Stay Connected or Wither Away

I’ve been involved with Quest since 2008. Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds of lives impacted through the incredible encounter with the One true and living God that occurs during a Quest. Sometimes there is a person who experiences such an encounter only to later struggle and find themselves in a ditch. When I am involved with any individual whom has struggled like that, the first thing I’ll ask them is something along the lines of:

  • “Where are you connected?”
  • “Where are you going to church?”
  • “Who are you living life with?”

Every time, without exception, they aren’t connected, they aren’t a part of a local church and they aren’t living life in the manner we would encourage during and following the Quest experience. They are isolated. Every time.

In John 15:5-6, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

The first thing we should notice about this passage is that Jesus is addressing the branches, plural. There is an invitation to bear fruit in the context of other fruit bearers. While we are often tempted to read Scripture as entirely personal and individual, the context and promises are often corporate. Corporately, there can be much fruit; when we are connected together to Him.

Secondly, the reality is that without such corporate connection with unity in Jesus is that any individual branch is going to wither. Jesus isn’t going to wither and the rest of the branches (people) won’t wither, just the ones that aren’t connected. What happens without connection, by definition, is that the disconnected person dries up and wastes away.

We need to be connected to avoid the ditch. Unless we are comfortable with the withering which is assured, we have to be a part of a local church. House church, coffee shop church, small church, big church, denominational or non-denominational, find the place that you can connect and be a part of the fruit bearing. The connection will come with the challenges that come with relationship but the return on your commitment will be a life that is productive and part of the corporate display of Jesus through His bride, the church.

Living From the Inside

The truest opportunities we face in life are life-giving. That is, when we choose to step beyond what we currently know, our senses and purpose is activated. Once we see the possibilities of “there,” we are no longer comfortable with “here” but we are intrigued enough not to care anymore.

Nelson Mandela said “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Our flaws can seemingly insulate us from any responsibility for the dreams which are within us. The fear of stepping past the hurdles of insecurities is contested by the greatness within our design. When we are aware of the potential, the compromises and excuses can no longer withhold the majesty of what we were created to be. By God’s grace, we can no longer resist that which we really were all along.

That’s one of the more intimidating things that goes along with a life of faith. What if our destiny awaits outside comfort and control of our current circumstances? What if the revelation of our greatness causes what we held as important to fade to insignificant?

That’s also one of the more attractive things that goes along with a life of faith. We are no longer bound by the visible and temporary once we come into agreement with the eternal. The illusion of control is exposed as the lie that it has always been. Letting go leaves our hands wide open to catch what was intended.

The adventure costs us everything. The first step is the scariest but the day that we quit taking steps into the unknown is the day that we exchange the call of our hearts for the cheap substitution of the American dream.

The transformation of your soul comes in the pursuit of your purpose. Your purpose was born from an eternal perspective by a God who cares more about you than He does what you think you can’t do. With agreement, the opportunity is to be different as you make a difference. He will take your insecurities and breath identity into them as you agree with Him in the eternal things.

Value of Consequences is Determined by Entitlement or Humility

I once watched an attorney represent a young U.S. Naval Officer in a DUI case. The officer was a Naval Academy graduate and the attorney conceded that the facts of the case supported a DUI conviction but that there was more at play. He brought in a former Naval Academy graduate to testify of the ramifications of such a conviction. That former officer testified that he was forced to pay back the value of his Naval Academy education as a result of a similar conviction.

The attorney argued that a $100,000 “fine” would be the practical result of this conviction and that such a “fine” exceeded the intent of the state legislature’s guidelines. The judge reduced the charge to reckless driving but sentenced the officer to several weekends in jail.

I asked the attorney how his client reacted to such a relatively favorable result and the attorney told me that he wasn’t happy about it. He said there was a sense of entitlement that left the officer dissatisfied with the fact that he have to go to jail for a number of weekends.

Similarly, I once represented a client for a felony that I was able to help get reduced to a misdemeanor but he had to go to jail for a couple of weekends. He wasn’t happy; he didn’t want to go to jail. Going to jail for two weekends with a misdemeanor vs. going to jail for months/years with a felony is a huge win. Yet, not a happy client.

Each of the defendants that I referenced was given a bit of a legal gift. The Naval Officer was afforded mercy to avoid a large bill to the government. The felony defendant benefited from a bit of legal maneuvering. In both cases, they did the thing they were convicted of but didn’t want to embrace the stark reality of some time in jail. They were above that, but they weren’t above the abhorrent behaviors that resulted in the scrutiny they were under.

When we are entitled and believe that our intentions supersede our behaviors and our beliefs justify our choices, we simply won’t grow. We’ll be stuck in our immaturity for as long as we aren’t willing to embrace the limitations of our soul. The limitations of our soul are reflected in our choices and our choices have consequences.

I wrote the other day about the value of my depravity. There is grace available where we will seek redemption. For as long as we embrace our “good-guy” status, we’ll miss the exchange. Consequences are graceful as they highlight the goodness of God and the opportunity for transformation if we will change our mind. Otherwise, it’s just a few weekends in jail and the embarrassment without the benefit to our soul.

The Target of Greater Peace

Don’t you hate it when you have them right where you want them but there’s nothing you can do? Well, you can, but you know better and you want more. They are wrong, you are right and you can win the argument but the opportunity is for peace. Peace externally and peace internally.

I’ve been asking God to change me on the inside. I have disciplined myself to react in a mature and controlled manner most of the time. Not all of the time, as I am a work in progress, but generally I can stay the course even when inside I am churning. I’m asking God to exchange that churn for His peace. I don’t want to just act right; I want to be right.

The shift from problem solving and process working to relational connection and graceful submission is challenging. Being OK to let the other person be right even when they are wrong is challenging. Preserving the possibility of relationship even when you’d prefer to walk away is transformative.

God is doing what I’ve asked Him to do, slowly but surely, at the cost of me. I am finding the shift is through pain, frustration, justice denied and other realities that reveal stuff to be redeemed within me. Every time that I am wrong and don’t have to be, or not right when I could be, my soul grows in its capacity for peace. That peace is born internally from discomfort externally to then be played out and offered externally.

Discomfort for the benefit of transformation is a good idea but difficult reality. Our transformation will cost us our preferences but the exchange is that our preferences are ultimately matured and developed. We move from immature us to increasingly reflect Him through us. That’s simple but not easy and worth it but not cheap.

Peel Back the Layers to Find the Truth of Healthy Relationship

The truth is the truth and the stuff we add onto it and around it is not. We take the truth, add our experiences, preferences, feelings and perceptions but that doesn’t change the truth. It just changes our foundation. When we alter the truth, we weaken our footing. To get back on solid ground, we peel back the added layers and get to the core.

God loves us and He loves community. He gives us a framework of truth to guide and lead us through the challenges that come with living in community. We sometimes add to it, subtract from it and twist it to fit our preferences but if we’ll get back to the foundation, we can relate in healthy community.

With some regularity, I experience people coming to me or observe them going to someone else to let the other person know that they are forgiven for some otherwise unknown offense. They will typically offer some detail to the thing that fueled the offense, followed closely by “but I have forgiven you.” While the exercise is well intended, it’s not based on truth. Whether or not the offense is legitimate or imagined, it’s not the way to handle forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not dependent on an apology nor recognition.Forgiveness is just given from within. If there was a thing against us, we have the power to choose to release it but we can do so without informing the forgiven of their pardon.

One of the times to go to another person to discuss offense is when you think they may be offended by you (Matthew 5:23). Think about that; when I think you’re upset with me, it’s legitimate for me to go to you. That’s a time when you need to know about it; when it’s my fault. The humility of that is noteworthy.

A different time for healthy confrontation is to call out sin (Matthew 18:15). This requires and presumes relationship. This is intended for community, not judgment or legalism. It is intended for the benefit of the individual who is struggling as well as the culture of the community as a whole. With the benefit of constructive confrontation, there is an opportunity to repent.

When it’s me that’s offended, I get to forgive. Forgive as I’ve been forgiven. I get to operate in the grace that I’ve received and grace doesn’t demand acknowledgment. Grace is sacrificial and feels forsaken. Grace gives without expectation and submits without reciprocation. Grace is the foundation for healthy community and grace is the fuel for personal transformation and nobody needs to know about it; they’ll recognize it without words.

Legitimate Leadership is Born Within Everyone that Chooses to Be Made

There is a timeless question regarding the production of leadership that asks, “are leaders born or made?” The answer has to be “yes,” leaders are born and then made. Further examination of the question would reveal that leadership potential is more universal than it is exclusive because the essence of true leadership is deeper than the qualities we may initially identify. We are all born with leadership potential and our impact is dependent largely on our development but our development is unto different qualities than we often associate with leadership.

Regardless of your faith or belief, few could argue that Jesus has to be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. He initiated a movement that has spanned centuries and changed cultures. His leadership has reached far beyond his tangible touch or span of years on earth. Within the context of the faith He invited, we are told “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (1 Peter 1:20). In other words, He was born for His destiny.

As difficult as it is to fully grasp, He also developed into it. Specifically, we know, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). While His destiny preceded creation, His capacity was developed by experience. In other words, He grew into His destiny.

While a study of His life would reveal great knowledge, discipline, influence and an extraordinary ability to communicate, the impact of His leadership if dependent on His character much more than it is attributable to the effect of His skills. Ultimately, the unleashing of centuries worth of global impact hinged on His humility which is grounded in the security of His identity. Humility and security are not necessarily natural in any of us no matter what we believe we may be born for. Humility and security have to be developed.

People follow leaders that sacrifice for their benefit. In fact, the very definition of legitimate authority depends on sacrifice for the benefit of others. “Leadership” that falls short of that isn’t leadership at all, and often it is manipulation or even abuse. The ability to lead which is born within each of us is unleashed by the development of our character and inherent understanding of that identity more than it is our skill at doing things or getting people to do things.

The production of a legitimate leader is the reduction of an aspiring leader. Those that will become less will be positioned for more. Willingness to embrace demotion will increase capacity for promotion. We are all born with the ability to sacrifice and decrease, but the making of our character dictates the extent to which we will influence others along the way and after we are gone.