment is secure to His sufficiency, only then will we be victorious as dregs. It’s a paradox to the flesh, but one necessary for our dependence. When we are thirsty, we’ll see the need as being filled as opposed to satisfying a lack. When we are persecuted, we’ll know God is with us as one who relates as opposed to withdrawn as one who can’t. And when we’re struggling to make ends meet, we’ll rest in the mysteries of what God has and hasn’t revealed since our reliance is not contingent on self.

For some of us, it’s hard to accept what doesn’t make sense. It’s like we’re okay being misfits to sin, but not to the minds/culture tolerating it. I know for me, I’d rather be criticized for what I do wrong than be judged for what I do right. At least, with the former I can apply the correction and move on! However, I also know whenever I crave my work to be affirmed and my love to be reciprocated, I can declare God’s grace as sufficient, the fact I can joyfully boast in His power made perfect in my frailty (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). And suddenly those ‘weak as I eke‘ moments fade in something infinitely more…

…the sweet reality that I need JESUS! What a beautiful place to be!

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Bottom line: If you’re a vocational leader, dare to see the identity of what you do through the lens of apostleship, through the lens of being a servant taking light into dark places. And if hard times come, don’t be surprised; rather view them as a sign you’re doing things right³. When you bless others in the face of voids and discouragement, remember the same Christ you ask to bless others is the same Christ who will honor your obedience. If you don’t fit in, remember you were never called to in the first place. Stand out, take what comes, and know the power of you standing through adversity will assuredly have a positive ripple-effect on those around you even if you don’t see it right away.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Note how strength in this verse has Hebrew roots to ‘rock’
  2. This form of dependence opens up the Romans 5:1-5 road (more on this in a future post)
  3. Assuming the hard times aren’t consequences of sin, shortcuts, etc.
Cover photo creds: Medium