Sunday, April 30, 2017

"He-Men and The Universe We Build"

"To focus on how I'm doing more than what Christ has done is Christian narcissism."--Tullian Tchividjian

I've tried to fight this frustrating reality for years, but I've had to face this truth within my own life, and it has offended my sense of “manhood” for sure. Reaching a point of feeling desperate, and quite frankly at times, a little emasculated, will force you to consider hard truths about your purpose, your worldview, and even your manhood at times. I have dealt with a gnawing sense of failure, incompetence, and inadequacy at times on my journey into becoming who God created me to be, and resting into my identity. This has caused me to grow weary of all the hype I see day after day, the positive mental attitude rhetoric and fluff, and the regurgitation of catch phrases, sound bytes, and motivational quotes relative to “leadership”, setting goals, making your own way, plowing through, and finding success at any cost—as the world considers success. These can sometimes communicate--albeit probably not intentionally--the message, "You're not enough"--not being strong enough, not working hard enough, not having enough of this or that, not doing enough, etc.... There always seems to be something to prove, another mountain to conquer, another egotistical chest to pound, another “dream” to dream, or another declaration of " NEVER REST, WORK HARDER, DO MORE, NEVER QUIT, GO, GO, GO"!!! It wears me out to continually try to keep up the bravado, and compete in the rat race of perceived success, especially the ideals of cultural success. Jesus was the ultimate leader, the greatest success, but the least influenced by externals. Conversely though, many Christians have learned to justify (spiritually, of course) the insatiable pursuit and competition for success, human achievement, and status, all in the name of “being blessed”, or challenging and teaching others to do the same, holding up their example or "story" as the blueprint for that success. The truth I am discovering however, is that rather than being a result of all of our efforts, competitive drive, relentless pursuit, and doing, genuine success is a result of rest, obedience, surrender, and our position--being in and having our identity and validation IN CHRIST. Now, let me add a resounding "YES", from that, we will often see fruit in finances, influence, and material gain. But, this shouldn’t come as a result of a self-initiated, self-driven venture, that invites God along for the ride, simply to validate and “bless” what we are pushing or doing. If you are a Christ follower, you have no room to boast in anything except Him. Not in your tenacity, your work ethic, your ingenuity, your accomplishments, your leadership abilities, or anything else. It all comes down to our obedient response to HIS initiatives and purpose. We mask many of our selfish desires, egocentric, prideful promptings, and "alfa male" urges to win behind the guise of our self-disciplined diligence, our activism, our work ethic FOR God, and even our drive to make a difference in the world. Those all sound noble and admirable enough, but aren't necessarily pure in their motivations. Jesus ONLY did what He saw His Father do, and spoke what He heard from His Father. The enemy is always trying to get us to prove something to or for God, or to prove something to other people. He even tries to distract us into continually proving things to ourself. This keeps the focus on our performance, and on external factors to provide us validation, approval, and affirmation of our perceived success. Satan tried to get Jesus to prove who he was. Some of His own followers seemed to require proof of who He was, and the details of His purpose. The religious people--consumed with skepticism and unbelief--continually tried to get Jesus to prove who he was by performing signs and wonders, and validating His identity by jumping through their manipulative hoops. Jesus wouldn't take their bait. He wasn't defined or validated by any of their external criteria.
Throughout my personal process, this has been a recurring fight for me. The enemy continually tries to get me to prove my "willingness" to do what ever it takes to please God, or my worth as a good husband and father, keeping the focus on my performance, or the approval of others, instead of fixing my focus on the finished work of the Cross, and His ultimate validation and acceptance of me because of who I am in Christ. When we are in a proving mode, to God, or others, we will never be able to satisfy that need to prove something, or to legitimize our identity or purpose. We will continue to be in that frame of mind. We will never be able to rest in WHOSE we are, because we're to focused on trying to always prove WHO we are. Religion keeps us in this frame of mind, under the guise of producing fruit, and living FOR God. The fact is that only the Holy Spirit can produce any fruit in us at all. No amount of sanitized flesh, will power, or self-discipline can achieve this. It is Christ alone, in us, and through us that makes this a reality. Our part is to abide restfully in a perpetual state of surrender and trust. And this can only be realized by His very Life working in and through us, by the Holy Spirit. It is most arrogant and unwise to put ourselves in a position to determine someone's value or worth at all, based on their performance, or how they measure up to our arbitrary standards of work, success, or drive. We men are especially guilty of this. We are often times valued by how good of a “provider” we are. (primarily by our work and financial acumen and achievement) Even in “christian” circles, we champion those who are “self-made” earners, goal setters, and high achievers with a rags to riches story. We’ll even “co-opt” scripture (usually out of context) to praise those who make their own way--self-starters, magnanimous leaders, and heroes of humanity, who conquer all, dream big, overcome every obstacle, and reach goals. The fact is, in our flesh there dwells “no good thing”. The only purpose worth pursuing—the cause of Christ—can only be achieved in His power, grace, and spirit. I believe God DOES desire our success in all things—all things Kingdom, that is. And His Kingdom does, in fact, include material blessings, wholeness, health, and fulfillment. Those blessings aren’t to validate us, puff us up, or make us the gold standard of self-made achievement and earthly success for all to see and follow. Jesus didn’t ask people to “prove themselves” to Him. He invited them to follow Him. “Take up your cross” isn’t an invitation to prove yourself, to impress Him and others with your “spirituality” or manhood, but rather an invitation to surrender to His will, His way, and His work. Human nature insists on earning value through performance, making its own success, achievement, and hard work. Christ places highest value on our being, not our doing. We, and our life, with it’s achievement and success, should always ultimately point people to Him, for His glory, for His Kingdom. That's a Kingdom that will last, and that's a success that is eternal.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Faith--Close Your Eyes; Open Your Hands"

Do you remember as a kid, someone giving you something you really wanted, and they would tell you to close your eyes and hold out your hands? Do you remember the absolute excitement you felt as you awaited "blindly" for that wonderful thing to be placed in your hands? All you could do was receive it! You could do nothing to get it, because your eyes were closed, and you couldn’t see it, or manipulate your way to find it or obtain it for yourself. You could only trust that the giver was putting it into your open hands. You could only receive. And then, once you received it, and saw it, your only responses were excitement and appreciation! That's what our Abba Father desires to do for us, and how He blesses us in so many ways. When we are too busy being concerned with how to GET what we want, our focus is no longer on the Giver, and knowing how to receive. I am convinced that the greatest blessings that Abba desires to give to us--those desires He places within our hearts--will only be experienced as we assume this posture--eyes closed and arms (and hearts) wide open. Stay focused on Him, close to His heart, and hearing His voice. As long as we feel it’s up to us to GET, we’ll never learn to rest into RECEIVING! Here is the order, trusting, receiving, and thanksgiving! I truly believe as we seek Him, and delight in Him, He gives, and we receive! Our response is heartfelt thanksgiving. Daily, He indeed loads us down with benefits. His blessings DO make rich, and He adds no sorrow with them. These “blessings” include EVERY aspect too. EVERY good & perfect gift comes down from Daddy!
Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Many times we say we trust Jesus, and have faith in Him, only to spend most of our time focusing on what we want changed in our circumstances, our state of mind, our needs, etc… What we do is look to Jesus. See our reality IN HIM. Emotions or temporal circumstances are not our reality, but only a momentary “hiccup”. And these “hiccups” could be avoided if we acknowledged Him in ALL our ways, and ceased to lean on our understanding—even in the areas where we think we have control, or have the smarts to navigate and manipulate an answer or desired outcome. We DO know that He works all things together for the good to those who love Him. Many of the unfortunate events, delays, and detours COULD be avoided though, IF we would consider Jesus first in everything, acknowledge Him in EVERYTHING, and receive His wisdom in every matter of life. He’s not our backup plan, or emergency plan, He IS THE PLAN! He gives us the choice to choose what we consider. Consider NOT first what you see, but rather who He is, who we are in Him, and His heart toward and desires for us.
Without faith, we can’t please Him. Our faith comes by hearing the word (Rhema) of God. The Word made flesh is Jesus. Everything points back to Jesus. See Him! Hear Him! Believe HIM! Receive HIS abundant Life IN EVERY ASPECT OF OUR LIFE! As Christ followers in America, we are living way below our privilege and the authority that comes from our true identity in Christ! Many have made Christ their final “alternative”, instead of their first consideration.
Faith is the substance AND the evidence. When our faith is IN HIM, we can trust HIS desires, HIS heart, HIS plan, and HIS times. When we delight in Him, he gives us the desires of our heart. And as the way to those desires is committed back to Him, HE brings them to pass.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) I believe the “laying aside” can be what we hear, what we read, & who we spend time with. Let nothing or no one take your eyes off of Jesus. (Remember Peter's lesson while walking on the water) He endured so we can live! But the only way we really live is IN HIM!!!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

"What Round Is It?"

Sharing the chapters of my story should not be for the purposes of seeking validation, garnering sympathy, whining or ranting, or impressing people with my perseverance, my pious performance, or my relentless passion. That would be a futile, incredibly distorted, and self-centered motive, not to mention, a gross misrepresentation of the story that God is writing in me, and the Life He is revealing to me. I’ve lost confidence in those things that I thought were my strengths, my virtues, or my talents and abilities. I feel more personally helpless than I’ve ever felt in my 47 years of living. Make no mistake, I haven’t nearly “arrived” at the point where, in every aspect of my life, I’m experientially and practically living out revelations that He has opened my eyes and heart to, and continues to do so.  I’m still unpacking His truths, still questioning Him, spilling my guts to Him, and working through my emotional mine fields, while trusting His Sprit to unravel the confusing misconceptions I’ve mistakenly believed about His heart toward me and His purpose for me. I’m still navigating through episodes of fear and doubt brought about by past experiences. I’m learning to walk in His faith, and rest in the powerful simplicity of His Word and the reality of His promises. I am allowing His Spirit to expose, correct, and heal me. But the amazing, encouraging reality is that there is an eventual point to all of this--a reconciling reason for His revelations--a definite purpose and culminating landing spot of manifestation for the process and preparation.  And by the way, I don’t believe He intends for me to wait until the “sweet by and by”, or heavenly hereafter to experience the manifestation of this abundant Life that He’s given me in Christ. I’ve discovered that real, honest, raw stories and experiences speak to people, and provide an authenticity that people can relate to, be encouraged by, and somehow see the reflection of Christ in these life episodes. Especially when we are vulnerable enough to let them peek into our sometimes painful process of becoming who He created us to be. The pain, frustration, and emotion are not THE END, but rather the path to fruition. So don’t feel sorry for me, when I open my heart and share. Be encouraged by my journey, and let Christ write His story in you. Perhaps the misery in the story you share can help encourage the miracle in someone else. Ultimately, every story, every experience, and every journey should lead to Christ. That’s what matters. So anyway, here’s my latest.
I was talking to an old friend yesterday, who has been living in an all-to-familiar long, frustrating, exhausting, confusing season with no answers or reason. It feels like even trying to live life a day at a time is a stretch for me at present. Some days, stringing together 2 or 3 hours of consistent living, breathing, and smiling is a win. There are seasons--sometimes unimaginably and unexplainably long--where the enemy pounds your mind relentlessly, as your emotions run roughshod over what faith you have left, and rage unchecked by the truth that you know way deep down inside, seemingly being pushed lower and deeper with each avalanche of circumstance-induced anxiety and fear. Meanwhile, God seems aloof, unconcerned, and unmoved by my tears. It's like being in a 12-round fight with Rocky Marciano, only there are NO breaks between rounds, and you're getting NO support from your corner, because your coach & trainer are seemingly AWOL. You're like, "for the love of God and all that is sane, please either knock me out, or throw in the freakin' towel. Do something! This is getting' ridiculous". It seems those who passionately pursue the heart and purpose of God, without "settling" for anything less than receiving His best, have similar experiences. At some point, you arrive at the reality that His grip on us is the only strength left in our lives......and you trust and hope that that's all you need while waiting on the dark season of your soul to finally relent, if only for a while. Preparation can leave you wounded, vulnerable, demoralized, exhausted, and often confused. This is certainly the case in my own personal journey. The process of coming to the end of living according to self-centered agendas, distorted self-images, identity crises, overinflated perspectives of approval seeking, resume’ promoting personal strengths and achievements, is almost unbearable, and I guess that’s the reality we finally have to face--we can’t bear it in our humanity. Humbling ourselves to this truth is the beginning of living out the fruition of our identity in Christ, practically and supernaturally. When you’ve lost your confidence, your strength, your faith, your purpose, and your grip, Trust in His! Only to the degree that we are absolutely dependent on Christ in us, His hold on us, and His heart for us, and are willing to be emptied of all illusions of our own strength and self-reliance, will we be filled with the experiential reality of His super abounding Grace and power at work in us and through us in ways that are above and beyond all we can ask or think. It’s a painful process to get there, but I believe it is beyond worth it! And, of course I’m saying that “by faith”. I have no clue what round I’m in. Heck, I’ve taken so many left hooks, body blows, and straight rights, that at times, I’m not even sure who I am anymore. But I haven’t been counted out, and I’m still in the ring, waiting on my “corner Man”, wherever He is. And I sure hope that bell rings soon.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

"The Prayer That Changed Everything"

Around 23 years ago, I prayed a simple prayer. I was sincere, but had no idea the magnitude of that prayer. For when I sincerely prayed, it I began the process of discovering my identity. To be exact, it was actually a “MiDentity”. This is a word I’ve grown fond of, so much so that I decided to title this book by that word. This word goes deeper than mere identity—your natural ancestry, DNA, or family lineage. It’s uniquely YOURS! It is who and what God created you to be. MiDentity is the essence of who we are in Christ. I didn’t know my MiDentity 23 years ago. I thought I did, but after I prayed this prayer, I gave God permission to place me in this process of finding out all that it means to have a MiDentity. Since then, I've been on a journey of "deconstruction". I have experienced painful rejection, paralyzing fear, unbearable loneliness, and intense frustration. That prayer led me to question everything, and to challenge every belief system I was taught--not out of rebellion, but rather out of intense hunger. The gnawing discontent of my soul was no longer filled by hearsay, vicarious experiences, or unquestioned acceptance of things with no substance. It has been 23 years of some of the greatest discoveries of my life. I never really knew what faith meant, what trust meant, or what the heart of God was toward me before I prayed that prayer. As I reflect on that prayer today, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving that I made the choice--albeit a bit of an impulsive, naive', flippant one, but a sincere choice nonetheless--to pray THAT prayer, late one night at Parham Bridges Park in Jackson, MS. And God, in His grace and mercy, and understanding what that prayer would bring to my life, took me seriously, and began answering that prayer. And He continues to answer it to this day. The prayer was this, "Lord, I want to know you, really know you! I want to discover who I am, because of who you are. How can my life be different now that I’m no longer my own? What can my life feel and look like now that I am in Christ? I want to experience intimacy with you in every area of my life. Please make me passionate for what makes you passionate, and what's important to you, make that important to me. And that which is meaningless, unimportant, and trivial to you, purge those things from me." A word of caution...Don't EVER pray that prayer if you don't mean it, in case God takes you seriously and answers it.

Monday, April 3, 2017

"No Fixer Upper"

Recently my family and I have developed an interest in watching a certain show on HGTV called “Fixer Uppers”. I find it so enjoyable, and a rather intriguing show to watch, which is kind of odd, seeing as how I have ZERO ability in most things construction, home improvement, or overall building project-related. I do however admire people who are skilled in those areas. That one-hour show allows me to sort of vicariously live through someone who is gifted in an area that is way above my pay grade, or patience grade for that matter. The stars of the show, a husband and wife team from Waco, TX, assist random people in finding houses in need of various levels of repair, updating, and overall renovation to purchase and move into. They show the prospective homebuyers 3 houses that they choose from. Often times they will go into great neighborhoods and discover a hidden gem that may in fact be the smallest, or least appealing house in the neighborhood. Once the individual or family decides on the house, they bring this construction/design super couple in to give the home an incredible makeover. Usually the homebuyer is able to purchase the house at below asking price, and well within their budget. This leaves a significant amount of money to spend on the repairs, improvements, and remodeling recommendations. It is incredible to see what the house looks like after the fixer uppers finish the transformation. They can take the “runt of the litter” in the neighborhood, and when they’re finished, the house and property look like the Taj Mahal of the community. The thing that really astounds me is how Chip & Joanna (the stars of “Fixer Uppers”) can envision what the house can become by looking at its pre-remodeled state. They have such incredible imagination and creativity. And you should see some of these houses! They are absolutely dilapidated ol’ shacks! But Chip and Joanna have a special vision that allows them to see past the present state of the house, and into the potential of what it can become. They can even take some of the materials from the existing structure, and find creative ways to utilize them in the improvements. Some of the wood that I would certainly be quick to assign to the nearest bonfire, they can sand it down, stain it, and treat it, adding new life to it in some other area of the same house. I’m utterly blown away with each episode I watch, and admittedly, perhaps just a touch envious.
Recently, after watching one these amazing transformations, I began reflecting on my own life, and comparing my process with a construction renovation. I’ve realized a major difference in what happens on this show, and what God has been doing in my own life. Much of what these tremendously skilled designers and builders do is an intense remodel of an existing structure. They even use some of the same materials and “bones” of the old to build the new. But what God does in the process of reconnecting us to His heart and our “Mi-Dentity”, is a complete rebuild. He doesn’t “sanitize” the old. He creates a brand new existence. He did that in Christ. All things became new. He’s not into home improvement, but rather, re-creation. He builds into and through the structure that which has already been determined in the foundation—on Christ the solid rock! Everything else in my life can now be built from there. My whole perspective can change, my vision, and my life experience. Religion has a way of trying desperately to remodel using old materials, covered with whitewash, human ingenuity, and behavior modification. These may create the illusion of transformation, but eventually the old will always surface, in spite of the paint, caulk, or veneer. But to live the life that was given to us in the foundation—Jesus Christ—requires that we live by His very life in us. That’s the only thing that gives us hope, and an abundant existence. The process of watching the foundation produce the fruit in our lives is an amazing work of Grace and love. He has replaced our old materials with His new ones, and by His very Spirit, His life is reflected through us—new creations! In Christ, we’re not “fixer uppers”, we are all-things-new beings, reflections of a Master Builder, created for greatness, built for His glory, and for His Kingdom—a life truly above all that we could ask or imagine.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"Capes And Hidden Identities"

Scouring the hall closet with hopeful eyes, I searched for that one pillowcase. It needed to be red, but with my imagination, any color would suffice. It had to have the right amount of impressive flow and flutter to catch the maximum windblown effect when I would run down the hall at light speed in my Superman underoos, to my next superhero mission. The cape was the central piece of my Superman persona. Other super heroes might have uniqueness about them, but that cape, it was indicative of strength, power of flight, and supreme awesomeness among the other heroic figures within the mythical Halls of Justice. Superman was the ultimate. Now don’t get me wrong, Batman, Spiderman, and the incredible Hulk were all epic, but Superman, with that cape, and that confident, sprawling “S” across his chest, THAT was what a superhero looked like. The thing about Superman is how completely opposite his alter ego identity was to his superhero existence. Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, complete with nerdy glasses, wimpy mannerisms, and even an almost comedic klutz at times, was an unexpected and disappointing character. Just to think that hidden behind the persona of a meek, milquetoast of a man was an identity of such an amazing, larger-than-life figure was almost unfathomable to my 5-year-old mind. Why didn’t Clark Kent just go away for good? Why did Superman have to carry on this double life stuff? Surely it would be so much more fulfilling of an existence for him to live out the entirety of his life as Superman! No more nerd glasses. No more geek fashion sense. No more clumsiness. He could be the amazing captain of cool, vanquisher of evil, bastion of manhood, and winner of the heart of Lois Lane forever! Why did he feel like he had to maintain that other existence—that cartoonish, underachieving, underwhelming Clark Kent? Why the divided identity, or “divi-dentity”? (A word that I made up) And why in the world did Superman only show up in times of need, crisis, or pending disaster. Why did he waste a majority of his time living below his abilities and powers as Superman, while primarily squandering away his existence living as Clark Kent? That seemed like such a waste of awesomeness! Through the years, I’ve come to realize that I’ve spent much of my existence in the same “duplicitous” persona as Superman-Clark Kent. As a Christian, I lived as a religiously schizophrenic victim of identity fraud. The christian version of me—albeit a pretty anemic form—would usually only show up in times of crisis, fear, or utter helplessness. At other more mundane and routine times—which constituted the majority of my living—you couldn’t tell me from the rest of the world, or those who didn’t even wear the label of Christ follower. The inconsistency of my “dual presence” created incredible frustration and insecurity in my life. A proper perspective of life begins with a proper perspective of identity. Identity is the foundation on which your life house is built. If the foundation is faulty, the quality, substance, and structure of your life will be as well. In the books of Matthew and Luke, the story of the wise & foolish builders are a spot on contrast of people who build their lives on the truth of Jesus, His word, and the reality of finding their identity in these, and those who don’t. Maybe you’re experiencing that sort of identity crisis in your own life. The best place to start that beautiful process of recovery and discovery is back at the foundation. Now I warn you, the demolition job on your “lifehouse” can be messy, painful, and can even make you feel momentarily displaced at times, but don’t worry, you’re not alone, and you are in the hands of the master builder. His heart is for you to find your validation, your worth, and your identity in Him. You simply need to be willing to allow Him to do His work of revelation, reconnection, and restoration. And in the process, you’ll see His heart, His purpose, and His Grace reflected in your identity. And a life lived in union with Him is greater than any “superhero” experience you’ll ever have….even with a cape. That’s what’s I’m discovering, and I trust that as you get a glimpse into my journey, you’ll be able to lay your own “Clark Kent” aside for good, and live the life you were created for, in the image of the of the One who created you, by the very Spirit of the One you were created in.