Understanding that Comes at Dawn

If you believe in something, it will be evident by your choices. Your conviction will result in more than the understanding that fuels explanations and theory; there will be a practice that displays the trust you have placed in that thing. If your belief is based in truth, that display should actually build on itself. In other words, if you’re acting in accordance with your beliefs and those beliefs are based in truth, your actions will become habits.

“The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom, so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will. The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me, and I have listened. I have not rebelled or turned away.” (Isaiah 50:4-5)

If you believe in God as Lord and are connected to Him relationally, your desires will increasingly align with His. The desire to help those that are “weary” will align with His heart for the broken and forgotten. That belief, those desires and such alignment won’t happen in a “one and done” fashion, however. It will happen morning by morning.

Morning by morning, you will wake up and seek deeper understanding of His will. In His faithfulness, as you draw near to Him, He will provide that understanding. The practice of persistently searching will shape your character because it will require a sacrifice. That sacrifice, at a minimum, is time. It may include sleep. It could require a choice that puts it above another option (breakfast, business, social media, etc.). The sacrifice for connection, however, will most certainly have a return on the investment.

Growth comes in the seeking and seeking, according to this passage, starts in the morning. There is something special about mornings. The dawning of a new day presents fresh mercies and new hope. The challenge of yesterday starts to give way to the hope of tomorrow.

Recently, I had a special morning where my understanding grew. It was one of many mornings, however, and not every one is as impactful as another. They build on each other. The relationship grows in the discipline and sacrifice and relationship is what fosters trust. Trust allows for sharing and sharing feeds understanding.

I suppose that kind of searching out doesn’t have to come in the morning and would never suggest that it can only happen in the A.M. Still, there is something special about mornings. We are all invited; morning by morning.

There is No Badge of Honor in Impatience

We are all inclined to view our intentions and even our weaknesses in the most favorable light. When we mess things up or hurt someone else by our choices, a common defense is “I didn’t mean to.” Frankly, that intention usually isn’t the point; the choice and results declare themselves and owning them is the mature response.

With that in mind, things that we think we intend or why we do what we do can be elusive. We may think we know what we meant, wanted, etc., but we will lie to ourselves and believe it. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

That passage isn’t about cardiac disease; it’s about the condition of our soul. Our soul is our mind, will and emotions. Our mind, will and emotions are deceitful and lie among themselves beyond our understanding. We think we believe something (in our mind) but we choose to do things (our choices reflect our will) inconsistent with the values of those supposed beliefs.

Within that reality, the “fix” for our problems is sometimes not what we think. For instance, fear is not overcome with courage. Courage, in fact, is evidence of fear and the choice to do something despite the presence of fear. Fear is overcome with love. (“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” – 1 John 4:18).

Similarly, I found recently, that the opposite of impatience is not patience, but the opposite of impatience is humility. Consider Ecclesiastes 7:8: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”

All too often we embrace our fears (e.g. fear of heights, dogs, etc.) and, likewise, often embrace our impatience. We will wear our impatience as almost a badge of honor. When asked about our weaknesses in a job interview, it is not uncommon to try to present a negative in a positive light.

According to the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, impatience is pride. It is the willful choice of rising up to take control. There is nothing to brag about in our fear nor our impatience. There is certainly nothing to boast about in our pride. When we think we have to resolve things because God hasn’t moved quickly enough in our circumstances so we elevate ourselves to small “g” god status since capital “G” God hasn’t met our expectations, we choose to sit on His throne. That never turns out well in the long run.

God, will you grant me humility enough to wait on you? In Jesus, name, Amen.

Eternity Focused Leadership Development

Moving towards the transition of the organization, an assessment was in order to consider the condition of top leaders and rising stars. A consultant was engaged for the benefit of a third party perspective and time was short before Jesus would turn over the reigns. Following an exhaustive process, the consultant met with Jesus to report his findings.

“Jesus,” the consultant said somewhat reluctantly, “this organization has some problems and the result is alarming as you prepare to transition.”

“What do you mean?” Jesus asked, as if He didn’t know and clearly not alarmed with the negative tone of the consultant.

“Well, your personnel largely aren’t ready,” the consultant continued. “After three years of intensive leadership development and vision casting, most of them just don’t get it.”

Going along with it, Jesus asked, “do you have any examples?”

“Sure,” the consultant replied while pulling out his report to apparently refresh his memory on the details. “First, there are James and John. What I found was that they are in no position to lead. They are simply interested in themselves and their own advancement. I just don’t see where they are ready to be the kind of servant leader you require to continue the culture and DNA of the organization. Remember, they even got their mom to try to influence you for their benefit. (Matthew 20:20-28)

Then, there’s Peter. This guy is going to get you sued. He is very undisciplined and emotionally immature. Talented and bold, for sure, but sloppy.  I recommend a personal coach and some risk management training. (John 18:10)

Thomas is negative; he isn’t fully on board with the direction you have set. He has questions and he voices those doubts, which is detrimental to the morale of the organization. (John 20:25)

The one guy that you have who it diligent and can be trusted to look over organizational resources is Judas. He gets it; he is the most mature, responsible and prepared guy you have to take this thing forward.” (John 13:29)

“Thank you for your time, consideration and report,” Jesus replied as He appeared slightly amused at the conclusions.

“I really appreciate your help, but I’m going with my guys. All that you pointed out about James, John, Peter and Thomas was factually accurate. This is different, though.

For the last three years, I wasn’t trying to perfect their maturity; that will come with suffering and persecution. I was always looking at their heart. You see, My purpose has been and always will be about their heart. I’ve seen their hearts and I know that they will finish what I’ve started.

They will persevere through the difficulty to hand this movement off to the next generation and their passion is worthy of my trust for the purpose of My Kingdom. They have given their hearts to Me and My purposes; that makes them ready to represent me going forward. I trust them; we can work out their other stuff as we go.”

The Cost of Ministry

I have a friend who is the most talented salesperson and one of the most gifted minds in business that I have ever known. He has the capacity to make money with seemingly effortless ease. He also has struggled personally to an extreme that is rare and, in the middle of it all loves Jesus and pursues God as fervently as anyone I know. From that place of ability, struggle, relationship and pursuit, there appears to be an invitation from God for this friend to step into ministry.

“Ministry,” by definition, is service to others. In this context, that service is related to eternal things grounded in the Word of God. That calling, to serve, doesn’t require special schools or a job at a 501(c)3, as 2 Corinthians 5 makes clear. In that chapter, Paul teaches that once we are reconciled to Christ, we are ministers of reconciliation. It isn’t dependent on a profession, but a relationship.

In the unfolding of this calling, my friend called me in tears. The tears come from the pain of dying to himself. What God is doing within him requires that any pride and any needs for attention or affirmation from the service of reconciliation must die. He has realized that the reason God is talking to him about that is because it needs to be talked about when he considers himself.

Ministry will eat you up. A desire to serve without the ongoing death of your soul will pervert your service. It will be a service to needs for the filling of your voids instead of in submission to the purposes of Jesus. What God was doing with and in my friend is a favor to my friend and a requirement of true service. It can’t be about us, or it wasn’t ministry in the first place because it wasn’t about serving.

Our soul has wants and needs that will be satisfied in the grace of Jesus and the Holy Spirit fills us and fills us again. The grace of Jesus will lead us to the love of the Father and that love is a perfect satisfier. That perfect love fills us and affirms us and satisfies temporal voids with eternal relationship. The shortcut can be ministry.

If we serve others in their effort or need to be reconciled to the Father through the Son, they often times will ascribe value to us in the process. They will affirm the “anointing” or gifts of the servant. If there is anything in the minister’s soul that feeds, it can stir an addictive cycle of attention seeking in Jesus name.

Want to serve? Have to die first. Want to minister? It will cost you everything, starting with yourself. You’ll never regret it but if it doesn’t make you uncomfortable then you are probably missing it.

 

We All Want to Preach

We all want to preach because it’s easier than the real deal. We want to have it figured out and tell others the answers. We want to master the incomprehensible so that we can control the limited reflection of eternity we have wrestled into our inadequate perspective. Then we can’t fail because we figured out the rules, keep them and tell others what they are and how to follow them.

The difference between preachy church goers and social media proclaiming of various political and social perspectives is the misuse of authority. That is, those that want to preach what they claim and hope to be eternal truth use the Bible to justify their vague understanding. Present company included.

At the same time, as an audience we want someone to have it figured out. If we can read a book, hear a sermon, attend a seminar or digest some other form of secondary understanding, we won’t have to allow the Source to examine us to produce intimate understanding. That is, if we can “be fed” by someone, we can avoid the hunt.

The net result is a Christian culture of pontificating which entertains heresy in order to foster freshness. A specific and untapped niche for the advancement of a platform is valued above the transformation available to us personally or others uniquely. Finding the place from which we can be heard to “help people” understand and do what is good and right is the controllable and satisfying place of ministry malpractice.

If we gain some understanding of the Word, it is not God’s way of giving us a ministry; it is His grace offering to transform us personally. He will do the same for others, but they will have to go to the same Source for the same introspective examination of their soul. The Word is an invitation into knowing God, not fodder for a sermon.

When we truly know Him in the glimpses we can handle of Him, we are undone. The paradox of His might and His mercy becomes an endearing and transformative catalyst for our growth. The deepest understanding of HIs Word often leaves us speechless and sometimes in tears; completely undone as we realize our own humanity compared to His magnificent Divinity.

Ministry, then, is to afford others the same. It is an invitation into the search which produces intimacy with Him and not impressions of us. Our messages, preaching, blogs, programs should simply hope to tell only of our lack to afford His glory to be evident. It’s His glory that carries the message that people need to hear.

Value Within the Unfamiliar

Last week, I was in an airport across the world waiting to come home. We had a 14 hour layover and were just spending time in the coffee shop when I wandered out front to stretch my legs. My phone was charging at our table just inside the outer window as I strolled out to take in the scenes and smells.

I turned to walk back in but there was an armed soldier preventing my re-entry. He pointed upstairs and informed me that I could only re-enter through the doors on the second floor. My attempts at an explanation or appeals to step right back into my table got me nowhere.

Upstairs, they informed me that I needed my outbound ticket to be granted access. I realized that the only ticket I had was on my phone, which was inside. I tried to explain and got nowhere. Fortunately, I was able to go back downstairs and get the attention of my friends through the glass to bring my phone out but for a minute I was stranded in a foreign land with no way to get to what or where I needed to go home.

This was the return trip from a week in a culture where language, food, smells, traffic and customs among other things were outside of my comfort zone. Connection and understanding is possible but requires greater intentionality than the familiarity of home. Insecurities related to your purpose, abilities, reason or choices can emerge in the discomfort of the unfamiliar.

Going places on a calling related to the Kingdom brings hope that you are bringing some value. Beyond that, however, the value is within. The revelation of insecurities when security based in preference is gone offers the opportunity for redemption. It requires dependence on God’s grace and your identity in Him beyond the controllable aspects of life and ministry.

Every time we agree to step into unfamiliar circumstances the likelihood of exposure within us multiplies. For as long as we are comfortable and controllable, there is a security in our maintenance. Outside of routine boundaries such as common language and agreement based in our upbringing, there are questions that can bring value in their answers.

Reliance is so much more real when there is no other plan. True reliance builds true understanding of true identity in true faith. The product is greater security in Him; not the substituted security controlled by me or my ability to move in familiar expectations.