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.

This is Worse and Better Than I Thought

The pain that comes in the wake of losing my father has layers that I didn’t expect. I’m caught off guard by the emotions that accompany the hurt.

I didn’t expect the fear. For the first time in 50 years, the guy that I could always count on isn’t there. The safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support is gone. The result included a feeling of vulnerability that I didn’t expect because I have never felt it before. I found myself uncovered and unprotected in a way that I had never known.

I’ve ministered to hundreds of people with significant dad issues and represented hundreds more as a criminal defense attorney. I’ve understood the reality of the how important the dad relationship is and diagnosed the cause and effect correctly. I didn’t know and couldn’t have known the depth of the fear that accompanies the hurt.

I have felt aloneness in the adjustment to my father’s absence even though I enjoyed the benefit of his presence for 50 years. It breaks my heart to know that some people go through their entire life with the pain and fear that come from an absent father without knowing the joy of the contrast. I don’t have to stay in the hurt or the fear and neither do they, but the fact that I know what it’s supposed to feel like is a huge benefit.

In the processing of the grief and void of my dad’s consistency, I’ve realized the love of the Father. I’ve known it before, but it’s different now. It was incredible always, but it’s different when there isn’t a father. The joy of knowing that I am a son to the One that gave me a father in the first place is tangible.

No matter if your father story is one of a good dad, bad dad or somewhere in the middle dad, the target and invitation is always to the Father. He wants to provide the eternal relationship which may or may not have been modeled well in your temporal experience.

God gave His son so we could be sons and daughters. We are invited into the security of a relationship which will never end. We are invited into the safe place, reliable counsel, unconditional love and complete support of a Father that is perfect and forever. We don’t have to be afraid; we can be loved.

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.”

Our Differences Are the Opportunities We Have to Connect

A friend asked me a while back if I considered myself a patriot. The question caused to me pause and consider my answer. I’ve served in the military and was more than willing to fight on behalf of the nation, although that call never came. I suppose that’s patriotic. My answer to him, however, was “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am appropriately submitted and loyal to my country. My ultimate allegiance, however, is to a Kingdom more than it is a country. I am aligned with Kingdom of God more than I am any manmade institutions, no matter how valid. I am more zealous for the Word of God than I am for the Constitution of man. All while being a loyal citizen under the governments He has placed in authority.

Last week, I had the privilege of serving some men in the United Kingdom. I got to walk them as they walked towards God. It was a magnificent week of encounter and freedom despite some cultural differences. At one point, those cultural differences were called out by one of the men. He confessed a bias against some stereotypes we, as Americans, carry. He did so to repent and connect, not to accuse.

The typical demeanor in the U.K. is different from it is from the U.S. The same can be said of Texas and any particular state in the Northeast United States, I suppose. In fact, we can find cultural differences between families living across the street if we choose. Then what? Stand on our preferences or find a place to agree?

Even in allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom, do we use that as a dividing line or compass to point us towards relationship? We are invited to invite and the invitations we extend must come with permission to be rejected. That means we get to value others no matter whether they agree with us or not.

I really enjoyed my time in the U.K. and look forward to going back. I look forward to seeing my new friends again and I eagerly anticipate new friends there, as well. There will be differences that we will laugh about because our allegiance isn’t primarily to our cultural differences, but it’s to the Truth. The Truth of God’s design within us that calls for reconciliation and connection, no matter what side of the pond or other distinguishing characteristics we hurdle to get to that place.

Enjoying Joy and Relating with Eternity at 50

Fifty years ago today, I was born. Seventeen years ago, I was born again. Life was born where there had been living without depth. Along the way, I’m trying to figure it out but it gets more simple, I think, not more complicated.

Here’s what I think I know: my new life, given to me by the grace of Jesus, is intended to be shared with people and theirs with me. The other stuff we tag onto the grace of Jesus “in His name” may not have ever been intended to be a part of the sharing of Him among us.

This is supposed to be easier than we make it, I think. We can choose to pile a bunch of religion and expectations and criticism of each other on top of His grace, but we shouldn’t think that it’s Him. He doesn’t do that. He calls us His friends and friends don’t treat each other like that.

In the next 50 years, or whatever number are left on this earth, I want to increase in my presentation of Him in His grace. I want to be His friend and a friend His other friends as well as those who He would like to be friends with. I want to smile and encourage and laugh and cry with people who don’t want or need to be alone.

God, the Father, presented Himself through Jesus, the Son. Now they, along with Holy Spirit, are willing to present themselves through us and among us. They aren’t critical, upset, disappointed, concerned or corrective. I’m convinced that they aren’t worried about the order of service or the mastery of ideas about them as much as they are desirous of relationships. Relationships with them and relationships with each other. I think the whole Book is about relationship.

Jesus is more than willing to live among His people who laugh and sing. The songs don’t have to be from Hillsong or a hymnal, they can sometimes be from the Eagles or Johnny Cash. Then people who don’t know anything about Hillsong or hymnals can join in and have relationship with us, too. Relationship with us might lead to relationship with Them, but if it doesn’t nothing changes about the graceful display of the intention.