Dying to Live

The combination to unlock our potential is found in our willingness to give up. We are invited into a greatness that is sourced by glory, not ability. The posture to realize the Source is humility.

I watched my dad figure it out over 50 years. He went from hard charging army officer to yielded servant. When I was a boy, the rules were firm and the expectation was obedience. As I grew, permission was granted for manhood. His presence never faltered, but his touch lightened and his greatness grew.

As an adult, I watched my dad step fully into his greatness. Not only was he permissive in his allowance for positions and perspectives of others, but he was humble in his service to practically everyone. He didn’t qualify people based on their education, experience or ability, but offered his education, experience and ability for their good.

He increasingly became less. In the laying down of his considerable “more,” the impact of his influence multiplied. He gave his life over to Jesus, the church and the Kingdom of God. He became of no rank again. The promotion was supernatural.

Then, not longer after his death, I realized that he would be stronger in his death than he was in his life. It made me think of the scene in the first Star Wars movie where Obi Wan allowed Darth Vader to strike him down, declaring his own impact would only increase as a result. When the marker of death is a gate along an eternal story, the multiplication of purpose is passed along. Vision for eternity fuels intentional living temporally.

I keep writing about him because God keeps showing me stuff about Him through him. The passing along of a picture of transformative greatness presents a target. It’s good to see what the target looks like. It’s not a target of performance or behaviors as much as it is a target of disposition. A picture of what becoming less looks like to put more on display.

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He walked in authority, yet He was humility. He is love and “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Love is less.

More than ever, I am thankful for what Jesus did for my father and I. He saved us and transforms us. I’m not yet where my father ended up, but I know what it looks like. It’s available to anyone willing to lay down their sword.

In Pursuit of Greatness

We were all born with shortcomings and limitations, but those same faults declare the glory and greatness of our potential. We are limited only by surrender to our limitations or abdication of our identity. Our destiny can be hijacked by either frustrated surrender to defeat or premature declaration of victory.

The journey is within us, not in the product of our efforts. Products come from raw materials and the raw materials of our destiny is in the ingredients of our character. Our character is composed of our soul and our soul is in need of transformation. If we’ll stay the course and allow for the transformation, we can reach the destiny of our design.

We buried my father at the end of last year. His was a life well lived and the declaration of his eulogy was that he was “the greatest man who I have ever known.” That declaration was only timely in a eulogy; anything prior to that is too soon.

My father’s greatness was a transformative process and the greatness he exhibited is available to us all. The eulogy we are crafting will be graceful to look past our flaws and proclaim our achievement to the extent that we are not defeated by our flaws nor impressed with our achievement before our greatness is ripe.

We are not intended to declare our wisdom or greatness, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:35)

It’s the impact we make in the lives of others that declares our greatness. It’s the fruit of our investment in them that affirms us. As that investment is being made, it would be untimely to stop for the recognition of us as that would shift the effort from selfless to selfish. Selflessness is the posture of transformation, within us and around us. When we humble ourselves to give and serve, we will be transformed within as we change things around us.

My father’s greatness was developed in his humility, as displayed by his service. He gave of himself to others and their benefit is his legacy. Everyone he touched carries him to some measure and their multiplication of his investment declares his greatness every day of their lives and the lives they touch, into eternity.

Your time hasn’t come yet, but what you do with this time will define and determine your time. The declaration of your time won’t be made by you, but it will be affirmed by others. Your greatness is incubating, not to be prematurely declared. As we enter a new year, the consideration of time should lead to the posture of humility, which will foster greatness. Greatness and wisdom are declared later, by others, not today. Today we have things to do.

Concession is Not Belief

Our culture and traditions can lead us to believe things that aren’t true. We are conditioned by our surroundings and our surroundings can suggest we are entitled. We can believe, from our culture, traditions and surroundings, that we believe when we actually don’t.

Belief is more than acclimation. Belief is transformation. Belief will be evident in our exclamation.

1 John 4:15 tells us, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” Honestly, that seems pretty easy; just acknowledge and you are good to go. That bar seems so low that heaven will most certainly be overcrowded.

The idea that shows up as “acknowledges” in that verse may mean more than we think, however. That word can mean, “to agree with” and it can even mean “to concede.” Wow . . . is it possible that John was writing that if we’ll simply concede that Jesus is the Son of God, we are then God carriers? We are born again by concession? Concession is about the same as, “I give up; you win,” so the conceder can move on to another subject. I don’t think so.

Other meanings for that word include “to profess,” as in to profess yourself as a worshipper. Finally, that word by definition, can mean “to praise, celebrate.” Now we are on to something.

When our acknowledgement is more than a concussion, but a profession as a worshipper who praises and celebrates Jesus as the Son of God, then there is evidence that God lives in us and us in Him. That is evidence of new birth by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.

Cultural Christianity where church attendance and polite concession is not evidence of our belief. Sold out, all in, life changing celebration, praise and worship of Jesus as Son of God is.

We can get fooled into thinking that we are Jesus followers by our suburban insulation and Sunday morning habits. In some ways, those that are in the depths of depravity are better off in that they cannot be fooled into believing they believe. Maybe that’s why God loves us so much that He tells us in Revelation 3:16 that we should either be hot or cold, but lukewarm will get us spit out. Hot is praising, worshipping and celebrating Jesus as the Son of God, cold isn’t self-deceived into thinking they might concede and lukewarm is an aberrant alternative that is deadly in its compromise.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

The Freedom in Raising Your Hand

I am, among other things, a minister.  I am called to walk with others toward freedom from bondage and toward recognition of their identity in Christ.  I’ve spent countless hours studying, considering, praying for and ministering in freedom. I am thankful God has called me to this purpose and embrace the opportunity as an honor.

A few years ago, in the middle of this calling, I got into an argument with my wife.  It was an ugly argument, and I said ugly things.  What came out of me wasn’t free at all.  It was depraved and destructive.

Following this argument, I went into a kind of dark hole.  I was embarrassed, but more than that, I was doubtful.  I was full of doubt regarding the contradiction between what I believed and knew and ministered in compared to this blatant display of depravity.  The fact that I had this kind of anger and venom in me caused me to question everything.

  • I questioned whether or not I was a phony.  If this was going to be a way I might act, is there any integrity in my ministry?
  • I questioned whether or not I was disqualified.  If I do these kinds of things or even if I am capable of them, am I qualified to help others?
  • I questioned the very idea of freedom.  If a so-called freedom minister is so full of darkness that it comes spilling out, is there even such a thing as freedom in the first place?

Those are the questions I was asking as I prayed and considered the events of the argument. The next day, I received a group text to five or six of us from a pastor friend also called to walk alongside those engaged in the quest for freedom.  He explained in his text that he needed prayer as he’d lost his temper in his home the night before. The aftermath of his anger was evident in damaged relationships and broken trust.

Almost instinctively, I typed a text in response.  My response to him was, “You win.  By raising your hand, inviting us in and sending this text, you win.”  That was it.  That was the answer to my questions.

Freedom isn’t the absence of sin but the willingness to expose darkness to light. Freedom isn’t living a perfect life, but living life’s imperfections with others to disarm the accusations of guilt and shame arising from our faults.  Freedom is simply the ability to raise your hand.  Raising your hand is the first step on the return journey to an inheritance that abounds beyond our limitations.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

Boldly Pursuing Encounter

A few years ago I was the men’s pastor at Northwood Church and had the incredible experience of working with the men there to create a men’s program we called “Bold.” The response was powerful, not because we put together a great program, but because we facilitated an environment where men could come to realize the presence of God. Until and unless there was that realization, nothing changed. Once there was that realization, however, everything changed.

We would take breaks during the summer or over holidays and men would return to our next gathering following the break with a tangible anticipation for what was about to happen. I started to notice that the environment on those nights where we were returning from being away for a while were particularly charged with what seemed to be the manifest presence of God.

In some church circles, there is a phrase to describe those times where He is particularly noticeable. People will say, “God showed up,” to indicate a powerful time of encounter from which people are moved. The problem is that the same churches correctly teach that God is omnipresent; not dependent on time or space to be there. He was already there before the worship service and will be there afterwards, as well.

The difference, I believe, as we saw with the men returning to Bold was the hearts of those that were pursuing Him. When those men showed up expecting to encounter Him, the community of hearts was positioned to recognize Him. He was always there, but the collective posture of expectation and desire opened the window between the natural and supernatural. The supernatural is constant; it’s the natural that struggles to break through.

Church buildings and worship services don’t tend to the presence of God; that is the Mosaic temple where God lived in a box. God doesn’t live in a box; He lives in hearts. When there is a gathering and critical mass of the hearts present seek Him with an earnest desire to break through the restraint of the natural for a glimpse into the supernatural, God “shows up” to a place where He already was. The feeling that God showed up is the agreement of hearts in their pursuit of God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself to them.

When you go to some form of church gathering or faith-based pursuit, consider the invitation. Seek Him in a way that exceeds your understanding and breaks through to connect spirit to Spirit. If enough people in the room agree in that pursuit, the corporate encounter will, in fact, be a transformative experience of dwelling in the presence of God as hearts agree and see.