Peel Back the Layers to Find the Truth of Healthy Relationship

The truth is the truth and the stuff we add onto it and around it is not. We take the truth, add our experiences, preferences, feelings and perceptions but that doesn’t change the truth. It just changes our foundation. When we alter the truth, we weaken our footing. To get back on solid ground, we peel back the added layers and get to the core.

God loves us and He loves community. He gives us a framework of truth to guide and lead us through the challenges that come with living in community. We sometimes add to it, subtract from it and twist it to fit our preferences but if we’ll get back to the foundation, we can relate in healthy community.

With some regularity, I experience people coming to me or observe them going to someone else to let the other person know that they are forgiven for some otherwise unknown offense. They will typically offer some detail to the thing that fueled the offense, followed closely by “but I have forgiven you.” While the exercise is well intended, it’s not based on truth. Whether or not the offense is legitimate or imagined, it’s not the way to handle forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not dependent on an apology nor recognition.Forgiveness is just given from within. If there was a thing against us, we have the power to choose to release it but we can do so without informing the forgiven of their pardon.

One of the times to go to another person to discuss offense is when you think they may be offended by you (Matthew 5:23). Think about that; when I think you’re upset with me, it’s legitimate for me to go to you. That’s a time when you need to know about it; when it’s my fault. The humility of that is noteworthy.

A different time for healthy confrontation is to call out sin (Matthew 18:15). This requires and presumes relationship. This is intended for community, not judgment or legalism. It is intended for the benefit of the individual who is struggling as well as the culture of the community as a whole. With the benefit of constructive confrontation, there is an opportunity to repent.

When it’s me that’s offended, I get to forgive. Forgive as I’ve been forgiven. I get to operate in the grace that I’ve received and grace doesn’t demand acknowledgment. Grace is sacrificial and feels forsaken. Grace gives without expectation and submits without reciprocation. Grace is the foundation for healthy community and grace is the fuel for personal transformation and nobody needs to know about it; they’ll recognize it without words.

Avoiding an Ambush

Years ago, when I was still single, I began to want more. I was living pretty fast, from one weekend to the next, and began to question where there might be more. I ducked into churches figuring that there would likely be some answers there.

At the time, I felt very inadequate by comparison to all the nice people who were there. After all, I figured, they were closer to figuring it out than I was since they were there before I arrived. My life and their lives had to be drastically different and I was sure they would disapprove of me if they knew more about me. I would sit on the back row and try to not engage with anyone, for fear of exposure.

At one of my visits to one of the churches, there was a powerful speaker and from what I could tell he was talking of things that were true. It felt like God was in it and the “more” that I was seeking was somewhere in or around this deal. Towards the end, with every head bowed and every eye closed, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought or felt or decided something, although I truly don’t remember what that something was. In any case, I raised my hand from my seat in the back row.

The next thing I knew, there was somebody sitting next to me with a clipboard and a pen to get my information and ask me some questions. I was shocked at how efficiently they saw my hand that had been up for a few seconds and dispatched someone to close the deal, whatever the deal was. I felt tricked and ambushed and I never returned to that church.

Years later, what I know is that I am just as jacked up as the most confused seeker even though I’m there most weeks. I know that I speak and teach and minister and I am just as messed up as every regular attendee, seeker or critic. Whatever they are still figuring out, likely so am I as I still want to sit on the back row sometimes and just slip my hand up in the air without anyone converging on me with a clipboard.

We are all figuring it out and we don’t need to be tricked to take another step. We need to be loved. We need grace that displays itself as transparent honesty regarding our struggles and limitations. We need a knowing look of affirmation and encouragement more than we need our information captured. At least that’s what I need and I figure that I’m not alone.

Quest for Oneness Begins With One

Love is discovered in the most unexpected places.  For me, it was on a marriage retreat.  I can tell that’s going to take some explaining, after all why would discovering love be unexpected while away with my wife?  Because the love I discovered on retreat wasn’t for my wife.  Now I really have some explaining to do.  I knew I loved my wife.  The surprising love I discovered while on this marriage retreat was for me.

It was the next to last day of the weeklong retreat and as I’m prone to do, I rose early, poured a cup of coffee and was enjoying some quiet reading.  The night before, the founder and facilitator of the retreat asked if it had been a good week.  “It’s been great,” I told him.  “Great teaching and time with God, as well as between my Julie and me; great opportunities for us to set some things in order.  It’s been great.”

It was about to go from great to transformational.

While I didn’t hate me, up until that point in my life I never really loved me, either.  There’s a difference between self-hatred and a lack of self-love.  We can not love ourselves, even not like ourselves, and still not hate ourselves.  As I read in solitude that morning, Matthew 22:39 jumped off the page and into my heart as never before:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

To understand the full impact of these five words we need to understand the context.  In Matthew 22:34-36, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking Him which commandment is the greatest.  Jesus’ reply to this final in a litany of questions confounds and silences the Pharisees.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The greatest commandment isn’t just to love God but also to love others, but that edict to love others comes with a qualifier, “as yourself.”  The limitation on our ability to keep God’s greatest command to love is how much we love ourselves.  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” means the most I can love anyone is the degree to which I love myself.  Sitting on that couch drinking coffee that morning I realized I did not love myself.  Never had.

This was huge.  I can’t love others if I don’t love me.  As I pondered this truth, it got personal.  This was more than not being able to love the folks next door or the stranger at the grocery store.  It was deeper and more compelling than that.  Not loving me meant I couldn’t love my wife.  Not loving me meant I couldn’t love God.

I was wrecked and started to cry.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop; I wanted to love me and I wanted to love others.  I wanted to love my wife and I wanted to love God.  I cried, “Please, God, help me to love me.”  He answered.

From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace available on Amazon.

Note: The “retreat” mentioned is Q1: The Quest for Oneness more information available here.

The Weight, Power and Privilege of Legacy

I felt it right away. I mean, in the hallway in the minutes following my father’s death, I knew something that I didn’t understand. There was a shifting of a mantle that was real. I was no longer simply the son of Tom; I was now one of the carriers of his legacy.

My father’s father struggled. He had an alcohol problem and the life my father knew as a son was drastically different from the life I have known as a son. The benefits of my father’s faithfulness which I have enjoyed were not a product his heritage as much as it was the legacy he began. As a result, I inherited a heritage with benefits that had predominately begun with my parents. They initiated a legacy that was significantly distinct from the heritage they received.

It’s easier for me than it was for my dad. He made a way for me. He created and I get to build on. My sister and I have the benefit of a higher floor than the one which was passed on to our father. Now we get to steward that and our ceiling is higher since the floor was elevated for us.

The mantle of a legacy is a mantle of honor. It has a weight to it, but not a burden as much as a privilege. There is privilege in my position as an heir of the legacy my father passed on. As such, I have an appreciation for its value and want to handle it with intentional care.

My father wasn’t perfect and neither am I. Legacy is not the burden of perfection but the choice to honor. The choice to be intentional is what multiplies what was started before me. Whatever I received, I want to pass on to the best of my ability. I choose to honor my father, his memory and legacy by paying attention to it as displayed through how I serve and care for my family.

That responsibility has a weight to it, but it isn’t burdensome as much as it is empowering. I’ve seen what it looks like and have been equipped to walk in it. Now I lean into the grace of Jesus to realize the fullness of the potential that has been handed off. Multiplication of blessings is available to the thousandth generation by the grace and favor or God, and by agreeing with Him regarding His heart and desire to continue what He started in my dad.

Allowing for the Growing Whisper of Your Greatness

I saw the new Winston Churchill movie not too long ago and considered the perspective of greatness. He has statues of him, books about him, roads and buildings and towns and other stuff named after him. He is seen as a great leader in a pivotal time. The declaration he has received is mostly retrospective.

At the time when his greatness was unfolding he was crass and offensive and drank an awful lot. He was largely a mediocre politician leading up to WWII, it appeared, yet he was afforded an opportunity in an extraordinary intersection of time and circumstances. In the middle of his unfolding, he was criticized by others and battled the doubt born of insecurities. As soon as the war was over, despite his leadership in a time of victory, he was voted out of office.

Greatness about you can’t be declared by you, it can only be declared by others of you. That declaration likely won’t come in the middle of the story as your humanity will almost always be a distraction. The stuff about you that isn’t so great will scream at some while the whisper of greatness grows in a subtle and secondary manner.

The necessary ingredient for greatness is grace, then. You’ll need, first and foremost, to receive grace from the Source of grace. Jesus sees you as righteous by His sacrifice, even when the evidence against you is significant. You’ve got to receive it if you hope to step into the building roar of your greatness. You’ve got to like you even before your statue is built.

Receiving grace from the Source of grace affords you the chance to withstand the doubts within your soul as well as the accusations from the friends and enemies that articulate your flaws. Their insecurities will want company so they’ll attempt to call out yours. It’s OK; they don’t like themselves too much in those times and they need grace, too. Since you’re tapped into the Source, you’ll have grace to give.

Greatness is the material for a eulogy, not an auto-biography. You’ve got to wait on it. You’ve got to realize that you won’t realize it.

You are, in fact, designed for great and glorious things. You are fashioned to reign in life. The position of rule, however, is less not more. When you are positioned to receive grace, you are positioned to be declared great. Later.

 

 

Connecting with the One in the Building by Connection to the Ones in the Building

My family and I took a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving. From Germany, we visited Luxembourg, England, France and Austria. Planes, trains and automobiles took us to various sites including a few different cathedrals. These magnificent structures were centuries old, ornate and large.

We took a taxi to Notre Dame in Paris and I enjoyed a conversation with the taxi driver along the way. He asked where I was from and reacted consistently with other Europeans when I told him, “Texas.” Apparently, there is a perception of Texas that leads people to smile with familiarity from cowboy movies. There are gestures of riding horses and references to John Wayne.

We enjoyed talking about Texas, family, Paris and other little connection points along the ride. He asked where I work and I told him that I was a pastor, which required some discussion for clarity. As we pulled up to the huge and impressive Notre Dame cathedral, he presented it to me with a grin, “your church.”

What I found within me as we looked at these large churches was a bit of apathy. In fact, almost disregard. It wasn’t that they weren’t fantastic but instead that I wanted more. More connection, more interaction, more life. Less looking and admiring and more experiencing. More relationship and less religion. More taxi conversations and fewer lines to see stained glass.

I don’t mean this in any way to be disparaging about the structures. Instead, what I found was a deeper appreciation for church. I found a greater clarity for the value of people and recognition that the institution is for the sake of relationship. It’s there, by its original design, to connect those that are looking to connect. It’s intended for people to know God differently and they (we) know God differently by knowing each other.

Strip away stained glass, bulletins, programs, pews, etc. and what’s left is an opportunity. The opportunity is for connection to other people with similar questions, thoughts and beliefs as well as dissimilar questions, thoughts and beliefs. There you are, together in a building; work it out. Work it out together.

What I found at Notre Dame and Westminster and others was an appreciation for grace. Grace is necessary to live with people. No grace is required to sit in a building and participate in a service, but great grace is needed when relating to the flaws we find in each other. That realization of grace was stirred me and connected me to the One that the building was about in the first place.