Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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?

Posted on 7 Comments

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:

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on 1 Comment

You Might Be A Pharisee If…

Six Signs of Imitation Christianity

No Soup For You

This morning I was reading about Saul. The story reminded me of how even with the best intentions we can slip into legalism. During a battle, he made a rash vow. The soldiers were pursuing victory. Honey was dripping all around to refresh them along the way. The only problem was Saul refused to let anyone eat until their enemies were defeated.

It may sound radical and inspirational at first. Maybe Saul thought this would rally the troops’ commitment. Instead, it left a mess. People were confused and discouraged. This is often the case with immitation Christianity.

So how do we know when this type of thinking creeps into our spiritual life? Here are six signs you might be a Pharisee and don’t even know it.

You do not think you are a Pharisee

Did you hear about the latest Pharisee convention? Me neither. That’s because no one went. No one put it on. Because no one thinks they are a Pharisee. Pharisees are too busy pointing out other people’s fault to take the time to deal with their own.

You subscribe to radical Christianity

I used to be a radical Christian. I took pride in that. Now I realize “radical”  was just a code word for legalism. Radical Christians go to the extreme and believe everyone else is not “really” serving God with all of their heart until they are making the same sacrifices as they are.

You believe you are an elite Christian

If you think there are classes of Christians, then you may subscribe to the false brand of Christianity called legalism. Do you look down on others who do not share your same convictions? Then you misunderstand that convictions are for you and the gospel is for everyone.

You misunderstand holiness

If your priority is outside appearance, then you misunderstand holiness and may be stuck in a Christina performance trap. Jesus called people like this whitewashed tombs. They look good on the outside but are dead on the inside. True holiness begins with grace, is maintained by grace, and works its way from the inside out.

You question other people’s salvation

Do you take snapshots of where people are in the exact moment you see them or do you view yourself and others in a process? Have you ever wondered out loud, “How can they love Jesus and do _________.” Or “If they loved God they would do ________ more.” A Pharisee always questions those who sin differently then they do instead of patiently helping them address the root of the problem.

You serve under a Saul

The thing that made David “David” was he saw Saul as someone worthy of grace and honor.  Instead of focusing on Saul’s faults, he saw himself as the one who needed to become more godly. A Saul sees a Saul in everyone else, while a David is continually looking for the “David” in others, and is aware of the “Saul” in himself.

Only One Good News

In the Book of Galatians Paul warns sternly that anyone twisting the good news would be in danger of judgment. It is one of the harshest warnings in the New Testament. He says, “It pretends to be good news, but is not good news at all.”   

Still, High-Performance Christianity has a way of slipping into the lives of the most well-meaning people. We must keep our eyes, hopes, and security in a love relationship with Jesus and continue to humbly extend the same grace that was given to us to others if we are to avoid this trap.

Posted on Leave a comment

Pursuit Over Perfection

Refresh Your Goals and Your Soul

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going so far? According to the book, FINISH, 92% of New Year Resolutions fail. Jon Acuff says that you have a better chance of getting into Julliard than you do completing your New Year’s Resolution. So if your goals are already derailed, then you are probably not alone.

I can relate.

Falling Short

At the beginning of the year I was determined to exercise at least 30 minutes a day for the first 7 days of the New Year. The only problem was that we went out of town that first week. After traveling all day I kept my exhausted family from sleeping once we arrived at the hotel on the first night so that I could work out. Yet, the next day I missed my goal. The second week of the year I go sick and missed another day. Determined not to be sick the next day I actually worked out in the freezing weather and made my condition even worse.

Perfection is a brutal taskmaster. Seeking perfection is also why many people never find the ability to Finish. Jon Acuff explores this idea in detail in his book, FINISH.

What Causes People to Quit

He opens the book by discussing an online course called, 30 Days of Hustle. A study was done to look at what caused people to finish this course or not. He found out that trying harder and grinding more was not the solution. In fact, the day after people missed an exercise for the first time was the day that most people quit. In other words, the moment people realize that can’t achieve perfection they quit.

The Problem of Perfection

This is an extremely helpful thought for those trying to achieve goals, but it also caused me to think about our spiritual lives as well. I used to try and maintain a perfect Christian existence. I didn’t allow myself or anyone else to make mistakes. This caused me to be constantly discouraged and those around me were on pins and needles afraid to make mistakes as well. I thought permitting myself and others to make mistakes would be licensing compromise. In actuality, it would have only been allowing people to be human.

I do not believe God wants us to live that way.

The Solution of Pursuit.

This is why I have learned to champion pursuit over perfection. This is not only good for your New Year’s Resolution but for your soul as well. God modeled how He wanted us to live by pursuing us first (Romans 5:8). God could have demanded that we serve Him, but instead allows us to choose to respond to a love relationship with Him. 

We never need God more than when we make a mistake. The lie of perfection will cause us to hide from what we need most in a moment of weakness. Feelings of “I’m not good enough” or “I am a failure” sound pious but they really aren’t. They just put the attention on ourselves instead of God.

Pursuit over Perfection

There is not only a freedom that comes from choosing pursuit over perfection, but also the ability to finish what you start. When your faith becomes about rules, regulations, and perfection not only are you missing the point, but you will also become discouraged by your own extra standards.

For more thoughts on overcoming perfection on your quest to finish your goals check out Jon Acuff’s new book, FINISH: