Identity in Christ

What James MacDonald Forgot

What James MacDonald Forgot

Can we stand yet another post on the James MacDonald debacle?

I first watched a video of James MacDonald teaching back in 2010. He was a mighty fine speaker: eloquent, passionate, and well-prepared. He had charisma and humor, to boot. He loved the Word of God.

He seemed so much like so many other charming and well-spoken pastors with big names and bigger platforms, thanks to publishers driven to capitalize on their books and social media outlets that stand in as a worldwide pulpit. Less like shepherds, more like celebrities.

Power trips and the root of it all, pride, are the tip of the iceberg according to insiders. Honestly, I wish the festering pimple would just pop so we could have it all out and be done with it, swabbing the whole mess with a gigantic cotton ball soaked in alcohol.

Or the gospel.

Because, see, that’s what’s been missing for a long, long time. Back when he began, back when I heard him speak, back when he was running an organization that touched the lives of thousands all over the world, I can believe that the gospel was the goal. But as the personality and the ego begins to serve one person—James MacDonald— the gospel becomes painfully absent from the mission. Oh, it might take the forefront in word, but in heart, it becomes, shall we say, nonattendant.

The gospel that reminds us of Whose we are and what He did for us. The gospel that reminds us that God is more than enough, that Jesus paid it all and declared “It is finished”, and that what He did was more important than what we do. The gospel that reminds us that we don’t have to go anywhere else to look for our value, worth, acceptance, or fulfillment. 

That’s what James MacDonald forgot, and I am just like him. Because I, too, leave the gospel behind daily in my quest to feel accepted. I have to remind myself of the finished work of Christ on my behalf daily, hourly. I have to bask in the love of a God who cannot ever fail to love me. 

So really, we’re not so different, James and I. Perhaps now that he’s left with a deep, hemorrhaging, gaping, festering wound, he’ll remember why he loved Jesus in the first place. It may mean isolation and a profound loss of relationships and at the very least, the complete collapse of that pathetic little empire he built apart from the gospel. But that would be the greatest thing James could ever do in his life. Return to Jesus and be filled up with Jesus’ value and worth and significance. It’s all about Jesus. 

Because empires built on anything less than the gospel aren’t worth the tiny men who’ve slaved tirelessly to erect them. In the end, what they had put up as a prop for their own inadequacies fails them miserably, and they become slaves to the very things they might have used to point people to Jesus instead of themselves. 

The gospel. That’s what James forgot.


By the way, if this article sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you read my post called What Doug Phillips Forgot or heard our podcast episode called What Josh Duggar Forgot. James MacDonald shares a lot of company, unfortunately. Us, too.

If you happen to be one of those Christian leaders who find yourself increasingly all about yourself, find a place to start here: In Light of Fallen Men: How Christian Leaders Can Avoid the Abyss.


Bible Study for Losers

Bible Study for Losers

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Ever feel like a Bible study loser? Me, too.

I’ve been in the big ones that are worldwide, neatly organized, really well written, and push me to get ‘er done. I’ve loved them in the seasons where I could be a part of them.

In other seasons, I have met with smaller groups, in more casual settings, and I’ve also tried to go it alone. I’m highly self-motivated, but going it alone is not a good match for me. I’m a Bible study loser, for the most part.

Last summer as I contemplated what to do about my lousy lack of Bible study, I felt like the Holy Spirit was nudging me to connect with my across-the-street neighbor. I actually just started the text to her with, “I’m not really sure what God is asking of me, but I thought I’d reach out. . .”

Turns out, she thinks she’s a Bible study loser, too. We picked a book we were both interested in, met early on a Friday morning, fumbled our way through it, and forgot to pray.

But it was good. Know why?

God is more interested in the us than the what, why, where, how, and when. He has something to show you, a way to love you more, a window into the goodness that is him. No pressure. No perfection required. Just you, showing up.

We’re still not very good at this Bible study thing, but we are showing up. We can trust God to do whatever it is he has for us and we can rest knowing that he loves us enough to change what needs to be changed. Even if we don’t fill in all the blanks. We can be Bible study losers who get to the end of our lives and still hear God say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”, because all the work is his, and he promises that he will exquisitely finish what he has begun.

Take the pressure off yourself. It isn’t yours to bear.


Great Bible Study Resources (For Losers and Non-Losers Alike)


I Left Legalism and My Family Doesn't Approve

I Left Legalism & My Family Doesn't Approve

One affiliate link for Leaving Legalism below

Out of a small book with a big heart has come questions from readers like you. Earnestly trying to figure out this whole “leaving legalism thing”, your struggles are honest and deep, and multi-faceted.

Family relationships are rarely simple.

We’re left with the question of how to love people when they don’t agree with our choice to leave a rigid church environment, and it’s not simple, because family relationships rarely are. And now with the holidays upon us, the notion of spending time with family members who ooze disapproval is stressful, disheartening, and a genuine downer. It can leave us feeling like we’ve taken two steps backwards.

I Left Legalism and My Family Doesn't Approve

Don’t think for a minute you’re alone in this. Here’s just one of numerous notes I’ve received, but I’m keeping this one as anonymous as possible for obvious reasons:

Question for you: When you leave legalism, but have family (my parents) who have not, how do you walk well with them? We packed our bags 11 years ago for the sake of the gospel, have grown in the gospel, but are looked down on because we live it out differently, i.e., enjoy alcohol, smoke a pipe (well, my hubs, not me), friendship with homosexuals, walk with drug addicts—all sorts of very different things from my Baptist roots.

I still feel there are times I am creating a checklist, and making laws for my life, and feel I am doing something wrong (like hubs shouldn’t smoke a pipe, but it’s more because of what my family would think of him, but Lord knows I am not posting pics on Facebook of that!) Is there a fine line of sharing, and being careful to not offend? I don’t know? But I do get a smack in the head from the Spirit, that I am not resting in the grace and freedom He gives. sigh.

I feel at times my identity is still wanting approval from my earthly father, trying to shake that, but thankful how Jesus is showing me these things! I feel so close to real freedom, and have been away from legalism for awhile, but man those roots run deep!

A Question of Identity

I think a lot of us struggle with our identity: Who am I? What is my mission in life? Who am I not? For those essentially rejecting what shaped their childhoods by those who communicated that identity to them, the issue of identity can be especially confusing.

Now is the time to stop and define who you are. If you’re still walking in Christian faith, your identity is formed by what God, through Jesus Christ, did for you when he chose to enter our fallen world and put his life on the line for our sake. It’s all his work, his plan, and his unparalleled goodness that we get to claim, through grace.

It’s why the video that plays on this site’s homepage reads, “Grace will change your life.” At the core of our lives is our identity—who we are—and the grace of God is the all-encompassing formation of who we are.

How Understanding Our Identity Makes a Difference

Now let’s connect the dots between knowing our identity and being around family members who don’t approve of our choices.

For those of us who were caught up in legalistic environments, whether by choice or parentage, the attempt to please man usually takes precedence over a desire to please God. Even if our goal was to please God, we had a mixed-up, works-based definition of what that means. The truth is, God is already pleased with us. Because of what Jesus has already done, because of Calvary, because of the cross, because of the faith He’s given to us, God is already pleased.

Let that sink in.

For so many of us, the idea that we already have won the affection of the creator of the universe simply because His son died on our behalf is a concept very far removed from our law-loving hearts and minds. It doesn’t seem right. In a universe where everything else must be earned, the free approval of God Himself just blows our minds.

Take the idea that we can’t reconcile free approval (grace) for ourselves and apply it to our earthly relationships, and there we see how easy it is to assume we must earn the love of God. If my earthly father is disappointed in me, surely my heavenly father must also be. If I have to perform for the approval of the people in my church, surely I must perform for God, too.

Again, now is the time to stop and define who you are.

What do you believe? Do you believe Jesus when he declared that he had finished all the work there was to be done when he hung on the cross and took our sin into his death?

Do you believe that God takes delight in you? His Word tells us as much:

Psalm 18:19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. (ESV)

Isaiah 62:3-5 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (ESV)

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There are so many more verses and passages that tell us how God delights in us. You can search and find and dwell on them, and I encourage you to do so.

The critic, or legalist, will of course point out that there are equally passages that talk about God’s hatred for the wicked, and that’s true. But here’s the thing: You are not the wicked. You have been redeemed. You are made clean and pure by the work of Christ. To say otherwise is just really bad theology.

So, Then, How Do I Hang Out With My Family?

Let’s make this whole discussion about identity and believing the truth about whose you are inform how we now deal with family and friends who don’t approve of our choice to leave their brand of legalism.

You’re going to be in situations where your family doesn’t approve of your clothing choices, your food preparation, your current church, your parenting, your job situation, your friends, your hobbies, and on and on. . .

When their opinions are being voiced, you have the opportunity to remind yourself (and spouse and kids and friends) that God is already pleased with you. Remind yourself (say it in your head, loudly) that you are loved by God and nothing can change that. Smile outwardly. Usher your kids out of the room. Leave, if you have to. But remember, always remember, that your identity—who you are—is in Jesus Christ, and he is very, very pleased with you.

Luke addressed the physical leaving of family in his gospel: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”(14:26) Sometimes following Christ means leaving behind the family and life that would have you believe that you must earn your salvation in some fashion, because following Christ means believing the truth of the gospel instead of the pronouncements of legalists.

Leaving legalism can be the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. A disapproving family heaps guilt and shame tenfold over the guilt and shame we are trying to leave. But don’t forget Whose you are and what He’s done for you. Remember, now is the time to stop and define who you are. Now, before the holiday gatherings commence.