021.2 Pain and Pretending, pt. 8: Love or transaction?

We will continue to explore transactional relationships and how they deeply affect our understanding of the world around us, from everyday interactions to how we structure our churches.

Jesus defined love as a denial of your self – it is not a contract with others. Transactional relationships make no room for love. They are inherently self-centered: these are my expectations and you must meet them. God is often accused of being transactional in His interactions with humans: He demands a certain kind of behavior and punishes man if they fail. This is not quite the case. God disciplines and desires true relationship. There is a difference between discipline and transactional punishment. A loving form of discipline doesn’t try to manipulate, it seeks to teach and guide. God wants us to share in His holiness – this is a condition, not a kind of behavior. In His discipline, God is continuously looking at your heart. He wants your heart to want Him. Though He is concerned with our behavior, grace covers our sin. God does not withhold His love as a form of disapproval in order to manipulate people into a specified behavior.

Discipline is not punishment. It is motivated by love and designed to bring us to a place of safety and blessing. Discipline can be hard and painful, and include rebukes, corrections, course changes, or merely acts of protection that temporarily inconvenience us. If eternal life is knowing God, then every step of obedience, every act of discipline, every occurance of suffering for righteousness brings us closer to knowing Him.

God Himself chose to suffer in righteousness. In redeeming a fallen and rebellious world, it is only logical that those pursuing God would suffer – otherwise we would live in a transactional universe that rewards and punishes according to firm rules. In that case, we don’t need love or grace. When we are transformed into the image of His Son, we are living by God’s design. In doing this, we find our creative purpose. We cannot find ourselves in our possessions, in a pursuit of storing up for ourselves, escaping pain, and seeking comfort. These are merely obstacles and insulators keeping us from God. You will find yourself when you sacrifice everything for strangers, because then you will understand God’s love, and understand why He did that very thing for you.

As victims try to move on from being raised in a transactional environment, they try to fill all the voids left by a confusion of love and approval. It takes a long time to accept that our worth comes from God’s love for us, not from our performance. Transactional relationships are the antithesis of unconditional love. Transactional relationships rob us of grace and love, because we equate our feelings with our condition, and our feelings are informed by our perceived sense of worth. Remember that love is tied to who you are, approval is tied to what you do.

Living in transaction “works” because it allows us to navigate the world while hiding pain. However, when pain changes who we are, we start to live in a self-centered world where everything is viewed through our expectations. This does not make us selfish or wicked, merely hurting. In this state, you will view everyone as abusers because you are constantly facing unmet expectations; you feel that others don’t value you.

People don’t just have transactional relationships with individuals, but with society. A transactional worldview puts you in constant fear of punishment due to failure. It twists you view of justice. God is love, and His understanding of justice and goodness is cosmic. It is His. It is Good. It is what is best for us. Obedience to God is simply living the way you were designed to live. Obedience to man is following rules to fascilitate a convenient relationship that has no costs.

Unfortunately, the American church has been trained into perceiving the world from a transactional worldview. We see people in calamity and assume hidden sin or bad decisions. This is due to our conforming to American spiritualism that puts great value on performance and holds up the myth that hard work and honest dealings will cause you to rise in social standing and success. It is also the result of a lack of faith. We fall back on a law that gives us a checks and balances between ourselves and God. The New Covenant has done away with all that. God wants to indwell us with His Spirit, build His Kingdom in our midst. He wants to walk with us in the cool of the day and whisper in our ear. We should not need a terrifying mountain and a delegate to go and retrieve stone tablets for us. Our hearts should be soft and ready for Him to imprint His design upon them.

There are many false gospels that teach that God is transactional, that we must behave a certain way and that we will be rewarded with physical blessings; that God is bound to an agreement to transact with us based on behavior and approval. This epidemic of transactional relationship, of the confusion of love and approval, has led to a predominate false gospel in America which preaches, “Come add yourself to this group of people who will engage in certain behavior and get rewarded.” This creates a self-centered ecclesiology – responding to “felt needs”, providing fresh worship, having a full-service club for people to join complete with child care, vacations, parties, concerts, movies, perfomances, branded merchandise, etc. God is not trite. He is not small-minded nor cold-hearted. He wants us to walk with Him so our desire for temporary things will diminish and we will come to know Him.

The modern American church has become a transactional system. We hire pastors to preach and judge their performance. If he fails, he is replaced. It gives positions based on tithing – those that don’t tithe aren’t allowed to become elders, etc. The tithe as a whole is a transactional system that is not a New Testament mandate. These things turn the church into a business. If the church is supposed to be a manifestation of God’s love here on earth, it cannot do that if it functions in transaction, because transactional relationships and love are mutually exclusive. God’s church functions on spiritual gifts given by God, not by job description and salaries. There is no pressure to perform for anyone.

An incomplete gospel, based on a transactional church system, gives us a religion that does not bring us to God. Accomplishing a set of tasks does not “fulfill our end of the bargain” to receive blessing, communion, or salvation. Unfortunately, this gospel is the easiest one to communicate, so much so that it will be passively communicated even if never preached, even if a true gospel is spoken, because this transactional gospel will have so much visible evidence.

This manmade church structure is a fragile system that must defend itself. It creates a false sense of unity, which is either uniformity, or a sharing of activity and meeting times. Look at the difference between nurturing a tree and training a tree to a form If you nurture a tree, you will plant it in good soil, water it, fertilize it, prune it, and give it the space it needs to become the tree it was designed to be. If you are training a tree to a form, then you are telling it what to become, and strapping it to a rigid pattern so that it only grows where you want it to. God’s design of unconditional love allows the created diversity of His people to flourish. He doesn’t want us to act, look, and talk the same. He wants us to be what He created, and He is endlessly creative.


The Oh Hellos – The Valley http://theohhellos.com/

Leeland – Tears of the Saints http://leelandonline.com/

This episode originally broadcast live on August 21, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO

For more info:



Theme music: “The Resistance” by Josh Garrels (www.joshgarrels.com) licensed by Marmoset Music (www.marmosetmusic.com)


021.1 Pain and Pretending, pt. 7: A World of Transaction

Let’s start over with the idea that humanity was designed by the Creator. We were meant to live a certain way. When God created everything, He called it good. Mankind quickly decided that we wanted to live our own way instead of God’s way. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God here to earth, to return the Spirit of God to mankind, and show them how to live with God as their Lord.

In this episode, we begin discussing man living by their own design with some (seemingly) silly examples (like robots). This moves to the idea that the the modern, western world is beginning to acknowledge the effects of pain. However, mankind still chooses to live by their own design – we look for our own solutions, as opposed to obeying God.

For example, many results of abuse include “bad behavior”. People lack the basic abilities to interact with other humans in healthy ways. They can’t focus in school. They take offense easily. They constantly feel their very existence is threatened. The consequences of those actions are alienation, more abuse, or punishment. When this happens on a very large scale, we end up with generational oppression. In America, this generally manifests in racism and all its tangents.

The penal system is one of punishment. It is a transactional relationship. When people get pushed to their limits, they get focused on their “needs” or inconveniences, and start reacting out of demands, which turns everything into a transaction. This leads to many people feeling disrespected or neglected much of the time.

Secular responses to deep pain will always fall short. They will only be the best of human strength and wisdom, which will forever be insufficient.

The answer is God’s love. Genuine care. Loving by serving. Walking in the Spirit, walking united as the Body. God can break down great things through humble obedience. We have seen Him break racial stereotypes and expand the boundaries of our “family” to include people that don’t look like us. We’ve experienced plenty of rejection, as well. But if we remain in a state of transaction, we will always be offended and always be withholding love from those who need it most.

The systems of the world are largely transactional. Business, banking, government, taxes, etc. We create “machines” to manage our world, and all those machines run on transaction. This means we are regularly investing our selves into machines that do not allow us to function on a human level. This tears at our humanity, and makes it hard to differentiate those interactions from ones with other humans. It is certainly nice for things to run like a well oiled machine, but humanity rarely does, so we cannot hold that expectation over ourselves. We cannot “transact” with other humans and think that it will result in healthy relationships.

Real love is not transactional. Transactional relationships do not make room for love. Economic exchanges are “fair” and based on expectations. Love is sacrificial. Grace is undeserved; it cannot be deserved. When we apply economic principals to our relationship with God we will be very disappointed, and miss the amazing acts of love He is doing right before our eyes.


Amena Brown – Baggage Check http://www.amenabrown.com/

Newsboys – A Million Pieces https://newsboys.com/

This episode originally broadcast live on August 21, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO

For more info:



Theme music: “The Resistance” by Josh Garrels (www.joshgarrels.com) licensed by Marmoset Music (www.marmosetmusic.com)

020.2 Pain and Pretending, pt. 6: Transactional Relationships

The confusion between love and approval can begin at an early age, through discipline, or through a lack of genuine displays of affection. People generally feel more loved when we’re being praised. It takes intentionality to show that we love when we disapprove, and to not withdraw signs of love when we disapprove.

These feelings towards love, approval, and disapproval get transferred to our feelings towards God. This can lead to people feeling God is punishing them, testing them, or teaching them something any time something bad happens. Confusing love and approval can prevent you from resting in grace.

Instead of jumping to anxiety and assumptions in the face of pain or discomfort – instead of viewing pains as enemies – we should view them as opportunities to know God more. The only thing we should “assume” in a painful situation is that it is painful and we need God.

Transactional Relationships

God is often accused of working in transactional relationships, but He does not. So what is a transactional relationship? Let’s look at some examples:

  • A child will often do something to get praise from their parents

  • A child might settle simply for attention from their actions

    • These interactions can never bring satisfaction because there will always be another “task” to be done, or eventually, an interaction will not go the way you want, which means you don’t get approval, which means all your “hard work” goes unrecognized.

  • Transactional relationships create a very unhealthy way to nurture who we are. It “feeds” a desire in us, like caffeine can “feed” our desire for sleep while depriving our body of the rest it needs

  • Transactional relationships bring “control” into a relationship. People try to control through their transactions, through their performance. It puts an unhealthy, critical eye on everyone else’s actions

  • Transactional relationships are often the subject of jokes and sitcom plots. While this makes funny television, unfortunately it “normalizes” transactional relationships.

  • Look at them as “economic relationships”. You would spend a set amount of money on an item at the store. You have performed a just transaction, involving expections, even exchange, etc. This is great for business, but utterly destructive for human relations.

The ideas of transactional relationships get planted early on in our helpless state as babies. All we know is what we feel, and that we are utterly dependent upon others. So we express displeasure at our circumstances until those circumstances change (hungry, hurt, tired, needing a diaper changed, etc). While it is good and healthy to indulge these “expressions of displeasure” on behalf of helpless babies, the nature of our nurturing relationships must change over time, and certainly once we receive the Holy Spirit of God.

Grace utterly destroys transaction. It is totally undeserved. It is the New Order of the Kingdom of God. It takes care of our mistakes, but doesn’t necessarily force our hearts to want anything. Some people don’t want grace, because it forces us to give something up. In a marriage context, I can do things that hurt or offend my wife, through impatience, aggravation, etc. But there is still love in the relationship. Our hearts still desire each other and our relationship. I have “sinned” by simply performing an act that was hurtful. However, once my heart starts wandering to others, now I have compromised the very fabric of the relationship. I no longer desire my wife or my relationship. It’s not a matter of “missing the mark”, now my heart is inclined towards other things. This directly applies to our relationship with God, and the relationship with sin and iniquity. A transactional relationship rarely gets to the point of the desires of the heart, and merely measures everything on a surface level looking at performance, while the true desires of the heart never get fulfilled, dispite how successful the transactions may have been.

Many people remain “fussing babies” complaining to try to get what they want. This is generally because of pain, or a vow, or never surrendering to God and being vulnerable. Once we are ingrained in this way of relating, we subject ourselves to imagined abuses. We turn every relationship into an abusive relationship, with ourselves as the victims of the abuse. It becomes a constant state of living in expectations, where those expectations are rarely verbalized, and rarely met, so we always feel wronged or slighted or unloved, dispite all our efforts to receive love. We will constantly misinterpret the words and actions of those around us, which simply sets them up to fail. So now we are every day experiencing “abuse” at the hands of people who are not abusing us.

God interacts through unconditional love. God loved us while we were still sinners. God told us to do all things out of love, and Jesus did that. So even things that He did that do not look “loving” (using whips, insulting pharisees, rebuking Peter, confronting crowds with bold questions, expressing impatience at people’s sin and doubt), these acts were in fact done out of love. Even when God’s wrath abides on us, it is love. The clear and distinct choice between Heaven and hell is a loving choice. They are not similar. There is no need to do a “cost/benefit analysis”. The choices are clear and entirely different.

Our relationship with God shouldn’t be one of trying to discern the task God wants us to do. He wants us to abide in His Grace. He wants us to know Him. He wants us to love. He knows that we are made of dust, that we are weak and sinful – this is what grace is for.

God sets out a way for us to live. This can bring blessing, but can also bring suffering. Jesus lived perfectly and suffered immensely. Obedience to God is not a transaction to get you what you desire. God does not work in transaction, but satan does. His kingdom is designed around them. He makes false promises, he amplifies offenses, he tempts us to arrange the whole universe around our desires and comfort. If God was transactional in His relationships, Hebrews 11 would look very different.

Transactional relationships are a trap of satan. There is no fulfillment or freedom there. There is only an endless striving to feed a bottomless hole of pain. Only grace and cover that wound. Only the healing power of the Spirit can set us free.

For more information about transactional relationships, please see the book “Love: No Strings Attached” by Rich Buhler


Josh Garrels – Burden Down www.joshgarrels.com

Brian Morykon – Prodigal Son http://music.morykon.com/

This episode originally broadcast live on August 14, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO

For more info:



Theme music: “The Resistance” by Josh Garrels (www.joshgarrels.com) licensed by Marmoset Music (www.marmosetmusic.com)