Overcoming the Fear of Writing

Why it Took Me So Long to Write Believe Again

The Story Within the Story

It took eight years to write Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion. You see, I type very slowly. I’m just kidding. It’s because I am not a very good writer. Also, kidding. At least, I hope that’s not true. I have been writing and sharing stories since high school. So, why did it take so long to get this into your hands?

This book shares intimate and often embarrassing moments in my life. Just the process of revealing these details is enough to cause almost anyone to pause and reflect before pressing send. The struggle to believe enough in myself to write this book is the story within the story. 

Am I Crazy?

Multiple times, I have had to Believe Again that I could finish this project and that it matters. First, I had to convince myself I was not crazy to write these experiences down. Then, I had to overcome the insecurity of feeling I was not good enough to write publicly. This involved dealing with thoughts like, Who am I to think people would want to read what I write? Is my story even interesting to begin with? After that came the fear of people misunderstanding me and my intentions. 

Once I cleared those hurdles, something else began to happen. I grew spiritually, emotionally, and as a writer. Through this, I would review each current draft and think, “I have to change this. I don’t even write or think like this anymore.” During this time, God transformed my perspective on the situations I share in this book. What I thought was important was not. Other parts needed more emphasis than I realized at first. This story is so personal to me. I knew time would have to pass for my perspective to mature. This all led to more rewrites. Many times, I wondered out loud, “Will this ever get to a place where I could say it is finished?”

The Shadows of Fear

My circumstances have told me that I am not a writer every day since I began, well, writing. There has continuously been something else I was always supposed to be or do. But when I closed my eyes at night and opened them again in the morning, I knew something different. I am a writer. The question was, would I pass the test, believe again, and take another step? Or would I hide from what was in my heart? If anything, that is the lesson of this book. Believing again is not a grand gesture. It is a commitment to take one step at a time towards what God has put in your heart. To do this, you also have to have the courage to move away from the shadows where fear allows you to hide.

I hope Believe Again will help you let go of every substitute and find authentic faith. By the time you are finished reading it, I want you to realize that who you are in Christ is more important than where you are in life. This is crucial in our journey to living out an enjoyable, meaningful Christianity.

Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion will be released on October 4 on Amazon. In the meantime, you can pre-order it at joshroberie.com/shop at a 20% discount. You can find out more about the book and get Believe Again merch at BelieveAgain.net.

What Is Believe Again About?

An Honest and Hopeful Journey to Rediscover Faith

I hope you are not expecting Believe Again: Finding Faith After Losing Religion to be a typical “preacher book.” These pages are not filled with outlines and sermons. Instead, you will find a story overflowing with surprising friendships, unconventional mentors, and lessons I never knew I needed to learn. It is one I hope you can even find yourself in as well. If you have ever grown weary in your faith, wanted to give up on going to church, or have been discouraged by the circumstances of life, then I want to encourage you to read on. 

After years on staff at the large church I grew up in, I found myself suddenly working outside of full-time ministry. This transition into the real world was startling for someone who grew up in church and never intended to do anything but work as a pastor. It was the lowest point of my life. The exact rock bottom of this unexpected change was somewhere between asking the guy I used to pay to cut my grass if I could work for him and taking orders from a convict with a knife so I could support my family. But let’s not get nitpicky with the details.

One of the best things that came from this season was the relationships I gained as a result of this unique path. Much of this book focuses on these amazing people. They are the characters in the goofy spiritual journey I was on. Many of these friends came from the new way I was living my life and where I started working. Others came along as I developed the courage to share my story publicly. The things I was experiencing were so outrageous, and such a contrast to the life I lived before, that I started writing them down. Eventually, I decided it would be a good idea to share some of these embarrassing details with a blog.

True to how I was feeling at the time I named the blog, “Fish Out of Church.” I had blogged for a long time before this, but not in a personal and vulnerable way. The more I wrote, the more people would reach out to talk about their own experiences. Connecting over our shared disappointments in life and church as well as our hopes for the future seemed to bring some healing. 

Could maybe others use some encouragement to step out of their religious comfort zone as I had done?  Is it possible you fall into this category as well? I wrote this book to help anyone who was in the same situation I was in and needs to discover a fresh perspective on faith, find hope in trying times, or could use a little help learning to trust God one day at a time.

The circumstances I share in this book made it appear my time in ministry, along with many of my hopes and dreams, were over. I was surprised to find an uncomfortable season working outside of the church would strengthen my faith and teach me to lead more like Jesus. I believe this collection of outlandish stories will help you do the same. Here is how I lost my religion, found authentic faith, and began to believe again.

Believe Again will be available on Amazon on October 4.

Find out more about the book here: https://believeagain.net

Pre-order the book at a discount and check out the Believe Again merch here: https://joshroberie.com/shop/

Altar Call Before Protocol

Honoring the Life and Legacy of Reinhard Bonnke

*I originally shared this story on my blog four years ago, but this is an updated version I have not posted before. I have been very moved by Reinhard Bonnke’s example of faith, integrity, and winning souls. I had the chance to host him when he was speaking at Bethany in 2011. It was an amazing experience spending time with someone who is so legendary in Heaven. After that, I read his autobiography, Living a Life of Fire. In this post, I give just one example of how he has inspired me to point people to Jesus whenever I can. For context, at the time this story takes place I had just begun a job working in sales after a year and a half working in retail, and before that seven years in ministry.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Transitioning from retail to my role at a technology company brought about some considerable changes to my daily life. The new position gave me a regular schedule. I was now able to get more involved in church as a leader. It also provided the chance to meet some interesting people.

As part of my job, I attended a networking event called “Around the Table.” I went to many different networking meetings in hopes of generating sales during this time, but this one was different. Instead of meeting at an office or restaurant, everyone taking part gathered in various community leaders’ homes for dinner and discussion. The area chamber of commerce hosted the event, and they decided the house where you would attend, not by who you knew, but by which topics you were interested in discussing. I read through a list of questions that determined where I would have dinner. The one that jumped out at me the most was, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

That question stopped me in my tracks. I had not seriously considered it before. I had stepped out of my comfort zone by taking time away from working in ministry, but so far, it had felt mostly like a failure. It was a question that was painful for me to answer. So why not attend a dinner party with a bunch of high powered strangers and discuss it with them?

I was happy to have Amy with me that night. She dazzled everyone with her charm. She is an elegant, timeless, and beautiful. I’m not just saying that because I will get major points for putting this in my blog. She is the kind of beauty that makes you look twice. She has big bright eyes and thick dark hair. She carries herself with confidence, and I knew she would shine at that business dinner. People probably liked me more because she was there.

About the same time I was hired at my technology job, Amy was asked to work at the church we were attending. The position was to assist with their non-profit organization, HP Serve. I couldn’t think of any better ending to this crazy experiment than to end up working at our new church together.

Instead, it was Amy working closely with the church through the non-profit as I continued to be a fish out of church. Amy is extremely talented. It makes sense why they would want her on staff, but it just seemed like another reminder that my dream of being in ministry was on an indefinite hiatus.

Feeling Out of Place

At dinner, Amy told every business leader about her work to help underprivileged and disadvantaged youth through HP Serve. She had everyone interested in finding out how they could get involved. They didn’t know part of her job included fundraising, which she seemed to be doing an effecting job doing as my plus one. All for Jesus, right? I enjoyed connecting and meeting some fascinating people as well, but I felt a little insecure. Amy had all the exciting things to talk about. I was just a salesperson at a dinner attended by people much higher up on the business food chain.

When it was time to eat, high powered business owners, CEO’s, and influential people in our community all sat around the table with Amy and me. I found it difficult to relate to a group of people who had accomplished amazing things in business. One person shared they had just spent Thanksgiving in New York City watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with iconic giant balloons floating by their hotel room. I wanted to contribute to the conversation, I really did, but then I remembered some words of wisdom someone once passed onto me, “You can be silent, and people may think you are an idiot, or you can open your mouth, and remove all doubt.”

By this point, I was two years away from the ministry world I had left. I had pizza experience and could tell them how to layer the cheese just right so that the bubbly goo baked to perfection. I could share hacks for their iPhones to make the battery last longer, or which data plan would allow them to have cheaper rates while they were in Paris. But it felt like too much time had passed since I mattered as a leader in the community.

Altar Call Before Protocol

I was silent for most of the evening until they got to the point in the dinner party where they asked that question, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” As soon as the discussion began, a phrase popped into my mind, “Altar call before protocol.”

In his autobiography, Living a Life of Fire, Reinhard Bonnke mentioned God speaking this same phrase to him over and over again as he was brought before presidents, rulers, and dignitaries throughout his ministry. I believe God had brought this to my remembrance to give a little bit of confidence for what would happen next.

It was clear that God wanted me to share the gospel with these 25 strangers, and I had no idea how I was going to do that. I was so intimidated by these people that I had hardly said a word the entire night. Then before I had time to put together a game plan, the host turned to me and asked, “Josh, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”

I started with a philosophical quote in an attempt to engage the room. “Blaise Pascal says that ‘there is a God-shaped void in the heart of every man, and the only thing that can fill it is God Himself.’ If I knew I couldn’t fail, then I would spend the rest of my life helping people fill that void by connecting them to God.”

The room stared blankly at me. I need to unpack that a little, or they would think a crazy person had been invited to their fancy party.

“I would do this through writing books that show how God really is, and not how we perceive Him to be through religious filters.” Heads start to nod, and I take it a step further by sharing some of my journey to believe again with them.

“Not too long ago, I was a pastor on staff at a church. Then I felt God leading me to make a change. As a result, I ended up working in retail sales for a year and a half before working where I am now. I had to move out of my house and had to sell most of my belongings. Now that I am on the other side of the pulpit, I have had the chance to see things differently. During this time, I began to realize that I did not have a healthy way of relating to God, church life, or others. My old perspective was based on what I could do for God, instead of what God has already done for me. I want to write things that will encourage those who are down and out or feel away from God, that will help them find their way again.”

Throughout the night, people were commenting on how if they knew they couldn’t fail, then they would try and bring about positive social change. Everyone had a long list of what they thought would be the right fix. All of their ideas were admirable and selfless, but they left out the most significant force for change the world has ever known. While I had their attention, I felt it was an excellent opportunity to use that conversation to springboard into what I thought God most wanted me to say that night. “Altar call before protocol,” as Reinhard Bonnke would say.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,’ and the love of God is the most powerful force on the face of the earth. It is our best hope for the troubles our city faces. While improvements in education, law enforcement, and health care are all needed and essential, that is not what is going to change our community. Only the gospel can do that.”

Ah, That’s Nice…

Throughout the evening, after someone shared for a moment, everyone would say something like, “Ah that’s so nice. You should do that!” then move on. That’s not what happened after I shared. Instead, the owner of the home we were in, who happened to be a top executive in a Fortune 500 company, said, “Wait a second, I don’t want to move on just yet. Let’s go back to what Josh was saying. Tell us more!”

I continued, “What I have learned is that many people do not understand the gospel. The good news is not that we can get to God, but that He has already come to us in Jesus. The Bible says that He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. Our part is not to go out and earn the right to have Him come to our house. It’s just to open the door in faith and ask him to come and sit at the table, and join us for dinner.”

After a few “amens” from the room, the host said, “You need to get to writing! That is a message people need to hear.” 

Throughout the rest of the evening, God was front and center and came up throughout our discussions. It was a fun time, and I was encouraged that God used me to share the gospel with people who I probably would have never had the chance to reach from a microphone at church.

I felt like a fish out of water that night, but I was making a difference. It is not only the preacher with the microphone that can make a difference for the Kingdom of God. That alone will never be enough. While that is needed, we also need people outside of the walls of the church, unafraid to be who God made them to be, even if there is not already a model for that. Maybe that is you?

Fundraising Mistakes and Musts for Church Planters

Over the years at ARC I have seen some successful as well as some not so successful approaches to fundraising. Here are a few quick tips if you are looking to raise money for a church plant. 

Mistakes Church Planters Make with Fundraising

The biggest mistake people make is not making the ask at all. Don’t be afraid to ask someone to give to something you know is going to be good for the people you are reaching as well as well the person who is giving. It’s better to assume that people want to have the opportunity to be a blessing and are looking for an opportunity to be a part of what God is doing. 

The second mistake is making too strong of an ask. This can happen in multiple ways. One way is by asking someone for money who you do not have any relational equity with. You start fundraising, not with a meeting when you give a pitch, but by genuine relationship long before you make an ask. You may not always have that opportunity for long term relationship though. In this situation you want to make sure that you ask them to pray about getting involved instead of asking for money the first time you meet with them. 

The key to overcoming both of these mistakes of being too shy or too bold is to not make it about you. Make fundraising about the people you are reaching and the person who is having a chance to get involved with what God is doing.

Practical Steps to Fundraising Well

  1. Prepare for a fundraising meeting by finding out about the person you are meeting with. 
  2. Start the meeting by asking questions about them and their vision. This way you can better connect your vision to what they are already passionate about.
  3. Share your needs, but also share your vision, and your practical plan for sustainability. How are you going to get a return on their investment? 
  4. It’s always good to follow up and thank the person for their time with a personal note. 
  5. Being authentic and truly caring for each person you come into contact with may be the best fundraising strategy you can employ. 

Most pastors don’t get into church planting because they are passionate about fundraising. They step out in faith out of a love for God and people. I think we should keep these two things in front of us when fundraising. God is our source, and fundraising for a church plant is just one more way we can learn to lean on Him more.

If you would like to find out more about starting a new church with ARC, we’d love for you to connect with us. Please go to arcchurches.com and click “start a church.” We have some free resources available to you just for reaching out

*This article first appeared as a contribution in the ARC Magazine.

There’s Something I’d Like to Say

Confessing The Weeds in My Leadership

The Parable of the Weeds

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”

– Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)

Soul Gardening

We have all experienced the wheat as well as the weeds of leadership. We have either lived through someone else’s wheat and weeds or guided others through our own garden mixed with both the good and the bad. I’ve always thought the master allowing the weeds to continue to grow with the wheat until the harvest was interesting. Why does God allow the bad of spiritual leaders to grow with the good? Why not pull all the weeds out now? 

Too often, we expect our spiritual leaders to be perfect. This is unrealistic and unfair. Once we find there are weeds in the lives of those that lead us, it can be easy to write off all people in authority. After experiencing hurt, some people’s initial reaction is to stop going to church or label Christians as hypocrites. It doesn’t have to be this way. All of life comes with both wheat and weeds. It’s possible to experience both the good and the bad of a church culture or ministry leader and remain thankful and honoring. 

At the same time, any leader who is not honest about and repents of his or her own imperfections is not being the best reflections of Christ they can be. We all need to attend the garden of our soul. The harvest will come, and God will ask us to give an account of the weeds in our leadership.

There’s something I’d like to say about my own weeds.

There was a time in my life when my words and behaviors towards people resulted in spiritual abuse. I was a Pharisee, legalist, and avoider of grace. This did not just negatively impact my own life but also those around me. In my role as a church leader, I caused hurt and pain in the lives of others. My weeds got in the way of the good I was attempting to accomplish for the Kingdom of God. 

Some in a similar situation may blame the culture they are in, the feeling of having no other choice but to do as they are told or even being a victim of abuse themselves. While these are genuine contributing circumstances for me and many others, I feel I must focus on my responsibility over factors that were in someone else’s control.

“It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll.  

I am the master of my fate:

 I am the captain of my soul.”

-Invictus, by Nelson Mandela

At any point, during this time in my life, I could have taken responsibility for myself. Eventually, I did. This doesn’t wipe away my part in using people’s desire to please God to achieve my goals and validate my need for approval. It has, though, allowed for redemption to step into my story. I can now see God’s hand working in each of my past experiences to help me point people in a better direction. It has also helped me own the good in my past in a way I can always be grateful for while also learning from my “weeds.”

Seeking Forgiveness

Once I first decided to make an intentional change in my life and approach to ministry, I went to specific people I felt I owed an apology and asked them to forgive me. I also listened as they shared how my approach to being a church leader negatively impacted them. 

Eventually, I felt God say I didn’t need to track down each person involved in situations I regretted. This would be to put their healing in my hands instead of His. So I asked for and received His forgiveness, and prayed for anyone I have ever hurt to find the courage to begin the process of healing with God’s help.

A couple of years later, after I had a better perspective of my own involvement in these behaviors and ministry methods, I began blogging about my transformation and growth in how I related to God, church, and others. This opened the door to many more conversations with those in search of healing.

I now feel it is time to combine both of the previous steps I have taken in the past – to be public and specific. The goal is not to wallow in the past, but to help those presently struggling in similar situations and those specifically impacted in this way in the past.

With that said, I would like to offer my heartfelt and sincere apology to anyone I have ever hurt in my role as a spiritual leader. I am sorry for the things I have done and said that have caused pain in your life. I was wrong, and I am asking for your forgiveness. 

I am sorry I…

…was not careful with my words and said things that were extreme, mean, rude, and painful to others.

…felt it was my job to put people in their place instead of using my role as a leader to lift people out of the place they were in.

…was hypocritical in what I asked of others while making excuses as to why I was not required to do the same things.

… didn’t listen, because I assumed I already knew the whole story. Often, I gave ultimatums when I should have offered mercy. 

…used the scriptures to belittle, cut down, and categorize outsiders in a way that took away from their humanity and value as a person.

…judged people’s motives, thoughts, and intentions (as if I could know these things), instead of assuming the best and speaking to God’s best for them.

…marked people as rebellious and cut them off from relationship when they did not submit whole-heartedly, not only to God but to the customs of our group.

…flippantly questioned people’s salvation and sincerity in their commitment to God when they didn’t live up to my man-made standards or unrealistic expectations.

…created an environment of correction and outward performance in my ministry instead of encouragement and inward transformation. I made it hard, if not impossible, to be vulnerable, honest, and real. I gave no place for grace.

… allowed submission to authority to mutate into something other than what God intended. Instead of being a life-giving principle that brought safety and security in trusting God and the spiritual leadership He places over us, it became a gateway to control, fear, and intimidation. 

……thought it was my responsibility as a spiritual leader to be involved in every decision of the lives of those in my ministry (who they should date, where they should work, and even how they should spend their money and free time). In doing this, I replaced the voice of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives, and developed dependents on me instead of disciples of Christ. 

These things all feel so foreign to me now. I don’t think I am anything close to this person I don’t want to remember.

Why Apologize?

There will be those reading this who do not need an apology from me but are maybe waiting on one from someone else. Would you accept this apology on their behalf? Not for their benefit, but for yours. Whether it is a parent, pastor, church leader, or another person in a leadership role in your life, I believe if they could see things through God’s perspective, they would ask for your forgiveness.

Others may misunderstand why this needs to be said. Why bring this up if it was so long ago, and you are no longer this way? First of all, it is never too late to apologize, because time isn’t a substitute for, “I’m sorry.” If you’ve been through this, then you get why this is important. 

Secondly, owning my mistakes may encourage growth in someone else by helping them respond better to their shortcomings. Taking responsibility for our “weeds” (the bad in our leadership) is how we separate from them and shed new light on our “wheat” (the good that has taken place through our ministry). Denying our failures is how they get repeated.

Thirdly, I see these same behaviors in zealous young leaders too often. I believe their intentions are good, but I want to help them see there is another way, as I am sure they eventually will, as soon as possible. 

Moving Forward

Finally, unhealthy leadership can exist even in healthy churches and organizations. There can be great people doing amazing things in the same place where dysfunction is also present. Jesus talked about this in the Parable of the Weeds (I shared this at the beginning of the blog). This teaching shows us how to respond to unhealth in leadership. To take Jesus’s approach is to live in an uncomfortable tension between the wheat and the weeds in all of our lives. Healing from negative experiences in a church is never an excuse to attack others. Don’t try to pull up others’ weeds prematurely, even though it can be difficult to live with them.

In the same way, being a spiritual leader is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to your own faults, even though it is embarrassing to deal with them. Healing, as well as a lasting legacy, won’t take place if we continue to ignore the problem. If you are willing, let’s move forward together in forgiveness and restoration.

Further reading on this topic:

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.

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. 

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.

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..

5 Essential Principles for Ministry

Lessons Learned at ARC

If you had a leadership toolbelt that held your most important lessons in ministry, what would be on it? These are the things you know you are going to need every day. You don’t keep those in a toolbox. You need them close by for easy access.

This month will be five years since we moved to Birmingham and joined the team at ARC. It has me thinking about how my ministry toolbelt has developed during this time. I am incredibly thankful for our team and the fantastic friends and ministry I get to enjoy as a result of being a part of ARC. I am also grateful for the things God has taught me concerning my calling, leadership, and ministry while working at ARC.

In this post want to share some of the ministry essentials I have picked up over the past five years. These principles can help you no matter what season you are in right now. They are the tools I have begun keeping close at hand on my ministry toolbelt.

Sometimes Your Fruit Grows On Other People’s Trees

At ARC, I have learned to find my success in helping other people find theirs. This statement has become my life’s mission. I discovered this truth right away after joining the ARC team. I wanted to find out as much as I could about Billy Hornsby. So, I started watching all the videos of him I could find. He shared this in one of them, and something clicked for me. This is what I want to spend my life doing.

Follow the Street Lights  

What if closed doors where just the end of one street light before you moved into the illumination of another on your path to follow God’s will? My life looks much different than I imagined it would at this stage. Helping church planters was not on my radar as a career possibility. I would have figured God had other plans for me. I arrived in this unexpected destination by following the street lights.

Street lamps light up only a small part of the road before you need another. This illustration is how I imagine God leading us through each season of life within the limits of our understanding. He speaks to us in a way we can understand to get us to take a step towards what will be more evident once we get to the next street light. 

In the process, we have to be willing to let go of what we thought things would look like to enter the next part of the journey. Closed doors can feel devastating at the moment, but most of the time, they are just the edge of the street light on your way home.

Run to the Shortest Line

Pastor Dino told a story one day that I think about all the time. He talked about his son being new at school and trying out for the football team. He wasn’t getting any reps in his desired position. So his dad advised him to try something new, “Tomorrow at practice run to the shortest line. At least that way they can see what you can do.” That’s what he did, and he ended up getting a college scholarship in that position.

Most people think the best way to gain influence is from the stage – in front of people. That’s the long line. Everyone is trying so hard to get there; they are missing out on other ways to make an eternal impact. 

The shortest line is the line of serving people. You can gain more influence behind the scenes than you can from the stage if your goal is to add value to others. Speaking to a crowd pumps up our egos, but influencing one leader can have a much more significant impact because of what that leader will do with what you give them. This principle is one of the main reasons I enjoy serving church planters.

Start With Why

This one is more practical than anything else. Simon Sinek does a TED Talk on this topic. Anyone who hopes to influence others should at least watch this TED Talk if not read his book, Start With Why. It has impacted just about every aspect of the way I communicate, delegate tasks, and recruit.

Here are three ways I start with why. 1) When recruiting someone, I begin the conversation by asking about their “why” for life and ministry before asking them to join my “what.” 2) When delegating a task, I explain steps and then share the “why” behind the job by showing who the results will impact. 3) I start presentations with “why” to create buy-in for what I am going to say. Even this post started by engaging the reader with questions about themselves. Doing this keeps us from the common problem of presenting our “what” really well without anyone listening.

Be Opened Handed

ARC has taught me to be open-handed in more ways than one. This does not mean just being generous with resources, but also with praise, kindness, and sharing the credit. It extends into leaning towards forgiveness and honor over getting even and being right. We should give people, even the difficult ones, the same grace and kindness God has given us. Doing this requires humility, which I guess is why we all struggle with it so much.

What are your most important ministry lessons? Did any of these stick out to you? Why? I loved to hear from you! Leave a comment or send me a message!