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.

Laying Down Celebrity Leadership

When Jim Collins wrote his book “Good to Great,” he unexpectedly found a common trait among excellent organizations. Where he thought he might find charismatic, bigger-than-life leaders, he found the opposite. He found leaders that were willing to not be the center of attention. He calls them “Level 5” leaders and defines their  primary characteristics as “a blend of personal humility and professional willpower.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which comes first among leaders that reject the deference of a Level 5 leader; were they arrogant before they were in a certain position or did the position foster the arrogance? Do they need attention and that drove them to a leadership role or did the leadership role nurture their need for attention? In either case, the celebrity of leadership is a trap that defeats potential personally and organizationally.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he did so by kissing Him on the cheek to identify Him for the soldiers to know to arrest Him. There is no account of Judas then testifying against Jesus before the authorities to make the case against Him. There is no Scripture of Judas affirming before Pilot or Herod that Jesus had claimed to be God, King or anything else. There is simply the identification.

This is curious because Judas had been given money to betray Jesus. Apparently, what Judas offered was of value to those that wanted to crucify Jesus but it wasn’t testimony they wanted. It was identification. This means that identification had value and this means that they weren’t certain of the exact identity of Jesus. That means Jesus wasn’t a celebrity.

I realize that there was no social media to popularize Jesus or His ministry and I realize that Jesus had clearly attracted a crowd throughout His ministry. Yet, when it was near the end, the ruling authority needed confirmation of who this alleged threat was.

Our impact in and beyond our lives is not dependent on our celebrity and our ministry is not one that needs to put us in a place of recognition. The power of our leadership is in our humility, not our ability. When they don’t know who we are, we are starting to smell like Level 5 and beginning to look like Jesus.

 

In Pursuit of Greatness

We were all born with shortcomings and limitations, but those same faults declare the glory and greatness of our potential. We are limited only by surrender to our limitations or abdication of our identity. Our destiny can be hijacked by either frustrated surrender to defeat or premature declaration of victory.

The journey is within us, not in the product of our efforts. Products come from raw materials and the raw materials of our destiny is in the ingredients of our character. Our character is composed of our soul and our soul is in need of transformation. If we’ll stay the course and allow for the transformation, we can reach the destiny of our design.

We buried my father at the end of last year. His was a life well lived and the declaration of his eulogy was that he was “the greatest man who I have ever known.” That declaration was only timely in a eulogy; anything prior to that is too soon.

My father’s greatness was a transformative process and the greatness he exhibited is available to us all. The eulogy we are crafting will be graceful to look past our flaws and proclaim our achievement to the extent that we are not defeated by our flaws nor impressed with our achievement before our greatness is ripe.

We are not intended to declare our wisdom or greatness, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:35)

It’s the impact we make in the lives of others that declares our greatness. It’s the fruit of our investment in them that affirms us. As that investment is being made, it would be untimely to stop for the recognition of us as that would shift the effort from selfless to selfish. Selflessness is the posture of transformation, within us and around us. When we humble ourselves to give and serve, we will be transformed within as we change things around us.

My father’s greatness was developed in his humility, as displayed by his service. He gave of himself to others and their benefit is his legacy. Everyone he touched carries him to some measure and their multiplication of his investment declares his greatness every day of their lives and the lives they touch, into eternity.

Your time hasn’t come yet, but what you do with this time will define and determine your time. The declaration of your time won’t be made by you, but it will be affirmed by others. Your greatness is incubating, not to be prematurely declared. As we enter a new year, the consideration of time should lead to the posture of humility, which will foster greatness. Greatness and wisdom are declared later, by others, not today. Today we have things to do.

When Grace and Life Flow Through They Get In Us

There was a time when I was representing a young man who had gotten himself into some legal trouble. I saw him at the courthouse with a local pastor who had taken the young man into his family home and was mentoring him through a transition. I commended the pastor on his willingness to take another person who needed assistance into his home and life to the degree that he has. The pastor said to me that it was mutually beneficial because while he is helping the young man walk from one season of life into another, there are benefits to the experience that he and his wife are enjoying through knowing the man in need.

Similarly, when I was leading a group of volunteers at a youth prison, we would welcome a prospective new volunteer mentor from time to time. Invariably, he would be blown away by how much he was effected by the time spent with the incarcerated youth. He would go on and on about how he got more out of the mentoring time than the kids did and how they wanted to come back. There is something about serving others that serves us at least as much.

When we reach out of our comfort zone to step into someone else’s trouble it will often be a little risky and uncomfortable. The interaction at a raw and real level which evades us so often in our suburban environments is refreshing in it’s authenticity. For the time that we are serving, we are allowing our inherent desire for true significance room to manifest. The resulting satisfaction is often surprising and practically always encouraging.

The lie that most of us fall for is that we don’t have much to offer. That’s just not true; nor is it true that we can fix all the problems of those that we serve. We are simply funnels to allow grace to flow through us. The payback isn’t that we are recognized or that there is a fix to every problem the person(s) we seek to help has, but that we shared life and therefore lived that day a little more than if we had chosen not to choose.

When grace or anything else flows through us, then it is in us and part of us as least to the extent that we are the avenue of travel. Think of a garden hose; water flows through the hose, so the inside of the hose gets wet, too.

 

Smelled like . . . Victory

In some ways, I felt like I was visiting an old friend yesterday. I was invited to speak at local organization whose mission is to reach “the drug addict, the alcoholic, the criminally-minded, and the reject of society.” It had been a while since I got to meet and minister to men that were in these kinds of circumstances and, in many ways, it was like a breath of fresh air.

Want to find authentic? Engage people who don’t have any need to fake it any longer. They don’t pretend to be “blessed and highly favored” when they show up at church. They are desperate for God to be real in their lives and in their circumstances. They have played out the alternatives and experienced the consequences and are done. Something has to change.

I loved sharing with and receiving from these men. I taught and gave away a few books, but what I got back was better. The life that rose up from within exceeded anything that I offered.

In Matthew 25, Jesus told us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

So, according to Jesus, I was invited to meet with Him yesterday. I got to interact with Jesus and He looked like hungry, thirsty recovering addicts and convicts in need of hope and transformation.

I am a professional Christian. I am a pastor and elder at a local church and am the Executive Director at a ministry. That means that I have responsibilities which include everything from speaking to spreadsheets and strategy. The business of ministry is necessary to sustain the viability of ministry. While I am thankful for what I am called to, it can also present problems and pressures like every other thing we call “work.”

It’s the interaction with the people where Jesus tells us He is residing that is pure in offering the breath of life. The benefit to the minister matches the offering to the hungry. I left full of life and love and reminded of why I do what I do. It’s not for the budgets and programs, but for the hope in the promises.

Jesus changes everything and if we’ll serve Him in places where He tells us to find Him, we’ll bring a benefit to the seekers we find there. We’ll get a glimpse of Who we seek in the middle of that service and we’ll be better from what we give away.

Boldly Pursuing Encounter

A few years ago I was the men’s pastor at Northwood Church and had the incredible experience of working with the men there to create a men’s program we called “Bold.” The response was powerful, not because we put together a great program, but because we facilitated an environment where men could come to realize the presence of God. Until and unless there was that realization, nothing changed. Once there was that realization, however, everything changed.

We would take breaks during the summer or over holidays and men would return to our next gathering following the break with a tangible anticipation for what was about to happen. I started to notice that the environment on those nights where we were returning from being away for a while were particularly charged with what seemed to be the manifest presence of God.

In some church circles, there is a phrase to describe those times where He is particularly noticeable. People will say, “God showed up,” to indicate a powerful time of encounter from which people are moved. The problem is that the same churches correctly teach that God is omnipresent; not dependent on time or space to be there. He was already there before the worship service and will be there afterwards, as well.

The difference, I believe, as we saw with the men returning to Bold was the hearts of those that were pursuing Him. When those men showed up expecting to encounter Him, the community of hearts was positioned to recognize Him. He was always there, but the collective posture of expectation and desire opened the window between the natural and supernatural. The supernatural is constant; it’s the natural that struggles to break through.

Church buildings and worship services don’t tend to the presence of God; that is the Mosaic temple where God lived in a box. God doesn’t live in a box; He lives in hearts. When there is a gathering and critical mass of the hearts present seek Him with an earnest desire to break through the restraint of the natural for a glimpse into the supernatural, God “shows up” to a place where He already was. The feeling that God showed up is the agreement of hearts in their pursuit of God and His faithfulness to reveal Himself to them.

When you go to some form of church gathering or faith-based pursuit, consider the invitation. Seek Him in a way that exceeds your understanding and breaks through to connect spirit to Spirit. If enough people in the room agree in that pursuit, the corporate encounter will, in fact, be a transformative experience of dwelling in the presence of God as hearts agree and see.