Performance-Free Love

We know life was never meant to be a holy hustle, but often times it can be easy for Christians to slip into a white-knuckling mentality to try and earn God's love. If this try-harder attitude inevitably taints our relationship with God, what are some practical ways to rely on God's grace instead of our performance? In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff sit down with Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley, to discuss his newly released book on this very topic, "Saving The Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love."


Transcript

Chris Grace:

Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast with Dr. Tim Muehlhoff.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And Dr. Chris Grace.

Chris Grace:

Well we've been able to join you all for a number of weeks now, talking about all things relationships and it's been a fun chance to sit down and visit not only Tim, with you, but with different topics on relationships. Every once in awhile we get an opportunity to bring in a very fun guest.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right.

Chris Grace:

That's today. We are bringing in Brian Loritts. Brian, welcome, and we're so glad you're here.

Brian Loritts:

Good to be here. Go Blue Devils. 

Chris Grace:

Go Blue Devils, dear Lord.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh my.

Chris Grace:

They are probably going to do well again this year, aren't they? Just for the audience may not know Brian, many of you do. He's a pastor at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California. He previously was a pastor up at Trinity Grace in New York City, and co-founder of Fellowship Memphis.

Brian Loritts:

Absolutely.

Chris Grace:

Three children, three sons, Quinton, Myles, and Jayden, and wife, Korie. You're on our Board of Trustees, at Biola, where we got to know each other. Tim, I know you've gotten to know Brian in a couple of capacities, as well.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, one of the great things about having a podcast is able to bring good friends on. Unfortunately, that's not today. No, so let me explain to the listeners the joke about the Blue Devils. Brian and I have known each other for a while. We've spoken at marriage conferences together. He knows I did all of my graduate work at God's University, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. The Blue Devil comment was well noted.

Brian Loritts:

In all seriousness, Tim, he trained my wife and I when we spent like five years at Family Life, so gosh, I guess that makes you Yoda to my Luke Skywalker.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right. That's right. Well, it's great to have you.

Chris Grace:

It really is.

 

Brian, it's just an honor to have you here. I know you've been recently named even one of the top 30 emerging Christian leaders. It's a lot because of your heart, your desire to ... Not only are you a pastor of a multi-ethnic church, but you are well spoken of, and you've just come out with a new book, Saving the Saved. It is a great book. We're going to tell us listeners more about it. We'll put it on our podcast website, called Saving the Saved. It is how Jesus saves us from try harder Christianity and to performance free love.

 

Let's do this. Let's just spend some time talking about it.

Brian Loritts:

Nice.

Chris Grace:

It's an awesome book. Let me just start off with a question real quick. Tell us what performance free love is. There's a lot there. It means a lot, but in a nutshell I think what you're trying to tell Christians and the reason you've wrote this is because it was a big part of your life growing up like this, and to be performance free, to be loved for who we are, is a unique pivot that you made at some point. Tell us about that.

Brian Loritts:

Yeah, one of my favorite authors is a guy by the name of Neil Gaiman, and Neil, British author, says that he writes to figure out what he thinks about a subject. You know what? When I read that, I go, "I think that's true of why I wrote this book." I really wanted to crystallize what I thought about salvation with grace, specifically. It really arose out of a four-year sermon series I did on the gospel of Matthew, because I was pastoring in the Bible Belt at the time and what I figured out right away is in the Bible Belt City like Memphis, most of the people there, when they'd get baptized, and we'd film their baptism stories, the story pretty much was grew up in church but didn't really understand the Gospel.

 

Then I started ... I stumbled onto this idea that Matthew, what makes his Gospel different from the others, is his audience. He writes it to Jews. Just going, "That's interesting that you would write the Gospel to people go to synagogue every week."

Chris Grace:

Moral people.

Brian Loritts:

Moral people who go to Temple and high and holy days. They say the average Jew at that time, gave 19.2% of their income to God, and yet to write a Gospel to them is kind of a slap in the face, a nice slap in the face, to say, "You're missing it here." I think there's a part of it that is very disconcerting, to think that I can do all those things but still miss it. Then, there's a part of it that's very comforting. It's almost like I can get off the treadmill of performance, of work, of this thing that we call moralism. I speak a lot of moralism.

 

I wanted to speak specifically to Christians who were laboring under the tyranny of guilt and shame. I think it speaks to everybody because I don't care what your view of God is. Everybody has this notion of moralism. "If I do good things, whatever that is, if I do enough of that, then I'll feel better about myself or I'll be accepted." This book tries to redirect people into very freeing place, which is God's grace.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, you call it meritocracy, I guess this idea that we were trying to develop something like that. It's something that we're all familiar with, right? This isn't necessarily a Christian problem. It's all of us have this issue of trying to earn love from somebody else. You use Matthew in an interesting way.

 

You started off even in Matthew four with the temptation of Jesus. How did that tie in, and how did you see that working in this? Because Jesus's reactions and responses were pretty informative and helpful for us. I love the way you unpacked that.

Brian Loritts:

Right, so in Matthew three, that's his baptism right? He comes out of the waters and God says to him, "This is my beloved Son in whom I'm well pleased." I just remember reading that and just going, "Man this is on the front end of his ministry. This is before he's preached a sermon. This is before he's healed anybody. This is before he's raised anybody from the dead, before he's fed the 5,000 out of a few pieces of fish and few loaves of bread." God just says, "I'm proud of you," before he's performed anything. That right there is enough for me to go ... I think that's a good grid for parenting by the way. "I'm proud of you." Period.

 

Trying not to tie into, "I'm proud of you because you came home with," or, "I'm proud of you because you made up your bed because nobody had to ask." I got three teenage boys, so there's a little woundedness here. Simply saying, "I'm proud of you, period," is incredibly freeing. Then right on the heels of that, again there's a wonderful caveat here and that is Jesus Is God. I think from a human perspective, I think what emboldens Jesus to be able to weather that storm is because of a steadfast security and his relationship with God.

 

The temptations come right on the heels of that, and him just saying, "I don't have to ..." Because all those temptations are Satan saying, "Prove yourself to me. Perform yourself. Perform for me," and Jesus going, "If I'm okay with God, I don't have to perform for you."

Tim Muehlhoff:

Let me apply that for parenting for a second. I couldn't help but think when you were saying that ... I have a friend who's a Muslim. Once we were talking about the differences between our faith traditions and this is what he said to me. When I described our system as grace based, his response was, "Well that'd be anarchy. I mean, that'd be anarchy. It's like everybody would do whatever what they wanted, at least the five pillars of Islam keep me in line. I know what to do. I know what to expect, and I know what God's favor rests on, because what you're describing is anarchy."

 

Imagine listeners saying, "But what about standards in the house? What about a child who doesn't live up to my standard, and yet I still say, "Hey, we're good. I'm proud." Where does that come in, the corrective part of it?

Brian Loritts:

Right, so I think for me and my Christian worldview, especially when it comes to parenting, I default to God and how he parents me, right? Where I would agree with your Muslim friend is, yes, is there a danger to grace being misused? Paul speaks about in Roman six. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Yes. It can lead to anarchy. On the other side of things, I look at how God parents ... If I went to the Exodus event and I go it's interesting me to the order of it. God doesn't give the Ten Commandments first and says, "Hey do these things and then I'll open up the Red Sea."

 

No, what he does is he goes, "I'm going to open up the Red Sea first," incredible grace, and then on the tail end of that, "Hey by the way, can you do these things?" I would say to your Muslim friend ... And I was very concerned about this in the book. I did not want someone to leave that going, "He believes that kind of this Antinomian view of life." That's, for listeners out there, that's literally without law.

 

Sometimes people have a faulty view of grace where, "Hey, I've got grace. I don't have to do anything." No, it's all about the order. God graciously opens up the Red Sea. He graciously saves us. Then, there's Commandments on the other side of that with the hope being that, "I do those things as a joyful response to his grace." It's like grace becomes a stimulator. Right?

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's really good. We're both Campus Crusade for Christ. Noreen and I were staff …

Brian Loritts:

It's crew now.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Cru, you're right, yes.

Brian Loritts:

And I kill my dad because they spent a lot of money ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yes they did.

Brian Loritts:

... a lot of study groups, and that's what they came up with.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Cru. Okay, that's a tangent. Yes, so we both have a crew background. I love Dr. Bright's decision with the four spiritual laws, because you've got to start somewhere. He starts with the law one, "God loves you." Law two is, "Hey, you're sinful and you don't measure up." He could've started that as being the first one, and that sets us on a trajectory.

 

There are days ... I have 3 boys as well. There's a danger of saying, "Hey guys, Mom and Dad love you no matter what. We are proud of you no matter what." They're like, "Awesome." It's like, "Olly olly oxen free," but you got to start somewhere, and to be rooted in love. Unconditional love is hard, but I think it's the right choice to start there.

Brian Loritts:

Absolutely, absolutely, and it's freeing. I love what Tim Keller says. He says, "Guilt will never change the fundamental structures of your heart," so guilt and shame, they just don't ... They're horrible instruments of transformation. It's Romans 2:4, "God's kindness leads to repent us." Now if you reverse the order of it, now you've got moralism. Repent to get God's kindness. No, no, no, no, no, it's kindness that stimulates the change.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's really good. You talk about going from performing to abiding. What's your take? If somebody were to ask you, "What's your definition of abiding," what would you say?

Brian Loritts:

Yeah, John 15 1:8, Jesus talks about, "I am the true vine. My father is the vine dresser, every branch of me." He just goes on to talk about this concept of abide. John's writing in Greek. The Greek word for abide, meno, simply means to remain. It's a life that just kind of remains. I actually think ... this is kind of weird. I think that the quiet time emphasis actually does violence to this idea of abiding.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Wow, nice. Unpack that.

Brian Loritts:

Yeah, the idea of, "Hey, spend 30 minutes reading your Bible, praying, and then the other 23 and a half hours is up to you." That's not the Bible. In a lot of ways, the abiding idea frees me. I once heard John Piper say, "Prayer is like taking short breaths." Well that ... man. I used to guilt myself that I couldn't pray for three hours every morning like Martin Luther. You know what I'm saying?

 

What I can do is sentence prayers throughout the day. Driving home at the end of work, "God, give me the strength to fully engage and to be fully present with my wife and kids." Boom, I can do that. It's that idea of staying connected and then , what happens is, the works that I do. It's like Dallas Willard says, "Grace is not opposed to effort. It's opposed to earning."

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good.

Brian Loritts:

There's a place for work in the Christian life. Again, those things are joyful responses to the abiding grace of Christ that's in my life. It's the principle of life. Even when I think about evangelism, right? I hear the word evangelism, like, "Oh, gosh." You know, sweaty palms and slow mo football.

Tim Muehlhoff:

At Daytona Beach.

Brian Loritts:

At Daytona Beach, so that kind of a thing. If you put evangelism in the context of a joyful response, it's a principle of life. Whatever gives us joy, we talk about. I remember the first time I had In-N-Out. I mean, you talk about a - hey, I'm telling everybody, "You've got to have the double double animal style." Well, I mean that's a trite illustration, but it gave me joy. Now, what am I doing? Out of that joy, I'm telling people. I think if we encased evangelism like that, or giving money, these are delights, because of what God's grace is doing in my life.

Tim Muehlhoff:

See, I don't think that's a trite illustration. One that I've sometimes used is I get migraines. I'm a migraine sufferer. Somebody recommended a product to me. I won't mention it, but I tried it and it worked. It cut my migraines in half. Whenever somebody says, "I have a migraine," I say to them, "Hey listen, I don't get paid to do this. I don't get like a kick back, but you've got to try this product. Just go on this website. Hey, take a look at it. I get nothing from this, other than it's really helped me."

 

I remember saying to my non Christian friend, the Muslim, I said, "Listen, it's not like if I can get three Muslims in a month I get like a flat screen TV," you know what I mean? Dude, I'm just saying this, because it's made a difference, this grace based thing. I love that analogy of saying ... and it's not forcing a person. I'm not forcing you to go to this website and look at this product. It helped me. It might help you.

Brian Loritts:

Absolutely.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I love the view of sharing Christ and things like that. I think that's great. Besides prayer ... that dailiness of prayer, I love that. Are there other things you do, that kind of get you in this abiding mindset?

Brian Loritts:

Yeah, so I think there's several things. It's what some people have historically called "means of grace." You know, community I think, is a rich thing for my wife and I. Reading deeply, good books, especially biographies of people ... I just finished one on Amy Carmichael, which I really enjoyed. Again, I don't want to paint the picture that I'm just kind of in this comatose state of abiding, you know what I'm saying?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, yeah.

Brian Loritts:

I think it's developing a God consciousness of trying to be constantly aware, even when I'm spending time with my kids, or my wife and I are connecting at the end of the day, that kind of a thing.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good.

Chris Grace:

What are the signs for you, Brian, that you're getting off base in this area? You bring up the rich young ruler, or the wealth in Matthew 19, and this deeply disturbed soul, where he asks, "Teacher, what must I do?" You bring out that story. I think there's something in there that it's pretty easy for us to go through life. We catch this. Then we can go up a little bit. We start to miss just a piece of this. We begin to see, sometimes it's in relationships. We went to earn that with a spouse or somebody that we're in a relationship with. Are there signs or markers for you, in your life, that you've found, "You know what? This is I'm starting to go back, fall back, into this very easy …"

Brian Loritts:

That's a great question, Chris. The number one indicator for me is how I treat others. If I view my relationship with God as this performance-based thing, then guess what? I'm going to require people to perform for me. I know I'm drifting off base … Look, every day I think is just a fight to stay on track, but I know I'm drifting when I got that performance orientation with my wife, or my attitudes with people.

 

I'm the type of person if you wrong me … I'll just put it out there as a pastor, right? You can just be a punching bag. Someone says something to me I don't like, or I just feel like they're being rude or mean, I'm the type of person it's just real easy for me to just kind of dismiss you, put you in a box, ignore you. It's code word for really just being unforgiving. That tells me that that's performance. "You didn't perform the way that I think you should, so I'm going to kind of reward you for your lack of performance." That's a good indicator light for me: how I treat people.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm trying to think of how our listeners are hearing this, and even how I'm hearing this, because here is my push back on that. It's just an inclination is ... Okay, so let's say my wife, ... Honey, this is just an illustration. Let's say that Noreen isn't performing. She's not doing what I think a Christian wife needs to do. On one hand, now I don't put a performance based on her. I give her grace. I give her love. Part of me is thinking, "Well, she's never going to change. She's never going to change, because hey, I'm acting this way, and Tim doesn't change and his love towards me." Part of me is like, I don't even know what I think the alternative is. The alternative is to shame her into it, is to punish her into it, is to withhold my love, so that she'll kind of get into shape. I'm just thinking of what listeners are thinking they're ... It's like, "Hey, he's getting, she's getting a free pass, because I'm loving this person and their conduct isn't improving. It might be getting worse."

Brian Loritts:

I love how the illustration just caused us to drift to I think is a good place. It's actually a whole chapter in the book that I argue that the primary theater to play out this performance free love is marriage.

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Brian Loritts:

It's the covenant of marriage. You know what I'm saying? Of course, thanks for the clarification. It doesn't mean we don't have hard conversations with each other and we challenge each other. I think in the early days of my marriage I was really trying to clone my wife into my image.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Sure.

Brian Loritts:

You know what I'm saying? What happens is, at least in our marriage over time, ... For me, the focus immediately was on the behavior. What happened to me over time, as I got to know my wife's story, as I really got to know her story ... I have her permission to share this publicly, at least shared at Family Life marriage conferences. My wife and I used to get into it all the time because ... I'll say this on a Biola podcast. Every quarter, I enjoyed a glass of wine.

Chris Grace:

Wait, can we cut this real quick? Any way that ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

The views expressed on this show do not necessarily ...

Chris Grace:

Let's take a commercial break and we'll be back. All right, we're back with Brian Loritts. No, no not really.

Brian Loritts:

She would emotionally shut down and would mutter stuff under her breath and then I'm going, "Ain't this something? The government says it's okay, but Miss Legalism over here ..." Then the next thing I know there's this huge battle. Well, then here's what I'm trying to get at. When she opens up and shares with me that, "Hey, everyone I've ever loved has abused this," You know what I'm saying? The hurt that's come out of it ... Well now, I'm starting to understand the issue behind the issue.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right.

Brian Loritts:

You know what I'm saying? What that causes me to do, that now facilitates understanding. It deepens a sense of sympathy and awareness, and I go, "I love this woman more than I love this glass."

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good.

Brian Loritts:

You know what I'm saying? So now, with the understanding I think grace has stimulated there. That only happens when you really understands a person's narrative.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's so good, Brian. We call that perspective-taking, that I need to see the world through the eyes of my wife and my kids. Boy, to see how they're interpreting my actions, and how my actions have been formed by my father. It's like man, you can look at my parenting style and it's like a reaction against my father in some ways. To see it through your eyes ... There's a woman named Maria Lugonez who calls this "world traveling", that, I travel into your world and see how you constructed the world and how you've constructed me within your world. That is worth its weight in gold, to do that.

Brian Loritts:

Don't you guys think ... I got a 15 year old, 14 year old, and a 12 year old, all boys. I'm constantly aware I am shaping their view of who God is.

Chris Grace:

Oh yeah, that's right.

Brian Loritts:

Am I going to hand them a performance deal? That's a profound thing for me, and I'm wrestling with it. There's times in which I'm going, "I'm giving you some very wrong pictures of who God is."

Chris Grace:

It's a sobering thought that many of your children in fact are learning who God is, not only in what you say and in what you do, but in watching how you treat your spouse, for example. In watching that, there's nothing you're going to have to say to them. They'll simply pick this up by watching it. "Does he have kindness? Does he treat her with respect?" They pick this up and watch. We've all done that, right? We've seen ways of treating each other that way. Very powerful.

Tim Muehlhoff:

You mentioned ... I thought this was interesting. What I appreciate about you Brian is that you're just not afraid to talk about issues that can be difficult issues to talk about. I love this where you talk about the indicator light  of the kingdom. You mentioned that you think there's like a spiritual check engine light, and that there are two things that really can pop up and they're money and possessions. You're a pastor. I've had a chance sometimes to be the interim teaching pastor and it's like the only person who can talk about is the interim teaching pastor, because he's not going to be around long. Why money? What is it about money that's the light on your spiritual dashboard that you've got to attend to, or tells you how the car's doing?

Brian Loritts:

Yeah, so Jesus, the point I make in the book ... It's interesting. He talks about worry but right before talking about worry, he talks about possessions. Those things he links to the heart. I once had a lady come up after me after church one Sunday and says, "Why don't you ever talk about tithing?" I said, "You know you're probably the first church member in the history of the church to encourage their Pastor to talk about tithing?" I actually said to her, "I think to talk about tithing is, it's necessary right? It's too low of a goal." I try to talk to the heart because whatever has your heart is going to have your checkbook.

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Brian Loritts:

That's what Jesus talks about. When you put it there, and for Korie and I to constantly go, "Does God have our heart?" Well if he has our heart then we write the checks. That's just a completely different paradigm for people.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, and we give ourselves a pass all the time. I just recently spoke in a church and said when Jesus talks about the rich young ruler all of us go, "Oh okay awesome. Go after him." When James talks about the wealthy, "Hey that's awesome. Go at it." I had them refer to the globalrichlist.com where you take the median income in Orange County which is $78,000 and you plug it into globalrichlist.com it compares you to farmers in Zimbabwe. You are in the 0.11% of the most wealthy people in the world. When Jesus is talking about the rich young ruler he's talking about us.

Brian Loritts:

Absolutely, and Ron Sider and his wonderful book the Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

Come on now.

Brian Loritts:

He says on average Christians give 2.5% of their income.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Muslims are required. Isn't it to 2.5, 3%?

Brian Loritts:

Oh, really? I didn't know that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I think it's something like that, in that ballpark. Again this is what kills me about being a parent. You could walk up to each one of my kids and say what's your dad passionate about? They would know what do I talk about the most, where do I absolutely make time for, and where do I spend my money, and man, that is ... I just love sports. Brian, I just love sports. I'll clear out an afternoon watching University of Michigan and the UNC Chapel Hill and I can talk all day long about NCAA basketball.

 

Again, we don't want to be shamed into it. Okay my goodness I talked to a half-hour about sports. I need to talk a half-hour about God. At the same time I do think it's fair for my kids to say Dad gets pretty worked up about these things. He doesn't get that worked up about spiritual things, except maybe on Sunday. Then we all kind of whatever. That to me is kind of convicting.

Chris Grace:

Brian tell us in the last couple minutes here about the reaction to the book, just as you've been talking about this, there's been some great feedback we've received, some people that have been reading it. It's not been out that long, but Saving the Saved is out there now. What's some of the things your hearing?

Brian Loritts:

I think the word I keep hearing from people is the word freeing. This was really freeing for me. It was a breath of fresh air. You can never manuscript the results, but ... I should say choreograph. That's kind of what I was going for, is I wanted people to feel a sense of freedom but on the other hand I think there are probably a few ouch moments within the book as well. That's good.

Chris Grace:

Brian, it was extremely well-written. It captured your heart and your life. It was real challenging. What a great opportunity just to be able to share that with our listeners and I hope they go out and get this and read it.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yep, Zondaband Press and just came out. It's great, so give it a read.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, 2016 and Brian it's good to have you here with us. I think I know what you're going to do. If you don't mind, we're going to have another podcast and we're going to just simply talk about relationships as a pastor, and as a leader out there. I think hearing a little bit your heart and just being able to talk to you about that. How does that sound?

Brian Loritts:

Love it.

Chris Grace:

All right, hey Dr. Muehlhoff. Good to have you here, both of y'all and thanks for joining us on the Art of Relationships and we'll talk to y'all next time.


The Art of Relationships Podcast

The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships  — family, friends, co-workers and others.

 

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