Fallen From Grace (A Fresh Perspective)

In the world that I grew up in, ‘Fallen From Grace’ was something catastrophic, an unwanted label, something hugely embarrassing, and something that had an irreparable air about it. At all costs, you wanted to avoid this humiliation, this shaming, this ‘DIS’ Grace. Coming back, if you could, from a fallen position was something that would take hours, days, months or even years to repair, and it might also bar you from a place in heaven. The message was as dangerous as it sounds. It was invoked with a warble in the voice and exaggerated gestures that made the most religious squirm.

That was then, and I for one am glad that it is over for me. Oh, there are still many who would follow that understanding, but for me, there is a fresh understanding that is light years apart from that and has brought back peace and purpose.

I believe that a person can and will fall from grace, but the definition of grace isn’t directly connected to a description of eternal consequence.

Grace simply put, biblically put, is God’s ability given to an individual to meet the task, problem, obstacle, or challenge at hand. God actually empowers you to meet face-on what you need to ‘get through.’ He gives you the ‘grace to help’ in time of need

Falling from that? Falling from grace just means that I have chosen to meet that same obstacle in my own ability and trying to use my own strength, or once again saying, “God I’ve got it.” That’s it. I can continue in that power struggle if I wish or I can yield.

But, that also intrinsically means that I can get back to where God is the one helping and empowering by simply admitting my error, “God I just tried to do this, again, in my own wisdom and ability. I want and need you. I need your grace once again. Amen.” No longer fallen, once again connecting and growing with Him.

Just like getting back on a horse, dust your self off, check out and correct your place of compromise and get back up and get going.

God gives grace to the humble.

Small Victories

DCIM999GOPROI’ve had great moments where I trusted entirely. But, probably like you, that trust didn’t stay Front and Centre very long.

I, once again, rose in my humanness and took over the thought process. I once again began to fixate on things I couldn’t change, bringing tomorrow into today’s capacity and finding it overwhelming. Ya, once again.

Today is a small victory; today I decided that I would live like my prayers have been heard. I’ve decided that my faith and my action would be harmonious.

Now that I remember God’s got it, I’ll rest.

Ordered Steps, (321,090 of them)

Three times on our recent trip to Europe I got us hopelessly lost, twice in Paris and once in Helsinki. 

41043279-1eb4-4c30-b57e-3de605f9ed78Mostly we had an amazing time of meandering and discovery. Our amazing discoveries included; a cup of Cappuccino with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra; the Changing of the Royal Palace Guard dressed in their royal blue regalia in Old Stockholm; Swedish Meatballs at an exquisite restaurant in a small, hidden, triangular courtyard; and Ratatouilles’ friend Remy alive and well at dusk in a hugely populated courtyard. (Chill your spine and curl up into a fetal ball on your chair encounter.) 

My wife and I have learned to travel together by meandering and off-the-grid discovery. It not only works well, but it also works best for us. We don’t spend a lot of money on tourist nets that have been previously set with our names on them. Instead, we discover great places to take a break and sometimes, too often, eat. Parks, bridges, architecture, and archways garnered photo ops by the megabyte.

The hopelessly lost part happened because we had to get to someone else’s ‘great discovery’ restaurant. The ‘have to’ combined with my North American grid mentality was not a right combination in a city of circles and wedges, especially when you add in about 10,000 extra steps.

Even a good relationship can get somewhat testy when you circle around your hotel an extra 2 kilometres in the dark cobblestone streets with rain, without GPS because it’s 11:20 pm and your phone has just died.

We loved the vibe of ancient Europe. We loved the clash and harmony of the architecture of days gone by with the new and innovative appeal. Europe for us equals an amazingly inspired time of pause and reflection.

In a quiet time this morning, I read, “A person’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand their own way?” (Proverbs 20:24, NIV)

It occurred to me that not only our positive steps but all of our steps have a divine oversight because God really is taking us on a discovery journey, an amazing could be inspired time, of pause and reflection.

Is God Religious?

A couple of nights ago I was prepping a couple for their wedding this Saturday.

Part of the prep was to look at the ‘Love passage’ from 1 Corinthians 13. As we were going through it, it occurred to me that God isn’t religious.

I got to that thought by reading through and discussing, ‘what love is,’ with this couple. Then, in my mind, I linked the passage from 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (NIV)

Through the pen or stylus of John, God describes himself as ‘love.’ Love has nothing to do with protocol, although it can be included in the protocol. Love has nothing to do with tradition, although without it, tradition could be quite dry.

God could have described himself in an infinite number of ways, but he chose love. He didn’t say, I am the God of dotted ‘I’s’ and crossed ’T’s,’ he could have, but, he didn’t say that. From the pen of the one who spent three unbelievable years with Jesus, the one who heard him say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,” John writes, “…God is love.”

That’s it, that is all you need. That is all I need. Three up close and personal, very personal, years and searching for the right word John says it is ‘Love.’

John knew that Jesus wasn’t religious. He watched and heard him call those who were religious some pretty shameful things. He heard Jesus say, “You need to do what they are saying, the good things, but don’t be like them.” It is like John’s observation was saying, don’t switch the relationship from personal to performance. Jesus never did.

Why not take a walk with Jesus through the pages of scripture? Don’t read to prove something, instead, read to get the whole picture, and I think you will begin to realize that it was all personal with him. Jesus showed it was people that mattered to God, not religion. In fact, the only way that religion mattered at all was when Jesus said, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” That statement was even more up close and personal as it came from Jesus’ half-brother James. (James 1:27, NIV) God then and now desired to have intimate, personal, connect with people who were being kept away from him by the religion that was supposed to bring them to him.

So, today, God isn’t looking for you to get religion. I kind of think he hopes you won’t. Instead, God is looking for us to have a personal relationship with him that is only available through Jesus.

Address The Mess: Sick! (Next)

Second: See the previous blog

The next thing that became a game changer was that I needed to be sensitive to the nudges and prompts that God gives out for those who are willing to be responsive.

I was prompted in my thoughts, “You were wrong in your dealings with Sam (not his real name) when you told him to get his act together regarding his marriage.”

Years earlier I had lost patience with a dear friend. He was struggling in his marriage, and I had coached and prayed and helped in all ways that I knew how. After many months of doing this I lost patience and just said one day, “Sam when are you going to get your act together?” I was only partway out of my legalistic tendencies. I was still learning how to live free and full of grace toward others.

Moments like this are pivotal, but I didn’t recognize it at the moment.

It was years later in a conversation with God when he brought this up. God had me. Guilty as charged.

I knew my next step was to contact Sam, own my stuff, and Seek forgiveness. I did and was able to grow from this ordeal. I hope he did as well.

It is so easy to fall from Grace. A nuance, a proud moment, a frustrated goal, all can take you into doing things your way and falling away from God’s ability and empowerment. It wasn’t my first encounter and probably not my last.

We need always to be walking humbly with God, Micah 6:8, but it is easy to morph to our own path.

I learned that to have and live a grace-filled life I needed to know how deep my mess went. It was deep.

I learned that we are no different. If left to my own devices, if my background, my family, my life and contextual circumstances were exactly like yours, I would make the exact same decisions that you have made. Every part, every dysfunction, that you experience would be mine and conversely mine would be yours. That is what addressing the mess looks like.

I am susceptible if I try to do life on my own.

I need Gods empowering every bit as much as you or anybody else because if left to myself, I would fall, I would do ‘human’ every time.

So, Grace is God’s empowering for us to do what we cannot do for ourselves. It is the outworking of who the Holy Spirit is in us. If I fall here all I need to do is address the mess, confess it to God, obey him, and once again recalibrate.

Then, only then, I can reach out and be helpful.

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Address The Mess: Sick!

I had completely forgotten about my legalistic tendency.

I was raised in a Christian culture, and my family was considered godly.

Maybe they were, but I was challenged with a legalism which I have come to know is anything but godly.

We had a doctrine of grace and could teach it to you, but an unwritten code of performance. I, being a ‘good’ leader, in kind, passed that on. Grace was given with a smile, but adherence was expected to follow in a not too distant place. Remember, none of this was written down, just expected. I would probably be called delusional for bringing this up because like Jell-O, this code could not be nailed down.

You can only imagine the mess that this spawned.

In this regard, I was like Saul, before he became Paul, knowing that I was accomplishing big things for God, but in fact tying nooses around other’s necks and posturing a righteousness that indeed wasn’t by faith, and indeed wasn’t righteousness at all.

I am so incredibly grateful that this absurdity broke in my life.

There were two significant moments where this was driven home to me.

First:

It had been bothering me for a while, but when I showed up at family functions, I would frequently tell all that would listen about all that I was accomplishing. I couldn’t get the exploits out fast enough. I needed to let everyone know how well I was doing and how neat things were going for me, at least in my fanciful dreams. It was obsessive.

One day, while contemplating another gathering, I realized how I was ramping-up my preparation for the next day. I actually said out loud, “Phil you are sick!”

In a moment of clarity, I knew that my posturing days were over and I was able to walk free.

I started then and continue now to rest in the work that Jesus did for me. One of my favourite passages of scripture reads like this, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV) This passage is actually saying that God has taken our mess, all of it, and has given us in exchange his righteousness. No posturing, no performance, just righteousness.

God has taken my ‘sick’ and has given me right living, if I want it, in its place. I find that unbelievably incredible.

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I will share Second: next time.

Address The Mess: Not So Perfect Picture

We can assume that it is our job to address someone else’s.

Most of the time that is not the case.

Cruise2017aI recently shared this picture on Facebook, and I love it. It captures the sass and the fun that my wife and I frequently have with each other. One of the comments by someone who knows us reasonably well was that it captures our personalities.

What it doesn’t show is the regular, the mundane, the hurt, and the pain that life can hold and sometimes deal out. It doesn’t show the low moments, the struggle moments, or the confusing moments that accompany every relationship and every life. It doesn’t show the hours of conversation or the short nights that it sometimes takes to work through the mess.

We can naively carry on thinking that others have a perfect life and “If I could only have it like them then things would be great.”

Everyone has snapshots that if captured and presented would represent a moment of bliss or euphoria. I am not so concerned about those moments. Instead, I want to address in this series the other 99.99%.

I can think that life is pretty good. I can take care of ‘my side’ and believe that everything is okay. My problem is that I often start with me and work out from there. However, that may not always be the best measurement, and much of the time it can be skewed.

Even though I can look good in a moment to you, or I can look good in my thinking to myself, I also have the potential to affect others, and that will not always have me in a great light. I struggle like you with being human, with getting it right.

I can even go to the scriptural extent that I’m busy trying to take out a sliver from your eye while I am oblivious to the log in my own.

I need to Address The Mess in my own life. That is where I start. Once I come to terms with how short I have fallen, how much I need, how far I have missed the mark of perfection, then maybe, just maybe I can begin to help someone else.

God provides tons of help and encouragement, but it is only available when I can be honest with myself and real with him.

Joseph Series: You Cannot Move Forward Until…

Owning your stuff, finding forgiveness, and trusting in the one who can make a difference, is the new normal; it was for Joseph’s brothers.
The brother’s lives depended on it, and they couldn’t move ahead without it.
Joseph had his brothers, his father, and their entire families move to prime real estate, the best Egypt had to offer. They moved from absolute need to unbelievable provision all because of who they trusted. They once despised him, but now they trusted Joseph with their entire lives and future.
Joseph’s brothers could not have been saved from their dilemma without this trust.
Joseph was a picture of God’s provision to his siblings and all of their families. He was deliverance from their dilemma, healing from their past, hope for their future, and their new way of life.
History shows; the Bible shows; even Broadway shows that they made the right choice and they trusted the right person. It took them a while, it took incredible hardship, but they finally got it right.
Joseph was left for dead, despised, rejected, and unjustly suffered alone. He was raised to a position second only to Pharaoh himself. Joseph used the new position of ‘fortunate’ to provide for everyone else, especially his brothers.
Anyone else in Egypt couldn’t have and wouldn’t have provided for the brothers. Only Joseph had the answer and the help for their deepest needs; it could be argued that this was unfair to others, narrow and extremely exclusive or it could be accepted that this provision was uniquely designed for their personal lives.
Your future life, your new purpose, your hope for what is yet to be are found here; just as Joseph foreshadowed his family’s future hope and provision, so Christ foreshadows yours.
Now, it is your story, your new normal.
Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has its foundation in a true story, which when applied, will change your life.

Joseph Series: Skin In The Game

The moment arrived at lightning speed, and yet the storm took so long to get there.

Joseph waited and dreamed of a day that he wouldn’t be in slavery, he dreamed of having position or prominence, or was that just a faint, old, childish fantasy?

He did all the hard work of introspection and retrospection. He busted his chops to maintain and gain a good attitude. The Bible calls that success.

In a moment, in a whirlwind of, “Pharaoh wants to see you now.” Joseph was standing before the great! In a moment he was in a situation that could cost him his life or promote him to his destiny. He had seen it before. The stakes were incredibly high, the passion was immeasurable, and the ‘skin in the game’ was all Joseph’s.

Years ago I asked an RCMP officer how he liked his job. He said that it was 98% boredom and 2% sheer terror.

This moment for Joseph was framed exactly like that.

It’s improbable that Joseph was thinking that morning, “Next week this time I will be second in command for all of Egypt.” Now here he stood in a breath-held moment totally unsure of what his next step would be.

I find it hard to believe that this played out exactly the way that he dreamed. My experience is life just doesn’t work that way but here very naturally and in sequence Joseph experienced the ‘super’ natural. I believe that his heart held to something more, something that he knew had ‘greater’ attached, but like the rest of us, the clarity was yet to manifest. A supernatural God who, loved and cared passionately for Joseph orchestrated his life, and so he is yours.

Don’t get confused by the supernatural part. My confusion ended when I began to see God as super natural. He’s more natural than I am and more than likely he is going to work through very natural circumstances to see my life where he wants it to be.

And Hey. Since He doesn’t respect one person more than another, He’s doing it for you.

All you need is ‘skin in the game.’

Trust.

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Personal Care

So, I read a story today about a guy when he was young, who, almost cavalierly, asked God to fill his life with the power of the Holy Spirit. He accounts that God immediately answered and he felt God’s power. His life went on to be amazing. The events of his life took a positive graph position, up and to the right, and, looking at his life today, that appears to be exactly what happened.

That is not what happened to me. Oh, when I was young, I felt God amazingly fill me, but my life went anywhere but up and to the right. This reading today was an emotional GPS moment of truth versus feelings for me.

I would like to be able to tell the story of success and accomplishment, according to my version of those things, according to the way that story I read today worked, but that is not my story. Rather my story is one of a very Blue Collar, slug it out, and figure it out type of life. The two books I have written, Blue Collar Theology and Path Out – Eliminate the Swirl, tell some of these accounts.

My point?

Does God show favouritism? Do some get the “Blessed or Easy Way,” while others of us get to clean up the mess? Sometimes it seems so. But, it is not so!

God carefully, amazingly, intimately, and personally cares for you. He is working a plan that supports and includes you, even if it isn’t immediately obvious.

He wants to connect with you in such an incredible and purposeful way. All you need to do is what I did: Acknowledge him in all your ways, (this includes your emotions at the moment) Proverbs 3:5&6, and choose truth over feelings.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

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