Don’t Take the Bait

I fell into a trap lately and, before you know it, I was stuck. The consequences weren’t catastrophic other than the fact that the net result robbed my potential joy and diverted my attention from God’s glory. Not good.

We had a chance to minister overseas in a culture which is vastly different from what we know as normal. The language differences as well as event logistics resulted in a dynamic outside of the norm from which we typically operate. The time we had to engage was limited and we left soon after we were done. Frankly, it was a little difficult to tell how effective the time was. We had flown 1/2 way across the world and it was just difficult to tell whether it impactful. With the commitment of time and resources we had made, the question of impact was relevant.

Not being able to tell, I came home partially satisfied. I knew that some good things had happened as there was some feedback. I was less than 100% secure in the value of the trip as I processed the experience.

Then another member of the team who flew out separately got back and he had numerous video testimonies that he had taken following our time with these people. He also had a chance to spend time with local leadership after our departure and their appreciation for what was happening was evident. The long and short of it was the feedback that I was missing, he had captured. From those testimonies, It was undeniable that the trip created a huge ripple effect and God had clearly moved in people’s lives in powerful ways.

The trap I had stepped into was the need to satisfy my soul. My mind, will and emotions wanted validation that the sacrifice was worth it. I wanted the security blanket of getting to see results from the process we had engaged in. I wanted the visible to affirm the invisible. My faith in God’s faithfulness was weak compared to my need to be assured that He did what He does.

Ministry is not, cannot be and should never be about me (or any of us). If you go, it’s because He called and if you serve, it’s unto His pleasure and His glory. The results, then, are His to work out. Obedience is the call of HIs Spirit to our spirit and the wants and desires of our soul are irrelevant comparatively.

We don’t save people, heal people or set people free; He does. If it happens, He did it. If it doesn’t, that’s His deal with them. We don’t get credit or blame; we just get called and have to decide if we are in or not; no matter the outcomes.

Being Content in Abundance is Just as Big of a Deal as Being Content in Lack

There is most definitely an invitation presented to each of us to move beyond the constraints of what we can manage in our own ability. It’s scary and exciting and exhilarating and intimidating. In part, the challenge comes because the context of the invitation is “all or nothing.” We can’t compromise or carry our binky with us. We’ve got to give up heart level attachment to head level safety nets in order to get from soul to spirit.

That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t have “stuff” and walk in a mature expression of faith. There is nothing wrong with stuff as long as stuff has its proper place in our heart. Our heart, however, will need to be continually tended to in order to keep the stuff in order. In fact, our capacity for maturity can sometimes be tied to our ability to manage our heart related to our stuff.

The Apostle Paul wrote: ” I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13)

He has learned, which means he advanced in his understanding. More than likely, that means he experienced a variety of situations including lack or abundance. Some would argue that God intends abundance for us and others insist that He presents greater opportunities for us in the suffering of relative lack. What if it is both? If so, both means both and there is value in each. The “x” factor is our hearts.

Contentment is the absence of a need; no need for anything from anyone but OK with how things are as you are currently experiencing them. Paul says he knows how to be that no matter what. He says, however, that the contentment is not of his own doing, but through the Source of contentment. He says that he can face that variety of circumstances through Christ; the One who gives him the strength to get through the good or the bad.

Being content in the abundance can, in fact, be more challenging than being content in the little. With little, the target is clear and the variables are few. The opportunities to connect to the Source for contentment is kind of in your face. With much, however, the distractions are numerous. The external stuff calls out for attention and the pride, greed or insecurity that comes with preservation or growth of resources can be consuming. In either case, the Source for the “how” is “Who,” and His name is Jesus.

Two Kinds of Wisdom

We all want wisdom and many of us proclaim wisdom once we think we have something figured out. Those premature declarations are indicators that we’ve attained the wrong or incomplete version of wisdom, however. Wisdom, by definition, comes in two forms; man’s wisdom and God’s wisdom. When we declare our wisdom, we settle for the inferiority of man’s wisdom over the eternal potential of God’s wisdom.

In order to realize the life of Jesus available from within us, we are invited to die to the preferences of our soul (our mind, will and emotions). If/when we will give up our opinions and desires, we can be informed by Holy Spirit’s perspective and not limited to our own. If we will die to ourselves, we will live and enjoy His wisdom and not our cheap substitute.

Wisdom that is me and not Him is “not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:15)

The description of my wisdom is given in three terms but they don’t mean the same thing. They can’t mean the same thing, since “unspiritual” and “demonic” are contradictory on their face. Human wisdom, if given priority over the availability of God’s wisdom which is available by submitting our soul has the following progressive (or regressive?) attributes:

  • Earthly – basic wisdom from existing on earth; if you touch fire, it will burn, so don’t touch fire.
  • Unspiritual – “sensuous nature with its subjection to appetite and passion.” This means driven by your own will and emotions, or soul. Beyond just the wisdom of the flesh, this is trusting the wisdom of the soul. It is, in effect, choosing to be your own small “g” god in those areas where you rely on your perspective.
  • Demonic – this is influenced or tormented by the perspective of an enemy that comes against the purposes of God and is intent on destroying you. Nobody would willingly choose this form of wisdom out of the gate; it is a progressive slide where the consequences of soul-ish wisdom lead to a greater depravity and give permission to evil. Sin has a progressive nature (it waits to devour you).

James goes on to say “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (3:17) “Good fruits” include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” from Galatians.

That means that God’s wisdom isn’t just knowledge or ability; it is the feeling that comes with contentment as described in James and Galatians. It is without anxiety, fear, worry, shame and guilt. Wisdom from God comes at the expense of your preference but gives you life in abundance where otherwise we are limited to the boundaries of our soul.

The Glory of Shutting Up

Somewhere along the way, we have largely embraced a cultural value and belief that we need to be heard. We need to have a voice to proclaim our perspective. We need to be afforded a seat at the table to weigh in on whatever subject we deem ourselves interested and opinionated.

It’s not true. We don’t need to be heard. Often times, it’s actually to our advantage to not be heard. The position of no position is peaceful compared to the contentious places of preference.

In Matthew 16, Jesus begins to teach His guys this lesson. He begins to teach them the Kingdom. Verse 21 says that Jesus “began to show” His disciples that He “must” suffer, be killed and be raised.

Peter actually starts to argue with Him. Peter needed to be heard, with what most of us would have concluded to be a noble position, but we would see in the reaction of Jesus that it was anything but noble. Peter said that he wouldn’t allow Jesus to suffer and be killed and Jesus shut him down; actually called him Satan.

Jesus tells Peter that his perspective is wrong; he’s looking at things from man’s perspective, not God’s perspective. Jesus goes on to say that to follow Him, we must deny ourselves, which actually means to forget about ourselves. It means to not focus on us or the opinions we foster within us. Those opinions don’t need to be heard.

We are invited to die to the preferences of our soul (vs. 25-26) just like Jesus was. We get to not have an opinion. We get to enjoy the benefits of sacrifice, if we will reject the apparent satisfaction of being heard or considered or preferred. If we’ll allow ourselves to lose, we will win.

Glory comes on the other side of crucifixion. Where we willingly allow ourselves not to matter and deny our desire to advance the preferences of our soul, the glory of God can come through us. Where we will sacrifice our mind, will and emotions, His Spirit will be put on display through us.

Jesus didn’t come to provide a history lesson or abstract idea; He came to unleash His Kingdom and His plan for multiplication of that Kingdom is us. We are invited to follow Him in His ways; the ways of His Kingdom. Not our ways and our need to be heard. His ways are better, but they come at the cost of our preferences.

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast and Leaders for Lunch

Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That quote indicates his conviction that strategy is good, but culture dictates capacity and outcomes.

Last week, I wrote about how supervision of results is relatively easy. Strategic duplication of those results is more difficult. Cultural change to multiply impact requires the discipline and determination to forego control. That type of multiplication requires release.

Release of others to carry the vision and culture as multipliers means that they are likely going to do things different than how you might. It’s the cost of multiplication. The reward of tending to culture is the satisfaction of knowing that you didn’t have to matter directly but got the privilege of being a part of a multiplying impact towards a common vision.

Some leaders, however, won’t possess the security or emotional intelligence to be unnecessary. They won’t want things to happen around them indirectly, but they need to be in control directly. They may never know the deeper satisfaction of multiplication beyond themselves.

Culture change will only be attractive compared to tactics and strategy when leaders are willing to get out-of-the-way. When it isn’t about the individual, the group can flourish. Until then, the capacity of the organization is directly tied to the limitations of an individual’s insecurity.

Freedom is rooted in identity. A by-product or fruit of freedom is security. Where there is an assurance of identity, there will be a security that overcomes temptations of control. The capacity of the organization will be tied to the soul of its leader as the insecure leader won’t empower and entrust others. Without release, the culture will be and remain stagnant yet predictable.

The cost of release includes the messiness of mistakes. The security of a leaders allows for mistakes to be opportunities, not definitions. They won’t define others by their mistakes nor accept the whispers of definition related to their own worth when the results are less than excellent.

Being quiet when you know the answer is more difficult than being right. Yet, stepping back is the only way that others have space to step up. Ultimately, them stepping up or not is what defines the leader; not the skill of that leader being applied directly to a task.

A friend of mine with a doctorate degree in leadership still refers to himself as a student of leadership. He never stops developing. He is open to his flaws and needs for learning and growth. He is an excellent leader because he doesn’t consider himself a leader of note. We’re never done; there is always more. The price of leadership is vulnerability and vulnerability requires the security of not needing to be perfect. Imperfect leaders breed a multiplying culture as others are allowed to grow in their imperfections, too.

How to Win Without Trying

After 51 years, I’m starting to get it. The fire that has burned is best used when restrained and tended in order to prevent unintended casualties even where the goal is achieved. When I am able to not take the bait and step into a fight that doesn’t have to be fought, the peace and position are far superior to the aftermath of a contentious outcome (even a victory).

Less is more, even when less is elusive. Maybe especially when less is elusive. When we can throttle back and allow for ourselves to be subject to the adverse interests of others in a manner which is non-inflammatory, we gain the superior position. In other words, when we will concede the superior place, we inherit it.

Jesus most often referred to Himself as “Son of Man.” He could have called Himself a number of things, including “Son of God” or “King of Kings,” but instead He chose “Son of Man.” He chose the lower position from which He would serve and not be served. The result was a legitimacy that was never really in question. It was a superiority which couldn’t have been threatened, anyway.

Trust is essential to this posture and trust is built through relational experience. The way to the lesser position is by reliance on a  Source greater than ourselves. It’s a trust that exceeds our personal ability and a willingness to allow for the outcomes that may contradict our desires.

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)

What has already been entrusted is the fuel for what convinces. Experience in trust breeds confidence in trust. What little has been offered is fuel for the potential of more.

In effect: I trust that God is able to take what I have trusted and make it more. I have been convinced and am being convinced. God has called to me and I have been persuaded; now He is continually persuading me as I continually trust step by step and grow in Him. We believe in part and then are convinced in that part to trust for the next part.

Being convinced allows for the security and peace that facilitates the apparently lesser position. It affords the freedom of knowing victory without having to try to win.