Religion VS. Relationship

July 21, 2009

(The following is an excerpt from my upcoming newsletter…:-)

Religion VS. Relationship

Religion is man’s distorted, manipulative attempt to harness the god story and use it to further his own selfish purposes.

Relationship is God’s idea of how we’re to co-exist – with him and with each other.

Religion is based in fear, guilt, shame, and bondage.

Relationship is based in love, freedom, peace, and self-expression.

It is vital that each one of us recognize that there is a difference, because I have seen so many people go through their entire lives with spirits that are in such severe atrophy and anguish that it’s a wonder to me that they are still alive. And I don’t use that wording lightly.

When you begin to understand that man’s religion is different from the Creator’s model of relationship, everything begins to change.

Seeing relationship instead of religion makes us look differently at ourselves and our relationship with God.  Instead of seeing ourselves how man sees us – and attempting to live up to some distorted, guilt-ridden code of conduct – we are allowed to see ourselves as free, as powerful, and as beautiful.

Whereas religion seeks to reduce the individual to some kind of robotic, indistinguishable clone that never does anything bold or dangerous, a thriving relationship with the Creator God brings us a colorful, purposeful life filled with greatness and brilliance.

When we are in relationship with the Truth, with God, it means we no longer have to live with the idea that we somehow don’t make the cut.  He’s already made the way for us to be called “worthy, family.”

It changes how we look at our earthly relationships.  It forces us to consider the idea that we are all connected in some powerful, eternal way – again, to each other and to God.  Which, if that’s the case, then we have got to learn to treat each other better, right?

If religion divides us and puts us into all these little categories and then tells us to hate everyone not in our little category, then relationship kicks down the walls and tells us that we are all connected, and that the fundamental elements holding all of this together are love, not hate.

Freedom, not fear.

Joy, not sorrow.

Life, not death.

So today, will you be religious, or will live like you’re in the best relationship in the universe?


I Saw Jesus Today

July 19, 2009

I Saw Jesus Today

“Yeah right.”

“Impossible.”

“What?”

I imagine those are some of the reactions you may have had when you read my headline, but it’s true.  Let me explain.

In Scripture (Matthew 25:31-40), Jesus says something profound.  He’s talking to a group of people – some who love him and some who hate him.  He’s talking about two kinds of people…the people who stop to clothe and feed and care, and the people who are too “busy” or otherwise ignorant to the plight of those in trouble.

He says that those who have cared are going to be invited into the party.  Those who didn’t, no party.  My paraphrase.  This is the 21st century version, ok?

He goes on to say to the first group, basically, “when I was hungry, you fed me.  When I was naked, you clothed me.  When I alone, you comforted me.”

As the story goes, this group of people who are like “What?  When did we feed your or clothe you or comfort you?”

Jesus then says one of the most profound statements in all of history, one that holds incredible significance to me.  He says “Whatever you’ve done for the least of these, you’ve done for me.”

Meaning, when they saw someone who was hungry, and then gave them food, they were actually, in some metaphysical supernatural way, feeding the very belly of God.  They were mystically giving comfort to the Creator of all things

Really pause for a second to digest this.  If this is true, then what does that mean to you and I?  Could it really be that when we go get groceries for that old lady down the hall in our apartment who smells like old pee we’re actually buying groceries for Jesus?

When we see the guy at the end of the bar, smoking his cigarette, staring blankly into his beer looking so sad, and we feel compelled to go over and offer him some words of encouragement, are we really, in some strange way bringing comfort and joy to the Author of all the Universe?

On the other hand, Jesus says to the second group “Depart from me…” And they’re like, “When did we see you hungry or naked or thirsty or in need?”  And Jesus reminds them of the times when they didn’t pause.

The time when they were too busy updating their Facebook status on their iPhone to stop and hug the sad woman in the grocery store.

The time when they spent half their marriage finding fault and being ruthlessly cold to their partner.

Now, without getting too into it, this is where grace comes into play.  We are going to mess up and be mean and fail to help.  It’s a given, no matter how hard we try.

Yet the moral of this little tale is to live your life with the attitude.  It’s a long-term lifestyle that we can practice each day.

So to that end, and with all these layers in place, let me tell you how I saw Jesus today.

I was at an office building, and I saw a lady getting out of her car.  She was in obvious discomfort, hobbling and straining.  I’ve seen this woman before, and she’s extremely kind and pleasant, and I’ve noticed that she has some kind of challenge.

So I asked her if she needed help, to which she responded that someone from the office usually comes out to help her in.

At that moment, this blond-haired guy comes running – I mean sprinting – out of the office building with a giant smile on his face, as if this – helping this nice little lady – was the highlight of the day for him.

And I almost started crying.

In that instant, I saw Jesus.

I didn’t know Jesus was blond or that he wore a Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Champions shirt or that he had an American accent.

And I didn’t know that Jesus was a short little African American woman with some kind of muscular disorder who struggled to get out of a car.

Yet there was no denying it was him.

Today, ask yourself the following questions: where is my opportunity to touch the Creator?  How do I care for “the least of these?”  And when I see these opportunities, will I ignore them?  Or will I embrace them?


Does God Use Drugs?

May 24, 2009

Seems like a strange question, doesn’t it?  Possibly heretical?

I was having this discussion with a guy yesterday about how we get from place to place in our lives, and I began to tell him about how my life took a major turn when I began to use drugs, particularly LSD.

A lot of sacred cows in my life were slaughtered during this stretch of time, which was about five good solid years.  It’s not a time that I egret at all, and in fact am very thankful for.  But it does raise the question: did God use these drugs to guide me into the place that I’m at today?

I guess we have to start out with the idea that God is indeed leading our lives, that if we are willing to turn over control, that He will make the highest and best use of them.  Personally, I have too much evidence to say that I’m just wandering in the breeze.  I know that there’s a plan, and if I’m a created being, which I also believe, then it makes perfect sense for me to believe that there is someone who is extremely interested in how His creation turns out.

So I believe that God used drugs to help shape me and form me.  I believe that as much as I believe that reading books or watching movies has shaped me.  I don’t believe it was His first choice though.

So why would He allow me to be a part of such a seemingly anti-religious lifestyle?  After all, don’t most of us hear from the time we’re little that drugs are bad and that you are some kind of lowlife if you use them?

If He is my Father, as He calls Himself in the Bible, then why would a parent with so much love towards their child allow that child to endanger themselves?

Could it be because He’s also given us the right to choose our own paths and make our own decisions?  Could it be because decisions and choosing are how we learn about Him, how we grow closer and discover more of who we are and what He means to us?

As my son Ethan continues to grow and become aware of the world around him, I find myself giving him just a little more freedom than he previously had.  He’s now playing with markers and crayons, and I’m not nearly as cautious about it than I was when he first picked them up.

Do you know why?  Because he’s already tasted them.  He’s already hurt himself with them and made a mess.  This is expected when kids are growing up.  It takes time to get familiar with something new, and there are going to be mistakes.  But I don’t want to rob him of his creativity and awe of life by trying to keep him in this cocoon and insulate him from any kind of failure.

The same applies to us.  We’re going to make mistakes.  We’re going to taste things that make us vomit.  Some things we do are extremely dangerous and hazardous to our health.  Some things will get us killed.

But God allows stuff.  I don’t know why He allows all that He does.  To me, there is too much pain and too much suffering on this earth to believe that it is all good with God, that God is somehow just letting it all pass in front of Him for the sake of seeing us learn and discover.  In fact, I believe that He’s in pain watching most of the stuff we do.

But I also believe that even through all these mistakes and wanderings, He’s always telling us what the best way is, every day.  And for me, my wanderings led me into the world of drugs and experimentation.  And while I can’t believe that He was thrilled with my decisions, He wasn’t going to cast me into some outer darkness or abandon me because of them.

Instead, He spent that time placing His purpose and dreams inside of me.  He was patient and loving, even as I was ugly and dangerous.  When I was seeing little cartoon figures running around on a lake, He was seeing the potential and texture that was being grafted into my life.  He protected me when I was truly in danger.  And most of all, He never gave up on me.

So if you find yourself wandering or wondering or feeling guilty, please relax.  God doesn’t hate you.  He’s not even angry.  He loves you, and sincerely wants you to examine what you’re doing. He hopes that at some point you realize that His plans are better and more complete for you, and if you tap into them, they will awaken something that you’ve been aching to find.

All you have to do is pay attention.


Why You Get Taken Advantage Of (Part II)

May 24, 2009

Who are you trying to please?

That’s what it comes down to.  We live our lives seeking approval.  We do strange things and make critical choices based on what we want other people to think of us.

The problem with this is that those people we’re trying to please aren’t living our lives.  They ultimately have no bearing on who we are meant to be.  Yet we operate most of our lives out of this intense desire to be accepted by someone who matters to us.

Let’s be clear.  I’m not saying it doesn’t matter what other people think of us.  Our integrity and reputation often rely on a perception of what people think.  It is generally a good thing to want to make our parents, teachers, peers, and so on proud of us.

The problem arises when making people proud becomes more important than doing the right thing.  You get into trouble when you do things repeatedly solely because you think it will make someone else’s life easier.  This is a breeding ground for a life of heartbreak and frustration.

Self-sacrifice can be noble.  It is a huge part of living an epic life.  But there is a fine line between self-sacrifice and martyrdom.  More often that not, you must make decisions that might seem selfish but in effect are what’s ultimately right.  Again, you’re the only one who is actually living your life.

The sad truth is that when you make decisions out of these noble but falsely-based desires, you become pigeonholed.  People quickly pick up on the fact that they can push off the things they don’t want – be it emotions, physical labor, relationship problems, etc – effortlessly onto you.  They know that you’ll just accept it.

This results in a life of never enough.  There is never enough time, energy, money, emotion, etc., because everything is out of balance.  This person can never concentrate or assess what is truly important in their own life, because they are so busy trying to keep everyone else’s leftovers in order.

I used to sit in a cubicle next to someone who had this complex.  She was the most negative person I’ve ever met in my life.  Seriously, she had a black cloud hanging out over her cube.

Every day I’d ask her how she was, and she’d reply in this pitiful, nasally voice “Oh, you know.  Just hanging in there.”  I would try to offer encouragement, but for the most part my efforts were wasted.  She was the one that everyone else knew would do the dumbest, most inane work, the stuff no one else wanted to do.  And guess what?  She did it, whatever “it” might be.  Did she complain?  Yeah, a little.  But she knew and everyone else knew that at the end of the day, she’d be the one stuck with “it.”

I wanted to shake her.  It was so frustrating to observe.  I tried building her up and help her grow a backbone, but she was so stuck in her ways of self-mutilation and self-pity.

This comes down to a belief.  It is a deep, core belief that is formed somewhere along the way.  It is the issue of worthiness.

When we don’t think we’re worth it, we operate out of a position of lack and fear.  We defeat ourselves, sabotage our own plans and desires because we are craving that acceptance.  We tell ourselves that “if I just do this one thing, then this person will think I’m a good person.”  Or “I can’t say no to this person.  They’re too nice.”

We make all kinds of excuses about why we should do these things for all these people, believing that by doing whatever it is, they will somehow validate our worthiness.  But do you know what people generally respect more?

Someone who is strong.

Someone who has boundaries.

Someone who can say no and give reasons why they said no.

Someone who believes they are worth more and deserve better.

Someone who makes a decision and sticks with it.

Making the Change

Maybe this article hits really close to home.  Maybe you’ve been struggling with feelings of worthiness and are constantly taken advantage of.  Here are three action steps to take that can help you change the way other people view you, and more importantly, how you view yourself:

  1. Learn to make a decision and stick with it. The sooner the people around you see that you’re serious, the less likely they’ll be to even try shoving their garbage onto your plate.  People learn quickly, but you have to draw that line in the sand.  Today, tomorrow, seven years from now, you have to abide by the new boundaries that you are setting.  Otherwise, you’ll permit the whole process to start over again anew.
  2. Operate out of confidence and faith. You must believe that it is good and right for you to have these boundaries and principals.  You must respect and love yourself before anyone else will.  What you believe about yourself makes all the difference in the world.  If people reject you for standing firm, it’s not the end of the world.  Your true friends and family will always stay by you, even if it means a short period of adjustment.
  3. Build for the future. Decisions we make today shape our tomorrow.  If you make the best decision today, you will thank your tomorrow self.  Don’t you want to find yourself in tomorrow happy, peaceful, and sure?  (Nod your head yes.)  Take the hard steps today that will make you whole tomorrow.

Read Part I of this article…


Why You Get Taken Advantage Of (Part I)

May 24, 2009

Do you often find yourself doing things you don’t want to do because someone else has decided it’s what they want?

Maybe you’re forced to stay late – again – at the office, doing some mind-numbing task that is outside of your scope of duties.  You’re frustrated because you know that it’s a task that should have been assigned to someone else.  But you do it because you don’t want to rock the boat.

Or maybe you wake up in a strange bed – again – wondering why you’ve slept with that stranger.  You’re not particularly attracted to them.  You certainly don’t love them or want a relationship.  You sit up, pulling the sheets over you, and just feel so empty inside.  You didn’t really want to do it, but you couldn’t help yourself.

It’s like swimming against the current.

You talk a good game in your head, telling yourself just what’s going to happen, but when decision time comes, you melt.  You falter.  You give in.

Is it peer pressure?  Or nerves?

Or is it something deeper?  Do you really hate yourself and like suffering?  Are you fundamentally afraid of rejection, so afraid that you’ll do anything to be accepted?

I was kind of an awkward kid growing up.  I had a few friends, and I was extremely loyal to them.  But I wasn’t what you’d call a social butterfly.  I’d rather stay home and read my Hardy Boys books than go play basketball.  I had friends and when I wanted to play, I’d play with them.

But you know how it goes.  You go in different directions.  When I was in ninth grade, I found myself hanging around a small group of guys who loved hockey.  We would play knee hockey in this one kids basement all night.  We had lots of fun.

But then one day I woke up and discovered that they had all turned on me.  I had absolutely no idea why.  I was a nice guy.  I didn’t rock the boat or say anything mean.  I just couldn’t understand this rejection, and it devastated me.

They started prank calling me and ordering pizzas to my house.  I’d pass them in the hallways at school and just wanted to crawl into the nearest locker.  It wasn’t that they wanted to beat me up physically, but it didn’t matter because the mental agony was so much worse.

Out of this rejection and darkness came a new direction.  There was this kid, Bink, who was in my Spanish class, and for some reason he began to talk to me.  Bink was one of those kids who everyone seemed to like.  I wouldn’t say he was popular, but he was extremely easy to get along with.

Soon, I found myself surrounded by lots of really good people.  They made me laugh a lot and introduced me to conversations and possibilities that I never thought I would be faced with – particularly drugs.

As tenth grade progressed, Bink and I became really close.  I valued his friendship so much, because with him there was no rejection.  I knew he was loyal to his friends.  So when the drugs started to become more obvious, it became harder for me to say no.

I would be at his house after school, and he would break out a dime bag of weed.  It made me nervous and conflicted.  I wanted to “do the right thing,” but I also didn’t want to lose a good friend.  So I began to smoke weed.  Then it was alcohol.  Then acid.

Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t the drugs that I was afraid of.  Drugs and alcohol can be lots of fun, particularly mixed with really funny, talented people.  It wasn’t my parents.  Lord knows I put them through hell because I wasn’t afraid of them.

What I was afraid of, plain and simple, was rejection.

It was feeling alone and unworthy.

Peer pressure is nothing more than a deep desire to feel wanted and accepted.

As humans, we have a fundamental need to love and be loved.  We are designed to live in community.  We crave acceptance and validation.  If we don’t get it at home, we’ll find it in friends.  If we don’t find it in friends, we’ll find it in strangers.  Or work.  Or pleasure.

Right now, what is taking advantage of you?  What puzzle do you desperately want solved but can’t figure out?

Who are you trying to please?

Dig DEEP.

Do you work so hard out of a necessity to please your mother?

Are you sleeping with anyone and everyone to get the attention of your father?

A teacher in grade school who told you you’ll never amount to anything?

A minister who whispered “God will never love you?

Who are you trying to please?

See “Why You Get Taken Advantage Of (Part II)


Respect Yourself

May 24, 2009

Respect Yourself

Do you know why you keep doing the things that you hate?

Do you hate the vicious circle that you can’t seem to be free from?

Do you find yourself knowing it’s wrong but doing it anyway?

What is that?

From smoking to sex, from overeating to mismanaging money, there are things in our lives that we can’t seem to leave behind, as much as we may want to.  They are our slave masters, and we are the helpless, incapable servants.

As one who has dealt with and overcome many addictions myself, I know what it’s like to struggle with the contradictions of wanting freedom but living in bondage.  The thought of one more cigarette makes you want to vomit, but you just have to have it.  You think porn is disgusting, but you find yourself at your computer, once again helpless to look away.

It’s painful.  It makes you feel small and impotent, a powerless pushover who might as well become resigned to the fact that you’ll never win.  You’ll never get out of this maze.

As hard as this might be to hear, the reason you can’t let go is because there is a part of you that you don’t respect.  There is a part of you that you are willing to let yourself walk all over.  If you treated others the way you treated yourself, they wouldn’t be your friend for very long.

So why do you treat yourself the way that you do?   Why do you let yourself get away with it?  For some people, it is because there is a level of comfort in self-abuse.  These people take subconscious satisfaction in the abuse they dish out to themselves.  They don’t feel alive unless they are dealing with pain.

For other people, there is a fundamental ability to say “no” that they just don’t have.  They can’t make a decision and stick with it.  This was me.  I couldn’t say “no” because I didn’t want to be rejected.  I thought that if I said “yes” to everything that came my way, my friends would respect me.  Sometimes they did, but this isn’t the best way to gain the respect of the people around you.

And then there are the people who just don’t care.  Somewhere deep down, it doesn’t matter how much pain their actions bring them.  It’s all about storytelling for these people.  They tell themselves and others that everything is fine, that it’s a little bump in the road.  Meanwhile, they sink deeper and deeper into the pit of denial and delusion.  They figure that this is just the way it has to be.

Respecting yourself is a choice that must be made every second, if necessary.  I smoked heavily for about five years.  On nights when I knew I was going to go out drinking, I’d buy three packs of Marlboro Reds, and without fail, I’d wake up the next morning and they’d be pretty close to being gone.  It got to the point where I resented them.  I resented the automation of crushing one out only to light another.  It was that vicious circle, and it was seriously affecting me to the core.

When I made the choice to quit smoking (and it is simply a choice,) I soon realized that it wasn’t just going to be one choice I made once and for all.  It was a series of choices, and again, sometimes it was second by second.  I would literally find myself telling myself “OK, you didn’t smoke just now.  OK, you didn’t smoke just now.”  Then, slowly but surely, I put some distance behind that first moment when I decided to quit.  A few days.  Then a few months.

Start respecting yourself.  In decisions like this, start treating yourself as if it were someone you had great admiration for, someone you would never want to let down.  If you don’t feel this way about yourself, then it’s time to start.


The Law of Reciprocity (Pt. iii) – Forrest Gump Style

April 24, 2009

For those of you living under a rock, “Forrest Gump” is a movie starring Tom Hanks as a simple guy who has a low IQ but leads a remarkable life.  All his life he’s been told that when he’s confused or scared or hurt, he should run.  Running got him into college football.  It got him a Purple Heart in Vietnam.  And in a scene towards the latter part of the movie, it gets him one of his many harvests.

Forrest Gump’s running scene is the law of reciprocity in action, and he doesn’t even know it.

He has just had someone extremely close to him hurt him bad.  She’s left him, and he’s standing on his front porch in Alabama, staring down his driveway.  He steps off his porch and says “so I decided to go for a run.”  He runs down to the end of his driveway.  Then down the street.  Then across town.  Then across the county, then the state, then to the Atlantic ocean, and then to the Pacific.  He starts running back and forth across the country, and in the process is unintentionally scattering the seed that is unique and individual to him.

He’s running for days and months all by himself, obscure and alone.  Although I think he would tell you that it was great and enjoyable, it represents the time of toiling and groundbreaking that must take place to sow a harvest of magnificent and exponential beauty.

So he’s running back and forth.  Eventually people begin to notice his seeds that are now springing from the ground.  Some begin to follow him.  People keep trying to ask him why he’s running, but he says very little.  So they decide that he’s running for charity, or that he’s trying to attract attention for world peace.  They begin to develop all kinds of reasons – personal, political, spiritual – but he doesn’t say much and just keeps running.

Along the way, he becomes the inspiration that a few entrepreneurs needed to hit it big.  And more and more people join him.  Finally after more than three years, he stops running, tells everyone he’s pretty tired, and goes home, leaving several dozen people wondering what they were supposed to do from there.

So Forrest Gump began this trek out of the passion and uniqueness that had simply become a major part of him.  He already had his seed.  As he ran back and forth, in effect tilling the ground, he scattered that seed, and all kinds of things began to spring up.  It was completely organic and simply overflowed from a place within himself that struck a chord with many other people.  He had the right seed in the right soil at the right time.

And if he wanted to, at that point he could have done any number of things.  He could have written a book or started a foundation or branded himself and become a spokesman for a cause or agenda, like some of the people thought.  The fields were bursting with the sweet aroma of harvest.

And this brings us to the last part of this law – the receiving.  Oddly enough, this is where many people miss it.  When the harvest is ripe – and there is a perfect time – it needs to be gathered.  But even if we’ve sown the right seed and tilled the ground and kept the fields parasite and weed free, our attitude at this point can render all this activity moot.

There are two ways we can sow, give, receive and harvest.
The first is from a position of fear and lack.
The second is from a position of faith and abundance.

The first position, like I touched on with Scrooge McDuck, sows with an attitude of simply taking and hoarding.  This attitude says that there is only a very limited amount, and whatever I get, I’m going to hold tight to it because I may never get any more.  I’m going to store and store.  There may be some giving in the process, but it’s a self-serving kind of giving – giving simply as a means to an end to get back.

When a person sows and reaps with the fear and lack mentality, they actually end up missing many, many opportunities for a greater and richer harvest because they are so focused on their own end results and self-preservation.  The person operating in fear and lack has a steady flow of people walking up to their door, but they are sent away, because that person fears they will take their harvest when it’s full.  They fear that if they share their crop, there won’t be enough to go around.

In contrast, the person operating in faith and abundance gives away as much as is reasonable, because they know that as long as they have a good harvest, some of those people will tell their friends, and they will tell their friends, and it will become something that is exponential and effortless.  It will have no choice but to multiply.

There’s a story in the Bible that illustrates this perfectly.  Jesus tells a story about three servants who are entrusted with different amounts of money (called talents) by their master.  One is given five talents, one is given two, and the third is given one, “each according to his own ability.” The master leaves.  The first servant takes his five talents and makes five more.  The second takes his two and makes two more.  The third servant takes his and buries it in the ground.

When the master returns, he asks for an account of what the servants have done with what he’s entrusted them with.  He’s pleased with the first and second servant, but angry with the third.  He takes the talent from the third and gives it to the servant who ended up with ten.  Then he banishes the servant from his service, calling him wicked and lazy.  He says, “To everyone who has, more will be given…but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”

I read a really good commentary on what Jesus means by this story, and how it is part of the law of reciprocity.

**If you use what is given to you, you will gain more.  If you fail to use what is given to you, you will lose even what you think you have.  Whether in physical, intellectual, financial, or relational dealings, whatever is given to you, however small it is, use it.  Use it diligently and on an ever increasing scale.  Set goals to increase whatever you do. “**

The difference between operating out of fear and lack as opposed to faith and abundance is a little like having the choice between the luxury car or the beater.

When we’re sowing out of a giver’s mentality, we are entitled to the luxury car.  Yet because we often are seeing through the eyes of lack and poverty, when it comes time to harvest, we choose the beater, even if we are giving.

Conversely, when we operate from a standpoint of a getter, we can only have that beater, but we go ahead and claim the luxury car.  Then we get angry when we get neither.

So the Law of Reciprocity looks like this:

  1. Operate out of an attitude of faith and abundance, not fear and lack.
  2. Have seed of great substance; seed that is unique only to you; that is packed with core and fundamental value and content.  Every chance you get to give this seed away, do it.
  3. Know the seasons, the soil, and the prime location
  4. Toil and work the land, overcoming and persevering at all costs
  5. Be patient and faithful to the vision and the harvest.
  6. At the proper time, reap and receive.  And then give it away again.

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To see more writing like this, check out my book, The Human Code

** Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 2008