Are You Fasting or Feasting on Your Gifts and Service?

I was leaving for a Quest last week and my wife, Julie, told me “it’s OK for us not to talk until you get home; you don’t need to call me.” She went on to say, “you don’t need to call me . . . as long as you are pursuing God. If you aren’t pursuing God, then call me.”

I do Quest events frequently and Julie encourages me to receive as well as give. She encourages me that if it’s just a job and there is no refreshing for refilling, then I’ll have to find another way to fill my tank. Her wisdom and support are incredible.

As I took her advice and began to pray and seek the Lord at the beginning of the week, I was quickened to consider a fast. As I asked God if I was being invited to fast, I was reminded of Isaiah 58, which asks, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

I took that as a call to minister; that is, to simply offer up to God my service through ministry. From that, He was going to set men free. So that’s what I did, and would have likely done anyway. I continued to seek Him along the way and spent time without distraction when afforded the opportunity through the week.

We went through the week and God set men free. He saved them, He freed them, He redeemed them and He unleashed them. He moved in power, compassion, revelation and Truth. I agreed with Him and He was, as always, faithful.

At the end of the week, He and I had some time while the guys were eating breakfast. We had time where I was reminded of His love for me in a way that was refreshing and life-giving. My tank was filled.

We all have gifts and we are all invited into His purposes. He’ll get His stuff done and we’re invited to participate. Along the way, He will fill us, heal us and restore us, too. The way in, however, is to fast your gifts, not to feast on them.

We can’t serve to be seen or to be satisfied in the accomplishment. We fast our gifts by giving them over; not needing anything in return. It’s a fine line and it’s all heart. It can look the same two different times and one time it’s for Him and the other it’s to scratch an itch you have. Only you and Him can tell, more than likely. Here is the promise He gives for our offering of the agreement with Him and sacrificing the “us” in “our” ministry:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”

When Grace and Life Flow Through They Get In Us

There was a time when I was representing a young man who had gotten himself into some legal trouble. I saw him at the courthouse with a local pastor who had taken the young man into his family home and was mentoring him through a transition. I commended the pastor on his willingness to take another person who needed assistance into his home and life to the degree that he has. The pastor said to me that it was mutually beneficial because while he is helping the young man walk from one season of life into another, there are benefits to the experience that he and his wife are enjoying through knowing the man in need.

Similarly, when I was leading a group of volunteers at a youth prison, we would welcome a prospective new volunteer mentor from time to time. Invariably, he would be blown away by how much he was effected by the time spent with the incarcerated youth. He would go on and on about how he got more out of the mentoring time than the kids did and how they wanted to come back. There is something about serving others that serves us at least as much.

When we reach out of our comfort zone to step into someone else’s trouble it will often be a little risky and uncomfortable. The interaction at a raw and real level which evades us so often in our suburban environments is refreshing in it’s authenticity. For the time that we are serving, we are allowing our inherent desire for true significance room to manifest. The resulting satisfaction is often surprising and practically always encouraging.

The lie that most of us fall for is that we don’t have much to offer. That’s just not true; nor is it true that we can fix all the problems of those that we serve. We are simply funnels to allow grace to flow through us. The payback isn’t that we are recognized or that there is a fix to every problem the person(s) we seek to help has, but that we shared life and therefore lived that day a little more than if we had chosen not to choose.

When grace or anything else flows through us, then it is in us and part of us as least to the extent that we are the avenue of travel. Think of a garden hose; water flows through the hose, so the inside of the hose gets wet, too.

 

Do What You Do And Let it Multiply in Others

ttps-3dI wrote a book and have another one turned into the editor. This one is “Transforming the Prodigal Soul,” and the next one has a working title of “The Benefits of Grace,” probably out this summer. I’ve written a book before without an editor but it really wasn’t very good and I think I’ll re-write that one with help sometime in the next year or two.

Somebody asked me why I write and I write because it’s in me. I assume it’s like a painter wanting to paint. Most painters don’t believe they are Picasso, Monet or Michelangelo but they paint anyway. I wonder, for that matter, when those guys started knowing they were those guys. Before they were known they were unknown and they painted anyway.

I don’t need to be known and struggle with the right rhythm of how and when to make the book available and known. Constant chirping about it on social media will get old. No discussion at all will be a waste of the time and money that was put into it. I think there is value to what God gave me to put into words but I don’t want to presume that value or the audience that the Lord has in mind.

A friend of mine was a youth pastor years ago and they started a Saturday night service at his church. He didn’t want to have Saturday night services because he didn’t think High School kids were going to want to go to church on Saturday nights. He was right; only one kid showed up the first night they rolled out the new youth program during the new adult services.

There they were, the two of them, and my friend said to the kid, “let’s go get a steak.” So they went and had a steak dinner for youth group meeting, the two of them. They talked and ate and it was good, but it wasn’t preaching to the multitudes like my friend had been trained to do and aspired to do.

Years later, that kid was an adult and he got in touch with my friend. The kid that had become a man also had become a youth pastor and he was investing in others. He told my friend that he still remembers that steak dinner and it impacts how he interacts with others. The multiplication of the steak dinner was one life invested in another and that other invested in another and on and on.

What do you do? Write? Paint? Sing? Buy somebody dinner? Do what you do with the intention of sharing what is in you and leave the results and multiplication up to the One that put your “it” in you in the first place.

Generosity Puts Good News on Display Above the Bad News

U.S. Navy Culinary Specialist Seaman Gabriel Common places a piece of chocolate cake on the mess deck serving line before evening meal onboard USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) March 20, 2008. Lincoln and embarked Carrier Air Wing 2 are under way in the Pacific Ocean on a planned seven month deployment to the 5th Fleet Area of Operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Geoffrey Lewis) (Released)

My son and I stopped in a great BBQ place the other day that’s not too close to the house so we don’t get to go all that often. Their brisket is the best I’ve had, ribs were great and side dishes are all excellent in their own right. Then, the grand finale. Dessert.

For dessert, there was peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream on top. Now, to be truthful, the main course was better than the dessert but the dessert was free. They have a dessert area where you help yourself at no additional cost. Can you hear the angels singing?

It’s genius. People love free. People love the special feeling that comes with getting something you don’t have to pay for. I have no idea if I like the owner’s personalities or not (since I don’t know them personally) or agree with their beliefs or voted like they did. I do know, however, that I like free dessert.

As Jesus followers walk into this new normal where, like it or not, we have been aligned with possibly the most controversial president-elect in the history of the United States. After all, the statistics say that something like 82% of evangelicals who voted supported this president-elect. At best, this nation is split right down the middle. At worst, Clinton won the popular vote.

The net result of 82% alignment and a split if not a minority, is that culture is against evangelicals. That is, they don’t want to hear any “good news” from the group that they blame for what they believe is bad news.

In the coming days, if you are a Jesus follower, what are you going to do to close the gap? After all, you are the evangelist if you are an evangelical, as I wrote here last week. How are you going to evangelize a culture that associates you with racism, hate, divisiveness, and other descriptors that attempt to tag the current environment?

There are many ways to start to bridge the gap and build relationship and I’ll suggest a first. Give everything away. Be generous. People love free dessert.

I’m not suggesting any form of manipulation; I am suggesting extreme generosity. When you see a need, meet it. When you see an opportunity, take it. Resist any bias that supports any form of “us” vs. “them” and look for ways to be a blessing. Give away compliments, tip wait staff extravagantly, find needs in the community and meet them and rally other believers to corporately meet needs that exceed your individual capacity.

Our friend, Amy Ford, calls this kind of extravagant giving “love bombs.” Kill them with extravagant kindness, love and generosity. Let the Good News declare itself beyond the distractions of the evening news.

Making Life Count A Little At A Time

faith_like_a_mustard_seed-_fe_como_semilla_de_mostazaThere will likely come a point for all of us that we reflect on what we’ve done with our lives. We will question our impact to evaluate our legacy. We’ll be interested more in influence than promotion and sharing than accumulation. We’ll look to see if what we had in time and talents was spent in such a way that it will last beyond our days.

To get to a place of satisfaction, we’ll have to lose control. We won’t release everything we have to multiply in others if we are in need of control. Giving it away is without the conditions of demands regarding how it is received, used and multiplied.

The only way for anything to operate virally and organically is by releasing it. We can’t systematize, categorize and institutionalize life. Life has to live and breathe in a way that it can and will be desired more than it is forced and shared freely without restraint.

For Christ followers, this has huge implications. We are called to make disciples and most are not adverse to the call, yet don’t know how. We want to develop a 501(c)3 ministry or some program we can lead but disciple making is simply giving away life. It’s taking what Jesus has given you and giving it to someone else who while trusting that they will want to give it away, too.

The trap is in thinking too big too soon. The Kingdom is a mustard seed and that mustard seed is one little life after another. Those lives, our lives, nurtured and grown will turn into something bigger. Trying to get that mustard seed of a life full of time and taken to produce a tree from the time it is still a seed with no process of maturity and growth is foolish and pointless. Yet, we often seek to live beyond ourselves in that very way.

When we think about significance and impact, we think about leading organizations or preaching sermons or making some big splash. None of those things reproduce the gifts that God has given us to steward; only living with others in a generous, graceful way that gives without demanding will foster multiplication.

Stories of impact are usually stories of relationship. Relationship is messy, with ups and downs and disappointments and challenges. Living a life that is significant and meaningful is done by engaging in the lives of others selflessly and without credit or recognition. It’s those stories that will affirm our efforts to frustrate the finite and extend the temporal.

Sacrificing Strength

sacrificeMy natural bent is towards action. I am inclined to go there once I see there. In the Strengthfinder’s assessment, my #2 strength is “activator” and my #1 is “strategic.” So, according to that assessment, I’ll be inclined to see “it” pretty well and then be about doing “it” pretty quickly. As I said a couple of days ago here, there are strengths as well as blind spots in that.

I’m working with a team and I’ll pull the team towards action. In the middle of that contribution, if the other members of the team aren’t equally engaged we will likely get going too fast. I’ll take us to a break neck speed and be totally comfortable. Others, though, will be blown away.

I have to listen and they have to speak. It’s the strength of the team but it’s only a strength if all parties operate in whatever strength they offer and allow for others, too. The concert of strengths is what maximizes the capacity of the team.

If the team is a concert but it’s made up of only a single instrument, there are limits to music that can be accurately or adequately interpreted. Music is designed for orchestration. Teams are meant to be blended and complimentary, not isolated and exclusive.

When every member of a team feels like their strengths have a place of value, the result will be sweet and attractive. When a single member is the single reason for a team, start the clock towards dysfunction and expect turnover. The gifts within the group will be looking for a place to be expressed and if your team won’t allow for it, they will find a place that will. “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before the great.” (Proverbs 18:16)

Strategic activation is necessary for organizational dynamics, but so is learning and harmony and other gifts that might be sacrificed if not given room. It’s not easy for a strong gift to take a secondary place to another gift. The greatness of our design is that if we’ll sacrifice the strength of our gifts for the benefit of other gifts, we’ll actually become stronger in the whole than we were individually prior to that sacrifice.