You're Not Cutting It

This weekend I thought about today's email and found myself a little overwhelmed. I had so much it earned to write about! After praying a little I felt a particular pull toward one word: grace.

I've grown up in liturgical circles my whole life. My mom is a pastor and theology school professor. My dad is a Bible teacher extraordinaire. I went to Christian schools as a child. I was in church pretty much every day as a kid. I've pretty much always been surrounded by preachers and deacons and "church folk".

Somewhere along the way, I got lost in my cultural emersion, though. People who are familiar with church culture might be able to relate to me, here. Somewhere along the way, my perception of my salvation became all about me. The consequences of this thought process were pretty ugly.

In my second year at Hampton University, I pretty much gave up on Christianity. Sure, I kept the facade for my family and church community. The truth was, though... I was exhausted. I was tired of working so hard to fit into the perceived Christian ideal. I was sick of faking. I was sick of feeling guilty all the time; guilty for my thoughts or partying, or whatever else I thought would make my fellow church members gasp in disapproval.

I really did pretty much give up. I gave little to no thought to God or Jesus for a long time. I did what I wanted. It felt good, too! I was so happy to just feel FREE!

Then, after a couple of years some real conviction started to weigh on me. What I once considered freedom started to become terribly heavy. I felt a need for relief. So, I did what I knew to do. I went back to my laborious life - my pursuit of perceived perfection.

Neither of these spaces was comfortable for me. Even though I was really good at faking it, it sucked to always feel the need to jump through hoops to please God and his peopl. It hurt even more to separate myself from God because I felt the expectations were unachievable for me. I was hurting at a really deep level and didn't even know it. I did my best to keep chugging along in deep internal conflict. Nobody even knew I was going through it. Well... except one special person.

It wasn't until my dear friend and I began to talk about all of this that I discovered that I'd gotten lost. What I discovered was that my salvation and my peace of mind weren't really about me at all. It wasn't about other people's perceptions of me. Their judgements had no influence on my standing before God. I had it all wrong. My friend opened me up to really understand the mind blowing concept of God's grace. 

Sure, I'd heard the word before. I knew the churchy definition of what grace was. But, I had a twisted understanding of grace in reality. In my mind grace had been given once and I had better be as close to perfect as I could be in order to keep my grace-stamp. Even though I'd memorized a definition of grace the began with the word "unmerited," I was still trying to win God's approval. Worse still, I was using people's responses to me and what I did or how I dressed or what I said as the barometer of God's approval of me. The church culture's approval of me was commensurate with God's approval; at least in my head.

You may ask... what did your life look like? I'll tell you. Miserable. It looked like extremism and discomfort. It looked like someone lurching from being a goody-goody to being a hellian, and looking uncomfortable at both extremes. That was me!

It wasn't until I accepted grace and stopped trying to win my own salvation that I really found myself. Grace made it possible for me to be comfortable in my own skin. Grace meant I didn't have to fight or be unstable or please people or prove anything. Grace meant I only had to trust in Jesus.

This isn't to say that I don't believe I still have to fight with sin. Quite the contrary. I'm keenly aware of my sinful propensities. I struggle with them daily. But, God's grace set me free to struggle and put an end to my hopeless struggle to be free.

Grace made me ok. It gave me peace with missing the mark. At the same time, it wrested from me my false sense of control and gave me the fresh air of surrender. Because of grace, I stopped wrestling with myself. God's grace opened me to the Holy Spirit who is fighting on my side, refining and purifying me. It's no longer my fight.

Before I understood and truly accepted the infinite gift of grace I would beat myself up with the phrase: "you're not cutting it." Now, when that phrase pops in my brain, grace reminds me that I'm not supposed to. Jesus has done it already! All I have to do is just trust him. 

"And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast." - Ephesians 2:6-9

No questions this week. 

In Living Color

How's your Monday? Mine is off to a fast start! The weekend was GREAT for me! I had an opportunity to perform for some  20,000 people in Virginia Beach this past Saturday! I'm still on a high from the whole experience! If you're a social media person, my pictures from the whole event are on my Instagram. This week's inbox note is rather personal. I hope you won't mind. 

On Friday I sat down with a friend of mine who is pastor. Over a delicious lunch of friend chicken, green beans, cabbage and macaroni and cheese we talked about life and some of the things we had both been experiencing recently. After a while, the conversation took an inevitable turn toward God’s word. My friend Bryan talked about the Bible in a way I’d not heard it discussed before and it really started me thinking. 

Bryan said the Word of God gives us the ability to live life in full color. I have to admit, as Bryan talked about this I was intrigued, but I also found myself asking, “what in the world does that even mean?”. I walked away from lunch with a lot of questions. What was this full color life? Was I living it?

Over the weekend I thought about it some more - this living color Bryan had talked about. My mind kept striking on the same Biblical reference, the b section of John 10:10

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

If Jesus comes that we might have life, then it makes sense that we should have him first - and I know that comes by faith. So, I trotted over to Hebrews 11 - the hall of fame for men and women of faith - to investigate a little more about this colorful, vibrant and full life Bryan said the Bible opened for us. Then I started to see it - the common thread in all of this.

Reading through the Hebrews 11 chapter I saw a pattern. These people ran after God with reckless abandon. They took on what seemed to be ridiculous assignments from God. They leaned away from their own understandings, their own emotions, their own pride and ran toward God’s purposes. In the process, their lives became bright and vibrant. Their lives were made vivid by faith! What Bryan said was beginning to make more sense, now! I was beginning to see. One more scripture came to mind:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

- Romans 10:17.

The vibrance of these people’s lives originated in hearing God’s Word - whether he spoke it to them directly, or they heard it through another channel. It says so right there in the Romans verse! So, here it is, all laid out for us - the way to live a full and vibrant life: 1) hear God's Word 2) trust God's word 3) lean away from yourself (your plans, pride, and practicality) and into him. 

I began to think of all the times Jesus told his disciples not to worry about this or that. I began to think about all the impractical things God called people to do. This was the vivid life Bryan was talking about! But, what about me? What about my life? Am I living the vivid life of reckless abandon to God?

I have to be honest. No. I’m not. Well... not really. Sure, there's some color here and there, but I've not yet come to any kind of place that could be described as spiritually vibrant. These days, I don't think a whole lot of us are! We are conditioned to love our comforts and our safety and our security. We say we count on God, but a lot of the time we only pay lip service to mountain-moving faith. Sad but true - if not for you, then me!

The good news is, I’m getting closer and closer to that life of vibrance! Everyday I see new shoots of color springing up as I pray and read and hear from God. My faith is growing! He is teaching me to rely on him. It is beautiful, but not easy and very uncomfortable sometimes. Nonetheless, Jesus says this is the good life. I’m beginning to see it that way, too, more and more.

I’ve been reading a biography about George Mueller, a German preacher who opened orphanages in England in the 19th century. He began his ministry of rescuing orphans with two purposes: 1) to see to it that orphan children would have a place to grow and learn that was safe and suitable, and 2) to prove that faithful prayer worked.

Mueller started his first orphanage with little more than a shilling to his name. He never asked anyone for money. He promised God that he never would. He only prayed for what he needed and God provided it. Sometimes God took care of the needs of the orphanage week by week. Sometimes he did it day by day; even hour by hour, but he never failed. Mueller’s orphanage would expand from one house with 30 children, to two with 96 children to three with 150 children - all this within the first 5 years. Before it was all done, George Mueller would build orphanages to house and care for more than 2,000 children at a time. He never asked anyone for a penny. He proved his point. God is faithful! Talk about a colorful life!

I feel pulled toward this kind of vibrant life. God hasn’t given me any grandiose George Mueller instructions, like “build an orphanage.” However, I know he is preparing in me a deep trust in him. I’m praying about things with a new gusto. Some of these things I’ve been praying about for weeks, months - even years. Not until now have I been to a place where I am truly starting to rest in God to do these things. Not until now have I begun to surrender my ideas about how things should be done and when and how it should look when it is being done and how it should look afterward.

What I am finding is that with every little bit I surrender, I see a few more shoots of color in my life. My hands are less full with plans and schemes and worries. This isn’t to say that I don’t have to work hard or think. Quite the contrary. I think even these first few steps toward this this vibrant life reveal that trusting God establishes the work and intensifies the focus required to do it. It is teaching me to work with what is before me today. It is teaching me to follow Jesus’ advice and let tomorrow be tomorrow.

In the ears of the world around us, this kind of trust in God rings as foolishness. God’s word gives us a heads up that this kind of life will always sound foolish to people without faith. But we who have even the slightest embers of trust in God are invited to step out of the gray of the world we live in. God invites us to step into the vibrance of his kingdom - the kingdom that Jesus over and over again declared is right here, at hand. 

David raised his cup and gave a toast, extoling the deliciousness of life given to absolute trust in God: 

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

- Psalm 34:8


Blessed, indeed! Everyday, I relish those words a little bit more. Everyday I trust him a little bit more. Everyday he lets me taste just a bit more of his goodness as he draws me! I join David in his toast to the astonishing goodness of God! I raise my cup with him saying those same beautiful words, “Taste and see!”

Here’s to the good life! Here's to a life in living color!


  • How do I define security? What makes me feel secure?
  • Can I think of instances where I’ve taken incredible risks on a whim or impulse, knowing I was wrong? If so, how / why is my response to risky instructions from God different?
  • What are my biggest barriers to living a truly colorful life? Impatience? Doubt? Pride? Something else?
  • Can I think of something God is calling on me to do right now that I am resisting because it doesn’t make sense to me?
  • Who do I know that I can look toward as an encouraging example of living life in strong faith and utter dependence on God?

Security Systems

Let's talk security systems. 

When I was in high school there was a string of burglaries in the neighborhood where I grew up. My father decided it was best for our family to have a security system installed in our home. After the system was installed my father trained my mother and I on how to activate it and told us to be sure that we set the alarm whenever we left the house.

The new security system took some time to get used to. For the first month or two my mother and I would leave home frequently without activating the thing. This of course will aggravate make my father. He would shake his head and say "what good is this system if it isn't activated?"

If you are like me, then you have more than your fair share of battles with insecurity. I’m not ashamed to tell you, I often deal with unnecessary questions and uncertainty about myself. I often find myself wrestling with how I believe others perceive me. Sometimes it causes me to be nervous around people. Sometimes it inspires hypocrisy. I know the root of all of this insecurity is fear. I know fear does not come from the Father. Yes, I know all of this, but time and time again I still find myself dealing with insecurity all the same. Sound familiar?

For a lot of us these battles with insecurity seem to be just a part of life. We think this is just how we are. Some of us have allowed insecurities to become so ingrained in our lives that we really do see it as a part of our identities. Romans 8 unsettles and puts the brakes on these kinds of beliefs. Romans 8 says we who are living insecure lives are in fact out of sync with the gospel of Jesus Christ!

In Romans 8 Paul drives the point home over and over and over again: we have a broad and unshakable basis for security in Jesus Christ. The passage reminds us that the work of the cross gives us solid ground to stand on - no matter the situation. In Christ Jesus, God has given us everything. Although it does not always look like we should be secure, if we exercise our faith properly, we are provided with a spiritual lens that reveals that we are always in the hands of the almighty God. Nothing can assail us here! Nothing can separate us from him! We are his completely and he protects and keeps his own! We have a security system!

I think the issue for a lot of us is that we don't believe the gospel of Jesus is effective to provide security in the situations we face. We make the mistake of thinking the cross is just about afterlife! We don’t believe the security of the gospel has anything to do with our dating lives or our financial lives or professional lives. For a lot of us, the gospel is abstract and doesn’t have any connection to these challenges.

To put it another way, we don't believe the security system we have is capable of securing us against the threats we face. If this is what we're thinking Romans chapter 8 is a sign with big, bold, capital, red letters that says “WRONG!” The security we have in Christ is supremely sufficient in every situation! The question is not whether the system is sufficient to secure. The question is whether or not we are taking the responsibility for arming the system.

There is a two-step sequence that activates this security we are provided through the blood of Jesus Christ. The first step of the sequence is hearing the word of God. This kind of hearing that is necessary is unique, however. This kind of hearing must take place in the heart - not just with ears. In this unique application of hearing, we receive, digest and meditate on the word of God.

The second step of the sequence is believing the word of God, (also known as faith). This second step arms are security. When I say believe, I don’t mean it the same way we do when we say “believe and your dreams will come true.” This isn’t some fanciful belief. This kind of believe is an ever deepening trust that manifests in complete dependence on the word of God we receive in our hearts. 

This process isn’t as easy as punching in a four number pass code. It takes work and it takes time. In fact, we’ll have to repeat step one time after time before we are even ready to touch step two. Although it isn’t as easy as arming an ADT system, this two step process equips a system that is infinitely more secure. This activation sequence places our footing squarely on what God says about us, what God says about who he is and what God says he can and will do! There is no other place to stand! There is no more secure place in the universe! This system we have is supremely secure. It works - if we arm it.

The work of the cross provides universal security because it is the action of perfect love. As I said before, the root of all insecurity is fear and God’s word says perfect love casts out fear. So, with the action taken at the cross and that demonstration of perfect love, God has destroyed the foundation of our insecurities. Our fears are mere illusions - like harmless monsters behind the curtains when we were children. They are not there. Christ has cast them out! His work on the matter is complete. He has provided us with the most secure of systems. I think he probably poses a similar question to the one my father asked my mom and I: “What good is this system if it isn’t activated?”

This week, let's meditate on Romans 8 everyday. Let's see if we can't get some solid ground under these insecurities of ours. Let's get a proper perspective on these fears. Let's see if we can't work this two-step activation sequence and find ourselves with the sweet satisfaction of seeing the green light on our spiritual security systems - the satisfaction of knowing that our system is armed!  

(There is no single verse to read today. Please take some time and check out ALL of Romans Chapter 8!) 

Questions for the week

  • What am I insecure about?
  • On what basis am I evaluating the threats I face? Am I evaluating them sensually (feeling, seeing, tasting or touching) or am I evaluating them on the basis of faith?
  • Does the gospel have any application to my areas of insecurity or are these places where the gospel has no relevance for me?
  • The scripture asks “If God be for us who can be against us?” What is my honest answer to this question? What stands a chance against me if God is for me?
  • Am I “arming” my security in Christ (using the two step sequence from the email) on a regular basis