Dwight Schrute and Christian Accountability

christian accountabilityMy wife and I are working our way through the television series The Office, and we watched an episode the other day that was funny but also very much relevant to the Christian life.  The episode focuses in on the weird character Dwight and his attempt to hold the office accountable to their actions.  The show does a great job hilighting how accountability doesn’t work!  If you are a Christian, I’ve got good news for you…Christian accountability doesn’t work.

Here are a few lines from the show:

Dwight: The accountability booster. It registers every time a mistake has been made in the office. From a late delivery to an accounting error. Five strikes in a day equals a home run. One home run and you’re out.

Andy: Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean the thing about this office is, we make a lot of mistakes.

Dwight: But the device will change that. Without a safety net, people will improve.

Andy: Alright everybody, looks like we need to be getting to work. Be extra careful. Double check everything or the accountability booster will getcha.

If you’ve seen this particular episode then you will remember that the office staff is on pins and needles. They are at each others throats, and everyone is walking on egg shells throughout the episode.  The fear of mistake has taken over the office and now work and production has been halted because of accountability.

Christian accountability relationships are varied I’m sure, but after watching this I realized that my experience with Christian accountability is sort of like this accountability booster that the characters on The Office had. The device (as Dwight called it) or accountability was supposed to change me, but sadly it did not. In one my favorite books, Grace in Practice, Paul F.M. Zahl writes about accountability and says:

“…start using words with me like “accountability,” or, if you are a Christian, “discipleship.” You start to “speak the truth in love” in my life.  You tell me that you intend the criticism you dole out to be for my own good.  You tell me there is really love beneath the lecture. But all I can hear is the lecture….tell me one thousand times that your law is in the service of love. I will even tell you I believe you. But I don’t. There is no law in existence that can be heard as grace by sufferers and sinners.  The cliche is true: we need unconditional love.”

Christian Accountability Doesn’t Work!

Here are 5 reasons why Christian accountability doesn’t work with some of my pithy comments.

1.  Authoritarian – Jesus is the ultimate authority not your accountability partner.

2.  Fear – you’re afraid just like Adam was.  Except this time your accountability partner is the one you are afraid of.

3.  No Grace – Grace is the ultimate life changer not accountability.

4.  No Gospel – “It is finished.” ‘Power of God unto salvation”…not accountability. 

5.  Works – How about we talk about what He has done…not what I’ve done?

Here is the big reason why Christian accountability doesn’t work: people by nature are going to do what they want to do, and no relationship can stop that.  I’ve known ultra spiritual leaders in multiple accountability relationships that have had moral failure.  What happened?  I’ve seen ministries with boards and financial committees do shady things with money, and no one knew.  I thought they were accountable?

The greatest change I’ve seen happen in my life is when I’ve been pointed to the Gospel.  The Gospel is powerful and the only thing that can change.  A watchdog will not change me.

I’m forgiven…I don’t need accountability if my sin is a non-issue to God.

Rest in Jesus – grace for the religiously tired!

rest in jesusMy grandmother passed away a few years ago, and being at her home when she was alive was rather interesting. Her house was immaculate. You could eat off the floor it was so clean. However, this cleanliness didn’t come without paying a high price…even amongst her guests. As a child I can remember multiple times being chided for running in the house, laying down on the couch, putting my feet up on the furniture, and the list goes on.  Would Jesus be welcome to put his feet up on my grandmothers couch?

It is easy to recognize the law that operates in others and harder to recognize where we are plagued by the law. It is easy to see the law in operation in my grandmother because it was so visible and vocal! She reminded me so much of Martha in Luke 10:38-42:

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

I have not seen many people work like my grandmother did. She was busy about many things. My grandmother reminded me of a lot of people I’ve known in ministry. To be truthful she reminds me of myself when I was really involved in ministry. There are a lot of rules in church. There is a lot of unnecessary work to be done in church, and if you weren’t doing it then you were a second class saint, and I really thought and hoped Jesus was impressed by all that I was doing for Him.

Rest in Jesus

I didn’t understand that the one thing Jesus wanted from me was to get lost. Mary chose the best because she was lost in him. We so want our lives to be perfect and in order that we are afraid to stop doing all the nonsense that doesn’t even matter.

You can’t find most of what we do in Bible. What you can find is getting lost. He came to save that which was lost, not those who have it together.

When I think about grace, I immediately think that Jesus completed and finished the work that he was sent to do, and he rested from his labor. The Gospel is completely unfair in that what we were supposed to do, Jesus stepped in and did for us.  Now he is our Sabbath. 

Jesus doesn’t mind if we relax. He doesn’t mind if we take a rest in him.  In fact he seeks to take the burden off and invites us to take it easy. However, religion seeks to give us lots to do.  Don’t let it. Rest in Jesus.

Does God Keep Score? Exodus 12

when I see the blood I will pass over youThe majority of my life has been lived under the shadow of religion. I’ve often wondered throughout all of my childhood and adulthood if I was in or out with God. Does God keep score? Does he have a record of my good deeds and my bad deeds? If I sin enough does that make God love me less? If I do enough righteous actions then do I score a point? This madness will drive you crazy!

Throughout this tospy turvy life of religion seeking to please God by not sinning I wondered, “is there enough right actions that I can do to make God passover my sins?” The short answer…no!

As I was reading through Exodus a few weeks ago I was struck by the night the death angel came rolling into town. The first born was going to die that night, and there was only one way to prevent it. Put blood on the door. One simple act secured redemption for every person in the house.

when I see the blood I will pass over you

Exodus 12:13: The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”

The revelation I had was that their redemption had nothing to do with what they did or how many sins they committed. They were just as full of sin as the Egyptians were.

They couldn’t save themselves by doing anything, only the lamb could do that. All they had to do was sit in the house and eat, rest, and relax.

What are you doing trying to make yourself right with God? When you miss it do you feel condemnation?

There’s only one road and it leads to Calvary
It gets discouraging at times, but I know I’ll make it
By the saving grace that’s over me.
-Bob Dylan

The good news is there was a lamb that took away the sin of the world 2000 years ago, and if his blood is on your door then you’re covered.  That is the saving grace that is over you.

So is God keeping score? Is he keeping tabs on you? If he keeps score then maybe the score is, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” My guess is the only thing he sees when he passes over you is blood.

“Your life in grace is the life of a cripple on an escalator: as far as being able to walk upstairs is concerned, you are simply dead; there is nothing for you to do. But then you don’t need to do anything, because the divine Floorwalker has kindly put you on the eternally moving staircase of Jesus — and up you go.” – Robert Farrar Capon

Let Your Speech Be Always With Grace

let your speech be always with graceGrace in relationships is easily identifiable based on conversation.  How we talk to other people, and what we are willing to share with others is a clear indication if the relationship is rooted in grace or law.  This may be why Paul said in Colossians 4:6, “let your speech be always with grace.” When you are in a relationship that is based on grace and not law then you are free to say anything you want to say without condemnation and judgement.

I picked up on this a few nights ago when my family and I went over to some friends house to eat.  These weren’t new friends, but it had been a while since my children had seen them. Normally, when my kids get around people they haven’t seen in a while they become shy, hide behind me, and don’t say much. This house was different.  The couple are a graceful couple that welcomed us in there home like we were their own children.

My son was comfortable enough to be himself (picture above!), tell jokes, play, laugh, and so was my daughter.  In a home based on grace all are welcome to come and to be themselves.  Matthew 9:10 says;

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples.”

Jesus is relaxing, eating, and look who feels welcome to and sit with him.  Scum, sinners, bad people. Why?  Grace!  They knew that to sit at the table with Jesus was not a place of condemnation but a place of grace and acceptance.

In atmospheres where the law is present you cannot be yourself because you have to make sure you are following the rules.  It is not about you anymore it is now about the rules.  You have to be conscience of what you say because you might say the wrong things.  Not so at the table with Jesus.  With Jesus you relax!

I’ve noticed in my relationships that are based on the law I think about what to say instead of communicating my heart.  In my head I think, “what are they going to to think if I say this?”  I can’t relax.  Grace is not present.  In law based relationships you cannot be yourself.  In relationships based on grace you can be “naked an unashamed”, you can be free to express yourself, share your heart, and be silly.  In relationships based on the law, you have to be “on”, it’s like a job interview.

Let Your Speech Be Always With Grace

I have found the people that I’m most open with are the people that have shown me the most grace.  The people that I clam up on are the people that have shown me the most law.  We see this in the garden:

And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

The law makes you want to hide.  You hide because of fear of what someone else might think about your nakedness.  You are silent because of fear of what they might really think about you.  Have you ever seen anyone that has had too much to drink, and they start sharing intimate details of their life.  That’s grace.

I pray that you let your speech be always with grace.  Have a drink.

Seinfeld The Opposite – aka religion

seinfeld the oppositeMy all time favorite T.V. show is Seinfeld.  I’ve been watching it since I was a kid with my parents, I own all of them on DVD, and can quote it…probably better than the Bible.  The show is timeless.  One of my favorite episodes is titled The Opposite, and in the episode George Constanza, the loser of the group finds his religion…

Seinfeld The Opposite

His religion is he will begin doing everything the opposite of his natural instinct.  He says, “my life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat … It’s all been wrong.” Later, George says, “this is no longer just some crazy notion. Jerry, this is my religion.”

George then begins to change how eats, dresses, talks to people.  He gets the girl, gets a job with the Yankees, and life is starting to look up for him.

As I think about the episode I couldn’t help but think about what Paul writes in Romans 7:

“18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

George is starting to sound an awful lot like Paul.  If we could all just do the opposite.  If we could all just try a little harder then maybe we could save ourselves by our own efforts.  Sadly, we can’t keep it up. The act can only be performed for so long before the real George comes out again.  Before the real sinful me and you comes out.

There are times I try to do the opposite, but it just doesn’t work.  And then there is the law.  I really like to do the opposite of the law.  I know at my core I’m a rebel.  I love rebelling against everything.  It’s in my nature, and if you were honest with yourself, it’s in your nature too.

I identify so well with the AC/DC song Bad Boy Boogie:

On the day I was born the rain fell down
There was trouble brewin’ in my home town
It was the seventh day I was the seventh son
And it scared the hell out of every one
They said stop
I said go
They said fast
I said slow
They said yes
I said no
I do the bad boy boogie

Theologian Paul Zahl writes; “If the law says, “Jump,” I sit.  If it says, “Run” I walk. If it says, “Honor your father and mother,” I move…to Portland.”  I understand now when I tell my son not to do something…he does, you guessed it, the opposite.

Here is the deal we can’t help it.  It’s called original sin.  BUT there is hope.  Romans 8:1, 3-4:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us…”

Probably the best news you will read all day.  The law is weak.  No more opposite games are needed to be played.  Jesus fulfilled the law for you.  What you couldn’t do and what the law couldn’t accomplish in you, Jesus did for you.  You are not condemned.  Go have fun.

A Mess Of Help – a book review

A Mess of HelpI had the privilege of hearing David Zahl talk about his new book a few weeks ago at The Olmstead Salon, a ministry of Calvary-St. George’s Church.  David is one of the leaders of Mockingbird.  Mockingbird is a ministry that seeks to connect the Christian faith with the realities of everyday life in fresh and down-to-earth ways.  If you have never checked them out…do yourself a favor!

Ironically, my dad first told me about his book; A Mess of Help: From the Crucified Soul of Rock N’ Roll.  When I saw he was coming to NYC, I had to go.  David if you read this…thanks for signing my book!

I resonate well with Zahl’s feelings about music. When I was a kid, and even into adulthood music had the ability to transport me some place else. I remember vividly laying on my bed with music blaring being transported mentally to another world. Music was and still is an escape.

I love Zahl’s ecclectic genre of musical interest. Growing up I had and still do have a wide range of interest in different genres of music. I go from Metallica (my favorite band), Black Sabbath, Waylon Jennings, Notorious BIG, Hank Williams Jr., to Miles Davis without missing a beat. I also have very strange musical tendencies: I typically listen to a song over and over again for weeks at a time, without listening to another song. Or I listen to an album over and over again without listening to anything else. I remember last year listening to The Allman Brothers Band Live at The Fillmore East for a solid 3 months without listening to anything else.  Crazy…huh?

My review of A Mess of Help might be different than other reviews out there in the blogosphere, because of my religious upbringing and past.

I grew up in a sect of Christianity that was very much opposed to any “worldly” music as we called it. I still remember going to youth camp one year and a youth leader smashing one of my friends cassette tapes and throwing it out the window.

I grew up thinking music that did not glorify God was of the devil and therefore to be shunned, but yet something kept me coming back to it. I appreciate A Mess of Help because it shows that music has something to offer everyone. Music doesn’t have to be Contemporary Christian in order to move you spiritually. When I read A Mess of Help, I wanted to scream “yes” so many times because he communicated how I felt when I listened to music.

There is a purity to music that can communicate feeling and emotion that other art forms cannot. Music is a language and method of communication all by itself. While reading A Mess of Help, it further convinced me of the need for honest and pure music from dare I say anywhere.

One of the essays that I particularly liked was the one about The Who. I like The Who, but I’ve never been there biggest fan. Sure they have some great songs, but overall their music has never really captivated me as other music has. But, when Zahl brings out Pete Townswend’s disdain for the almighty World Wide Web…it hit me.

Zahl writes, “Instead of making it easier to answer the “Who am I?” question, the expanded laboratory afforded by the Internet seems to have only made us more frantic and worried about the answers.” Zahl points out that there was a gap between between Townsend’s public image and the real Townsend, thus creating anxiety. For many of us there is a gap between our internet image and the real image.

We are all guilty of doing this, whether on the internet, at work, etc. We have an image to keep up, we keep skeletons in our closets, we wear a mask. One of my favorite quotes from Zahl is:

“You can find plenty of pictures of people vacationing on Instagram, and fewer of them fighting with their spouse or microwaving pizza.”

Don’t we all face this?  

Throughout the book are crossroads like this.  Music has a way of getting into the different arenas of life and creating an unveiling.

So, what is the answer to the identity question…buy the book!

I loved the book because it was theology plus rock and roll! You can’t beat that! I loved it because I found a like minded spirit. Someone who loved music and Jesus at the same time.

After reading the book I thought to myself this is the kind of book I want to write! Zahl wrote about some artist I’ve never heard of, and some I’m not huge fans of, but he did well. If I could write a part 2 or my own version here are the artist I would write about:

Led Zeppelin
Thin Lizzy
Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Band
Pink Floyd
The Allman Brothers Band
Miles Davis
Thelonious Monk
Bruce Springsteen
Waylon Jennings
Dave Matthews Band
Grateful Dead
The Smashing Pumpkins
Hank Williams
The Doors

Get Out Of Hell Free Card

Get Out of Hell Free CardDo you remember Monopoly and the get out of jail free card?  If life and eternity are like Monopoly then grace is your get out of hell free card.  This week I want to write about grace, the difficulty we have in living in grace, and why the law is easier than grace.  To begin I think one of the reasons we have a hard time with grace is we believe none of us deserve it…except us.  The adulterer, drunk, homeless man, pornographer…we have a hard time believing they have access to the same grace us we do.  To that I say…”we have all sinned.”

Get Out of Hell Free Card

We have a problem with grace because people get off free.  We love to see people punished for their wrong doings.  We want people to pay for their sins, but if grace is real then that means that everything I’ve done has been exonerated by His love.  If grace is real then my past and future sins have been swallowed up in his death.  If what Jesus did is effective then what I do can’t stop it.  Remember…nothing can separate us?  Sin can’t separate me nor can it prevent God’s grace from covering me.

Now that is all sweet and nice, but here is where it gets hard.  It gets hard when someone sins against you, when someone does you wrong, when someone takes from you.  We want people to pay and pay dearly for their crimes and their sins!  We all cry out for justice when we have been wronged.  We hate it when people get off if they were guilty, BUT…

You and I are getting off!  The good news is that you are guilty, we are all guilty, but we don’t have to pay the price for it.  We get off free because Jesus paid the price.  The judgement I was supposed to receive, he took for me.

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

Romans 5:20

What do we do in a world where sin continues to increase more and more?  Point the finger? Cry out for justice?  Or hand out get of hell free cards?  One of the hardest things to do is to let others off the hook, but when you get a revelation that Jesus let you off the hook then it becomes easier to let others off the hook.

The Gospel is by far, the most ridiculous and unfair message ever propagated.  It doesn’t matter how bad you have been, better yet it doesn’t matter how bad you are going to beyou are forgiven and free. You are forgiven because the debt you were supposed to pay because of your sin and wrongdoing, Jesus paid it for you.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

That is your get out of hell free card.

What Does God Want From Me?

What Does God Want From Me?What does God want from me? If I had a dollar for every time I thought that, I would have more than one dollar!  I’m sure you have probably had the same thought from time to time, and to be honest, I’m not 100% sure I have the answer you are looking for.  BUT please keep reading.

As I have grown in my faith I haven’t discovered exactly what does God want from me, but I have discovered a few things he doesn’t want from me, or better yet what he doesn’t give two cents about.

A writer I read very often is Steve Brown. What I appreciate most about him is his honesty and the fact that he doesn’t care what people think about him!  I pray I have the guts to say some of the things he does!  Steve mentioned something the other day that really hit me that I wanted to expand on in light of what God doesn’t want us to do. “Religious stuff doesn’t make us better…it makes us more religious.”

What Does God Want From Me?

In my life I’ve noticed that when I get caught up in religious activities and duty I end up more bound to that duty, and not to God.  I feel that I have to be doing something, that I must be doing something, and that God expects me to do silly religious things that he hasn’t really prescribed.

I often wonder if God looks down on us and says “why do they keep doing those things…who told them to do that?”

I used to feel this sneaky suspicion that if I missed church or didn’t read my bible that lightning would strike.  These things became cultic practices for me, I had to do them to appease the Gods!  Shockingly, whenever I wouldn’t participate in a religious activity nothing bad would happen to me.

I see in the Bible that Jesus promises me rest, and if that is true then why do I feel so spiritually tired?  If he promises me rest, then why do I feel condemned for not doing religious things.  Religion is a rat race. It is a race that you can’t win.

When I look at the life of Jesus I’m so surprised at how many religious rules he broke.  He didn’t fit in, he ate the wrong types of food, he healed people on the wrong day, and spent time with people you and I wouldn’t.  He was very irreligious.  Most preachers don’t talk about breaking rules, they give us ways to conform to religious idealogies, instead of the freedom to walk out life with Jesus.

I love Amos 5:21-24

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

It is apparent that God really doesn’t care for their religious duties.  What if he doesn’t like ours?  What if in all of our trying we are missing the one thing.  Jesus.

Being more religious isn’t helping you.  So what does God want from you?  Maybe he just wants you.

Nothing Can Separate Us

Nothing Can Separate UsBeing separated from something that you love is not an easy thing to deal with.  I had this experience last summer when my wife and children went to visit family for a few weeks in North Carolina.  To be honest, the first 48 hours were kind of nice, but after that…well lets just say the separation from my family was a little hard to bear. Even though geography caused us to be separate, I knew that ultimately nothing would keep us apart.

Nothing Can Separate Us

One of the things that I am most thankful for in my spiritual life ties in with this and is found in Romans 8:35-39:

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What I love about these verses is this: nothing can separate us from the love of God!  To me, the most important word in that verse is NOTHING!  

I grew up in a brand of Christianity where anything could and probably will separate you from the love of God.  To be truthful I’ve spent most of my life trying to make sure I do the right things for God so he will accept me and love me.  But the whole time, even before I was born, even before I prayed a prayer, his love was stuck on me, and there was no way for me to get it go away.

No matter what I do in life, God’s love will never removed from me.  If I run from him…wait I can’t run from him! Even in my attempts and your attempts at leaving, nothing can separate us from his love. ”If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”

Nothing can separate us from his love.  More importantly there isn’t a sin that can separate me from him. You don’t have to do anything to get it, you already have it.  Enjoy it.

Rethinking The Concept of Mentoring

Concept of MentoringIf you have read any number of books on success, excelling in career or life then you have probably read about the concept of mentoring.  Since I was in college I have listened to others advocate for the need of mentoring relationships as a means of personal growth and development.  Personally, I have had quite a few mentoring relationships that have been very helpful, that I still call on today, and others…not so much.  In the past year my views on mentoring have changed in ways, and I thought I would share with you what I see could be a different trend and different model.

What I’ve seen change in my life over the past year are my previous mentor relationships and my new unconventional relationships.  I believe I’ve grown more professionally, personally, and in my marriage and family as a result of the more unconventional mentor relationships that I describe below, rather than a traditional mentor relationship.

I do believe the concept and goals of mentoring are the same, but the process could be different.  A mentoring relationship should be a relationship where the mentor shares their area of expertise for the growth of the mentee. Not a relationship where the mentor gets to stroke his ego, and possess a weird psychological hold on the mentee.

Below I list some of the ways I have been specifically mentored over the past year.  Honestly, I’ve never really asked any of the below relationships to mentor me (kind of awkward).  I simply asked for a little help.

New Methods of Mentoring:

  • Books – I read a lot.  In some cases, I’ve learned just as much from being mentored by an author that doesn’t know me as I have in a one on one relationship.
  • Email/Online – This year I read a business book that really had an impact on me.  Thankfully, the author put his email address in the book.  I had some more questions, so I emailed him.  Within 45 minutes he wrote me back. You may think he has nothing to do, but he is New York Times best selling author and writes for a major business magazine.  The knowledge from that email was life-changing, and therefore mentoring.
  • Unlikely People – I used to look for a mentor to fit a certain profile.  Well, this year I’ve been counseled and mentored by a family friend over FaceTime.  I never thought something like this would happen. Maybe there are people around you that you are overlooking?
  • Unstructured Relationships - We often think of mentoring as a long commitment where you meet with someone on a weekly basis.  I’m not sure this is the best model.  In fact there is one person in my life that I consider a mentor that lives in a different state, but flies to NYC a few times a year, and when he does we spend an hour together.  The best part about it…he doesn’t even know I consider him a mentor.  I have other relationships like this where I can call and get advice when I need it.

I still believe in mentoring, but think the models can be tweaked.  Bottom line is what works for your growth should be the model you pursue.  It just so happens that I am a weirdo and learn in a variety of different ways!