Hope

(This was first posted to my Instagram and Facebook pages.)

I wonder what Instagram or Facebook would look like if we only posted photos of the moments in our lives when we’re not accomplishing something. While it makes sense to think that viewing the success of others should be inspiring or motivating, we instead see spikes in cynicism, depression and hopelessness directly connected to engagement with social media. Every time we see our friends or those we admire celebrating accomplishments and success it becomes nearly impossible to refrain from comparing that with our own life. Perhaps it’s even subconscious, a little bit out of our realm of awareness. But the crazy thing is how drawn we are to it, almost to the point of obsession. As if we can vicariously experience the sense of value that comes with their achievement.

What we miss is that value is inherent. Worthiness is built in. Success does not add beauty to the priceless treasure we already are. We cannot earn our way to freedom. And we all know that we’re searching for some sort of freedom. Freedom from feeling less accomplished, less appreciated, less successful, less beautiful, less motivating, less inspiring, less, less…. a word that, by definition, reinforces comparison. We engage because we think that watching success will build hope in our hearts. That someone will have the answer we’ve been looking for to free us from the weakness we despise in ourselves.

We’ve believed that lie that our worth is a direct result of what we do. That what makes us valuable in this world is the performance we bring to the table. That validation for a job well done is the life that flows through our veins. That your likes and comments on this post solidify my position as a contributor of value in this world.

You are valuable to the One who made you. You have a Creator who considers you – you, who you are – to be of worth to him. That fact that you have been created, that you are alive, implies purpose. You were made to be loved. Not by your network because of your success and hard work, but by your Creator, God, because of his success and work for you through Jesus. Find your value in what’s already been done, and let go of your search for hope.

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Leading, not Pushing

You can learn how to lead well in some very unexpected circumstances.

A little background first. I grew up in a very conservative church environment with an emphasis on pastoral authority. It wasn’t a cult by any means, but from the outside you might recognize some cultish tendencies. To some members, the pastor’s interpretation of Scripture was generally viewed as right because he said so, and those who disagreed would be seen as dissenters. There was some room for discussion, and others were allowed to teach at times, but the rule was that all ideas were vetted through the pastor. He was the final authority in church matters. Ideas about anything from doctrine to the color of the carpet; from service schedule to plants in the foyer.

Others may have had a different experience in a similar environment, but what I took away was a strong distaste for authoritarianism in the church. This has been an underlying fear of mine since following the call into ministry: that I would succumb to the love of power and pride as a leader in the church. Four years in and the temptation is ever present, and likely my past experience is the grace and blessing that keeps me aware of it. 

I have found that holding the gift of teaching too tightly leads to a lack of trust in others, poor listening skills, and over-developed speaking skills. The expectation we can sometimes have is that we are called to teach every single person who crosses our path. (The gift has become our identity.) This can lead to an overbearing, impersonal, distant persona. People will view us as above instead of among, because, in our hearts, we’ve believed this premise, too. 

Jesus says something else: Matt 22:25-28; Matt 23, et al.

I have found that personally investing in the individual lives of those I’m called to minister to has done more to teach me about leadership than a hundred sermons preached to an audience. Being vulnerable has taught me to see myself in them. The Spirit has made me aware of my weakness through the weakness of others. As I seek to be grasped more and more by the love of God for me, his love for others through me grows and my mind and heart are transformed to honor them above myself. I’m not good at this, mind you. Submitting to love is death for the flesh. But there is hope for me yet.

Living and Dying

I feel like I am simultaneously living and dying.

These past few weeks have been hectic in our house, and not just because of the holidays. Nearly every day for a week I’ve had many moments where I’ve felt both incredible stress to the point of tears, along with incredible joy and peace in walking with Jesus. I wonder if this is the juxtaposition of the life of a disciple. I know that in the past I’ve always considered these feelings mutually exclusive, but perhaps it’s not that simple.

Here’s what’s true: loving others in the abstract is simple, easy, and satisfying to a point. 

Actually loving others is frustrating, offensive, and totally fulfilling. Actually loving the sick, broken, dirty, and selfish is annoying, depriving, and completely worth it. Actually walking the path of Jesus is sacrifice, rejection, suffering, loneliness, hardship, temptation, death. And absolutely priceless.

Thus I find myself both living and dying in the same moment. I find myself possessing a treasure I only ever dreamed of. I find myself seeing, feeling, and walking with Jesus – Jesus, the person.

Because there’s no such thing as “enough faith” for anything. None of us have enough. But we have Jesus. He says, Walk with me and be filled. Not just satisfied, but filled

You’ll never know him better by watching him walk by. Get up and go with Jesus. He’s the treasure you seek.

Jesus is better.

Jesus is better than my worship of physical appeal.

Jesus has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” For any reason. 

Attractiveness, fitness, age, shape, ability – none of these fragile tangibles move him away from us. If my hope is in what I have now, or had once and want back, each morning I look in the mirror I will be a little less satisfied and a little more afraid as time and harmful habits take their toll. “You’re not enough to be wanted, to be unique and appealing, to be needed and desired by your spouse or loved ones.” These are the lies we agree with and believe. This is the story of our life, we say. The story that says a “happily ever after” ending is possible, but only if we wear this, tone that, fix this, pluck that, support here, flatten there. It’s all up to us and what we can make of ourselves – the image we create.

But Jesus says, Receive me as the perfect image of your creator. Take on my glory and rest in my love. Let my beauty define your peace; let my work define your worth. I created you and I love you as you are – one day you will be wholly transformed into what you should be, but even now, dressed in my righteousness, I see no flaw. I loved you when you were unlovely, and you don’t need to earn my attention, interest or desire. 

I made you, and so I want you. I want you, and that’s why I made you.

Give me your broken, craving heart and let me satisfy it with perfect, passionate, intimate love that makes whole. That never despises or rejects. 

Rest, Jesus says.

Back, for a Moment

It’s been awhile since I’ve contributed to this blog. Does anyone use WordPress anymore? To everything a season…

A lot of good things happened since my last post. One giant truth I’ve discovered about God on this journey is that his mercies truly are new every morning. He is not a stagnant God. Grace is a game-changer, and can’t leave you the way you were, even from day to day. My wife likes to quote Brennan Manning: “God is a wild man.” Truth.

2016 – and even reaching back into 2015 – was defined by God teaching our little group about our identity. As a whole, our background is rooted in a “do” gospel (not really good news) rather than the “done” gospel. It is finished, however. No, really, it’s done. God doesn’t want your efforts to earn his love and favor. You’ll never maintain Jesus’ level of commitment, faith, love, or service. Not long-term, not on your own. The good news is that there’s no expectation that you should. It’s only when we recognize this weakness that He can be strong in us. 

My strength is made perfect in weakness.

Think about that! Our weakness brings God’s strength to completeness. Or, our strength renders God’s strength incomplete in our life. In other words, any effort to please Him on your part is directly opposed to God’s will, and opposed to the work of salvation – opposed to freedom. And every surrender opens the door to Holy Spirit power that much more. 

Amazing! This kind of freedom is something we’ll spend a lifetime learning to believe. I see something new on the horizon now, though. I see, through the lens of freedom from guilt, shame, self-effort, works, etc., the freedom to love freely. I see truly that we’ve been freed to love without fear, to serve without self-consciousness, to give without hesitation. I see, perhaps, a glimpse of what the life of a disciple might look like. Of what it might mean to exist here, but truly live in Heaven. Of allowing Love to pour out of my life in a very tangible way. Of being radical, undefinable, unexplainable without a miracle. 

I’m excited. I realize now that I can do because it’s been done. Grace is life and peace. Grace is Love in action.

But If Any Man Love God…

…the same is known of him. 1 Cor. 8:3 (1-3)

I don’t want to be known as a man with vast understanding or knowledge of Scripture. I don’t want to be known as a great theologian or scholar, or even a good preacher. I don’t want to be called a “good Christian.” 

I just want it to be known that I love God, and because of the great love with which he loves me, I love my neighbor. 

In fact, I so want the call of love to drown the sound of my own name, that only Jesus is heard. Father, help me.