Grace for Those Who Believe

I was talking with a good friend of mine recently about grace.   As we discussed our marriages, or kids, our jobs, and other mysteries of our lives, it seemed the topic of grace became a major undertone.  I directed the conversation towards grace and asked some questions…

What is Grace?  What does Grace look like in the our lives as fathers and husbands?  How do we interact with Grace in our lives?

My friend let me know pretty quick that these were NOT easy questions for him to answer.  We went on to talk about other things for the rest of our time together.  I asked him to think about grace and these questions and send me an email with his answers.

Maybe I am getting lazy… just posting other people’s emails in this blog… but I loved his response!  He has agreed to let me post his thoughts and his heart below.  Enjoy!

What do I know of grace?  This was a question I knew for sure, for quite some time until  heard some talk about it.  This topic came up, probably bi-weekly, for around 9-10 months from various people.  I knew God was trying to tell me to do a study on grace, but I kept putting it off. I kept meaning to get around to it, after I finished this book, or that book, or meeting with this guy.  I finally sat down one day and looked into the matter.  What is grace? According to a website definition, grace is special favor, or the unmerited favor of God.   What is merit?  According to another definition, it is the quality of being particularly good or worthy.  What does this mean?  It means there is nothing we can do to be particularly good or worthy of the favor of God.  In the letter of Paul to the Ephesians, he states it is only by grace that we are saved through faith.  This does not have a bearing on anything we can do or achieve of ourselves.  It is purely a gift given to us by God.  This is so nobody can go around boasting and say, “look how much better I am than you are at getting saved.”  This, I knew.  I had no problems with this.  My deeds are like nasty dirty nasty nasty dirty, nasty, rags.  So, I become a Christian based on the work that Christ has accomplished and not on the work that I have accomplished.
Aaaaaaand then it stops.
I learned that I wasn’t good enough to please people, so I tried harder. When I would try really hard, I would find the favor of people.  I learned to associate this approval with good deeds in my day to day life. Grace was something that we needed to come to a saving faith of Jesus while justice was what we needed to keep people in line with their “lack of living the Christian life like their supposed to.”  I began to link the effects of my good deeds in my day to day life to how I view my Heavenly Creator.
So what did this create?  It created a false view of the abundant love of God, post conversion.  Talk about destructive in a marriage relationship, whew, you have no idea.  I could love my wife when she was trying hard enough, and I could love her when she wasn’t trying hard enough, but I had to show her justice in the times she didn’t try so hard.  This was so she could be worthy of MY love.  Well, that didn’t work out very well and I didn’t know that’s what I was doing.  I showed my kids I loved them MORE when they brought home good grades, and they got punished for bringing home bad grades.  I was teaching them that to receive MY love they had to prove themselves worthy.  This is not grace.Grace does not stop when someone professes Christ with their lips  and believes in their heart.  Today, I am in no less need of God’s grace than the person shooting up drugs in the crack house.  I can do nothing on my own merit now, or before I came to a saving faith in Christ.  It doesn’t matter how much I try to prove myself to God for Him to love me.  He just loves me. It also doesn’t matter how little I try, He STILL loves me.  I don’t do spiritual disciplines, like read the bible, to get Gods love.  I can’t.  So why do I have spiritual disciplines if nothing I can do will allow God to love me more or less?  I do them BECAUSE God loves me, not FOR Gods love. Its like if someone were to give me a new car.  I would bring them cookies to show them how much I love them, not to get another car.  This is the same as God’s grace for us. Do  want my kids to do their best in school?  Sure I do.  But now I tell them it doesn’t matter how many F’s or A’s they bring home, I just love them, then we work on extra homework.  We do the homework not to receive my love, but to do with all their might whatever their hands find to do. There’s a story similar to this in regards to Gods grace.  In a college classroom there were the slackers who would come in 15 min after   class started, sit in the back, sleep, and rush out after class.  They would turn in half their assignments and applied themselves to parties and not papers. Then there were the students that would show up 15 min early, sit in the front, and stay after to ask the professor to expound on his lecture.  These students sacrificed their social lives to make the grade.  When the end of the semester came, the students crowded around the cork board to see what they got for their final grade.  To the studious students amazement they noticed they received an A, but they also noticed the bad students received an A as well.  They became irate and nearly rioted outside the professors office.  How on earth were the bad kids able to make an A when they put in half the amount of work?  The professor replied, Isn’t it my grade to give as I see fit?  The “bad” students aren’t worthy of an A.  But neither are the “good” students.  They both receive a reward, not based on their merit, but based on being in the class.Now, with grace and love, grace and works, there’s also grace and freedom.  Legalism – law, liberty, love – license.  Let me explain.  We have grace. We have grace with love, liberty and the law.  Because of Grace, we have love in law, and love in liberty.  Because of Grace we have liberty in love, and liberty in law, and law in love and law in liberty.  This is all in balance and all because of grace.  When grace is skewed we go to an extreme. On the right there is “license.”  We say, because of grace I have the license to do whatever I want (so that grace may abound even more.) And on the other side we have Legalism.  You have to wear a suit and tie on Sundays or you are required to read the bible every day, if not then you’re sinning and Jesus won’t love you.  When grace is in balance we have what is called, freedom. Because of grace, I can be free to disagree with people.  Because of grace, I can be free to not have sexual addictions.  Because of grace, I can be free to be there for my children if they go down a wrong path.  I don’t condemn these people because of grace.  I can’t learn to love, and I mean actually love, until I learn grace.  To sum up what Jerry Bridges says, it wasn’t Christ died so that we could have grace, rather, because of grace Christ died.So what is grace to me now?  Well, in a nutshell, grace is something I need on a daily basis.  I am not worthy on my own.  Nothing I could ever do could ever come close enough to have God love me more or less than what He does. I work to show myself worthy of the calling with which He has called me.  I work, BECAUSE of the love He loved me with, not for it.  I love my wife because of the love that God has for her, not what she is doing or how she is doing it. And I love my children, not because of what they can do, but because I have freedom,with grace, to demonstrate this love of God to them.Honestly, I don’t know if I could ever explain the full concept of grace. But this I know, grace has changed my post conversion life in a way that I would never have expected. 

 It’s not about winning and losing.
It’s just grace.

Confidence or Something Else?

If you would have asked me about my confidence a year ago today, I would have told you that, though I come across as being very confident, I am really not.  I felt as though I was lost in a cloud, flying blind, a lot of the time (and still feel this way a lot).  I would make decisions and if they went poorly, I reacted very badly.  I tended to pour anger and frustration all around me because I felt as though I was not capable, or was not ready to be in the positions in which I found myself.

Ask me now about my confidence and I will tell you with great assurance that I am no longer as confident as I used to be!  I will also tell you that it is okay.

My parents, in-laws, wife, and kids can all tell you about times that things have not turned out the way I had hoped they would because of a simple mistake or oversight on my behalf, and how I feel as though I have failed at so many things.  Having come to this school, I have been placed in some very difficult positions.  The pace is so quick, the requirements so strict, the instructors so demanding, I have been forced to start pushing the envelope which contains my sense of “everything will be okay.”

Everything will in fact NOT be okay.

I am going to fail and I am going to screw stuff up.

I have been told by past leaders that I am a leader, that the bar I set for my peers is pretty high, and that I outperform those around me.  I never saw that.  I saw that other people would get worked up a lot more about the requirements, would work harder at their tasks than me, and would spend more time getting their tasks accomplished than I would.  My perspective was that they were better equipped and more motivated to succeed than I was, that they understood what was going on better than I did, yet somehow my leadership, and those working around me, started to rely on me as the “go to guy” for things that involved me.  I was so afraid of screwing up what I was working on, that I never pulled the trigger on a project or task until I was absolutely, positively, 100% sure that the task was complete and met the standard.  By the time I executed my task, I felt absolutely confident that it was right…  but I would not act until then.  This did not breed in me a sense of confidence though, it simply created a sense of focus, speed, and intensity in me that caused me to work my tasks faster than those around me.  While they were still unsure of what to do, I had finished my work and called the shot… confidence in my ability or quickness to finish because of a lack of confidence in my environment?

I would stay at work until 3 AM working on some tasks.  Think about that!  I would do almost 2 days work at night while my peers were home asleep because I was afraid I was going to miss a deadline or turn in a job that was incomplete.  My “confidence” was purely fueled by a true lack of confidence.

I do not have the time or resources to work my current tasks until they are absolutely 100% complete.  I am having to turn things in, run reports, finish tasks when I am mostly sure they are okay.  That is a long way from 100% complete and correct.  I am turning things in that meet the standard but require some correction instead of turning in perfection.

Having worked for so long in an environment where my work was pretty close to perfect, turning in things that simply meet the requirement is really hard.

It got even worse this month.  So far I have failed 1 test (made a mighty 64 on it), and have had to redo one of my tasks 7 times before it met the standard!  Talk about a death blow to my paradigm of confidence.  In the midst of the rework, I had the privilege of writing lines like I was back in middle school in order to correct one of my deficiencies.  I am faced with a Gastrointestinal lab, Head/Ears/Eyes/Nose/Throat (HEENT) lab, Cardiovascular exam, and HEENT exam all stacked up next week.

Guess what… my world did not come to an end.  I have royally screwed up several things this month now that I am having to perform on a much higher level than I have in the past and it is okay.

I don’t feel as though I have clearly communicated what I am feeling…  let me summarize like this…

I was so afraid of failing and having other people see me how I see me that I worked really REALLY hard to make sure everything I did was absolutely spot on.

Now I am in an environment where I cannot do what I used to do.

I was super afraid that I would drop the ball and the people around me would see me for the fraud that I so often feel I am.

I dropped the ball… I dropped it many times!

The people around me, family, friends, co-workers, leaders, looked at me, gave their advice/criticism, and moved on.

I had to do a lot of work because everything is not okay.

Apparently that is life…

And I really am okay!

Confidence is a thing of irony for me now.

What others may see in me and call confidence is really just me learning how to fail, recover well, and live with the grace and mercy that has been given to me.

Everything in life is not okay, but with grace, I can be.

…  So Joey, when you ask how I am doing, and I say, “I’m doing really well” and you say, “Awesome… I would like to hear why you are doing well…”… well…  this is why.

Thanks for asking!


I’ma Burn This Jungle to the Ground part 1

I stood on the edge of a pristine beach.  My heart was broken within me.  All the hope I had ever known had just been flushed from my soul.  While other people rested at the waters edge upon the warm, sugary sand, I stood lost in a numbing,  bitter pain.  As the confusion faded and I began to realize clearly the position I was in, my pain became anger.  Anger became Rage.

And I decided the best choice I had was to burn the jungle to the ground.

I have been a Christian for a long time.  I have taught lessons, led studies, and hosted discussions.  I have given advice and counselled those who were looking for help.  I have read and studied so much and memorized entire books of the Bible.  I have spent entire backpacking trips focussed on prayer.

And I have collapsed to a point of suicidal hopelessness when it was all said and done.

The only analogy that I could come up with during this dark night of the soul was about me walking through a jungle all my life.  Surviving as best as I could.  I had been told at one point that on the other side of this massive jungle there is a magnificent city.  Paradise.  Rest.  Gumbo and cold beer.  As I encountered other folks cutting through the vines and brush, I would tell them about this restful paradise.  I would encourage them to keep pressing into the jungle.  I would help them sharpen their machetes and coach them as they started swinging again.  I was making my way to the clear meadow with warm sunshine and a bath, and I was encouraging and leading others to the same.

Can you imagine the way I felt when, all of a sudden, I could see the edge of the jungle.  I picked up my pace and feverishly hacked and slashed through the vines to get to the clearing.  As I got closer and closer the sound of water grew louder and louder.  Like a bowling ball striking the pins, I came bursting out of the jungle and onto the beach.

There was no city.

The very thing which I had set as my life’s goal had been washed away.  I had been deceived.  My life had no purpose.  I could not keep doing what I was doing because I had come out of the jungle.  Go back in?  Not hardly!!  That place is full of hard work to survive and I knew there was no point in pressing on.  There was nothing for me to press on towards.

I had never even heard of the beach and swimming was not a skill ever discussed in the jungle.  What I needed to do was communicate to everybody else that they were living a lie.  A sham.  The most effective way to do that is to light a match and watch the whole thing go up in smoke.

So I did.

Burn It Down

I would go for a run each day during work and I would cross busy roads without ever looking for traffic.  I would chant over and over again that my life was worthless and death would be better.  I did not care if I got hit by a car.  Getting hit by a car would have been an improvement.

I told my wife to take our kids and move back in with her parents.  I told her it would be better for them to not be near me.  I explained to her that I was about to put an end to life as I knew it and that she really did not want to be there for that.

I told the group of people who met in my house for a Bible Study that I was a sinking ship.  I could not tell them with any confidence that God existed.  I was sensitive to the fact that they cared about their beliefs and I did not want to cause them such turmoil and pain.  I encouraged them to leave, seek spiritual guidance elsewhere, and stay as far from me as possible.  I was full of poison.

I was hit by the bumper of no car.

My wife refused to take my kids and leave.

The men and women who had trusted me to teach and lead them in their faith risked their sanity and remained faithful to me.

So I was stuck.  Sitting on a beach.  I lit my match, I started a small fire, I warned the people to take a step back, and they just sat and watched.

Then the fire went out.

And I just sat…

Since there was nothing else to do but sit, I started to think.  Thinking can be dangerous.  My dad told me years ago that a mind is a terrible thing.  (We did not have many deep conversations growing up, but that one was a life changer for me.)

What if the goal of my life was wrong?  What if I had misunderstood who I was or been misled in the early years of my travels?  What if my entire perspective were wrong?

So I sat still and started rethinking my paradigm.

I could not be an atheist because of some of the things I had already heard and seen.  Just like there are some things in the world that are hard for a Christian to explain, and things within the Bible that are hard to reconcile with other things in the Bible, so also are there some things in the world that are hard for Atheists to explain, some things in life that are hard to reconcile to a belief without God.  So I maintained faith in a higher power.

I have read and studied a wide variety of religious writings which lead me to believe in a monotheistic God.  After getting to that point, it was easy for me to reaffirm my belief in the God of the Bible.

But this left me with a dilemma…

I believed this before and it led me to a beach instead of a city.

In order for this Jesus to be real, and for me to have been let down as I had been, then perhaps the Jesus that exists is not the Jesus that I knew.  Is it possible to be a Christian, pray to Jesus, read His word, and still not really know him?   Or to know Him but miss a really significant part of who He is?



Identity, Purpose, and Values

I talk about this one a lot.

I have been very fortunate to have been allowed the access and involvement in the lives of people with the purpose of influencing them to greater maturity.  I have spent a lot more time working with guys than I have girls so this may not be completely accurate for the the lady folks out there, but it seems to be quite accurate for the dudes.

So I said to the tool,

“What kind of tool are you?”

“Are you a screw driver, a shovel, or an axe?”

“Easy question,” said the tool, “I’m an axe!”

“Awesome… how do you know?”

“Because I have this handle and my blade is sharp.”

“I enjoy cutting down the weeds and scrub brush in the ditches…”

“I like when my blade is sharp… that is when everything is right in the world.”

No… I have not ever actually wandered into my garage and selected a tool at random and started a conversation, though I have gotten frustrated enough that I have rebuked my tools for not working as I think they should.  This conversation seems to fit the standard pattern that a lot of my conversations with younger (and some not so younger) guys tend to go.  I am essentially asking them, “Who are you?”  The answers I usually get is, “I am this, because I have evaluated the things I enjoy and the things I value, and that has led me to believe that this is who I am.”

This is not a bad thing.  Introspection coupled with some good observation skills and a little bit of counsel or advice can really help a man define precisely who he is.  Although this is not a “bad” evaluation method, I find it to be a bit flawed.  I would rather start with an identity, and then use this kind of evaluation to bring a bit more clarity, detail, or understanding to that identity.

Why do I think there is a flaw?

Because I have lost count of the men who tell me who they are, and yet live defeated, unfulfilled, frustrated lives of simmering anger and a frozen, stifled resignation to accept the status quo.  They rage within because of the frustration, some of them even going to great lengths to straighten out what is crooked, and often there is no deeper fulfilment, no longer lasting joy, no resonating peace within their lives.   If so many of the men whom I have spoken with have defined their identity in the above manner and yet come to this same end result, then there must be a flaw in the equation.

“An axe, you say?”

“You derive great joy and pleasure from cutting the scrub brush and weeds in the ditch, but what about the firewood?”

“Yeah… about firewood… I’m more of a ditch weed kind of axe.”

“You do not cut wood?”

“Nope… I’ve had a bad experience in the past… really hurts.”

“Have you ever considered that maybe you are not an axe?”

“Maybe your starting premise was wrong?”

At this point it gets kind of grimy.  When I look a man in his eyes and start to imply that he has no idea who he is, I feel as though I am potentially releasing a raging bull hopped up on coke and looking for a fight.  I’m always scared when I broach this part of the conversation.

Here’s why…

Our identity seems to be defined for us when we are young.  Whether this is done by people that we love, or people that we have to be with, it is defined for us.  We go through life viewing everything around us, including our own thoughts, values, priorities, actions, desires, etc., through the lens of our identity.  If I tell a man that he does not know who he is, then I am pulling a card, a bottom card, from his house of cards… his whole world might collapse.  Lucky for me, I am not too convincing the first time I start talking about this kind of stuff!

“What if you are not an axe at all… What if you are  shovel”

“Shovels have sharp blades…

       long handles…

          and do pretty well at cutting the weeds…

              and scrub brush in the ditch…

but they really come alive when they get to dig…”

I get to ask questions!!  I love asking questions.  I never know what is about to get uncovered.  I am not trying to cause trouble for these guys, I want to see them free.  So I ask questions that will hopefully get them to start thinking the “why” questions for their life.  I want to introduce doubt into the equation.  Even if who they think they are really is who they are, a little doubt and questioning goes a long way in shoring up their confidence in who they are.  At the worst I get to help them embark upon a seekers journey…  and sometimes I get to help them figure out who they are.

After establishing an identity, I like to talk about purpose.  The trick is that this is where these conversations usually start.  A man will tell me that he feels so frustrated because he is doing everything that he knows to do, is doing good things, things of value, and yet he is frustrated.  He just wants to make his little mark on the world but feels as though for all his work, he is still waiting to work where he feels he fits.  This is a question about purpose, but I cannot encourage a shovel to keep on beating his head into trees in an axe world.  So we go back to identity and figure out we are a shovel.  Most of the men I have had these talks with have a hard time understanding that identity drives purpose.  They seem to instinctively think that purpose drives identity.  “I am good at this, and it is what I do, so it must be who I am.”  Sorry bro… no.

“Is a shovel a shovel because it digs, or does it dig because it is a shovel?”

So after working out identity, purpose kind of starts to fall into place.

After purpose starts to fall into place, values start to fall into place.

If we judge our purpose and then derive our identity from that, then we have determined who we are.  If we are the ones who define our identity, then our values are really quite arbitrary.

So where does identity come from?

I believe it comes from Jesus.  In the book of Ephesians, I read a line that says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father in Heaven, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  There are a couple other passages which talk about Jesus giving us a new name or knowing our name.  I understand that my name is the label of my identity.

So I spend time reading scripture with the these guys and sitting at the feet of Jesus.  I encourage them to forget about trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and instead give this a shot and try to figure out who they are.

It has not worked %100 of the time, but it has worked a lot more than it has failed.

As a matter of fact, one of the guys I meet regularly with right now started meeting with me because of one of these conversations.  He was adamant that identity does not matter!  Purpose… what is my purpose?  He trusted me and decided to play my little game… and in the last 6 months this dude has figured out 2 things…

1.  A shovel is not a shovel because it digs, it digs because it is a shovel.

2.  He is not a shovel.

So this is what I say…

Identity drives Purpose, Purpose drives Values.  Looking for the source of identity within tends to be inaccurate.  Looking for the source of identity external seems to produce slightly better results.

If you do not know who you are, send me a message.  I would love to help you start looking for the source of your identity.