Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday Teaching: Do You Want God's Provision?

We all want what God has.

Better stated, we all want what God can provide for us.

And that's only natural. After all, in the model prayer, Jesus made no bones about saying we should pray "Give us this day our daily bread".

"God, please give me money for my kids' medical bills."

"God, please give me the ability to pay the mortgage, the rent."

"God, please help me pay for food next week."

There is nothing wrong with asking for God to provide for us.

And the good news is, he does provide.

In my experience, his provision often takes this shape in our lives.

Pain + Persistence = Provision

Life has pain in it. We face it for various reasons. Some are cause and effect; others are seemingly random; others seem simply cruel.  But we all have pain.

In the face of our pain, God says "Will you be persistent?"

Persistent in seeking Me?

Persistent in being faithful?

Persistent in standing by your friend?

Persistent in doing the right thing, no matter the loss?

Persistent in continuing to hope, believe, hang on, have faith?

Pain meets persistence and God says "I can trust this person with a measure of my resources".

God will always provide, but he may well provide in abundance for those who meet pain not with anger or manipulation or coldness or despair or bitterness or exclusion or shrewdness or a power-grab...but with persistence in faithfulness, kindness, love.

Then we get to experience his rich and overwhelming provision.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Tuesday Teaching: You're Free To Go

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free..." - Galatians 5:1

I have never met a single person who says "I love the feeling of being trapped".

We don't enjoy being hemmed in, tied up, held captive - whether it's to a job we don't like, an addiction we can't beat, or a situation we can't extricate ourselves from.

We long to be free.

Here's the deal.

Jesus is all about freedom. "I came to set the captives free", he said. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free", Paul said - using a double affirmative to make his point.

This freedom may be external - God getting us out of our situation, bondage, addiction.

Or it may be internal - God giving us peace in the middle of a situation we will have to endure for a while.

But, we're not meant to be, or to feel like, captives.

At a church yesterday, I had the chance to walk with the high-capacity, high-commitment staff as they discerned the One Word they believe describes them and the church they love (part of the Intentional Difference process).

The word was "Liberators".

Or "Libertadores", in Spanish.

There is simply no better word that a church could have.

It's Jesus' heartbeat. For you.

Whatever that thing is that holds you back, ties you down, occupies your energy and effort...it's been defeated already.

On the cross, Jesus took on his shoulders all captivity and enslavement. He paid for it with his life, bled for it with everything he had.

You don't have to be a captive anymore, to anything.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Reducing Your Personal Fear Factor

Several of the boys recently took a field trip to the Kings Mountain battlefield near us in Charlotte. It was the site of an under-appreciated battle during the Revolutionary War.

It's a nice spot with a pleasant little hike up to the monument which crowns the mountain.

Boy #4 make the hike and decided he was lord of all he surveyed. His mom glanced away for just a second and he made a break for it.

No fear.

(I still think it's funny she took a moment to capture the picture as he careened towards disaster!)

Boy #2 was the same way as a toddler. At the beach, he would be out with the dolphins in under thirty seconds, terrifying all of the adults on shore.

I'm not that way. I tend to see the glass half-full, tend to be anxious, tend to imagine worst-case scenarios.

It's quite a character flaw.

But I'm not content to stay that way. I want to have no fear. 

And there's good reason to desire that.

Jesus said once that "There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts off fear".

When I am afraid, it is because I have a failure of imagination when it comes to seeing and receiving love. Imagine life free of fear - the adventures you'd have, the stories you'd be able to tell.

So, how do you reduce your personal fear factor? Three ideas...

Choose to see life as an adventure, not an ordeal.
That's simply a matter of resolve and conviction. Whatever comes your way will - more than likely - not kill you. Even if it does, there's adventure there. Some of the bravest, hardiest, most adventuresome people I have ever known have been those staring down terminal diagnoses.

Don't be afraid to leave things behind.
There are sacred things we must stick to, no matter the cost. 

There are very few of these. 

If it's a job, a house, a town, a church, a sick relationship - and it's sucking the life out of you - leave it behind. It doesn't need you. You don't need it.

A good and bracing question is "What can I leave behind?" 

A soul-killing question is "What do I have to hold on to?"

Know that you are loved.
Jesus spoke with precision. It's not bravery that casts out fear. Or guts. Or ignorance. There are some things to be fearful of.

But love - perfect love - eliminates fear.

If I can hold on tightly to the fact that I am loved - that nothing can ever eliminate, mitigate, relativize, or minimize that love - I have the resources I need to scamper across mountainous monuments and swim with dolphins.

You don't have to be afraid.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday Teaching: To Dominate, or to Serve?

Once, Jesus' disciples were squabbling over who held pride of place in their organization. Jesus cut them off with a terse statement:

"Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43b).

Sounds simple, right?

Only, we never seem to get it right.

During the height of the power of the former Soviet Union, there was a phrase which captured the regime's political philosophy - "Kto kovo".

Translated, it means "Who dominates whom?"

The answer, it was implied, tells us who the winner is.

If you dominate, you are hold all the cards. You can impose your will, craft your desires into policy and procedures, protect yourself against your enemies, secure your control, guarantee your influence.

You've won.

Only, you haven't - and the scrapyards of history are littered with those who have subscribed to the philosophy of dominance. Many of them were terribly successful for a time. But, in the end, they fade into the shadows.

Most of us aren't quite so brazen as the former Soviets about our desire to dominate.

We cloak our need to control in lots of ways - "I need to make sure quality standards are met". "I've worked too hard to get here to let it slip away now". "I have the chance to devote my energy to this place; my (customers, congregation members, employees) just can't see everything I see". "Weak leaders get left behind". "Things are tough here - a visionary leader is needed to turn the tide".

But all come from the same place - I gotta win. Who dominates whom?

Jesus turns the power scale upside down.

He gets the desire to dominate. His disciples hung out with him all the time, and they still had it. But he also knows that domination will wreck families, marriages, churches, friendships, organizations of all kind.

You simply can't lose if you position yourself as a servant. A strong servant, to be sure - one with an unassailable sense of who you are and the values you hold.

But a servant, nonetheless. Counting the interest of those you serve as more important than your own. Choosing to believe that your family's or organizations deeply held values are more important than you, your pride, your position.

Leaders serve, and servants lead.

How would those you love and lead describe you?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Words From One of My Heroes Upon Lent

Leighton Ford is one of my great heroes and mentors. I don't have the bandwidth to write how much I love, trust, and honor him. He has been a friend-beyond-a-friend for the last near-thirty years of my life. You should really read some of the stuff he is writing! How about this:


 Years ago the Swiss therapist and spiritual guide Paul Tournier caught my attention with a dramatic image comparing life to a trapeze performance in a circus. The trapeze artist grasps the bar of a swing, launches out, swings back and forth, higher and higher, until at the farthest point he or she lets go, trusting their partner to swing out at just the right time to reach out, clasp arms, and swing them to safety on the other side.

 Just imagining such a moment makes my stomach clutch, and my breath catch! It also makes me realize how apt Tournier’s image is for this Lenten season, a time to let go, and reach out.

 The Bible is filled with stories of this risky movement. Abraham is called to leave the security of his ancestral home, and to go out by faith to a land he did not know. The disciples of Jesus leave the boats and livelihood and families, saying “We have left all to follow you.” Jesus himself said, “I have power to lay my life down, and to take it up again.”

Notice how his letting go is tied to the certainty of resurrection. Paul’s sees himself not as a trapeze performer but a runner. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Can you picture yourself, this Lenten season, as the trapeze artist or the runner, “letting go, and reaching out”?

 The past year was for me in many ways a year of loss: young leaders I have mentored facing life-threatening illnesses; my brother-in-law Billy reaching his 95th birthday but growing weaker; the traumatic death of my dog Wrangler, my close companion for nine years. “I feel that everything is going away,” I told a friend. She surprised me by asking, “What time does God’s store close?”

 I thought back to my parents’ jewelry store, which closed at 6pm every day except weekends. Then I realized that God’s store does not close! His grace is available 24/7 for every letting go, and every reaching out. As I look back over my life I remember painful partings, letting go of “attachments” which had seemed absolutely vital, even wondering whether life would be whole again. But God was calling through loss to gain, letting go of the past to enter into God’s future. Each of us has certain “attachments”, habits or people, or even addictions or possessions which we clutch for security. And each of us is again and again called to “detachment” in order to trust God more. I suggest two questions to ask as you embark on your Lenten journey on Ash Wednesday next week.

 What do I need to let go? What unfinished business is there that is holding you back – of hurt, or dreams, or failure, or the normal patterns of the last year?

Try holding out your hands, visualize placing those concerns in them, then turn them over and open them, releasing them into God’s care. To what do I need to reach out? To what new adventure or challenge may God be calling you?

Turn your hands upward, open them and lift them, and receive at least a token of God’s grace. As the Quaker Thomas Kelly wrote, (God) plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chains of attachment. And (God) hurls the world into our hearts, where we and (God) together carry it in infinitely tender love.

 So this Lent – let go – reach out – trust God.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What's The Most Important Thing About Work?

First, what is NOT the most important thing about work? It's not trying hard, though that is essential. It's not having something to do to pay the bills, though that is important. It's not success, though that is rewarding. It's not power, because in and of itself that is corrupting. It's not just getting by and clocking in, because that is life-sucking. So, what is it? At the end of the day the most important thing about work is to be fully engaged in doing the thing you were made to do in the way only you can do it, in a way congruent with your values, in the company of like minded partners.