Don’t Take the Bait

I fell into a trap lately and, before you know it, I was stuck. The consequences weren’t catastrophic other than the fact that the net result robbed my potential joy and diverted my attention from God’s glory. Not good.

We had a chance to minister overseas in a culture which is vastly different from what we know as normal. The language differences as well as event logistics resulted in a dynamic outside of the norm from which we typically operate. The time we had to engage was limited and we left soon after we were done. Frankly, it was a little difficult to tell how effective the time was. We had flown 1/2 way across the world and it was just difficult to tell whether it impactful. With the commitment of time and resources we had made, the question of impact was relevant.

Not being able to tell, I came home partially satisfied. I knew that some good things had happened as there was some feedback. I was less than 100% secure in the value of the trip as I processed the experience.

Then another member of the team who flew out separately got back and he had numerous video testimonies that he had taken following our time with these people. He also had a chance to spend time with local leadership after our departure and their appreciation for what was happening was evident. The long and short of it was the feedback that I was missing, he had captured. From those testimonies, It was undeniable that the trip created a huge ripple effect and God had clearly moved in people’s lives in powerful ways.

The trap I had stepped into was the need to satisfy my soul. My mind, will and emotions wanted validation that the sacrifice was worth it. I wanted the security blanket of getting to see results from the process we had engaged in. I wanted the visible to affirm the invisible. My faith in God’s faithfulness was weak compared to my need to be assured that He did what He does.

Ministry is not, cannot be and should never be about me (or any of us). If you go, it’s because He called and if you serve, it’s unto His pleasure and His glory. The results, then, are His to work out. Obedience is the call of HIs Spirit to our spirit and the wants and desires of our soul are irrelevant comparatively.

We don’t save people, heal people or set people free; He does. If it happens, He did it. If it doesn’t, that’s His deal with them. We don’t get credit or blame; we just get called and have to decide if we are in or not; no matter the outcomes.

I’ve Been Angry (and I’m Probably Not the Only One)

I realized recently that I have been angry for quite some time. Not typically explosive, but at least simmering. A constant management of emotion that was dissatisfied, disgusted, disillusioned or other descriptors for pissed off. The realization was a gift as I am now able to own it so that I can exchange it.

My dad died about 14 months ago and there has been ongoing hurt. Hurt defiantly fuels anger. Missing my dad and hurting over his death has been a contributing factor to my slow boil.

There are other hurts and disappointments on a day-to-day basis. Julie and I love each other but we aren’t perfect. Marriage can bring various ups and downs. We have kids that can cause us worry (fear) and hurt as we attempt to raise them perfectly without the capacity for perfection.

I’ve seen, after many years in for-profit endeavors, that non-profit or faith-based efforts bring a different level of emotion than secular attempts at making a living. Not too many people had opinions about my performance or decisions as an attorney or business owner; quite a few have something to say about my choices in the faith-based leadership attempts. Opinions can sting and sometimes outright hurt. It’s likely that fueled some of the anger.

The effort to “do the right thing” got away from me a bit. I started trying to fix everything all the time. In the middle of it all, I didn’t want to hurt anyone so I started to provide soft landings for people; worrying about their emotions to the detriment of mine. Carrying too much. Fear and frustration can fuel anger and my efforts to be able to answer, fix, manage and maintain everything caught up with me.

Here is the challenge: how do I (or any of us) operate in our gifts, skills and abilities in and for the Kingdom of God while maintaining a posture of dependence? I want to be capable, reliable and other descriptors of qualities that are positive attributes of God’s design. At the same time, I want to stay completely reliant on Him and His grace to allow for His outcomes without forcing the issue(s) in my own efforts.

I don’t know how to do that. I know how to work hard and I know how to give up. Working without striving requires His grace and I’m asking. I’m asking for the peace that comes in His multiplication to replace the anger that comes in my intensity. I don’t know what’s next but I know that He is faithful and He is good. I also know that I haven’t been angry since I realized I was.

Truth Produces Security and Security Fosters Humility

One thing common to us all is insecurities. They pop up all the time in various forms and are often revealed as we are introduced to new social or professional situations. As we look to determine our place in the new setting, the fears of rejection, inadequacy, failure, etc. surface. Two things that are evident when insecurity is stirred: 1) it is an opportunity to grow, and 2) the answer is beyond the confines of its origin.

The opportunity to grow is by way of redemption. The revelation of the insecurity is a gift as we then have an opportunity to exchange it for security. Every time a new or familiar insecurity surfaces, we are able to exchange it for our identity in Christ. That insecurity is doubt related to your place and your place is in Him. It is the fear of an orphan, yet in Christ you are a child of the Father.

When the fear of insecurity bubbles up, the need is love. The Father’s love casts out fear so to connect to the Father, ask Holy Spirit to remind you that you are a child of His (since you’ve apparently forgotten). “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)

The confidence you and I are in need in order to operate and relate from our identity is is found in the Word of God. Our human limitations can be offset by the eternal truth of the Word. We go to the Bible for the Truth and stand there. Standing there without compromise provides the security of a fixed point. It takes our inadequacies out of the equation and depends on the righteousness and faithfulness of Christ.

The Word is a fixed and secure place to stand. Security produces humility (vs. insecurity fostering pride). When standing in our identity on His truth, we will be free from any need to compare or compete and we will enjoy the peace that is beyond us. There will be no need to argue or self-promote as we stand in the security of identity and truth.

Humble children of God saved by a Righteous King present invitations to eternal relationship that are appealing. Insecure orphans in religion thinking they have to prove themselves right and others wrong simply and pridefully push others further away.

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.

How to Win Without Trying

After 51 years, I’m starting to get it. The fire that has burned is best used when restrained and tended in order to prevent unintended casualties even where the goal is achieved. When I am able to not take the bait and step into a fight that doesn’t have to be fought, the peace and position are far superior to the aftermath of a contentious outcome (even a victory).

Less is more, even when less is elusive. Maybe especially when less is elusive. When we can throttle back and allow for ourselves to be subject to the adverse interests of others in a manner which is non-inflammatory, we gain the superior position. In other words, when we will concede the superior place, we inherit it.

Jesus most often referred to Himself as “Son of Man.” He could have called Himself a number of things, including “Son of God” or “King of Kings,” but instead He chose “Son of Man.” He chose the lower position from which He would serve and not be served. The result was a legitimacy that was never really in question. It was a superiority which couldn’t have been threatened, anyway.

Trust is essential to this posture and trust is built through relational experience. The way to the lesser position is by reliance on a  Source greater than ourselves. It’s a trust that exceeds our personal ability and a willingness to allow for the outcomes that may contradict our desires.

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

What has already been entrusted is the fuel for what convinces. Experience in trust breeds confidence in trust. What little has been offered is fuel for the potential of more.

In effect: I trust that God is able to take what I have trusted and make it more. I have been convinced and am being convinced. God has called to me and I have been persuaded; now He is continually persuading me as I continually trust step by step and grow in Him. We believe in part and then are convinced in that part to trust for the next part.

Being convinced allows for the security and peace that facilitates the apparently lesser position. It affords the freedom of knowing victory without having to try to win.

Being OK When You Find Yourself in the Wrong Place

My wife got to take an incredible trip to Germany and France recently. One evening, we were going to dinner with my sister and her husband who live in Germany, along with some of their friends. I was driving one of the cars to a restaurant in Heidelberg. We got a little turned around and were trying to find the restaurant.

Along the way, I made a few mistakes. First, I drove across a bridge that was a footpath. People all over the bridge had to make way for this rogue car. Then, I drove through a restaurant’s outdoor seating, prompting my sister to say, “you’re about to hit the waitress.” Finally, I found myself in a designated bus lane with no way out other than to follow the bus in front of me.

While sitting at a red light while in the bus lane with my window down, we noticed a German man staring me down. He was obviously taking exception with my choice of lanes and rightfully so. He was staring intently at this crazy driver who was either rebellious, chaotic, confused or some combination. As we noticed him glaring at me, I instinctively put my hands up in a surrendered posture and said simply, “I’m in the wrong place.” At that simple declaration, his grimace turned to a bit of a smile and he turned and walked away.

While I didn’t want to be in the wrong lane or threaten the wait staff with my wayward choices driven by my confusion, I wasn’t offended or threatened when the man confronted me with a look. I knew I was in the wrong place and he knew that I was in the wrong place. I knew that I wasn’t a bus and this was a mistake. I was going to get back in the car lane as soon as I could. That response of confession and surrender disarmed any accusations he was formulating.

When we know who we are, we know when we are out of our lane and the temporary time in a place we don’t belong won’t threaten our identity. We won’t react to threats or accusations when we are grounded in the security of the Truth of our identity. We’ll be secure in our confession and change our mind. No need to fight; you know I’m not a bus and I know that I’m not a bus.

Identity breeds security and security fosters emotional maturity. When we are affirmed in who we are by the One who made us, we can know peace in our mistakes as well as our victories because neither define us.