Our Differences Are the Opportunities We Have to Connect

A friend asked me a while back if I considered myself a patriot. The question caused to me pause and consider my answer. I’ve served in the military and was more than willing to fight on behalf of the nation, although that call never came. I suppose that’s patriotic. My answer to him, however, was “no.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am appropriately submitted and loyal to my country. My ultimate allegiance, however, is to a Kingdom more than it is a country. I am aligned with Kingdom of God more than I am any manmade institutions, no matter how valid. I am more zealous for the Word of God than I am for the Constitution of man. All while being a loyal citizen under the governments He has placed in authority.

Last week, I had the privilege of serving some men in the United Kingdom. I got to walk them as they walked towards God. It was a magnificent week of encounter and freedom despite some cultural differences. At one point, those cultural differences were called out by one of the men. He confessed a bias against some stereotypes we, as Americans, carry. He did so to repent and connect, not to accuse.

The typical demeanor in the U.K. is different from it is from the U.S. The same can be said of Texas and any particular state in the Northeast United States, I suppose. In fact, we can find cultural differences between families living across the street if we choose. Then what? Stand on our preferences or find a place to agree?

Even in allegiance to Jesus and His Kingdom, do we use that as a dividing line or compass to point us towards relationship? We are invited to invite and the invitations we extend must come with permission to be rejected. That means we get to value others no matter whether they agree with us or not.

I really enjoyed my time in the U.K. and look forward to going back. I look forward to seeing my new friends again and I eagerly anticipate new friends there, as well. There will be differences that we will laugh about because our allegiance isn’t primarily to our cultural differences, but it’s to the Truth. The Truth of God’s design within us that calls for reconciliation and connection, no matter what side of the pond or other distinguishing characteristics we hurdle to get to that place.

Understanding in 3D

When we are students, the degree to which we learn something is often determined by a taking an exam. Our knowledge is tested as we are asked to answer questions which demonstrate the degree to which we have mastered the subject matter.

If you are a follower of Jesus, the quiz comes every day and it’s not for the sake of the knowledge. It’s for the purposes of the One that is offering the information in the first place. Followers of Jesus aren’t invited into an academic exercise; they are invited into life change and life transfer.

Jesus taught by experiences and imparted by proximity. He was living life with people, teaching them in the moment of living to give them a depth of understanding that exceeds the limits of information. It had to be that way because what He was teaching needed to go viral through their capacity to learn and their capacity to learn was their capacity to reproduce. The quiz for them was in their ability to give it away.

For too many of us, our attempts at discipleship are limited by our reliance on information. That information, which is vital to our learning but not conclusive of our mastery, is only the first step. The understanding comes in the implementation. The mastery comes in the multiplication.

Time and time again in the practice of law, I saw the depth of a passage that was in the Bible. The exercise of the knowledge in the lives of real people who didn’t agree with my beliefs opened the doors for me to multiply those beliefs. The grace, love, hope and encouragement that are talked about time and again by Jesus took on 3D perspective as I encountered real needs and needed real help in the application of the real Truth.

With eyes to see and ears to hear, we are invited into relationship with Jesus as He ministers. We minister where He ministers by agreeing with Him in the ways that we know are His way from His Word. Our knowledge of Him is put to work in our relationship with Him and our understanding is developed through our experiences with Him. Those opportunities are every day; in our families, in our workplaces, on a train or at a restaurant. Wherever people are, He is interested and we are invited.

Concession is Not Belief

Our culture and traditions can lead us to believe things that aren’t true. We are conditioned by our surroundings and our surroundings can suggest we are entitled. We can believe, from our culture, traditions and surroundings, that we believe when we actually don’t.

Belief is more than acclimation. Belief is transformation. Belief will be evident in our exclamation.

1 John 4:15 tells us, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” Honestly, that seems pretty easy; just acknowledge and you are good to go. That bar seems so low that heaven will most certainly be overcrowded.

The idea that shows up as “acknowledges” in that verse may mean more than we think, however. That word can mean, “to agree with” and it can even mean “to concede.” Wow . . . is it possible that John was writing that if we’ll simply concede that Jesus is the Son of God, we are then God carriers? We are born again by concession? Concession is about the same as, “I give up; you win,” so the conceder can move on to another subject. I don’t think so.

Other meanings for that word include “to profess,” as in to profess yourself as a worshipper. Finally, that word by definition, can mean “to praise, celebrate.” Now we are on to something.

When our acknowledgement is more than a concussion, but a profession as a worshipper who praises and celebrates Jesus as the Son of God, then there is evidence that God lives in us and us in Him. That is evidence of new birth by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus.

Cultural Christianity where church attendance and polite concession is not evidence of our belief. Sold out, all in, life changing celebration, praise and worship of Jesus as Son of God is.

We can get fooled into thinking that we are Jesus followers by our suburban insulation and Sunday morning habits. In some ways, those that are in the depths of depravity are better off in that they cannot be fooled into believing they believe. Maybe that’s why God loves us so much that He tells us in Revelation 3:16 that we should either be hot or cold, but lukewarm will get us spit out. Hot is praising, worshipping and celebrating Jesus as the Son of God, cold isn’t self-deceived into thinking they might concede and lukewarm is an aberrant alternative that is deadly in its compromise.

The First Thing Fuels the Other Things

I was running on empty lately because I was running from my own ability. I have been invited into good things, eternal things, but I was applying temporary efforts to an eternal equation. The cost of the disconnection was my own relationship with the One that extended the invitation in the first place.

Our ability is fueled by our source. If we are the source of all that we seek to do, the well is perpetually running dry. We can get things done for as long as the weekends, whiskey, vacations, television, computer, exercise or other indulgences afford us the chance to escape. Those escapes, however, provide a stop-gap re-charge to a reservoir that is destined for empty.

The only way to realize the fullness of life in the living of life is by connection to the Source of life. Connection to the Source is intimacy, not knowledge. In fact, the intimacy is what fuels the understanding that is required for interpretation of knowledge.

He’s a Father. He birthed us from the design that He had for us. The plans for our lives are connected to eternity. As my friends David Terry and Marc Owings say, we are hardwired straight from the factory. Our hard wiring is for connection to the One that put the wires there in the first place.

Eternal purpose requires eternal supply. Temporal supply to an eternal purpose yields a diminishing return. In other words, even ministry and the stuff that we do “for God” requires God to fuel it. His fuel is relational connection. It’s intimacy.

Intimacy with the Father fuels everything. It fuels friendships and marriage. It fuels family and work. It fuels purpose and destiny. Intimacy with the Father is the point. The rest of the stuff is secondary.

C.S. Lewis said, “Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”

The first thing is Him. He is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We when are routinely engaged in an intimate relationship with Him, that stuff comes out of us. When that stuff isn’t there, we are probably our own source. Even when we are trying to do His stuff. Doing His stuff without Him was never the plan.

 

The Road Goes on Forever

Our freedom is entirely dependent on our willingness to sacrifice our preferences to the objective truth. We can’t generate our own sense of liberty from our desires. Those desires are often legitimate indicators of our design, but the context they are created for is submission to the Father as sons and daughters. Any application outside of the family of God is an application of a prodigal headed towards disastrous consequences.

We don’t maintain freedom from an occurance; we nurture freedom as an alignment. Without the alignment of submission to truth, we will steer back into the dominion of sin and/or the burden of the law from our fallen state. The alignment is a realization and reminder that Jesus is Who He says He is and we are who He says we are. Not because we are doing good, feeling good, wanting good or any other subjective measure. It is true because He is Truth.

Recently, I had the honor of accepting the position of Executive Director at Fellowship of the Sword. At Fellowship of the Sword, we facilitate events that serve as a catalyst to set hearts in healthy rhythm. Hearts are not set in healthy rhythm from our teaching or program; they are set in healthy rhythm by encountering the Truth of Jesus. It’s between Him and those that seek Him. He is the One that changes things.

That encounter, the freedom born of it and the transformation is all temporary unless nurtured and maintained. The nurturing and maintenance takes place in the local church. The community of believers that you plug into is intended to sharpen, encourage and comfort when you have been tempted toward subjective distractions from the objective truth. Without community to call out our blind spots and without willingness to live with others in a way that is vulnerable to inspection, any freedom we have tasted will be a fleeting experience.

I believe in the catalyst. The jump-start is powerful. The transformation is real.

I also know that I know that the catalyst requires the context of the church in order for the benefit to be sustainable.

I am so honored and thankful to get to do the stuff that I do. God is good and He is faithful and the journey from “there” to “here” has not been easy, nor is this the end of the road. In the words of Robert Earl Keen, “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.” While my application of his lyrics differ from his, we apparently can agree on the truth of the eternal journey. Enjoy the ride, and don’t travel alone.

A Priest, A Lawyer and a Business Owner Walked Into a Bar

I’ve been doing this for a living for about five years. Before I did this, I was practicing law. When I practiced law, I was responsible for the representation of clients as an advocate. That advocacy sometimes meant investment that exceeded their legal questions. Life questions got them in legal problems so my advocacy sometimes meant life investments.

Before that, I was a business owner. There were things I did well as a business owner and there were things that I did not so well. My intentions were to serve my clients and my employees in a way that was honoring and gracious. For those that didn’t know Jesus, my hope was to put Him on display in the ways that I interacted with them.

Now I am a professional minister. I’ve had several roles, but my job is Christianity. This has afforded incredible opportunities to ¬†grow, share and multiply in the life I have found in Christ. It has also afforded me a perspective of what is challenging in the professional endeavor of Christian leadership.

The truth is that I am no more or less of a Christian leader than I was when I owned a business or practiced law. I was a born again believer in Jesus Christ, committed as a disciple to carry the good news of the Kingdom of God then as I am now. The recognition, credibility or validation that comes with vocational positioning does not qualify me any more or less than He did in those previous roles.

The problem, to some extent, is that we struggle to accept that. We struggle to accept that lawyers and business owners are the same as pastors and ministers. The separations are subtle, at times, but insidious, just the same. The little hints of superiority or separation feed the lies of inferiority and disqualification. In every way that we elevate professional clergy, we disqualify the saints that are called to do the work of the ministry.

I’m just as righteous in Christ today as I was in the courtroom, and so are you. I’m also working out that salvation through my flawed and wounded soul as a professional minister as you likely are as someone who is engaged in the marketplace. We’re the same. Our flaws don’t disqualify us nor does our knowledge validate us.¬†There is no more pressure on me to live a perfect application of religious expectations as there is possibility that you are able to pull it off outside of grace.