This past weekend, I was riding around with my wife, listening to music. The song “Rocket” by The Smashing Pumpkins came on. I have probably heard this song no less than 10,000 times (I am a huge Pumpkins’ fan), but for some reason on this particular day, the meaning of this song really jumped out at me like never before. Here are the lyrics that caught me initially:

I torch my soul to show
The world that I am pure
Deep inside my heart
No more lies

Keep in mind, this is my interpretation of the song, but I hear the songwriter, Billy Corgan, struggling with the fact that he has been trying so hard to earn other people’s approval that he has lost himself in the process. If you listen to the whole song, not just the lyrics above, Corgan goes further to state that he misses himself, the REAL man behind all the masks he wears to try to convince others he is something he is not. He has had glimpses of who he really is, but it has faded to only a dream now. He buys into the lie that there is something inherently wrong with him, so he needs to hide himself and be what he thinks others want him to be. Apparently others have made comments confirming the lie, and he has bought into them wholeheartedly. However, he has grown weary of living a lie and wants to be free…free to be himself and not just an actor (hypocrite) for those around him. He desires to “bleed in his own light” and actually live the life he has been dreaming about: being who he was created to be, whatever that may look like…free from the critical voices of all the people around him.

I know everyone is not like me. Some are huge people pleasers, some are not. I see myself looking to a few voices in my life at a time, never too many, but just enough to get me off track at times (it doesn’t take much of looking to what others think to make one stumble). The Enemy loves to heap condemnation on me through not only my struggle with failures, but what others might think of those failures. I begin to think, at times, that maybe God looks at me the same way…disappointed with me, shaking His head at my performance that’s never quite good enough.

Paul talked about being a people pleaser:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10, ESV)

When I catch myself trying to please others, worrying myself over getting their approval, I am not serving Christ. People, or at least their opinion of me, becomes not only my focus, but my idol. In those moments when their approval is my priority, I am giving them the power to tell me who I am. My identity rests in the hands of those that I look to for acceptance. If they disapprove of me, I believe I am worthless. If they approve of me, I feel great temporarily, but then I have to work hard to keep the approval coming, losing any sense of who God really created me to be in the process. Like Corgan masterfully said in the song, “I torch my soul” trying to prove myself.

Walking by Grace through Faith is so tough. The fear of what others think is a sinister weapon of the Enemy that I need to make myself aware of on a daily basis. Surrendering to God and holding onto His Truth concerning my identity in my Savior Jesus Christ is the only thing that will set me free…free from the drive to please others, free from the condemnation felt in the criticism others dish out, and free to be the man God created me to be. No matter how I feel or what others say, I am who God says I am, and He is pleased with me.

The song title, again, is “Rocket”. I believe Corgan intended this to illustrate his freedom as he rockets away in the sky, away from all the phony masks he has created in attempts to gain the approval of others. At the risk of sounding a bit cheesy here, I guess the real rocket for us is God’s Truth. Without it, we would remain slaves to what others think of us, or some other worthless idol that only keeps us meandering around on the ground instead of soaring off into the sky to experience what God has planned for us.


Performance-Based Worth

Those that really get to know me eventually get to see a struggle that surfaces for me more than I would like it to. I think many of us have that one thing that typically pops up…that one thing that is evidence in our lives that something is up. Like a “check engine” light on the dashboard of my car, anxiety is that one piece of evidence that repeats itself in my life. It screams at me to check out what’s going on.

I am convinced that all emotions and behaviors are like this, if we will allow them to be. James put it this way, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18, ESV). We cannot separate what we believe in and what we do. We do what we do and we feel what we feel because of either trust in the Lord or lack of it. Trusting the Lord means believing the Truth. If I lack trust in Him, I am left with nothing but to believe a lie because I am not centered in His Truth.

The title of this entry is “Performance-Based Worth”. The reason for this is that performance-based worth is a core issue that I find leads to anxiety for me. When I believe that my worth is dependent upon what I do or don’t do, anxiety is the result. The reason for this is simple, there is always uncertainty when I am relying on my own performance to grade my value. Sometimes I do a great job at something. Other times I do a terrible job. I always run the chance of it being either way. When I rate my performance as good, I feel good. When I rate it as poor, I feel bad. When I strive for the great performances, I am always anxious when I connect the end result with my own personal worth.

I have also noticed with myself, as well as others, that performance-based worth leads to two kinds of behavior: striving or giving up. There have been times in my life when I have been in striving-mode. I work as hard as possible to accomplish my goal(s), all in an effort to maintain my sense of worth. However, there comes a time that I may find the task of completing the goal impossible, and I just give up for a while. Striving and giving up are two very different behaviors that are both evidence that at that moment in my life, I am believing that my worth is dependent upon my ability to accomplish my goal(s).  

Perfomance-based worth is completely and utterly contrary to the Gospel. God says that my value is not dependent on my works. My worth is not tied to my ability or inability to accomplish goals that I set for myself (or that others set for me). The works I may allow to dictate my worth are not exclusive to big or small things. They include a day at my job, the way I handle a temptation to give into a habitual sin, a conversation with my son, a responsibility at home such as a household chore, the way I handle a disagreement with my wife, whether or not I can figure something out, and other seemingly big and small things. My goals may be to be a perfect father, to be a perfect husband, to be the best counselor, always getting everything done, to not make a mistake, and to know all the right answers. Sounds ridiculously impossible when I state them here, but I find myself often shooting to accomplish those goals (or similar ones) and basing my value on my performance.

So, I know that my value is not in what I do, although I admit I struggle with believing this at times. Addressing this begins with acknowledging the evidence in my life that proves I am not walking by Grace through Faith. For me, anxiety, striving, and the attitude of just giving up are the typical red flags. Others may have different things to look for in their lives. But where, then, does my value come from? I need to trust God’s Truth here to be set free when I am in bondage to the lie that I must do great to be worth anything. I was created in God’s image, to glorify Him, therefore I have inherent value based on this from the very beginning. No one is worthless because everyone is created in His image. However, there is the problem of sin. Due to my inability to overcome this, my righteousness is solely dependent upon Jesus Christ. Trusting in Him sets me free, in every way. I am free to be who God created me to be. I don’t have to strive to be something I’m not. Nothing can steal this righteousness away from me, not even my inability to do the right things. I often relate back to Paul in Romans 7:15-19 (ESV) because he well understood our inability to do the right thing and to avoid doing the wrong thing:

15 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.

Although my righteousness is secure in Christ, I can act as if its not and subsequently feel that I am no good, a failure, and worthless. This happens when I don’t know the Truth, stand firm in it, and act it out. Praise the Lord that even when I fail to trust Him, He is faithful.

24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24-25, ESV)

I Feel Guilty

Guilt. I hate this feeling. I often will do anything to avoid it. I talk to people all the time about this painful emotion in their lives because it is a common complaint. As painful as it can be, it is a powerful motivator. We use it in relationships all the time as a weapon, throwing blame back and forth, trying to make the other person feel guilty so we can maybe get what it is we are after at the time. Guilt doesn’t feel good, so I want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. We pass it back and forth like a hot potato. That can easily lead to me blaming someone else in an attempt to alleviate the guilty feeling. I think, “If it’s someone else’s fault, then it’s not mine…phew!”. I completely avoid looking at my own heart in the process, but hey, “At least I don’t feel bad”. I manipulate the situation and the other person so that I feel better (temporarily). Nothing good develops in a relationship with someone when this is the path we choose. Manipulation and love cannot coincide.

And if guilt isn’t enough to overtake me, fear often is. And because of the extremely negative feeling that guilt is, I believe we can easily develop a fear of feeling that way. I mean, who wants to feel guilty? Therefore, I try to avoid it upfront if I can.This often leads to me doing things I don’t want to do in an effort to not be in the position that I will feel guilty later. The downside is exhaustion from taking on too much, and that leads to frustration. This anger will affect my relationship with those that I am “doing things for”.

I recently got hit with a load of feeling guilty. In this case, it was not induced by someone specifically trying to manipulate me to feel guilty. Instead, this time it hit me as I realized inaction on my part in someone else’s life may have hurt that person. I struggle to sort through guilt when it occurs…to figure out if I actually did something wrong or if I am needlessly beating myself up for something.

When feelings of guilt hit, I question: “Is the burdensome emotion true conviction or is it condemnation?” The Holy Spirit convicts us when we do wrong. There is a feeling that goes along with this that I do not need to ignore. However, the Enemy loves to heap feelings of condemnation on me as much as possible. The trick is, for me anyway, that I can confuse feelings of condemnation with conviction. Therefore, I can be easily deceived here if I am not careful to discern what is actually happening. For example, with my recent experience with feeling guilty, I may give into the lie that I am condemned and beat myself up for something, and believe me, it doesn’t take long of that for me to be depressed. However, if I am being convicted, I need to know that and take action. But which is it?

As best as I can tell at this point, conviction sends a message which goes something like this: “You have done something wrong”. Condemnation sends a different message, which goes like this: “There’s something wrong with you”. There’s a significant difference between these two. Conviction from God points out a behavioral issue. God is not surprised by my behavioral issues. He knows I need Him to come along beside of me during those times. I can’t fix them myself. If I try, I’m not walking by Grace through Faith. He lovingly nudges me with conviction and asks me to trust Him in some way to move forward with Him in addressing the real issue: lack of trust in Him. Condemnation from Satan tries to convince me I am internally flawed, worthless, and rejected. Specifically for me, here are just some of the lies worked into the condemnation I feel at times: “You are an idiot, you are a complete failure, you are a terrible person, and you always mess everything up”. Satan says these things, but disguises himself as “an angel of light” so that I think it is God doing it to me.

In my recent experience with feeling guilty, I have come to a conclusion. It was not a case of figuring out whether I did something wrong or was needlessly beating myself up…it was accepting that it was BOTH. There was true conviction, but I allowed condemnation to creep in on it. I had hurt someone in my life. When that was brought to my attention by God, I almost immediately began listening to the lies. I took a behavioral issue that God was wanting to work with me on and turned it into an argument that I was a complete failure to God and this person in my life. This was a massive overreaction to the situation. Walking by Grace through Faith here is focusing on His Truth about who He is and who I am in the presence of feeling guilty. It is moving forward by trusting and living in the mercy that God provides for me and the fact that I am not behaviorally perfect. I can apologize to the one I have hurt and trust in God’s redeeming work in both our lives. I can trust that, although I make mistakes and hurt people, I am still acceptable to Him because He chose me in Christ before time even began. It’s a done deal. I am His child. When He looks at me, He sees His creation, made perfect in Christ, and He is well pleased.

Praise the Lord for Temptation?!

I was reading over Matthew 18:1-9 yesterday morning and couldn’t help but to pause and ponder God’s Truth in verses 7 and 8.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!” (ESV)

Temptations to sin are necessary for me? Really? Nice God. That means, to me, that stumbling blocks or hurdles along the way are not only annoying things that just happen to me, but important, meaningful moments in my life. Sure, I could blame the devil for them, but the Truth is God allows temptation because He knows it is necessary for me. It was necessary for Christ, because He went into the wilderness to be tempted. But for what?!

I began to think about this, and, as of this morning, do not have all the answers. Big surprise right? However, I do have a few thoughts about this that have given light to temptations as they arise for me. God’s Truth has also challenged some lies I often believe when I struggle and often give in to temptations.

First of all, if I am to live by Grace through Faith, my battles involving temptation are not about me working hard to overcome my sin. It can’t be about that, or I wouldn’t need Christ to rely on, to trust in, when I struggle. The very fact that I cannot overcome the temptation to sin proves that I need a Savior all the time. I can choose to allow my insufficiency to drive me to Him when I struggle. This is faith. I can also choose to give in to the temptation. Here, I believe a lie. An example might be me believing that whatever that sin offers is greater than what God can provide. I can also choose to fight against the temptation myself. Here, I might believe the lies that I can set up enough accountability with others or develop enough strength in myself to modify the behaviors I’m struggling with. Regardless of what it is that motivates me to give in or fight with my flesh, it is a lie.

So, temptation is an awesome opportunity. It is an opportunity to take a step of faith, to trust God. Temptations are always full of lies. Those lies tell me something opposing God’s promises, who God really is, and who He says I am as His child. The real battle with temptation is best understood by me in 1 Corinthians 10:5. I must take my thoughts captive and force them to obey Christ. I must take time to actually take a look at what is going through this crazy head of mine. Anything that opposes what God says is a lie. I must choose the Truth over any lies that are present in my heart at the time. This is an act of believing in God. It is not easy, but it is possible…something conquering my sin outside of living by Grace through Faith is not. The battle is won when I live in His Truth.

But what about when I fail? I must be honest here, I often fail by giving into temptation to sin and then I beat myself up for it. First of all, my own struggle starts with seeking God’s Truth for who I am and who He is. If I believe lies such as “I am rejected by Him”, “He is disappointed in me”, or “I am a worthless failure and I will never be good enough”, I will proceed to beat myself up. Believing those lies leads to acting out those lies as if they were true. As more hurdles come, I either work harder in my own strength to try to over come them, or I just give up and give in to them. I get further and further into the darkness that is the main power Satan has: deception. This is a power I give him by believing the lies. The Truth is, living by Grace through Faith is a moment to moment thing. When it comes to what I need to do to move forward, the moment after I sin is no different than the moment when I am tempted to sin. I need to trust in His Truth. It’s not about how much or little I sin. It’s much more about…”right now, am I going to trust Him”? I can trust Him whether I just turned from or embraced a temptation to sin. I’m not a worthless failure. In Christ I am His child and a saint. He is not disappointed in me because my behaviors are not perfect. He rejoices in the fact that His Son is perfect and wants me to trust that His righteousness is now mine. And He has not and never will reject me. He accepts me just how I am and loves me in a way that I cannot even begin to take it all in. When I believe things like that, He gets the glory and I get to experience freedom in Christ.

Maybe the title for this post is a bit extreme…maybe not. There is no doubt that temptations are a struggle for us (“woe to the world for temptations to sin” – Jesus), but perhaps they do not need to be so despised and dreaded. I can walk by Grace through Faith whether I have turned from or committed a sin. Does this mindset provoke me to sin more? No. If I am motivated to sin, then I am not truly walking by Grace through Faith. I am believing yet another lie. When I truly realize this amazing Grace that God has freely offered me, it causes me to cling to Him more…trusting Him more.

The Fear of Looking Stupid

I met with an old friend last night for supper. It turned out to be a refreshing 3 ½ hour conversation with someone willing to be honest with me about his own struggles, and I appreciate that. Neither of us had answers for each other. We couldn’t fix each other’s problems. However, the openness, in and of itself, was therapeutic. God definitely works wonders through being real and not hiding behind a mask.
My own continuing struggle with fears, one of which is looking stupid, came up. It seems that I fight this fear all the time. Unfortunately, as God helped me clearly see again through my friend, I often fight this fear, not with walking by Grace through Faith, but by trying to fight it myself. I “fight” it by working hard to be prepared. I “fight” it by diligently avoiding things at times that may expose that I actually don’t know something. I “fight” it by putting on a know-it-all mask. My efforts to hide my own insecurity are deceiving in and of themselves because they look to me like I am being a hard worker, a sincere advisor, or a really smart guy. It is very difficult for me to say the simple words, “I don’t know”.
The ironic thing is, I actually know the issue behind this but still struggle with it. When I am not secure in who God says I am as his son, I see myself as an utter failure. This would be true of me, IF God had not given me a new identity in Christ when He saved me. But He did give me a new identity. I am not a failure in Christ, but it so hard for me to take that to heart.
So what might walking by Grace through Faith in regard to my fear of looking stupid look like? Maybe I need to go back to the drawing board when I catch myself trying to hide my insecurity. Maybe I need to ask myself why I see myself as worthless if I cannot fool others into thinking I have it all figured out. I know I need to surrender myself in some way to the Lord in this and trust His view of me instead of my warped view of myself. Therefore, perhaps I need to take a day to test drive the attitude that it really doesn’t matter what people think of me and allow myself to say “I don’t know” a few times. Maybe God will meet me in that place of terror as I sit there in silence, not knowing an answer, but refusing to hide behind my fig leaf…acting like I do. As Alli Rogers says in her song, “Choosing”: “But maybe this is where I grow, When I admit that I don’t know, When belief becomes the only way to you”.

The Danger in Pursuing Peace

“Precisely because they have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash, say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall!” (Ezekiel 13:10-11, ESV)
  “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11, ESV)
  “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34, ESV) 
In Jeremiah 6:14 and 8:11, God expresses His displeasure with the action of the prophets at the time who are telling the people that there is peace when there really is no peace. God calls this “healing the wound of His people lightly”, which I take to mean that the leaders are putting on temporary bandages instead of pursuing true repentance and healing that only God can provide. The leadership preferred false peace instead of God’s true peace. In Ezekiel 13:10, God refers to these same types of prophets again, saying that they have misled His people by claiming a “false peace”. 
So…my question here is: Is the pursuit of peace really a good goal for us? It is my observation that many of us make peace the main priority, when God clearly did not in the times of Ezekiel and Jeremiah, nor did Jesus in the book of Matthew. Jesus was not about pursuing conflict, either, but much more focused on Truth, which often led to conflict. Peace, or harmony, certainly is not a bad thing to desire. However, we are deceived when we think we can produce such things outside of God’s Truth and Love, which I think was a point made in the stories surrounding the Scriptures I have quoted up above. What we wind up with when we make it all about keeping the peace is a “false peace”, derived by human effort.
One thing I am attempting to keep central to my thoughts in what I post here is the need to live by God’s Grace through Faith. Good things, or “fruit of the spirit”, come about through this very important way of living our lives. Any focus other than this will lead to us trying to act independently from God. In this case, we must trust Him in order to experience true peace. Our human efforts to produce anything good, including true peace, outside of living by faith will surely fail. 
Let me try here to explain what I mean, in regards to the subject of peace. I know, largely due to my own experience and also with talking with many others who have experienced it, that we often make the pursuit of peace our priority, which negatively affects our relationships (including marriages, families, and local churches). The very act of making peace the goal opens me up to a host of manipulative options as to how I might attempt to acquire and maintain that “false peace”. Manipulation in any form is sourced from Satan because the act of manipulating reveals that I am trying to be in control of something instead of God. The goal of peace allows for covering up things instead of digging in and dealing with them. It allows for turning our heads when something is wrong. The resulting “harmony” is temporary at best, and void of any depth.
Forgive me ladies, as I speak more here concerning myself and my fellow men as an example, but we men certainly cannot live out of our God-given identities to lead our families, our churches, or anything when we settle for false peace. How can we pursue meaningful relationships with our wives and children through tough times when Truth and Love are not priorities and we are only concerned with keeping the peace (doing whatever it takes just to get by with having to deal with as little conflict as possible)? We wind up sitting back like Adam in the garden, doing nothing as Eve is tempted. We are unable to take a stand for anything when the very act of taking a stand might cause conflict, which prevents our goal of peace of being obtained. We sit back and allow bad things to happen without even a hint of a fight for what is good because that would rock the boat. And can we really love those who are being abused or victimized in some other way when we try to force some warped view of peace on them instead of protecting them? 
True peace is only found through faith, which makes discovering and standing on Truth a priority and allowing God to provide the peace through it. Hiding or ignoring the Truth is deceitful, and all deception is sourced from our Enemy. Many times true peace occurs only after a trying time of sorting through what that Truth exposes in our hearts, as individuals and in our relationships. Of course, in relationships, Love must accompany this Truth or it is cold and callous, a clanging cymbal, so it isn’t pretty and never easily received. Therefore, this is not about the opposite end of the spectrum: being a jerk to others to get our point across. Living by God’s Grace through Faith is important, because this focus allows us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to keep Truth and Love knit together in our actions…something the pursuit of peace, in and of itself, does not allow. Living in Truth and Love does not produce a “light healing”, as does false peace like with the people in Jeremiah 6 and 8. It promotes the complete healing of wounded hearts and relationships. It leads to freedom, like Jesus said in John 8:31 (“The Truth shall make you free”). 
The challenge I see for myself in this is that I tend to make my goal to find peace from controlling something in this world. This “something” can be a job, a hobby, others, money, or anything else I can find that I chase after with the hope of attaining and/or maintaining a feeling of peace. My pursuit causes only more anxiety. The deception here is deep, so it’s not always easy to see that I do this. Instead, I must bring myself back to what God always calls me back to: He is asking me to TRUST HIM. Trusting Him means living by grace through faith, walking in the spirit, living in Truth or whatever language you want to apply to the act of surrendering to and believing in Him right where I’m at. This includes trusting that His Grace is sufficient and that He will provide for my needs, no matter what fears may arise to try to distract me. When I trust Him, I find peace through Him at my very core, like Paul when he was in prison and somehow, at the same time, was praising the Lord. We, as Christians, have said the words “trust God” so many times, unfortunately in a way that makes it sound easy, but IT IS NOT EASY. It requires effort on my part to acknowledge my pursuit of a peace that is false, surrender my attempts at it, and trust Him to provide the real thing. As for applying faith to the relationships I have with others, I need not try to go around trying to force reconciliation (the act of forcing it is manipulative and results only in false peace at best). However, if I trust in Him I can do what I need to do, whether it is to humble myself, speak up, just shut up, forgive another, confront another in love, or just pray and hope for reconciliation. A faith-focus leads to definite true peace for me, and makes true reconciliation possible for broken relationships. I must take it to heart and remember the Truth that, although it may feel good in the present, false peace in relationships is as shallow and worthless as it is in my own heart. I need to forsake the preservation of empty or just downright fake relationships and risk pursuing the real thing with God and others.
I guess, in short, the real danger in pursuing peace occurs when we do it apart from trusting the Lord to provide it, trying to make it happen ourselves. We are easily tripped up in this, so we have to be diligent in bringing ourselves back to the main most important thing, asking ourselves, “Am I really trusting Him right now or trying to control this myself?”

Ephesians 2:8-9

I have finally come to a place in my life where I am ready to do this again. It has been a long time since I have taken the time to blog, and I have missed it. This time around, I plan to make my primary focus about the title of this post: Ephesians 2:8-9. In reading and studying God’s Word, working with many hurting people as a counselor, and not to mention dealing with my own struggles in life, I am turned time and time again to the Truth present in these couple of verses in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I believe this central Truth of “By Grace Through Faith” encompasses not only the means by which we are saved, but also how we can walk in freedom as God’s children, doing and experiencing the good things He has planned for us.
No promises to myself or anyone else for how often I will post. Honestly, I just do not want to create some kind of pressure to perform ;). I want this to be done as much from my heart as possible, and not out of some sense of obligation. However, I do hope and plan to make it a common occurrence. I invite you to chime in with your comments if you want.