Being Deceived by the Destiny Message

destiny finger pointerIf you are a church-going Christian then I am aware that this title may immediately ruffle your feathers.  But take this blog to heart and consider the premise.  My goal is to look at the “Destiny” message as it is largely taught and understood, and evaluate it in light of the purpose of Christ.  Also I want to explore how this message can be used to manipulate a believer as well as shackle them with feelings of grief and worthlessness.

What is the destiny message?  The church in the last decade or so (and probably longer) has been championing the idea that each of us have a destiny.  This destiny is to be adopted into God’s family by faith, to receive his grace so that we can do something great for God.  All in all we are told that God loves us, he sacrificed his all for us and now we are called in to his grand plan.  This grand plan is usually equated to doing something greater.  Something BIG.  Because that is his ultimate purpose for us as a believer, to do His work in the earth.

So what, you might ask, is wrong with that message?  Truthfully, there is nothing wrong with that message as it stands alone.  The problem and the reason for addressing the message of destiny, is how that message is communicated, what is typically implied and how you define words like “big”, “greater”, “his work”, “his grand plan”.  This message of destiny is true and lovely, but can be married to something filthy, ugly and self serving.

It’s kind of like watching a movie.  When you watch an emotional scene on the big screen, your heart is tugged and pulled as the soft emotional music underscores the actions of the actor and actresses on screen.  The music and the image work together to generate an emotion that touches your heart.  This is how the process is designed to work.  It generates the proper response.  Now imagine that same emotional music underscoring a scene of carnage, destruction and death.  The music moves us emotionally, but the image onscreen doesn’t make sense.  The image onscreen isn’t beautiful, moving or lovely.  It is in fact awful to view, but our heart has a hard time dealing with this polarized emotional concoction.  We can’t deny the beauty of the score and we can’t deny the horror of the images.

This is how I view the destiny message as it has taken root in the Christian faith.  A beautiful and emotional musical score underlying scenes of carnage, destruction and death.

At times we have appropriately shared the truth of God’s love, forgiveness, grace, acceptance with people who are absolutely dying to hear that they are special.  People need to know that our God loves everyone and that each and every person on the planet is special to him.  Sadly this is where the good news usually ends, and instead of letting God dictate his terms to his new son or daughter about their new inheritance, we jump in and dictate the terms for him.  We have a great knack for fast-tracking believers into action.  Motivation be damned!  What counts is what you can take into account!

If you are of the mind that doing something great for God means being in leadership, speaking on stage to people, planting a church, being a missionary, giving away all of your possessions, committing your life to full-time ministry, being a worship leader, etc. then someone has taken the place of God and dictated the terms of your inheritance to you.  These aren’t evil things to do – and they are great things (most of them are at least) – but they have nothing to do with greatness in the eyes of God.

This may come as a shock to you, but it’s true:  You could quit all of what you are doing for God today and it has zero effect on how he feels about you as a child.  If you are a parent you know this to be true.

Deception is best and most effectively used when it is paired with morsels of truth.  Good things are used by our enemy to distract you from your loving Father and His voice.  Good things are used to draw your attention to yourself and consequently away from the truly Great One.

So what am I saying?  Lay down on the couch for the rest of your life and think about God’s love?  Well if you wanted to do that and somehow were able to accomplished it, it wouldn’t change the way God feels about you.  But I guarantee you that you will not be able to sit still that long.  God’s love is a seriously motivating force.  What I am saying is get to know the One that poured out His wrath on His Son on your behalf.  The One who adopted you into His family and made you a son or daughter in His house.

I can guarantee you that Jesus did not accept the cross so that you could become a church leader, a missionary, a worship pastor or a church planter (my apologies to all of the above).  He purchased you so that you could take part in the fullness of the intimacy he shares with His Father.  You might become one of these folks, after all you are given gifts from God for you to use, but I promise that whatever you do will be a fruit of your intimate relationship with the Father and not that which defines you.

Enjoy your life with God.  Experience the joy of friendship and family.  Receive the Father’s love into your heart.  Be transformed into a man or woman at peace with life and death.  Understand the prompting of the Holy Spirit in your heart and joyfully follow after his leading.  Learn to walk in the fullness and freedom of your newly realized heritage.

Let your destiny journey start (and linger) there.  Understand yourself as a son or daughter and watch as the Lord opens your heart to the fullness of your inheritance.

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Love, Grace and Apple Trees

apple treeGod’s love is a wonderful thing.  It’s pure, everlasting, fulfilling and it leaves you content.  Pure because it comes from Him whose very essence spiritually is love.  Everlasting because God is eternal and cannot change.  Fulfilling because according to any momentary revelation of it you are instantly filled.  It leaves you content because it lowers the value of all other things in your life and leaves you satisfied as you receive it.

If you are not at rest, filled or satisfied then you need to understand God’s love.  But you can’t just tell someone, “God loves you.”  If you do, you will encounter a plethora of responses.  Anything from a flat, “I know,” or an inquisitive, “How could he?” to and exuberant and energetic, “Amen brother!”  All responses are rooted in belief systems that have been shaped from life experiences, creating an understanding of love that gives way to a response.

“Love” means so many different things to so many different people.

The main reason there is so much variety is because people don’t define God’s love through God himself, but through themselves.  And people are different, with different backgrounds, different beliefs, different struggles and different lifestyles.  That is why you have to explain love in a way that everyone can understand.  In a way that everyone can relate to and appreciate.  A way that creates a feeling of gratitude.  You have to explain God’s grace.

Grace is also a wonderful thing.  It came from God through Jesus to restore all humanity to a place where being accepted wasn’t a matter of doing a sacred ritual, being obedient to a rule, or having a full understanding.  Grace is unmerited favor from a Father whose unconditional love for mankind prepared the way for a savior to bridge the gap between darkness and light, work and rest, sin and righteousness – for all humanity all time.  And once you have crossed that bridge you cannot accidentally uncross it against your will.

That’s because God’s grace is free.  You cannot lose it according to your behavior.  You cannot sin your way out of it.  Grace requires nothing from you.  Absolutely nothing.  In spite of the moniker most of us learned in our youth, grace is in fact “greasy” (some of you know what I mean).

And this is a major problem for Christians.  Well not really all Christians as much as Christians in leadership.  Why?  Because there is a thought that it gives people the right to sin.  And by the way, they are absolutely right about that…it does give everyone the right to sin.  Really.  Any of the most graphic sins you can think of and act upon are now “legal”.  And I’m not joking in the least when I say that.

But not only is there a fear that sin will run rampant, there is also a fear that people might become “rebellious”.  The thought is that a fellowship of believers that is liberated by the message of God’s grace will only result in anarchy and rebellion.  People might stop submitting to leaders, volunteering in the nursery, tithing, or even going to the church service at all.  And obviously this doesn’t bode well for something that is dependent on these very things.

However, there is one thing that people who fear the message of grace tend to greatly underestimate:  Grace has incredible creative power in the life of the believer.  It’s kind of a big thing to underestimate, but it couldn’t be more common.  It could be said that grace requires nothing from you, but it inspires everything in you.  Grace inspires righteous living.  Grace inspires giving.  Grace inspires Christian fellowship.  Grace inspires caring for one another.  Grace inspires doing a good job.  In the same way that an apple tree produces apples, anything you can think of that is good, pure, righteous or holy is in fact produced by grace.

But on the other hand, any good deed, any righteous living, any giving, any Christian fellowship (gasp), any caring for one another, etc. that is not born from grace is actually…counterfeit.  In this situation these seemingly good things are products of carnality (or the flesh).  They may look the same externally, but they are entirely different creatures internally.

And this is why the message of grace is so important.  Without understanding your complete and total freedom to sin at will you cannot fully understand your freedom from sinning at will.  Harping on the truth of grace is so necessary, but most people abandon the message too early in search of its fruit.  Patience is not something our culture understands very well.  And if the fruit isn’t found upon first inspection, many will lose hope – or worse – just produce it themselves to soothe their conscience.

That is like planting an apple seed, waiting a day and then handcrafting a fake apple tree with fake apples.  We know what apples look like, but we are still a bit confused on the process and we are tired of waiting,  so out come the tools and we begin crafting.  The real pros then parade the apple tree around town boasting about their fruit and how delicious it is.  Enticing another generation to follow their fruit crafting methods.  Just don’t let someone take a bite or they’ll realize it tastes…well…artificial.

In fact many people are caught somewhere in this apple tree analogy claiming freedom from sin, but still really concerned about righteousness in their lives and the lives of others.  Natural growth born from God’s grace isn’t allowed to run its course so the fruits of righteousness, purity, cleanliness, etc. are propped up.  These fruits of grace have entangled Christ followers ever since Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and set forth a new one between God and man.  Whole ministries to this day are still built on the idea of raising a standard of righteousness.

But isn’t Jesus the standard of righteousness that was already raised on our behalf?  And if so, doesn’t everything begin and end in him?  Doesn’t that change everything we know about God’s love and grace?

Getting Your Life “Right”

Bullhorn evangelism“You just need to get your life right,” I said to my newest Christian project in college. “Listen, God loves you and to prove that, he gave everything he has for you. You need to come under lordship and serve him with a righteous life.”

His eyes were looking back at me with something that I just couldn’t understand. Honestly, I wasn’t even concerned about what he was thinking or feeling. I just wanted him to get it. I wanted what I was saying to resonate inside of him and change his life forever. But I didn’t really care about him. I didn’t have time to care about him. His life was a burning building and I just had to rescue him…now.

“It’s your reasonable service…I mean, it really is the very least you could do,” I finally added.

Now the stage was set. All my cards were played. What was he going to say? How was he going to respond? You know what’s funny…I can’t remember what happened after this. I’m sure he didn’t have a life changing experience (I would have remembered that). I think it was more like other experiences I had prior to this… Something along the lines of him laughing nervously followed by a deflecting statement and walking away while I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. I probably said something to myself about him not being “on fire enough” or “sucking as a Christian” (yes those are direct quotes).

By now you’re either cringing or wondering what the big deal is (hopefully you’re cringing). And as ugly as this story is, the real travesty is what was going on in my own heart. I couldn’t have cared less about this guy. This guy was a target of mine and in my mind and my culture at that time it didn’t really matter how this guy responded. If he responded positively by agreeing with me, repenting and joining my campus group I would have been proud of myself. If he responded negatively then it would be his issue, not mine. Either way I had done my job. Mission complete. Target destroyed.

Clearly I was not motivated by the power of love for this guy. I don’t beat myself up for it though because I thought I was doing everything right. This was how I was trained. Not only that, I hadn’t been wrecked by God’s love so what did I really have to give anyway? All I had to give was what I had in abundance – self righteousness, fear, insecurity and sin consciousness – not exactly the pillars of relational health. But that was my internal state while I was waiving the banner of righteous living in the name of Christ – the one who ironically gave fully of himself so that we might be called righteous by faith alone.

And that’s why the “get your life right” proclamation falls short. What Christ did on the cross set the whole world in right standing with God leaving nothing left to “get right” on our end. Not only that, it’s the epitome of self-righteousness to think that anything we can do could accomplish righteousness in the eyes of God. This gospel of righteous living and lordship salvation is not any gospel at all. It is a perverted message used primarily to manipulate behavior through guilt and fear. It is a message that is in direct opposition to the cross of Jesus Christ and free grace by simple faith. It is a message that elevates the power of sin above the cross of Christ.

Had I known then what I know now, maybe I wouldn’t have been so interested in this college guy living a better Christian life and sinning less. Maybe I would have been more interested in him getting to know the One that bought his freedom. Maybe God’s love would have poured forth from me naturally. Maybe that’s what would have resonated inside of him and changed his life forever.

When Easter Gets Inside

valley of flowersEaster means so much more to me now than it did before. As a kid Christmas was definitely my religious holiday of choice (for obvious reasons), but now things are much different for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Christmas – having a family makes it even more fun then when I was a kid – but Easter has really risen to the top lately. Like I said, it hasn’t always been this way. The Easter holiday of my childhood (and really most of my life up until a few year ago) was a weekend in April when we went to church, had lunch with the family, hunted for Easter eggs and watched/slept through the final round of the Masters. The Easter story of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was annually preached and we were all encouraged to be excited about this particular historical event and what it meant for us as Christians.

It was always a great time with my family, but for some reason I never got it. I knew the facts and the stories and the language, but nothing had registered inside my heart. The funny thing is I didn’t know it hadn’t registered on the inside – in fact I probably would have argued that it had! But the truth remained – Easter hadn’t gotten into my heart.

That is, until about three years ago, when I finally understood the message of Easter for the first time. It was then, on a hot, muggy, summer day in Nashville while re-roofing an old house that a friend of mine explained God’s love to me. The burdens of self-righteousness and performance were destroyed over the course of an afternoon and eventually I began to understand the basic truth of God’s unconditional love toward me and unmerited favor upon me. It was the first time the cross of Christ became real to me. The first time Christ’s resurrection meant something to me. The first time I got a glimpse of my lover in pursuit of me. This was my first meaningful Easter experience.

Since that day I’ve had many Easter experiences. Sometimes once a week, sometimes multiple times during a day – whenever the Lord reveals himself to me and I am tuned in to Him it happens. I am reminded of God’s love and provision and then the cross of Christ comes alive in my heart again. That’s when I feel loved…wanted…safe…cared for…at peace…joyful. This ultimately results in deep, heart-felt thankfulness. The kind where words aren’t capable enough to express it, but it feels something like eternal life. And that’s what celebrating Easter is for me now – a time (anytime) when hearts are grateful as they meditate on the beauty of their Christ and what he has done for them.

And as for the April holiday, I’m still into Easter egg hunts and the final round of the Masters. Time for a nap…Jim Nantz has the voice of an angel.