Competition for Credit vs. Collaboration for Kingdom

It hasn’t even happened yet and credit is being debated. There is apparently the potential for peace on the Korean peninsula for the first time in years and the jockeying for recognition might even jeopardize the resolution. Politicians, pundits and pro athletes (Dennis Rodman) have been in the mix as personalities play out publicly.

This is the norm in politics and unfortunately it’s become the norm among faith-based and church circles, as well. It’s become a competition for attendance, giving, recognition and followers. It’s a platform producing endeavor as much or more than it’s a disciple making endeavor. There’s no difference between us and them; just a different target audience.

I’ve enjoyed a unique journey to this point in life in which I find myself engaged in full-time, vocational ministry. I was a corporate middle-manager, a business owner and a practicing attorney prior to being a pastor. I actually did compete for market share, revenues and profits as a legitimate measure of business viability. There were times when it was reasonably lucrative and there were times when it was catastrophically not. Be careful what you wish for; competition has a variety of outcomes.

There is no competition in the Kingdom of God. Only one Person gets the credit and honor for success in the endeavors that are truly of His Kingdom. His glory is not to be manipulated, leveraged or hijacked to afford personal gain for any that seek to advance His purposes.

The opportunities that will exist to agree with God in the advancement of His Kingdom in the coming years will be conditioned by the requirement of collaboration. Those that will agree to agree will be conduits of His life, light, breath and glory. Because they can share and trust, they can be trusted to share.

Others will continue to exist outside of the Church even if they call themselves a church. They will build their kingdoms and perfect their marketing and the show will go on but the smoke will eventually fade. Ministries and churches that choose to go it alone will may grow, but they won’t be alive.

Promotions in business and retainers in law came as a result of marketing, ability, relationships and persistence. Promotions in the Kingdom come purely by grace and favor. Grace and favor are given where there is humility and submission. Humility and submission are evidence of security and trust. Where we are truly trusting God, we will truly trust each other. Where we can do that, He can trust us and we’ll get to be a part of the Kingdom without settling for the cheap substitute of an inferior attempt at our well-meaning own kingdom.

It’s Time to Go Fishing; You’re Invited

The opportunities we are given come by way of invitation but the invitations are a bit loaded. It is our choice to accept or not, but if we pay attention and have eyes to see, we will want to say “yes.” When we see deeper, shallow is no longer satisfying. From that place that lacks satisfaction, we will be willing to further.

In Luke 5:10, Jesus calls the first disciples to be fishers of men. He was talking to fishermen so the description was applicable and  somewhat easy to understand, I suppose; at least to a degree. What had to make it more clear happened just before the declaration.

Leading up to that invitation/declaration, those same fisherman had experienced the power of what they were being invited into. They had been fishing, unsuccessfully, and Jesus came with a word. The word He gave them about where and how to fish produced an abundant catch that was overflowing. It was so abundant, in fact, that the boats started to sink.

The result was an immediate realization of His holiness and their relatively un-holiness. They realized their depravity and the need for grace. From that realization, they actually wanted to send Jesus away in verse 8. But He stayed; in fact, He not only stayed, but He invited them.

We likely won’t realize our purpose in the agreement that results in being fishers of men until we see the abundance and holiness of Jesus and receive His grace for our depravity. When we see from those realizations, we will want to agree in the purpose of the Kingdom by seeing and reaching people. We’ll start to see people like He sees them after we see us like He sees us.

Being fishers of men is not a burden to be weird with people or threaten them with hell. It is a realization of your need for God’s grace and salvation through Jesus and the unbridled passion that comes from the abundance that you realize you have been given. Then, from the joy of your salvation, you simply can’t help but want to connect with people and share the treasure.

If you aren’t connecting with, relating to and fishing for others to share the treasure of your salvation, perhaps you have forgotten the abundance that you have been given? Perhaps you are shameful in your sin or focused on your lack? If so, it’s OK; simply remember and see. Then say “yes” to the invitation.

Walking Through the Pain Hand in Hand

Just after Thanksgiving, I was driving down the road by myself and a memory captured me. I remembered back 18 months when my dad had heart surgery. In my memory, we were standing in pre-op and I was considering counsel someone had given me. “Don’t leave anything unsaid,” they told me.

As I considered their advice that day before the operation, I couldn’t come up with anything. There was nothing unsaid, as far as I could tell. We had experienced some significant times and some routine times where the messages of love, respect, affirmation and appreciation were communicated.

That surgery went well, yet my dad coded afterwards. They revived him quickly, but it was a scare. I couldn’t understand why this memory was coming up to the point that it brought tears. Is there something I should have said that I didn’t?

It was within 24 hours from feeling and considering that memory that I got a message from my dad saying that he had to have heart surgery again. Now the memory had my attention as it came right on top of the news. Going into this one, is there something that needs to be said?

As the second surgery approached, I was incredibly uneasy about it. Was it just worry or was God stirring me prophetically?

Two nights before the operation, we had dinner with my dad and details he shared regarding the operation only left me more anxious. I was somewhat disengaged as I battled through the discomfort of disagreement.

The next morning, the day before the second surgery, I sent my dad a text, telling him basically; “I don’t have peace regarding the surgery. Please consider every possibility and it’s not too late to change the plan during the pre-op consult with the surgeon (to be held later that day).”

The grace of God was with me as I sent that message. My dad had the surgery and he died from it. What I believe was God’s prompting to not leave anything unsaid was for me, not him. He was going to have the surgery and his rationale was sound for why he was going to have the surgery. The outcome was tragic, but the torment of “what if” was disarmed from the exchange my dad and I had.

There were other “prophetic markers” leading up to the procedure that weren’t completely clear without the benefit of a retrospective view. Various touch points of God’s insight and presence even as we walked closer to the pain. The pain still came, but it wasn’t as surprising as it would have been otherwise, and I wasn’t alone.

God will walk with us and talk with us and let us in on what’s going on, but He won’t guarantee the outcomes. He’s not a genie, but He is a friend. He’ll be there when trouble comes, and trouble will come. Knowing God isn’t a lottery ticket; it’s the comfort of a Father’s hand to hold. There is comfort in His presence.

 

Honor Makes a Way for Solutions to Disagreements

Last night, the Dallas Cowboys stood together. More accurately, they knelt together. They knelt together in a sign of protest against racism in the United States, and they did it before the National Anthem. As a reminder, that is what all the kneeling was about in the first place, although it has been largely forgotten in the politics and opinions.

In case you didn’t see it or hear about it they came out as a team, joined arms and knelt. Then they stood up. They knelt before the National Anthem ever began and they stood up during the national anthem.

All along, the objection to the protest has been that protestors should stand and respect the flag. Last night, they did. Yet, in an overnight poll in the Dallas Morning News, the initial opinions offered were that 54% of respondents felt “Cowboys should not have knelt at all.” This was a Dallas newspaper, mind you, so this is a biased sampling presumably in favor of what the Cowboys do. I don’t know what the sampling size was, but that result is disheartening.

This poll showed that for some, it was never about the flag in the first place. It was about being right. For some, they aren’t patriotic as much as they are just prejudiced. When you don’t want somebody that is different from you to say anything about their perception or experience based in those differences, you are protecting the status quo, not the traditions surrounding the flag.

We tend to like what we like and want what we want and will often find justifications to protect our preferences. Our preferences are rooted in our perspective and our perspective is limited to our experiences. Those experiences, in this nation, are vastly different. Experiences surrounding race and racism cannot be the same where the there are differences in race. It’s just not possible.

The opportunity going forward is honor. I’ve been a Dallas Cowboys fan for the past four decades, but my admiration of their collective voice last night isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about honor. They were able to show honor towards the flag while also projecting the voice of the perspective that was calling out. They were able to agree about disagreements that they had not all experienced. That’s what the flag stands for, in part; the freedom to be heard in an honorable way.

When 54% say there should be no disagreement at all, there is going to be disagreement. If and when the majority can agree that the experience of the minority is different from their own, then there can be solutions. Honor makes a way for solutions to disagreements.

God is Present Among Us

Like everyone, I have been working through various challenges that are practical in nature. There are real and present circumstances that require attention and that attention is tangible. The actions and reactions are manifest in and around people.

At the same time, I have been intently and purposefully drawing near to God. I went through a season where I felt a bit disconnected and lacking any intimacy with Him. The times of connection which I have been finding with Him as I pursue depth are rich and refreshing.

Recently, I noticed a collision of the practical and the private. The refreshment of intimate connection to the love of the Father played out in the practical decision-making process. Was I saw was the multiplication of His presence as the manifestation of His wisdom was displayed through community.

As I discussed a thought process and developing strategy with two people who serve as wise counsel and co-laborers, one of them offered, “when you first started talking about this, I believe God stirred in me, ‘not this week.'”

The second person confirmed that they were stirred to wait in similar fashion as there was an upcoming event that they believed needed to unfold first. Same counsel, different yet consistent reasoning.

The counsel and the rationale, in both instances, resonated with me as right and true. The wisdom of the Lord was manifesting in the counsel of those that know Him. In this case, there were three of us.

We draw into the love of the Father by the grace of Jesus. We seek the filling and refreshing of the Holy Spirit as we draw near to Him. We need to be refreshed and connected through times of individual worship, study and prayer. Then the walking out of our purpose in agreement with Him is with others.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit, as referenced in 2 Corinthians 13:14, is played out in the fellowship of others. He manifests, as often as not, through others that are intimately connected with Him. There is agreement and grace when we are submitted in humility, one to another, to allow for His wisdom to be manifest through His carriers. His carriers are us.

There are no rogue prophets. We seek his voice and insight submitted one to the other (1 Corinthians 14:32). The natural application of the supernatural begs for agreement between imperfect vessels of the Perfect. If and when we will allow Him to speak through us and among us, then He will be displayed through us. All of us as the corporate body will put Him on display, not a single one of us elevated to His place as the Head.

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