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.

Going Out There with a Clear Picture of It’s Limits

The reason for the gathering is to be encouraged and equipped for the purpose. The purpose is carried out day-to-day in markets and communities that aren’t coming to the gathering. That means that vocations and locations occupied by people who come to the gathering are going to be the ones that carry out the purpose. Out there.

The ministers are electricians, dentists, room moms and IT professionals. They go places that pastors and priests aren’t invited or expected. It’s in those places that ministry extends the reach of God beyond the four walls of a gathering place. To be qualified, you simply have to be reconciled. Once you are reconciled to Jesus, you are a minister of reconciliation.

“And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Once reconciled, you are given the authority of an ambassador to bring the message of reconciliation to others. You are a minister of reconciliation. Congratulations.

John 1:1 says that Jesus is the Word. Reconciliation is to the Word; written and personal. When people are hurting they need to know but they need more than information. The written Word is imperative in our understanding of truth. The Word Himself is just as vital as we realize grace and love. Without the personal connection, it’s a matter of logic and reason with no relationship. The invitation is into relationship.

Too often, we are “out there” among people who don’t know Jesus and we want to try to convict or convince them of their faults with supporting evidence from the written Word. The net result is accusation and condemnation. Typically not very fruitful.

If we’ll allow for Jesus to be personified in our grace and compassion without the need to change behaviors from the outside, He is good at the inside business. In fact, when we consider it, He is still in the process of changing us from the inside but is doing so with love and grace. Not guilt, shame or condemnation.

Ambassadors are only legitimate for as long as they represent the governing authority that sends them. Jesus didn’t send you to tell everyone how wrong they are; He sends you to tell them that He isn’t holding it against them.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

 

Connection Defeats the Need for Compliments

Someone encouraged me recently and I didn’t need it. I liked it and I appreciated it and I was thankful for the words they spoke into me, but they weren’t filling a void. I could receive the encouragement for what it was and not grab hold of it for what I needed it to be.

A few weeks earlier if the same person had said the same thing to me, it would have been different. I was empty and frustrated and feeling isolated and invisible. I didn’t feel appreciated or recognized for service, sacrifice, ability or accomplishment. “What’s the point?” was my question then and the compliment would have helped to get me back to neutral.

The difference between then and now, was my connection to the Source. I pursued the Lord and knew that I knew (again). The affirmation of God’s Spirit in my spirit satisfied the questions of my soul. The agreement by way of man’s kind words was good and encouraging, but the need of identity was not connected to the affirmation of man. That question was settled in my soul by the One that created me uniquely.

More than anything, our “why” needs to be connected to eternal purpose. Our eternal purpose is born out of eternal identity. How we are made and who we are reveals what we are about in the context of God’s eternal Kingdom. He satisfies the questions of value and worth we all struggle with and when we depend on Him for satisfaction of those questions, we are free.

Freedom releases us from the need for approval of man. Approval of man is no longer a need so encouragement can be received in context. The best part of that is that in the absence of people’s encouragement, we are not nearly as prone to discouragement. Good days and bad days don’t hinge on someone recognizing us, affirming us or endorsing us. Our mood swings are mitigated by our security, which is born out of His affirmation.

Connection is relational so the opportunity is to continue to lean into God’s place as Dad. Remembering and remaining in position as His son defeats the insecurities that threaten to rob my joy with whispers of needs that are actually wants. Security is a prime posture for purpose and purpose is a reflection of identity. The momentum from the dynamic that unfolds from His lap is one of destiny.

Where There is Faith, There is Hope

Things in court had not gone like I had hoping one morning and I was engaged in beating myself up a little bit when I got jerked into the present by a crying mother and a little girl. The mom had some problems with her driving record and had been driving without a license. If convicted of driving without a license, which was the third time the had been caught, it meant a mandatory ten days in jail.

When I met with her, she had her four or five-year old daughter with her and we talked about the possibilities. The mother was done. She was completely worn out by her effort and failures. Her tears flowed generously and her sweet, angelic little daughter reached up assuredly with comfort and compassion. I cried, too.

Somehow we connected through some reference to or evidence in faith. The lady had hope in her faith even through the challenge and discouragement of being a single mom. Based on that common ground, we prayed.

Then, we re-grouped, said a prayer together and went into court. We were going in to see the toughest judge in the city and the charge isn’t exactly difficult to prove. The officer has to testify about why he pulled you over and show that you don’t have a license. Court records would establish that it was the third time. Ten days in jail seemed certain and there were no apparent legal maneuvers nor any tangible hope.

Truthfully, the judge acted out of character. This judge was incredibly tough and I couldn’t have imagined anything but jail time. Against all reason or experience, the most serious of her charges was reduced and she walked out of the courtroom with some fines but no jail time.

This was a victory against hopelessness. A victory against the scars that might have come in the heart and soul of that little girl if there had been the difficult conversation of where mommy will be for the next ten days. A victory against doubt of the very existence of or interest from a God she had been crying out to but the circumstances never quite gave way.

There are people every day who have situations you can’t fix, but you can agree with hope found in some common faith. Even if just a mustard seed where the judge is harsh and the law is clear, grace can break through.

Writing in the Dirt

When practicing law, I routinely defended people who had broken the law.  In those days, people – mostly Christian people – often asked how I could morally support my decision to be an advocate for the immoral.  The answer was easy.  Jesus is our advocate, even though we did “it” in some form or fashion.  The case is airtight against us, but He doesn’t turn from us.  The chance to be an advocate for guilty people was the chance to stand beside them, just as Jesus stands beside us.

In the case of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus’ method of defense was peculiar.  As her accusers loudly proclaimed the woman’s guilt, Jesus silently stooped down and wrote in the dirt with His finger.  The Pharisees would not relent; they continued to batter Jesus with the question of what they should do to the woman in light of the Law.  After a short time, Jesus stood and invited anyone without sin to begin the prescribed punishment of stoning by throwing the first rock.  Then, He stooped down and continued writing in the dirt.

No one could throw the first stone.  One by one, the crowd dispersed until only Jesus and the woman remained.  Interestingly, verse 9 of John 8 says it was the older men who left first.  The older men left first because they had sinned the most, if for no other reason than they had lived the longest so they had the most practice.

Writing in the dirt was the primary tactic Jesus used in defense of the woman.  As odd as it seems, Jesus’ act of using His finger to write on the earth was a foreshadowing of the exchange He was here to make.  God had written in the earth with His finger previously, and here He was doing it again.

The first time God’s finger wrote on the earth was when He wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets, some of the very writings the Pharisees hoped to use to condemn the woman.  God wrote the Law twice, as Moses broke the first set of tablets.  Now, here He is, in the form of Jesus, again writing in the earth, again twice.  What He wrote was “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), just as He had written the Law, and then wrote it again.  Perfect satisfaction; it is finished.

The first time God wrote in the earth, He wrote the Law; the second time, He wrote grace.  Jesus came to satisfy the Law for us, since we can’t just as the old men of John 8:9 couldn’t.  Our perspectives of God and people (starting with ourselves) are evident in what we “write” with our words and attitudes.  We are either writing law or grace, and we can only write what we first receive.  Realizing that we are not unlike the woman Jesus refused to condemn allows us to receive grace just as it allowed me to defend those who did “it,” too.

From “Abundant and Free,” available at Amazon by clicking here.

 

 

The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.