Being Content in Abundance is Just as Big of a Deal as Being Content in Lack

There is most definitely an invitation presented to each of us to move beyond the constraints of what we can manage in our own ability. It’s scary and exciting and exhilarating and intimidating. In part, the challenge comes because the context of the invitation is “all or nothing.” We can’t compromise or carry our binky with us. We’ve got to give up heart level attachment to head level safety nets in order to get from soul to spirit.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t have “stuff” and walk in a mature expression of faith. There is nothing wrong with stuff as long as stuff has its proper place in our heart. Our heart, however, will need to be continually tended to in order to keep the stuff in order. In fact, our capacity for maturity can sometimes be tied to our ability to manage our heart related to our stuff.

The Apostle Paul wrote: ” I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

He has learned, which means he advanced in his understanding. More than likely, that means he experienced a variety of situations including lack or abundance. Some would argue that God intends abundance for us and others insist that He presents greater opportunities for us in the suffering of relative lack. What if it is both? If so, both means both and there is value in each. The “x” factor is our hearts.

Contentment is the absence of a need; no need for anything from anyone but OK with how things are as you are currently experiencing them. Paul says he knows how to be that no matter what. He says, however, that the contentment is not of his own doing, but through the Source of contentment. He says that he can face that variety of circumstances through Christ; the One who gives him the strength to get through the good or the bad.

Being content in the abundance can, in fact, be more challenging than being content in the little. With little, the target is clear and the variables are few. The opportunities to connect to the Source for contentment is kind of in your face. With much, however, the distractions are numerous. The external stuff calls out for attention and the pride, greed or insecurity that comes with preservation or growth of resources can be consuming. In either case, the Source for the “how” is “Who,” and His name is Jesus.

What Fills Your Tank Could Mess You Up

It’s good right up until the point that it isn’t. Things you do for the right reasons can be something that gets done within you when the reasons get twisted. When what was intended as service becomes sustenance, it’s time to put it down.

Once people meet Jesus, they naturally and appropriately want to agree with Him in His purposes. They have a story to tell personally and they want to tell His story passionately. That is so good and so right. The issue comes when that natural and organic desire to share and serve becomes more. When the outpouring produces a return and the return becomes an addiction, it’s a problem.

Two things that can happen in ministry is the assumption of an identity based on the service of ministry and the need for affirmation to fill/refresh the space that has been emptied in service.When your whole world revolves around your ministry, then your ministry has become worldly.

Ministry is the operation of gifts and it’s the Lord’s sovereignty in His choosing of how and when He distributes those gifts. He gives them to His children because they are HIs children; not because they are special. The “anointing” is in everyone that carries the Holy Spirit within if/when they will die to themselves to put Him on display. Dying to self is the key and ongoing ingredient to ministering in Him and not in our own ability.

Wanting or needing people to depend on or affirm you based on your position or gifting subtly shifts the focus and purpose from Jesus to you. He is the One from whom affirmation flows; from the Head down, not the bottom up. It’s out-of-order when the affirmation comes from the receiving perspective. It’s like a father waiting on his kids to affirm him or a boss needing employees to be their source of encouragement. Backwards.

When you need it, it’s time to stop. When you have to do a thing, even a good thing, a reasonable question arises regarding where grace and identity are in the equation. Has it become your source in place of the intended Source? Has religion hijacked your passions and become a formula for what relationship is intended to satisfy?

The Kingdom of God will advance in it’s purposes without any one of us. The things that God wants to do are going to get done without our involvement, yet He chooses to include us. As such, we can/should enjoy the ride and appreciate the invitation. Along the way, the commission we enjoy should never be worn as our identity or source for fulfillment as it’s always His authority and His deal; never ours.

Community of Comfort

I was gathered with family recently and in the normal course of an abnormal time, one of the family members became sad and began to cry. The rest of us shifted our attention to the grief of the one and, before long, several were weeping. Nobody escalated the scene, but they assimilated with it. The gathering became a gathering of grief, at least for a while.

The family member that initiated the crying kind of apologized, but one of the others said they were thankful. They were thankful that they didn’t have to grieve alone. The grief was over the death of my father and everyone is feeling it, but differently. This particular time, everyone ended up feeling it simultaneously. It was there all along, but one person expressing it gave permission to the rest.

The health of the group grief was obvious. Nobody tried to fix what couldn’t be fixed. Nobody diverted with humor or “encouragement” that shortcuts the healthy processing of emotions. There was simply comfort in the community that agreed that the emotion of sadness and expression of grief was valid.

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

God is a God of comfort. In 2 Corinthians 1:3, it says that God is “God of all comfort.” Some form of the word “comfort” is used nine times in that passage. God is interested in comfort for those who are mourning, not fixing them.

All too often, we are uncomfortable in the expression of healthy emotion and we try to hijack it. Humor, re-direction, and other techniques might be employed to divert. For those that are religiously minded, we may want to preach, teach, testify or prophesy to avoid the uncomfortable.

Preaching and teaching engage with logic and logic doesn’t speak to emotion. Emotion speaks to emotion.

Testifying (“When that happened to me . . .”) makes it about us. It’s not about us in that moment; don’t rob the moment.

Prophesy of what God is going to do or how things are going to get better jumps ahead in the process of grief. It puts things out-of-order.

Just comfort by meeting the other in their emotion. Mourn with those who mourn. They are going to be comforted by the Comforter, so it’s best to just agree with Him and not try to fix them.

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.