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Is It Unspiritual to Feel Forsaken?

Where Is God When It Hurts

Is it unspiritual to feel forsaken? While the feeling itself is not spiritual, it is important to know emotions are also not unspiritual. Authenticity is an essential attribute of true spirituality. Being honest about how we feel is not the same as letting our feelings control us, and going through a hard time does not mean you are less spiritual than someone who is not.

Inauthentic spirituality wants you to feel guilty about feeling bad. It says to have something going wrong in your life means there must be something wrong with you. This faux spirituality projects an image of perfection that easily chips under further inspection.

Is It OK To Be Honest About Our Pain

Psalm 38 is an excellent example of how God encourages us to be honest about our hurts, doubts, and sufferings.

We first see that he is honest about his sins and shortcomings.

1 O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath!
2 For your arrows have sunk into me, and your hand has come down on me.
3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
4 For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.
5 My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness,

Performance Christianity makes it challenging to find healing and deliverance from our sins because that mentality makes it difficult for us to own and take responsibility for our mistakes. When imperfection leads to rejection, redemption becomes impossible. Instead, we get hiding, defending, and hypocrisy.

Authenticity Is Not UnSpiritual

As we continue with this Psalm, we see that authenticity is celebrated, not avoided.

6 I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning.
7 For my sides are filled with burning, and there is no soundness in my flesh.
8 I am feeble and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
9 O Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart throbs; my strength fails me, and the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me.

Some may say that David is being negative and needs to focus on the bright side of things. That perspective causes us to miss out on the hidden treasure found in God only when we bring our authentic feelings to Him.

Not Everyone Understands Our Pain

Then we come to feelings of rejection.

11 My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague, and my nearest kin stand far off.
12 Those who seek my life lay their snares; those who seek my hurt speak of ruin and meditate treachery all day long.

Have you ever been in a situation that is so bad when friends try to relate their lack of understanding only highlights the pain more? They want to summarize your suffering in an attempt to empathize, but as foreigners to your turmoil, they fall short of fully describing your experience.

This is a tough place to be, but you are not alone. We have Psalms like this to remind us that when no one else understands, God does. He is with this in these moments. When human friendship falls short of relating to our sorrow, we get an invitation to intimacy with God that we would not have received otherwise. He draws us in, under the shadow of his wing, to offer comfort and refuge.

How To Respond to Difficult People

People are not the enemy, but as this Palm shoes, the enemy uses people to introduce conflict in our spiritual path. How does David respond to these attacks?

13 But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear, like a mute man who does not open his mouth.
14 I have become like a man who does not hear, and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

David uses these attacks to fine-tune his spiritual sensitivities. He knows some voices should be ignored. We should not listen to them, and we need not engage with them. Instead, we should refocus on elevating God’s voice above all others and responding to what He says about us and to us.

15 But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.
16 For I said, “Only let them not rejoice over me, who boast against me when my foot slips!”
17 For I am ready to fall, and my pain is ever before me.

What We Learn From Waiting

Waiting is what makes authentic Christianity difficult. We do not want to deal with waiting. It gives us the opportunity to doubt ourselves and God and to believe our enemies are right. It takes more faith to wait than it does to act, sometimes.

Something else happens when we learn to ignore the wrong voices, listen to the right voice, and wait before acting.

18 I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.

When we do this, we are able to recognize the sin in our lives that hinders our relationship with God, others and prevents us from being the best reflection of them. When we respond to every attack and wrong voice, then we fall into the trap of blaming others and overlooking our own shortcomings. When we tune our spiritual station to God’s voice and wait, we often do not hear him pointing out what is wrong with others, but rather what he wants to change in us.

The Path to Redemption

This does not mean that the problem people in your life will go away.

19 But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
20 Those who render me evil for good accuse me because I follow after good.

I have found that the names and faces change, but there will always be “problem people” in my life. My goal is not to change them or remove them. Instead, I try to focus on what needs to change and be removed from me.

21 Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me!
22 Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!

God will be a refuge for you when you feel attacked and a comforter when you feel forsaken. That does not mean that he also does not want to help you grow through your adversity. I do not think His final plan of redemption for you is possible without you going through that metamorphosis. You will have to change ad God changes your circumstances for you.

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The Messy Truth

The Power of Authenticity and Vulnerability

Today I am going to start something new. Well, in actuality, I guess I am really continuing something old. I want to start posting some Throwback Thursday posts on my blog. These will be posts I have shared in years gone by that you may not have had a chance to read. Our first #throwbackbackthursday talks about messy truths and Instagram. I think this is a fitting way to kick off this collection of posts.

The Instagram Surprise

Instagram, while currently very popular, originally caught many of us by surprise. Who would have thought that an app that distorts your already low-quality cell phone images in an effort to create social media hipster art would become America’s favorite place to view pictures of each other’s kids, pets, and yes, even “selfies?”

At the time of this writing, there are over 200 million active users in the photo-sharing network. After only two years of existence, and without generating any income through ads, Instagram sold for $1 billion. That’s a big deal for an app that limits your pics to a square on your cell phone and was mostly used from its inception by people in skinny jeans and ironic shirts to take pictures of their lattes. 

It’s now common to see people both old and young taking pictures of their food at restaurants, and holding their phones high in the air with the screen facing towards them to make sure they get everyone in for that perfect selfie. I have always enjoyed taking pictures and personally took to the fun photo app, well, instantly.

Not everyone was impressed right away though. One friend of mine refused to get on the Instagram bandwagon at first because “putting a grainy filter and adding torn edges to an already horrible photo doesn’t make it creative or art.” He now regularly posts pics of his kids and food. No “selfies” yet though…. It’s only a matter of time.

The Perfect Selfie

For a long time, I have treated the truth of my experiences, disappointments, and failures like Instagram. I have gone out of my way to give the best presentation I can. This requires that I cut out parts of my story, the panoramic view that includes the pain and doubts, in order to fit it in only what I think people want to see; the perfectly filtered little square that is easy to “like.”

No one wants that surprise pic of them just waking up posted online. We want to keep retaking the photo until we get just the right image. Then we slip that perfect filter on there to give it that nice little extra touch. Everything looks perfect. Our lives appear so wonderful, but we lose something in the process – authenticity.

It’s the same way in life. Just as there are different filters for whatever picture you would like to post online, there are also different layers of the truth you generally share with others. 

For some people, life is just a bowl of cherries. You go from one mountaintop to the other, and I’m so happy that you have that going for you. The rest of us though have to walk through valleys in-between our mountaintops. We don’t need a lesson on how to live life on the peak. We need something that is going to get us through the valley.

Authenticity and Vulnerability

Authenticity and vulnerability are what give that to people, but it comes at a risk. The risk is rejection, and possibly some of your pride. The reward is a strength you never knew you had, and freedom to be exactly who you were made to be – an imperfect child of God that walks in the peace of knowing you are His. This liberates you from the weighty limitation of trying to maintain everyone else’s expectations. This is the battle that I had to overcome before I could start sharing my fish out of church story. I have honestly, never stopped wrestling with it.

It was while with a friend in downtown Baton Rouge when I think I first decided to step past this barrier and share my journey in a vulnerable way. We had our cameras with us and were exploring places to take photographs. As the conversation progressed, he eventually asked me why I left the ministry. I told him it was never my intention to be out of the church world, but I that I was glad things didn’t work out the way I planned.

My Messy Truth

Then, instead of putting a filter on things, and summing it up in a way where we could both end the conversation with, “Praise the Lord!” and a smile, I began to share with him my messy truth. I talked about my doubts, disappointments, and unanswered questions. I didn’t share the promises I was standing on at the time, because I had lost my ability to do anything but kneel a long time ago. 

We talked about how I didn’t know what was next, and how things would end, but that I have never felt more satisfied in my relationship with God, and with who I was becoming in the process. He listened unconditionally. He didn’t give advice about where I had obviously fallen short, or how he would have done it differently to avoid some of my wrong turns. Instead, he offered support. At one point he even said, “I hope you are writing this down. This could be a book!” I had thought about writing my story down for others before, but his encouragement that day is what pushed me over the edge. After this conversation, I began to wonder if what I had experienced could encourage others who were in a valley themselves, or ready for a new way of looking at their religious comfort zone.

There is a place for discretion and even Instagram filters. I am all for that. Sometimes though, I want to know what is going on outside of the square. I want the Imax version of the story. The messy truth can leave the hearer flabbergasted. It may even confront their own lack of authenticity, and cause them to reject you. The messy truth does not say how you want things to be; it just says how they are. It is the unwrapped present, the selfie without the filter or the posing. It leaves things hanging. When you are finished sharing the messy truth there are usually more questions than answers. It’s real, raw, but it is also refreshing when Christ is in the center of it.

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Remember the Candlesticks

Misconception: Grace Is a Get Out of Jail Free Card

*What you are about to read is Chapter 3 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free when you subscribe to my blog. This is the last week you can get it for free. After this, you can get it amazon in paperback or kindle.

Going to Prison

I don’t have much experience with being arrested or going to prison. At least not that I would like to share at this time. I am just kidding. I’ve never been put in cuffs or had to ride in the back of a paddy wagon. I have unfortunately been pulled over for speeding.

Seeing the blue lights in your rearview mirror is one of the worst feelings ever. When this happens, you can try to argue, but you know you are guilty and without an excuse. Most likely, you will get fined with a ticket. On top of that, your insurance will go up because you are now a certified menace to society.

Every now and then, you get #blessed, and the officer lets you go with a warning. Although you broke the law, you’re let off the hook. That’s not only a good feeling but usually makes for a great story as well. It’s not possible to escape getting a ticket and not tell someone in the same way it is impossible to vacation at the beach without posting in on Instagram. There are certain laws to the universe that keep things together, and these are two of them.

My absolute favorite example of being caught red-handed and still being allowed to go free is from Les Misérables.

A Criminal and a Priest

 Jean Valjean was a homeless criminal when he shows up at Bishop Myriel’s door. Consistent with his nickname, Monseigneur Bienvenu (which means welcome in French) accepted Valjean, feeds him, and gives him a bed for the night. This behavior towards an outcast sounds like grace to me.

How does Jean Valjean repay the good Bishop after receiving this undeserved favor? He steals most of his silver and vanishes into the night.

When no one else would take him in, the Bishop did, and Valjean returns the favor by taking his most valuable earthly possessions. Man, that’s cold enough to make even Elsa shutter.

Later, as he is trying to leave town, the police discover the silver in Jean Valjean’s bag. He claims they were given to him by the Bishop, but the police know better. He is then captured and returned to the church for the truth to be discovered. At this moment, we see how far grace will go to love the unlovable.

An Act of Grace

When the police tell the Bishop that they found his silver in Jean Valjean’s possession, they were probably expecting him to thank them. That is not what happened. Instead, the Bishop tells the police he gave the silver to Jean Valjean. He even goes so far as to chastise Valjean for not taking the silver candlesticks, the most expensive of all the silver, as well. The unexpected beauty of this scene is overwhelming.

The Les Miserable musical quotes the Bishop this way,

“But my friend you left so early, Surely something slipped your mind, You forgot I gave these also; Would you leave the best behind?”

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables

With the police now gone, and Jean Valjean given yet another chance at freedom, Monseigneur Bienvenu leaves him with these words,

“Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man…. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

Monseigneur Bienvenu, Les Miserables

Jean Valjean was not given a mere chance to escape. He was granted an opportunity to become a new man. The real gift of grace is not that it gets us out of jail for free, but gets us out of our old identity for free – when we least deserve it.

This act of grace from the Bishop transformed Jean Valjean from a slave of sin into a slave of righteousness. The darkness in him was transformed into a light for others by the goodness of the priest.

This is what should happen when we accept the price Jesus paid for us on the cross.

Grace is Not a Free Pass

Jean Valjean might have received the silver for free, but it cost Bishop Myriel significantly. You see, grace is not a free pass. It’s much more than that. The beauty of grace is that it exchanges the priceless for the worthless so that which was once without value can become priceless itself. 

Jean Valjean had received grace when he was given a place to stay when no one else would accept him. That alone would be a great picture of how God welcomes us when we are unacceptable. But how do you explain the Bishop forgiving the theft after such a tremendous betrayal? And then giving him even more silver – his best pieces?

The Motive of Grace

The gift of the candlesticks shows us the motive of grace. God does not want us just to go free; He wants us to be free to be who He created us to be. Grace doesn’t stop giving until it brings out the giver in us. It is a light that pierces the darkness in us until we begin to shine as well.

The goal of grace isn’t to help you escape condemnation, but rather to transform you into a person that no longer desires the things that will lead to condemnation. Grace does not just set you free; it makes you new.

By every observation, Jean Valjean had earned his punishment. And while I’d like to see myself in the priest, I’m afraid it’s Valjean I identify with most. His number as a prisoner in the story is 24601. I think about that number often as a reminder of the fate that awaited me without grace. I was 24601, but now I am a son.

Like Valjean, we have all sinned, and therefore earned the wages of our evil deeds.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 6:23

When we sin, we earn death. It is like going to work and getting a paycheck. The only difference is this is not a paycheck you want to cash. Death is the “reward” for our efforts of sin.

Grace is different.

The difference between grace and guilt is that one is earned and the other is a gift.

A Scandalous Exchange

No matter how hard we work, we will never be able to earn grace. Like the Bishop in Les Misérables, God gives it to us freely. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t cost him something. In fact, providing us with grace cost God everything.

When God sent Jesus to die in our place, he bankrupt heaven to pay our fine. He didn’t just give precious silver to redeem our souls. He gave His only Son. If Jesus was just a good man or a wise teacher, this would have been a tragedy, but He was much more than that. He was perfect in every way. Every intention, motive, thought, attitude, and action on his part was pure, yet in response, we gave him the most horrific death that humans have ever conceived.

God came to give us life, but we gave him death. Jesus healed the hurting, gave hope to those in despair, fed the hungry, and accepted the rejected. Our response was much like Jean Valjean’s. We, in turn for his acts of kindness, betrayed him with the cross. 

God left the beauty of heaven to make a way for us to join him there, and we respond by giving His Son the cruelest death imaginable. This may have always been God’s plan of redemption, but what does that say about us? More importantly, what does it say about Him that He loves us anyway?

I think it means He gives us grace, not as a get out of jail free card, but as an exchange. He wants to take slaves of wickedness and turn them into sons and daughters of righteousness.

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You Can Never Have Too Much Ice Cream

Misconception: Grace Is All We Need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 2 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free just a couple more weeks when you subscribe to my blog. After that, you can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle.

Running to Extremes

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. It’s true with queso and ice cream, as well as religion and grace.

When you have experienced too much of one thing, the temptation is to swing to the other extreme. Balance is the more appropriate response.

This pendulum swing is especially a problem for me because I am a man of extremes. For me, balance is going in every direction at full-speed at the same time.

Too Much Ice Cream

Have you ever noticed it becomes more socially acceptable to eat giant portions of ice cream at an ice cream parlor compared to someone’s home? They can scoop a whole pint onto your cone after you wait in line for it and no one bats an eye. Ask for more than one scoop after dinner only if you want people to be known as someone with no self-control.

On one of my first trips with ARC, there was a Ben-n-Jerry’s Ice Cream shop across from the hotel where we were staying. I did not know such a place of wonder existed. I thought Ben-n-Jerry’s decadent treats were only available in tiny proportions from the grocery store freezer section. 

This was different. Mere footsteps away from my room was all the ice cream I could ever hope for. The unending possibilities enamored me. I wasn’t on a work trip. I was living in a fantasy world.  The magnetic pull on my heart, mind, and soul – the very essence of my humanity, was undeniable.

There was some talk of going there after dinner, but I could not wait until then. What if by some travesty the group changed their mind and decided to go somewhere absolutely horrible, like a fat-free yogurt shop, instead? I was not willing to roll the dice and take such an unwarranted risk. So, I quickly unpacked, and then walked across the street to indulge in cold, creamy goodness before our meeting.

Now I could have gotten one scoop, but that would almost be an insult to Mr. Ben and the great gentleman that is known as Jerry. So, I got two scoops. One was a marvelous mound of peanut butter cup and the other a refreshing ball of mint chocolate chip. I couldn’t allow these spectacular creations to go unnoticed in a small paper cup either. They needed to be exalted on a pedestal of waffle dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles.

There couldn’t have been anyone happier in a 100-mile radius. I walked down the sidewalk, licking and holding up my hand-scooped gluttony in the air for all to see.

I had gone overboard for sure, but I wasn’t finished yet.

The group did decide to go to Ben-n-Jerry’s after our meeting, and I again got yet another scoop of ice cream.

The guilt was too much for me, and so I confessed my sugary sins to one of my co-workers. After telling him of my previous trip to the ice cream shop, he said, “Sounds like you have a problem with balance.”

Finding Balance

You see, dedicating myself to eating broccoli for the rest of my life would not have solved my problem, because eating ice cream was not the issue. The real problem was that I was not able to enjoy ice cream in balance.

If you have come out of a controlling home or rigorous religious environment, then you may think that rules, religion, and commitment are the problem. Maybe you think grace is all you need.

If this is the case, then adding grace will not cure your sickness. You will just take grace to the extreme you once took your religion, rules, and commitments.

This was a temptation for me once I realized I had become out of balance with my religious commitments. Was grace all I needed?

Grace and Truth

The answer to that is as simple as looking at Jesus.

The Gospel of John has an excellent description of the Son of God:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” 

John 1:14

The only thing we really need is Jesus. He came in grace and truth. This is important because, in a day and age in the church when people are pitting grace and truth against each other, we need to understand that God put them together in His Son.

Grace and truth work together, not against each other. A lack of either would be the equivalent of a bird with only one wing. No matter how much you focus on making that one wing stronger, without the other, you are just going to crash and burn.

We can’t sit on the beach and eat ice cream all day, or we will grow overweight and unhealthy. We need moments of refreshing but should also remember our mission. God wants us to enjoy life, but life should never become about ourselves.

We need grace, and we also need truth. We need refreshing and also refocusing. The key is to find balance. Going to any extreme is simply unhealthy. 

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When Grace Is a Dirty Word

Misconception: Truth is all we need

*What you are about to read is Chapter 1 from my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it amazon after that in paperback or kindle. You can read the introduction in last week’s post.

A Five-Letter Word

Grace is not a four-letter word. In fact, it is a five-letter word. What does the number five mean in the Bible? You may be surprised to know it is symbolic for grace.

When God used David to do the impossible and slay Goliath, it was with five stones in his pocket. This great victory was given, not because of David’s effort (this would have been impossible), but as a gift from God. With grace, we can do things in God’s strength we could never have accomplished with our own ability.

One of the simplest ways to define grace is the gift of God’s favor. So, if grace is such a wonderful gift, then why is it sometimes treated as a dirty word?

Explaining Grace

What I mean is, why do we sometimes feel like we have to quantify grace, measuring it out in small amounts before giving it away, so people don’t run away with it? One way we do this in conversation is by using the word grace and then explaining everything we don’t mean. Have you ever had a conversation like that? For a long time, I couldn’t talk about grace without assuming the person I was talking to could be thinking I was talking about “greasy grace.”

Another example of this is when we use the word grace when teaching and then add a “but” to turn the focus back to our works. For example, “God freely gives us grace, but we need to commit, meet the standard, live up to expectations, etc.” When we do this, we treat grace like a dirty word we have to clean up to make sure it doesn’t create a mess when we give it to others. 

Do we do this because others have “abused grace,” or are we abusing it by not giving it away freely? When we do not freely give God’s grace away, we abuse it just as much those who use grace as a license to sin. No matter how good the intentions might be, it starts people off on the wrong foot. I am convinced this makes our message man-centered instead of God-focused. 

Getting Puffed Up

I didn’t always believe this. I had to go through a transformation that was sparked by a lack of grace. I remember one time saying, “I would rather aim to be too holy and be wrong, instead of too grace-filled and be wrong. At least when I get to heaven, God won’t say, ‘Josh, you were too holy down there! You shouldn’t have worked so hard to please me!’”

Man, how wrong was I! What I thought was something God would never say is exactly what He already said in His word:

“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”

Ecclesiastes 7:16

Well, there it is! I had destroyed my life by pursuing truth to an extreme while undervaluing my need for grace in the process. Without grace, you can be out of balance and become puffed up. This cycle leads to becoming critical, competitive, and eventually too discouraged to keep going.

Here is a New Testament example of the same principle:

“…We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up.”

1 Corinthians 8:1

Seeking only knowledge puffs up, but embracing God’s love, builds up. I want to build up my faith; not puff it up.

Again, it is not the pursuit of truth or knowledge that is wrong (or puffs up). We get in trouble when we forsake our first love and believe grace is only intended to start our race and not carry us to the finish line. Ultimately, getting out of balance with grace will lead tp depending on our effort instead of God’s finished work.

Nothing separates us from God like pride, and that is why we need to rely on His grace continually.

God’s Gift

Maybe the idea that grace is a dirty word is a foreign concept to you. This is probably true if you are from a spiritual background where grace is something that is celebrated. But even if that is the case, it could be possible you are not taking advantage of all God’s grace (the gift of His favor) has to offer in your life. In that case, grace has become a dirty word, and you aren’t even aware of it.

We need to fully unwrap this wonderful gift God has given us to cause or lives to shine the brightest for Him.

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Greasy Grace and Sloppy Agape

Grace Is A Dirty Word Part 1

*What you are about to read is the introduction to my book, Grace Is A Dirty Word. I put this together as an ebook about 3 years ago. It was the first free download I ever offered on my blog. Recently I updated it and am making it available for free for the next few weeks when you subscribe to my blog. You can get it on amazon after that in paperback or on Kindle.

Avoiding Grace

I used to think grace was a dirty word. It was something that needed to be explained if you were going to talk about it. Sometimes it was avoided altogether when sharing from the stage, so no one got the wrong idea about the kind of Christian I was.

Have you ever felt something similar about grace? Maybe your church culture focused on holiness, standards, and truth to such an extreme that it made talking about grace a little uncomfortable. For many, this is a foreign concept. But those stuck in a performance-oriented faith will know what I mean.

If your first assumption when you hear someone talk about grace is they are making an excuse for compromise, or if you don’t know what to do with the idea of grace after salvation, then I encourage you to continue reading.

Greasy Grace

One of the reasons I considered grace a dirty word, is because I thought people who celebrated grace were out of balance. It seemed they only used the word to justify a life of sin. If you didn’t love holiness as much as I did, then you probably practiced “greasy grace.”

Where did the phrase “greasy grace” come from? I don’t know, but it sounds like something that leads to all kinds of slimy wickedness and makes the devil grin.

Don’t get me wrong. I liked grace. I just didn’t know what to do with it. I thought too much of it was unhealthy. I guess it was like spiritual ice cream. It tastes good, but too much will give your soul a bellyache. I celebrated God’s grace at the moment of salvation, but things got confusing after that.

I didn’t want to be guilty of taking advantage of grace in the same way an older kid may con a younger one into trading a valuable baseball card for a handful of throw-a-ways. It was almost like I was approaching grace in a guarded way as not to accidentally take more than I deserved. The assumption here is that at some point, I could earn what I had.

There was no “Sloppy Agape” for me at the theological dinner table. I’ll just have a little grace by myself after dinner when no one else is around. Because let’s face it, whether we want to admit it or not, we all continuously need the grace of God. We may not want to give it out and may even publicly warn against getting carried away with, but we’re all counting on it being there when we need it ourselves.

Abusing Grace

The lack of the grace of God in my life caused me to live exhausted and hurting. I was also a drag on others. The impossible standard I was trying to maintain meant I was not good enough for myself, and neither was anyone else. I felt it was my duty to keep everyone accountable and to maintain an external religious rigor that was tearing me up inside. I was God’s hall monitor of truth. That guy may feel like he has more power than anyone else but usually sits alone at the launch table. #persecution

In reality, I was abusing grace by not taking advantage of it, which is something that probably did make the devil grin.

Grace became this dirty word that made me feel like I was not grateful to God. I felt like I was disrespecting God every time I needed forgiveness. Something God had given me for my benefit became something wrong to use.

Fuel for Our Faith

Eventually, I was honest with myself and admitted avoiding grace wasn’t working for me. I wondered, “Why don’t I pursue it a little bit and see what happens?”

Taking this first step was when the magic started, and it is why I wrote this book.

Many of us begin with grace but leave it at the start of our race. As a result, we become discouraged before the finish line. We can’t make it through this marathon of faith if we think grace is a dirty word.

In this book, I share eight common misconceptions about grace. Most of these come from my own struggle to embrace grace along with a few other observations I have made along the way. I hope they all help you run your race well.

You can subscribe here to receive a free copy of Grace Is A Dirty Word..

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Where the Dirt and Divine Collide

The Case for Following Your Heart

The heart is where the dirt and divine collide in mystery and splendor. It is often that most tangible way we can sense the spiritual while still confined to the realm of the natural. Even so, the heart sometimes gets a bad rap. The messiness of the human heart has led many to believe pursuing its inmost desires is wrong.

I have wrestled with these thoughts for a long time and have come to this conclusion. Your heart is not evil. Following your heart is not only a good thing; it is how God guides us through life.

Let me explain by covering five misconceptions about following your heart.

5 Reasons to Not Follow Your Heart

Don’t Follow Your Feelings

I often wonder when people say it is a bad idea to follow our hearts if they really mean, “It’s a bad idea to always be led by our feelings.” Of course, living that way would be a disaster. It is why I have to explain to my three-year-old that not wanting to take a bath is not a good reason to not take a bath.

Caving into what our impulses tell us we want in the moment is not the same as following our heart. Following your heart always requires doing things you don’t “feel” like doing to achieve the dream God has given us.

Don’t Give in to Sin

Could it be that when people say we shouldn’t follow our hearts, they mean we shouldn’t follow the desires of our flesh? If that is the case, then again, I would have to agree.

Pursuing the desires of our most authentic self (healed and lead by the Holy Spirit) gives us a reason not to sin; not an excuse to sin. Our hearts, what God draws to Himself, speaks to, and places desires in, is not the same thing as our sinful nature. Following our hearts is not the same as giving in to sin.

Don’t Be Deceived

Maybe you have heard that our hearts are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” But what about this verse:

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

‭‭Ezekiel‬ ‭36:26-27‬ ‭(NLT)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Is it possible that this “deceitful and desperately wicked” heart is describing our condition BEFORE being redeemed by the grace of God? Couldn’t we describe every part of our lives in this way before Christ entered the picture?

Check Your Heart

I also know the phrase, “I’m just following my heart” has been abused. It has been used as an excuse to ignore common sense and do foolish things. Sometimes this a way for people to state they don’t want to be questioned about something they have already made up their minds to do. But that’s not following your heart. Taking directions from temporary feelings rarely lead us anywhere worth going.

This distortion is nothing new. God addresses this twisting of truth in Jeremiah 23:36.

“But stop using this phrase, ‘prophecy from the Lord.’ For people are using it to give authority to their own ideas, turning upside down the words of our God, the living God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

Jeremiah 23:36 (NLT)

Cross Over Fear

There is one more reason why we may not follow our hearts, fear. Just because you are afraid, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your heart. You will always have to cross a bridge a faith if you are going to obey God. The argument that you shouldn’t follow your heart is just an excuse to avoid doing so.

In actuality, a lot of the idea of not wanting people to follow their hearts is based on a misunderstanding of semantics. Following your heart is not following your feelings. That is an oversimplification. It is not permission to give in to your sinful desire or an excuse to ignore wisdom and wise counsel. In fact, following your heart involves the opposite of these things.

Following your heart is having the courage to follow the dream(s) God has planted deep into your soul until it blossoms into something that benefits others. It is not self-centered. It is being true to yourself in a way that benefits others.

Following our hearts require we…

Listen to our feelings, but also be able to say no to things that bring temporary pleasure at the expense of our long-term God-given goals.

Trust God’s strength instead of our own, because we will never accomplish the dreams He places in our hearts without His help.

Seek wise counsel and take on more responsibility; not less.

Be willing to wait instead of having our desire met now. Following our hearts will never conflict with producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Have the courage to overcome the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, the fear of change, and other fears that would keep us in our comfort zone away from crossing the bridge of faith.

Keep our eyes on pleasing God even if it means making those around us unhappy by becoming and pursuing something different than what they had imagined for us.

I know for many; this will not be enough to justify following our hearts. While I wish I had more time to discuss this, here are a few scriptures that help make the case to follow our hearts.

“‘But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.'”

Jeremiah 31:33 (NLT)

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

“You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips.”

Psalm 21:2 (ESV)

“They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.”

Romans 2:15 (NLT)

If Christ has come to live in us (Galatians 2:20), has given us a new nature (sit on the throne of our hearts Ephesian 3:17), then why are we still saying that we cannot trust our hearts. It just doesn’t make sense.

Guard Your Heart

You may notice none of these verses permit us to follow our hearts without any thought about the future or consequences. There is a tension that exists between liberty and responsibility. We are free to follow our hearts, but we also have an inherent obligation to maintain the condition of our souls.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)

There are many different ways to “guard your heart,” but one of the most important is often the most overlooked – follow the peace.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:7 (ESV)

What often accompanies following God’s will is a sense of peace despite uncomfortable circumstances. God wants His will for us more than we want His will for ourselves. We must trust that God loves us enough to still be pleased with us when we pursue His will with a limited understanding.

Your heart is not evil. Following your heart is a good thing and is often how God guides us through life. Have the courage to follow it.

Here are a couple of books I recommend about following your heart.

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Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

The Case for Enjoying Life

I used to think exhaustion and spirituality went hand-in-hand. I bragged about not taking time off to rest. I felt I always had to be doing something if I was truly committed to the cause. I now know finding time to relax, and having fun outside of religious activities are not things that should cause me to feel guilty.

The truth is, you don’t have to be hard on yourself to be a deeply spiritual person.

Reading through Ecclesiastes recently reminded me how much God wants us to enjoy life. Religious obligation doesn’t want you to know that. If the enemy can convince God’s most devoted servants that pleasure is sin and rest is a weakness, then zealous believers may give up after experiencing exhaustion, depression, and frustration.

5 Keys to Enjoying Life from Ecclesiastes


Don’t be too good

It seems the key to lasting happiness is balance; not religious extremes. Enjoy life but also don’t be foolish. Remember, we will give an account to God.

“So don’t be too good or too wise! Why destroy yourself? On the other hand, don’t be too wicked either. Don’t be a fool! Why die before your time? Pay attention to these instructions, for anyone who fears God will avoid both extremes.”

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 NLT

Enjoy what you have

It’s also not useful to always be dreaming about what you could have or wishing for what you don’t have. Appreciate what God has given you.

“Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind.”

Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT

Have a party

Do you know anyone who could use a splash of cologne? Then send them this verse! I love that God doesn’t always want me on a diet, counting calories, and making my own clothes. He’s ok with me getting in line at the buffet every now and then and finding something nice to wear. Life was meant to be enjoyed!

“So go ahead. Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne!”

Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 NLT

Most of my youth was wasted on being out of balance. I was much too hard on myself because I thought that was required to be holy and pleasing to God. In college, I avoiding many “fun” activities that were not sinful but would take away from doing “spiritual” things. Looking back, I wish I would have taken more of that time instead of being so serious.

Find balance

Again, balance is the key. Not going to either extreme is the answer to an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

“Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.”

Ecclesiastes 11:9 NLT

Learn to rest

This is where I am now. I love to learn. I can also develop anxiety from my continual pursuit of knowledge. God doesn’t want His children to be worn out. He wants us to enjoy life and remember we will give an account to him for every secret thing, whether good or bad. This is something I need to remember.

“But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.”

Ecclesiastes 12:12 NLT

What do you think? Did any of this strike a nerve with you? Agree or disagree, I’d like to hear from you!

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Your Opinion Matters

I need your help.

I’ll cut to the chase. Would you mind taking a moment and writing a review for my book Shipwrecked: A Journey to Discover Authentic Faith? With so many self-published books available the only thing that separates the good from the not so good are the reviews. This month my author rank on Amazon has gone from over 500,000 to 80,000. This is for all authors, and is a big jump. I’d like to take advantage of any momentum to help get this book in the hands of people it can help.

It would mean so much if you could take a couple of minutes and write a quick review by clicking this link: Write a Review.

But what if I haven’t read the book? Can I still write a review?

Here are three answers:

  1. Yes, you can always buy the book, and then write a review. Posting a picture or verifying you have read the book in your review is enormous! It is available in paperback and e-reader version to make it easy to get in your hands. Click here to purchase.
  2. Yes, you can write on a review based on being a reader of my blog even though you haven’t read that particular book. Again, this helps legitimize the book for those who do not know me.
  3. Yes, I will send you a free copy if you do not have it in your budget to buy the book and you would like to read it. I do not want money to be an obstacle. Use the contact me form on my blog to request a free copy (include your email address), and I will send you a digital version with no strings attached.

That last one is a big deal because I have never made this book free. I have worked hard on it and believe it is worth purchasing. I also don’t want anyone who wants to read it to not to be able to if they are interested.

You can find out more about the book here.

You can purchase the book here.

You can write a review of the book here.

I would appreciate your help in getting the word out about this short story that is written to help anyone who has experienced or wants to avoid a shipwrecked faith.

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The Struggle Is Real

What to do when we doubt?

If you don’t struggle with faith, then you may not have it. Often times, we believe the opposite is true. We doubt because we doubt. But to question our faith, there must be something on the line, or there would be no reason to doubt.

Fishing and Faith

I grew up fishing. Most of the time it was in the muddy waters in between the barrier islands of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the man-made made beaches that make up the shoreline along Highway 90. Recently, this love of fishing has been rekindled. A friend bought me a fly fishing rod that I have been really enjoying. Fishing is a great way to relax and, also spend quality time with my two girls.

Yesterday I went out to the pond in our nieghborhood and didn’t catch anything. There was no struggle. Nothing pulling on the line. Today was different. I was only out there five minutes when I felt a tug. The tug became a pull, and then the pull became a struggle to bring in the fish.

The Collision of Dirt and the Divine

I think faith is a lot like this. There is back and forth; give and take. At times, the real thing is a struggle. It is messy. It’s a mixture of the temporary things of earth and the eterna things of heavenl. It’s the dirt and the divine colliding. When there is nothing on the line, there is no struggle. But the bigger the fish, the more significant the faith, the messier it can be.

Faith is not a supernatural power reserved for the spiritual elite. It is not cold and clean formulas that spit out what we want when we give what it demands. Neither is it a checklist we can feel good about as long as we complete and shame-ridden if we do not. Our faith is a system of beliefs rooted in the trust of a real-life relationship with God.

The Struggle Is What Makes It Real

God never changes. We can trust that, but our experience with faith will continue to grow and change. We are hoping in the invisible while having to work with the tangible. Blindly ignoring that may get rid of some anxiety, and may cause you to appear more spiritual, but it also isn’t real. There will be a struggle, but that should remind us that our faith is genuine.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts! Make sure to leave a comment on social-media and share this with a friend you tink it would encourage!