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Keys to a High Performance Christianity (Part Two)

A Life Changing Perspective

“The greatest question in all of human life is summed up when we ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’”

Charles M. Sheldon, In His Steps

Read part one of High-Performance Christianity here.

Step 6: Perspective

My life changed dramatically when I honestly asked if my opinions were based on Jesus or popular Christian culture. 

Examine your past teachings and current convictions through the example of Jesus. Start asking, what would Jesus do in this situation, instead of what others expect me to do. Abandon stereotypes of how you think a Christian should behave and make it your goal to embrace what Christ would say or do.

Step 7: Authenticity 

One of the most fun parts of embracing grace is learning to accept yourself and unashamedly live comfortably in your own skin. It can be intimidating to do this in a church world of behavior modification. You cannot live authentically while trying to live up to the preferences of people. 

Honestly, I can’t guarantee being the real you will be celebrated. I have just come to the place I would rather be rejected for being who I really am than accepted but exhausted trying to maintain everyone’s expectations for me.

Step 8: Guard 

A grace-filled person knows to guard their heart. Be aware of the “old ways,” as I call them, sneaking back into your life. 

I have become an expert at apologizing to people I do not think deserve an apology. This is not being fake. It is guarding my heart against making other people my debtors. I want to set people free. I do not want to be their prison guard holding them captive until they ask me for forgiveness. That’s no fun for either of us.

Leaving your religious rut means leaving old perspectives and possibly past relationships behind as well. It will hurt when people misunderstand your new positive Jesus-oriented approach to life. You will have to protect your feelings from this. There will be those who give grace a bad name by using it as an excuse to sin. Do not let this distract you. Keep heading down your own path. You will also have to watch out for pollutants that can distract you from the Lover of your soul. Keep your wellspring pure and refreshing.

Step 9: Rest 

I used to think a restful day was a wasted day. I would feel condemnation whenever a day went by where I had nothing to do. At some point, I read a Japanese proverb that said, “He who rests is never tired.” Something clicked, and rest became a principle that supports two main ideas for me.

The first is the Sabbath. True rest is part of worship. It acknowledges my need for God. It causes me to humbly admit that even if I did work 24/7, I could never accomplish everything God has for me without Him. It also causes me to pause long enough to appreciate things, and therefore express gratitude to God. 

The second is longevity. “He who rests is never tired.” If I learn to recoup and rejuvenate, I will have more energy for the task at hand. I’ll be better prepared to do my best when it is time to work. I won’t burn out and can last longer in the race. Every marathon has water tables, and a runner that expects to win knows the importance of pacing. Rest is not laziness. It is humility, worship, and intentionality.

Step 10: Value

Get your value from who you are in Christ instead of where you are in life. Religious burnout will always fight to turn this around. It causes you to complicate things. Valuing your position in Christ over your performance for Christ forces you to keep it simple. If you seek to be close to God’s heart, then your heart will start beating like His, and you will live your life as Jesus did.

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Are You Tired of Being a Christian?

How to turn your exhausting religion into an enjoyable relationship

“If my activism, however well-motivated, drives out love, I am stuck with law, not the gospel of grace. then I have misunderstood Jesus’ gospel.” 

Phillip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Depleted Yet Applauded

Have you ever met someone who is more interested in complaining about being exhausted than they are in receiving help? Burnout is the red badge of courage for some Christians. They would rather live depleted yet applauded than refreshed and balanced. A balanced life is not as attractive to them because it often goes unnoticed.  

What is the draw of exhaustion? It is where you find your justification to complain, compare, and criticize when you are stuck in a religious performance trap. It causes you to feel protected from criticism when you fall short. “How could I have done anything wrong? Look at how hard I work!” 

It also re-enforces your offense when you do not get what you think you deserve. “Why are they being promoted instead of me? I have cooked and cleaned while they have wasted time instead of working!”

Martha, Did You Know?

What did Mary know in Luke 10:38-42 that Martha did not?

A “Martha” measures her prayers, Bible reading, and serving. Her spiritual speedometer makes it easier to determine what she deserves and what others do not. The problem with this practice is you never really know what is going on with others behind closed doors. That is God’s business and not yours.

A “Mary” may seem to neglect some things, but she does not lose sight of the most important thing. Her reward is not in getting recognized, but rather in experiencing the pleasure of God’s presence. She usually ends up getting both.

It can be hard to see someone receive more for doing less, but that is not what this is all about. If things really were fair none of us would like what we got. 

I used to be a Martha myself. I took pride in having a hard time resting. I always felt I needed to be doing something. “I must be more committed than others,” I thought, “because I do not even enjoy taking a break.” 

This line of thinking should be a red alert on the dashboard of your spiritual life. It is not a medal of accomplishment you hang proudly around your neck. It reveals a restless soul that is not at peace.

The Performance Trap

As I have said before, you should value your position in Christ over your performance for Christ. When you over-emphasize performance, you end up getting less of it. Eventually, this leads to religious burnout. 

The Christian performance trap wants you to believe it is unspiritual to ever say no to spiritual things. The reality is, it is not spiritual to always say yes to more. It is more spiritual to say, “yes” to your priorities, the things God has asked you to do, and “no” to good things that take you away from those things.

Religious Formulas

Your good works should be motivated by your love relationship with Jesus and not a spiritual reward system. You make God your debtor when you work hard because you think He will bless you with what you want at the end of your labors (position, recognition, etc.).

Religious formulas like this can also influence how you pray and navigate problems. For example, “If I pray or do this, and have enough faith, then God will do that.” This mindset boxes God in to only what you can understand. It offers a easy fix to your problems that resembles a “get rich quick” scheme. The problem is, you inevitably become discouraged in your relationship with God when things do not work out the way you thought they would. 

All of this adds an unnecessary weight to your spiritual journey. 

It can be hard to follow the Holy Spirit day-to-day instead of trusting in things that bring immediate comfort. Checking off a box seems easier than checking-in with God. The box does not challenge us or require waiting. Even so, we should always choose a relationship with a living God over dead religious formulas. 

A Labor of Love

Exhaustion often begins with passion, zeal, and good intentions. You may be able to lift something you were never meant to carry, but you will drop it before you reach your destination. Lay down your heavy burden of burnout Christianity and take up the yoke of Christ. It is easy and light. It is a labor of love.

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Loosen Your Halo

How to start enjoying your Christian Faith

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Howard Thurman

Finding Pleasure

In his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning tells the story of a man who goes to his doctor with a splitting headache. After further inspection, it turns out the proud man’s life is perfect. There really shouldn’t be any reason for his stabbing pain. That is when the doctor gives his final diagnosis, “It looks like your halo is on too tight.”

I used to have a hard time believing God took pleasure in me finding pleasure in life. This may sound confusing to someone who has never been in a religious performance cycle. Those with similar experiences as me will quickly know what I mean. Taking walks and enjoying hobbies can be difficult for someone who thinks they need to always be doing to be pleasing to God.

A halo that is too tight shines its light on sin so intensely it hardly brightens any other part of the believer’s life. 

The Voice of the Oppressor

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

A guilty conscience may appear to be spiritual sensitivity. It is actually closer to a focus on sin instead of God. Sometimes this unhealthy pattern is confused with the godly guilt that leads to repentance. 2 Corinthians 7:10 shows us the difference:

“For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” 

 2 Corinthians 7:10

The destructive kind of guilt brings attention to your sin and leaves you there. Godly conviction is different. It alerts you to what is in the way of your relationship with God. It then offers grace so you can change. Condemnation brings repeated failure. Conviction breaks that cycle with grace. 

Enjoying Life

Christianity is paradoxical. You give so you can gain. You serve to lead. But is suffering a requirement to please God? I do not think so. Suffering and obedience are not the same things. Christians should be willing to suffer in obedience when it is necessary. At the same time, your obedience should more often bring delight than pain. 

Psalm 37:4 says God “will give you your heart’s desires.” The Holy Spirit places the right desires in your heart and also brings them to pass. He wants your godly ambitions to be seeds that grow into fruitful trees. When this happens, your thriving life will bring glory to Him and provide nourishment to others. 

Time to Tune In

Christians should not feel bad about feeling good and good about feeling bad. This jams the signals of your heart. We know God wants you to tune into your heart because He tells you to guard your heart above all else (Proverbs 4:23). If you should not be listening to your heart, then why is it so essential to protect it? 

Do not confuse guarding your heart with turning it off. While being led by your feelings is destructive, so is ignoring them altogether. The frequency of your heart gets scrambled when you equate feeling bad with being more spiritual.

Guarding your heart should include dying to your flesh, tuning out the wrong messages of the world, and ignoring the deceiver’s voice. These are all things that pollute your heart. You should “feel good” about protecting your heart’s desires, not denying them. If you are too busy finding things to feel guilty about, then you will not have time to dream for God. You will be on the sideline instead of bringing about the change He wants to see. It is time to tune into your heart and stop feeling bad about feeling good.

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Pursuit Instead of Perfection

“I used to think you had to be special for God to use you, but now I know you simply need to say yes.”

Bob Goff, Love Does

Pursuing the Perfect One

There is a difference between seeking the Perfect One and pursuing perfection. Christians should strive to be like Christ, but also have the humility to know Jesus is the only one who will ever be perfect. 

The path to religious burnout says you are on an uphill climb that leads to the peak of perfection. In actuality, it is a hamster wheel that never ends. 

The Imperfect Obsession

Perfection Christianity is centered on you instead of Christ. You can know if you are stuck in perfection instead of pursuit by asking, “Would I do the same good works if God were the only one who knew about them?” When receiving credit for what you do becomes more important than God getting the glory for giving you the strength to do those good works, then you have slipped into perfectionism. 

This mindset believes you deserve recognition for what you do, but there is always a good “spiritual” reason why others do not. “I don’t want them to get prideful if I praise them too much! Then they will stop growing. By the way, why haven’t they told me how awesome I am lately?”

This imperfect obsession will not allow you to rest and enjoy God. It causes you to do things that will get noticed and ignore the things He values that do not. You must continue to perform and reach for perfection to find meaning in your faith.

Missing the Point

Championing pursuit over perfection is key to sustaining a meaningful Christianity. Jesus simplified faith, but perfection complicates it. 

Discipline and rituals are good until they become substitutes for what they intend to protect. I like to think of my convictions as those bumps on the side of the road that let you know when you begin to drift out of your lane. They are great at reminding you to realign your steering but would make a terrible GPS system. If your standards turn your warm, loving relationship with God into cold hard religion, then they are missing the point.

You do not have to get rid of your spiritual guidelines or moral code to overcome burnout. The rules of the road keep us safe, but they are not the reason why we drive. The solution is neither becoming more disciplined nor abandoning rules altogether. It is returning to your first love and pursuing God heart.  

The Work of Love

Look at what Jesus said to the church of Ephesus about their attempt to be perfect without love.

“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first…”

Revelation 2:2-5a

What are the works they did at first? It is the work of love. It is loving God and letting what you do for others overflow from that instead of maintaining a religious standard. Pursuit brings freedom. Jesus’ pursuit of us brought us freedom from sin (Romans 5:8). Our pursuit of Him will keep us free from religious bondage (Galatians 5:1). He wants you to pursue Him in response, not perfection. Who or what are you pursuing?

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Compassion Instead of Criticism

“One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting everyone else to give it up. That is not the Christian way.”

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Spinning Plates

I used to try and maintain a perfect Christian existence. Have you ever attempted this impossible labyrinth of legalism? It appears as holiness but is rooted in your strength instead of God’s.

A perfect Christian existence requires spinning the plates of holiness at all times. Every delicate dish of relationship and acceptance of others exists on top of thin, tall sticks of religious performance. 

It is no wonder that approach leads to comparison, criticism, and burnout. You have to always spin, spin, spin, to keep the system going. Neither you nor anyone else is allowed to make mistakes. Wobble, spin, spin.

This balancing act led me to be overly critical of myself and others. Maybe you can see the same attributes in your life. Wobble, wobble, spin.

My help came across as judgment instead of love. Spin, spin, spin. Those close to me interacted with me as if they were stepping on thin ice that cracked with every step. Wobble, wobble, spin. They were afraid to make mistakes around me. Spin, wobble, CRASH! 

I thought to permit myself and others to make mistakes would be licensing compromise. In actuality, it would just be allowing people to be human. Let’s take the plates off of the fragile poles of human effort and place them back on the table of God’s loving-kindness. Spinning plates are impressive, but we can’t eat off of the inevitable shattered pieces. 

A Distorted Lens

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.”

– Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

When you have an impossible standard for yourself, you tend to hold others to the same requirements. It is like Judah Smith said in Jesus Is, “No sooner do I conquer a bad habit than I become the biggest critic of anyone who still does what I just stopped doing.” 

Wearing this distorted lens of Christianity causes you to judge others by their actions and yourself by your intentions. You need to take these wonky glasses off if you are going to get out of your spiritual rut. It is not an authentic way to live. It is just a survival mechanism of a graceless Christianity. 

The fruit from this kind of root leads to gossip and gaining false justification from your own religious activities. We can do better than this. 

Here is how you can take the first step.

Start with It 

“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.”

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Until you can give yourself grace, you will not have compassion for anyone else. Expecting perfection causes you to see the cup of everyone else’s life as half empty.

Do not make people have to earn your kindness. Start with it. If not, you end up complaining more than encouraging. Making a change in this area will cause what was once an inconvenience to be an opportunity to reflect the love of God. Being a dispenser of grace fills your life with the kind of fruit that brings God glory and you meaning. When you start with grace, you become too busy enjoying your faith to get sidetracked by the things that pollute it.

Do not make people have to earn your kindness. Start with it. If not, you end up complaining more than encouraging. Making a change in this area will cause what was once an inconvenience to be an opportunity to reflect the love of God. Being a dispenser of grace fills your life with the kind of fruit that brings God glory and you meaning. When you start with grace, you become too busy enjoying your faith to get sidetracked by the things that pollute it.

This blog is an excerpt from my new mini-book, Surviving Religious Burnout, is out now. You can order it at Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble.

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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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Burned Out on Church?

5 Books to Read if You Are Burned Out

Your church should be a place that refreshes you and gives you the opportunity to refresh others as well. Even in the best environments we can get caught up in what we are doing and lose sight of the why behind it. In general, it’s just a good idea to take time to refresh your soul. If you find yourself in this place, or maybe you have given up on church entirely, then here are five books that may encourage you from those who have walked through similar experiences.

Pharisectomy: How to Joyfully Remove Your Inner Pharisee and Other Religiously Transmitted Diseases by Peter Haas

The name gives you a good indicator of what you can expect from this book. It is irreverent, hilarious, and packed with insightful research and biblical clarity on healthy and unhealthy church culture. I was surprised by how much I laughed out loud reading this book. It’s a good thing it keeps you chuckling because the smiling provides an excellent anesthetic for the heart surgery that will take place as you read this book.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning

Someone asked me recently what my all-time favorite book was. This is definitely a contender for first place. Rich Mullins credits the message of this book with changing his life, but only after first resisting it. This was the same for me. I came across this book for the first time over 15 years ago, but my religious mindset at the time caused me to reject it. I sometimes wonder if exploring this book then may have saved me a lot of heartache. On the other hand, the lost time has only increased my appreciation for this simple message of grace.

In this book, Brennan artfully confronts the destructive falsehood of manmade religion with brilliant strokes of grace. It is tweetable, readable, and utterly unforgettable. It is packed with stories of brokenness and redemption, including his own. The Ragamuffin Gospel is a balm to any broken heart that desires more of God and less of man-made religion.

Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton

Toxic Faith could be a textbook in a class on how to recover from church burnout. It takes a spiritual and psychological approach to revealing the cause and solution to a toxic faith, as well as church burnout, in a believers life. If you are interested in a Christ-centered and psychological approach to understanding how to get out of a religious rut, then this book is for you. Toxic Faith has given me the language to discuss ministry burnout and how to recover from it more than any other resource.

Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church by Philip Yancey

This book took me completely by surprised and redirected my life in a path of healing and grace but not before helping me confront my own religious pride. Philip Yancey is without a doubt, my favorite Christian author. Scratch that. He is my favorite author. In this book, he discusses how 13 unlikely mentors who, starting with Martin Luther King Jr., helped restore his faith in the church after growing up in a racist fundamentalist church in the South. His access and background as a successful journalist give him a unique approach and delivery on this subject.

A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness by Gene Edwards

If you want to serve in ministry leadership in any capacity, then you need to read this book over and over again. It has more one-liners and zingers than just about any other book on this list. It is also the shortest and probably the easiest to read. It is a parable following the stories of David, Saul, and Absalom, that will help you identify healthy leadership and the unhealth that is in your own soul. A healing and enjoyable read.

Bonus – Shipwrecked: A Journey to Discover Authentic Faith by Josh Roberie

I decided to write this book after reading somewhere that there is more truth in fiction than non-fiction. From that idea, I wondered how I could share the emotions that surround the struggle of breaking away from religious pride and finding authentic faith in the humblest of circumstances. I wanted to weave together a journey that was enjoyable to read and also included the gems of truth that have helped me find enjoyable and meaningful Christianity in my own life. In Shipwrecked, I use an allegorical parable of a sinking ship to tell a story, loosely based on my own, of finding healing and hope after experiencing religious exhaustion.

What did I miss? Comment with your favorite book on this topic. I’d love to check it out!