Don’t Be Weird

The opportunity we face in the coming years is to be different without being weird. Different brings hope but weird distracts and discredits. The weirdness is typically in premature and exhaustive explanations and arguments. Hope will be carried in relational revelation with the context of experience. Once there is a common experience, the dynamic changes and different isn’t trying to convince but simply pointing to the hope which was just revealed.

Whether church is in a coffee shop or cathedral, people actually want there to be hope in God. Even those that have walked away from church are typically “spiritual” and believe in God. The frustration with their religious experience can be redeemed by encountering God Himself, not programs about Him. Relationship affords opportunities in life’s challenges and celebrations to recognize God’s fingerprints together.

Too many times, even revelation of God is recognized and agreed with in ways that are driven by religion. Fruit of His presence includes joy, peace and self-control. That means where He is moving, there can be a sense of calm and order when we will simply recognize Him without packaging Him. Sitting in the calm of His manifestation will convince people more than the routines we have learned by religion.

Inherent in this idea is the stark reality that a minister’s job is to allow for others to connect to Him for themselves. It’s the ministry of reconciliation and every follower of Jesus is a minister in this sense. Our bias within the idea of “ministry” is that we do something to stand in for God’s voice or intentions. Actual ministry is that we simply agree and allow others to experience and agree for themselves.

We can’t be afraid of getting out-of-the-way. The compulsion to follow Jesus comes from Jesus, not to be substituted by the convincing arguments and practices we insert with good intentions. When God starts, we need to stop, not speed up.

The coming season will bring opportunities to agree with heaven on earth and Holy Spirit’s power and presence if we will agree and not always augment. Our extras are subtraction and distraction. We need to marvel and wonder with people, not analyze and explain for them.

God will move in ways that are not bound by denominations and the unification that will be available will affirm and strengthen any church that is more interested in being the Church. The capital “C” Church will be without competition, coercion, comparison or compromise. People are more than willing to see Jesus if we will just quit making Him about us.

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.

 

Absolutely Abba

It’s only been five months and it’s pretty surreal. The absence of my father is so permanent that the pain of the permanence is the hurt that re-visits most often. It’s also the place where the mirage of the faint and passing thoughts that I am about to see him show up. Those brief and passing moments where I forget the unforgettable give way quickly to the realization of reality.

With that said, I am not an orphan. My father on earth has gone the way of all the earth, but my Father in Heaven is increasingly prominent in my consciousness. The infinity of God co-exists with the intimacy of God and He is Father in the connection of distant to personal.

No matter what the challenge or celebration is, the need for a Dad is real for all of us. We want and need the pivotal relationship with an earthly father and where there are fractures or voids, we hurt and want. The earthly father experience, however, is a flawed and temporal expression of the perfect and eternal identity of who God is for us and through us if we will simply come home to Him.

Coming home to the Father is a daily choice made first and foremost in our will. It’s not a theological debate nor is it complicated set of rules to follow. Our return to the Father through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus is a daily submission of our will and our lives to His goodness and sovereignty. It’s our will that has to die first.

When we will submit our wants, the return on that investment is freedom. When we die to our drivers and choose to depend wholly on the One who is Holy, the fruit of His life can come through us. We can exchange our anxiety and self-consciousness for His peace and love. He loves His kids and that love is the greatest satisfier of any of the wants, fears or forecasts we entertain when we are driving.

Trust is fostered in the silence. Time spent quietly considering and connecting to God as Abba, or Father, or Daddy is an investment into the satisfaction of things that otherwise unleash my will to have its way. These brief and passing moments where I realize the Absolute give way to temporary distractions of earthly temptations and I am in need of my Abba again. Thankfully, I am not an orphan and He shows up time and time again.

Floods that Wash Our Soul

When I was practicing criminal defense law, my job and responsibility was to ensure justice. As a zealous advocate, I worked to ensure that the government operated within the boundaries of freedom in the case of my client. Case by case, the protection of freedom for one ensures freedom for all.

In some cases, I would ask the court for mercy. The facts and due process led to a likely if not certain guilty finding and the only thing left as an advocate were arguments for measures of mercy. What I saw then and see more clearly now is that justice and mercy can operate simultaneously.

Mercy does not come at the sacrifice of justice nor does justice come at the expense of mercy. They are compatible vengeance doesn’t trump restraint and compassion isn’t given precedence over order. The balance of each ensures the other and the result can have consequences without the sacrifice of empathy.

Truthfully, while I would zealously attempt to represent my client within legal boundaries, I also realized that some clients were better off in jail. It would be in their best interests to have to deal with consequences with hopes that those consequences would propel them towards a greater destiny than their current trajectory. It was, at times, merciful for a criminal defendant to be found guilty and sentenced to jail.

Check out this passage in Nahum 1:6-7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.”

The Lord is good but He will bring discipline. He loves people and will destroy things that are within them which stand against His goodness and prevent trust in Him. It is merciful for Him to provide consequences where we are not given completely over to His goodness. The net result of the interaction is that we can get to the end of ourselves and rest in a new-found faith in Him.

I had clients that needed to face consequences, but they are not unique. We all have areas of self-reliance that deserve the merciful response of restored order even when that appears to come at our expense. In those times where our flesh and soul are pressed, His Spirit is given territory within us that previously was reserved for us.

Destruction of Our Escape is an Act of Love

There is a persistent temptation to imagine things how they could be and a trap that is set for us as we move towards our imaginations. Our imaginations of tranquility projected into lake, mountain or beach homes, perfect jobs, abundant resources, etc. are illusions. The imaginations won’t include our vulnerabilities, insecurities or the totality of our humanity.

If only we could fix the conditions that agitate our peace, then we will have arrived. Time, relationships, money and jobs (or lack thereof) are common areas we would like to fortify within our preferences. Within the walls of our desired fortress, however, is us and outside the boundaries of our protections is a world full of trouble that won’t be held back.

Where does God reside in our efforts to build a perfect life? Who is sovereign in our imagination?

Where we limit and submit Him to us, then we assume the place and responsibility He holds. We sit on His throne and rule in sovereignty that is inferior yet temporarily primary. We idolize our ability to create an existence that exceeds a need for Him as our Lord. We idolize us.

It is His love that tears down our castles. He is the one that graciously destroys the efforts of our idolatry. There is a fine line between love and anger and, in this case, His anger is love. His pursuit of us despite us is merciful and loving without regard to our arrogance and isolationism.

“The Sovereign Lord has sworn by himself—the Lord God Almighty declares: “I abhor the pride of Jacob and detest his fortresses; I will deliver up the city and everything in it.” Amos 6:8.

God swears by Himself because He can, but when we attempt to do the same, we fall short. Ultimately, He will tear down our fortresses and pride for our good. He will leave us in a heap of ruins and when we look up to survey the aftermath, we may finally actually see Him for Who He is, not who we attempted to imagine Him into being.

Freedom is found in identity. Our identity as declared and decided by a Creator that loves us and wants a relationship with the real us. His identity, as well, in actuality and not in the imaginative attempts to create an oasis for ourselves in the middle of life’s realities.

Avoiding an Ambush

Years ago, when I was still single, I began to want more. I was living pretty fast, from one weekend to the next, and began to question where there might be more. I ducked into churches figuring that there would likely be some answers there.

At the time, I felt very inadequate by comparison to all the nice people who were there. After all, I figured, they were closer to figuring it out than I was since they were there before I arrived. My life and their lives had to be drastically different and I was sure they would disapprove of me if they knew more about me. I would sit on the back row and try to not engage with anyone, for fear of exposure.

At one of my visits to one of the churches, there was a powerful speaker and from what I could tell he was talking of things that were true. It felt like God was in it and the “more” that I was seeking was somewhere in or around this deal. Towards the end, with every head bowed and every eye closed, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought or felt or decided something, although I truly don’t remember what that something was. In any case, I raised my hand from my seat in the back row.

The next thing I knew, there was somebody sitting next to me with a clipboard and a pen to get my information and ask me some questions. I was shocked at how efficiently they saw my hand that had been up for a few seconds and dispatched someone to close the deal, whatever the deal was. I felt tricked and ambushed and I never returned to that church.

Years later, what I know is that I am just as jacked up as the most confused seeker even though I’m there most weeks. I know that I speak and teach and minister and I am just as messed up as every regular attendee, seeker or critic. Whatever they are still figuring out, likely so am I as I still want to sit on the back row sometimes and just slip my hand up in the air without anyone converging on me with a clipboard.

We are all figuring it out and we don’t need to be tricked to take another step. We need to be loved. We need grace that displays itself as transparent honesty regarding our struggles and limitations. We need a knowing look of affirmation and encouragement more than we need our information captured. At least that’s what I need and I figure that I’m not alone.