Sunday, August 13, 2017

"Only By His Spirit"

The feeling of uselessness, loneliness, laziness, and fatigue has plagued me off and on since the summer of 2014. It’s hard to explain, since during that time, my relationship with God, the revelation of His heart for me, and the discovery of my identity in Christ and what that means, has grown more than ever before. It’s a confusing dilemma to deal with. The revealing of what the Grace life looks like practically, and the understanding of how a Kingdom citizen can live “Heaven on earth” can only be experienced in the spiritual reality by His Life in us lived out by the Holy Spirit. I’m convinced my flesh has become weaker, my emotions have become more sensitive, and my mental state has come under an incredible attack from the enemy. Fear, depression, anger, and low confidence seem to be relentless threats against me. It must be true that as I grow in my Spiritual reality, my flesh weakens, proving the fact that I cannot in my own strength, discipline, creativity, or performance—even on my “best” days—live out the abundant life. It requires daily—even moment-by-moment—surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit. The moment I give credence to my flesh, a snowballing effect takes place that affects me in my mind, my attitude, my choices, my responses, and my perspective. It is a negative place that I cannot remain and try to fight my way through. I will lose for sure. The enemy is an expert on human nature, and has a way of using our supposed “strengths” against us as our greatest vulnerabilities. If I am to overcome and prevail, settling into my true identity in Christ, I have to surrender, rest, and trust in His power, wisdom, and peace working in and through me. It’s as simple as that, though not at all “easy” for the flesh to do. But it’s not by might, power, or performance, but by His Spirit alone. Everything in our culture is designed to appeal to our flesh. It’s a fight, but it can be won! This is the victory that overcomes the world—even our faith. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb, and the word of our testimony. When Jesus was bombarded by satan in the wilderness, even those attacks ceased when Jesus declared His testimony—His allegiance to His Father. The enemy is stubborn, but greater is He that is within us, than he that is in the world. BY. HIS. SPIRIT.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

“Compared to What?”

My daughter Zoe is incredible! I see so much of me, when I was a kid, in her now. She is shorter than most of her friends. She has a “fire” to be the best at whatever she does. She doesn’t like to lose AT ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY to her sibling. She will often seek my approval at her performances, and yes, sometimes simply so she can gloat of outperforming or outshining someone else. She likes to compare, especially when the outcome of the comparison paints her in a flattering light, or garners her some positive reinforcement and validation. :-) She’s smarter than I was though, so hopefully, she’ll deal with her “competitive issues” sooner than her dad, and not fall into that subtle trap of defining herself by what she does, how good she is at it, or how many people notice how good she is and continually let her know.
Comparisons are inevitable! In our culture, we have become quite astute at comparison shopping, and not just in the grocery store. We compare ideas, people, achievements, religions, politics, opinions about everything under the sun, our circumstances with the circumstances of others, and a mind numbing, endless array of other stuff in life! And our society enables a competitive, comparison based mindset. Decisions are often made only after a tireless process of comparing possible outcomes, pros & cons, and the plethora of ways it could potentially effect US personally. With the overwhelming deluge of information, marketing, celebrity endorsement of products, and tantalizing teases of fantasy living that prey upon our insecurities, it’s a wonder we even get out of bed in the morning! It’s EXHAUSTING to filter through it all!
Now let me interject here, that some comparisons are wise, and can certainly go a long way to helping us make healthy and beneficial choices in life. Many comparisons; however, can lead us on a downward spiral into an abyss of self loathing, insecurity, and perpetual identity crises.
When it comes to discovering purpose, significance, and personal identity, comparison is destructive and toxic to the human heart. We are constantly bombarded with “ideals”! The ideal man does THIS. The ideal woman wears THAT. The ideal child has to have ALL THESE THINGS, listen to THIS music, and do THESE activities. The ideal teenager has to hang out HERE, have THIS technology, drive THIS car, and hang with THAT crowd. And it never stops! It’s on every commercial, every magazine, every billboard—everywhere you look! The ideal life is defined by a million superficial criteria. And yet NONE of them truly defines who we were created to be. As a Christ follower, your identity, your destiny, and your “true” success were already decided and determined before you ever achieved ANYTHING or impressed ANYONE with your talents and abilities! What security! That reality—when it “sinks in” to our thick skulls—helps us look at and live life as the gift it is, instead of a competition! I can speak of this as one who is just now beginning to break out of the prison of “comparative existence” that I have lived in for most of my life! I’m by no means an expert who has a resume’ filled with years of living practically in this reality! I guess you could say, relative to this issue, I’m a “late bloomer”…..or simply a “bloomin’ idiot”—whatever you wanna call it.
In Christ, we do not have to live life IN ORDER TO BE, but BECAUSE WE ARE! We no longer need to be motivated by being better than or more significant than another, because in the eyes and heart of Love Himself we are perfect, inimitable, and we have a unique God-given significance that is unrivaled by anyone! What a freedom! And I am starting to see glimpses of this reality work its way into every aspect of my life! Yeah, I wish I had a pill I could take that would activate this reality INSTANTLY into my every word, thought, and action, but my life IS a process— a journey of discovery, revelation, growth, and understanding the heart of Love Himself! And to me, HIS opinion of my process, and the speed at which it is progressing is the ONLY one that matters anymore. And at each juncture of my journey, I am seeing my original purpose, and identity take an increasingly greater and more tangible space in my life! The more free you become from comparison living, the more focused you start to be on being able to live within YOUR purpose. You start to relax into “your skin”. You start being able to appreciate others, and what gifts THEY are and have—even when those gifts are similar to yours! As I write this, I’m really expressing many of these words “in faith”. I’m not all the way there, but I AM on the journey there!
When you compare yourself to someone else, the focus ceases to be about what Love has made you to be, and is doing in YOU, and instead, your attention becomes fixated on living up to a “standard” of performance or achievement that has nothing to do with YOUR destiny! In a sense, you begin playing a part in a scene of a story that was not written for you. What a waste of time!
I have often found myself fighting for the approval of others, and validation of my gifts, and feeling totally worthless when I didn’t receive that. How sad that people can reach the place of living life on the fuel of outside affirmation instead of resting in the reality of complete validation from the only ONE who matters—the creator—Love Himself.
I find it incredibly encouraging when I consider the story of Jesus. Throughout the Gospels, His story leaves roughly an 18-year “gap” between the time He was left in the temple by His parents, and the time when John the Baptist recognized Him at a public baptismal. He was around 30 years old at the time, and at least according to the information we have, had yet to begin his public “ministry” or “life purpose”. And yet, at His baptismal, the heavens opened, and His Father, God, (in a Charlton Heston voice, no doubt) proclaimed “THIS IS MY SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED!” What?!?!?! Jesus hadn’t recorded even one miracle yet, hadn’t even raised a dead chicken, much less an actual person! He hadn’t even started his impressive “water walking” gig yet! NOTHING, ZILCH, NADA!!!! And yet, He was PERFECTLY AFFIRMED and APPROVED by His Father!!!! Not because of what He did, but because of WHO HE WAS!!!!! He didn’t compare Himself with other prophets or teachers. (I mean He WAS the best, right? Who’s gonna argue that?….but I digress) Even the religious people were always throwing up in His face….MOSES said this, MOSES said that, MOSES did this! They LOVED to compare! He was never in competition with anyone, and repeatedly reiterated that He only did what He saw His Father do—His original validation and purpose! And now…..in Christ, WE are validated, affirmed, and full of purpose! I’m diggin’ that reality!
So, ignore the comparisons! Don’t let ANYONE else define you! It’s great to have the assurance that “He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust” (human). He knows us—ups & downs, good & bad, when we’re great or when we suck—and He is STILL “well pleased” with us! What an incredible revelation! Our questions, mess ups, poor performances, and frustrations are safe with Him—condemnation-free! 2 Corinthians 10:12 offers such sound counsel, and encourages us to keep our attention on who we are, and what our unique purpose is in Christ…. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
Now I’ll be the first to say, affirmation from others and recognition of my talents and gifts can be pretty encouraging, but always remember, you don’t need to be noticed for how good you sing, play, write, work, speak, or whatever, to be completely valued, affirmed, and full of purpose! YOU ARE ALREADY!!! Not because of what you do or how good you do it, but BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE…and WHOSE you are! YES! See you along the road! Journey on!







Sunday, August 6, 2017

“What To Do When You Can’t Be You?”

Many of us have had issues on the journey to accepting and even thriving in who we are. Being comfortable in our own skin seems to be at times little more than a fantasy, or romantic notion not likely to become a practical reality in life.
I have often fallen victim to paralysis from analysis. Even my best friend told me recently, “you think too much.” If that is possible, then I guess It’s probably true, sadly. My whole life, i’ve been so competitive and driven. But some time back, I had a “eureka” moment when I realized that all my competitive insanity and unrealistic standards that I had set for myself were NOT about me becoming the best that I could be in order to live a more fruitful and productive life. No, it had become about me being the most approved, validated, and accepted person I could be in the eyes of others. When that reality kicked me in the butt, I was left with a colorful plethora of emotions—embarrassment, anger, frustration, and sadness.
How could I have been such a needy, insecure, confused twit all these years!? After working through the initial feelings of self loathing and regret, I realized something. At the foundation of who I was, there was faulty construction. Much of what I had built my identity on was grossly miscalculated and disfigured. This was setting quite the “crooked” course and mis-aligned direction for the rest of my life. At some point, there would HAVE to be significant alterations in my foundational “life view”. Wouldn’t it be great if every self revealing tidbit could be instantly and “magically” applied, and like duct tape, we could fix everything at THAT very moment of discovery!!!!! Yeah, THAT ain’t how it usually works, is it? We are so very astute at gathering head knowledge, communicating that knowledge, and “sounding” so enlightened and self-aware, aren’t we?
Admittedly though, the consistent application of self-revealing principles can be a challenge to realize and live out. Here’s the key though….well, at least I think it’s the key. OUR IDENTITY AND OUR VALUE HAS BEEN MISPLACED!!!!!! We have been fed the lies that if we perform good enough, or rightly enough, we’ll be viewed as good and right enough. And others will think we’re the greatest thing since the snuggie. We have allowed our success, value, and purpose to be determined by views, perspective, and opinions outside of ourself. We’ve forgotten our “intrinsic” value—our created uniqueness. We aren’t simply random gatherings of cells, matter, or cosmic pixie dust left to chance and circumstance. Isn’t it mind boggling that we were created as inimitable originals with built in value, purpose, and significance—created in perfect love and validation. And yet, from an early age, we begin the lifelong process of conforming to something very “un-original”, and trying to live up to some shallow arbitrary standards that place little to no value on the “one of a kind” heart that beats within us. Our creator made us perfectly loved and validated with nothing more to prove. That’s why we start out as babies and not “grown ups”. We are closest to our purpose, it seems, as babies and children. It’s like God gave us the blueprint of how to live in the earliest years of our existence—you know, as children, we are helpless, trusting, imaginative, creative, uninhibited, able to love without condition, innocent, and secure in who we are and whose we are.
But all too soon, we stray from that, and begin to seek acceptance and validation from something apart from the heart of our creator. And then from that point, everything in life starts being defined by an ever changing, shallow list of performance principles—some stated and some implied—that keep us trapped, always reaching for but never attaining that sense of affirmation, acceptance, and validation. So, maybe the answer is found in returning, maturing…maturing into a child, back to the heart of our creator….back to LOVE HIMSELF! And THIS is where our true identity is found.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

“Competition—Rivals, Rights, Identity Crisis”

Sitting in silence, clad in crimson and white, I readied myself for battle. For me, and anyone else in my home for that matter, Gameday--especially this game against a hated rival--is a better experience for all, when I'm watching in solitude, in my man cave, with no one else within five miles of me. For me, Alabama football was more than a game. It was serious, life-altering, and of eternal importance. And tonight, there was a lot more riding on this game than usual. Alabama was undefeated, and poised for another championship run. The only team standing in their way was the team that I cursed with every breath--their fans, their coaches, and even every citizen of the state that was home to THAT team--the LSU Tigers. The soap opera that had grown from the drama surrounding this rivalry was epic, A saga even more intense than anything ever dreamed up on a Hollywood set. Our coach had performed one of the most miraculous turnarounds in our team's history. He brought the championship swagger back to Tuscaloosa. The only problem was, a few years earlier, he had done the same thing in Baton Rouge. He had brought LSU from virtual obscurity in the football universe to a national championship in 2003. Less than two years later, he abandoned the "bayou bengals", and bolted for the NFL, leaving Tiger nation in a sports-world sort of dark ages. He left the state under a cloud of curses and Louisiana voodoo! As "football fate" would have it, the NFL was not a fulfilling experience for our coach, and at what could be considered for the BAMA faithful, "dawn's early light", our athletic director seized the opportunity to woo this coach to the college football mecca-the University of Alabama! As it turns out, his woo was true, and Nick Saban became our coach in 2007!
Which brings us back to my man cave on a cool November evening in 2011, where I sat nervous, anxious, and with more butterflies in my stomach than I had on my wedding day! As I mentioned earlier, Alabama football was more than just a game for me. Somewhere along the way, my perspective became greatly distorted, and I found myself living vicariously through the wins and especially the losses of Alabama football. This reality was magnified on this night. A victory against LSU would all but guarantee us a birth in the SEC championship game. A loss would do the same for my most reviled team, LSU. We were playing at home, and both teams were undefeated. You could slice the tension in the air like deli meat, as the game began with the opening kickoff. Over one hundred thousand fans in Bryant-Denny stadium raised the united battle cry, Roooolllllllll Tide Roooolllllll", that crescendoed into a glorious anthem that, for a moment, seemed to rock the heavens. 3 1/2 hours later, it was over. LSU won 9-6, thanks in large part to our "clubfooted" kicker, who missed multiple field goals in the game. It was indeed a clash of the Titans. I was crushed! I hit an emotional wall that night that took me several days to recover from. How had I let a stupid game, played by young men, many of which I was old enough to be their father, so consume my focus, emotions, and attitude? 

Competition has been championed as a good team building method, as a way to teach how to win and lose, or as a way to achieve and build confidence. It has been glorified as entertainment, leisure, and even a career. Competition starts at an early age, and can be encouraged obsessively by a culture that celebrates winning above all else, and at any cost!
Parents are known to push their kids into competitive arenas, either as a pathetic way to vicariously live through the perceived success of their kids, OR, as a way to somehow validate their passion to be superior or achieve the illusion of being a winner through victory over another.
My question is simple. Is competition healthy? Is it holistic validation that truly develops and matures the human condition? Does it contribute to anything other than self-gratification or “self” validation? Is it a true expression of love? Does it bring out self-indulgence or a mindset of service?
When “winning” for one comes at the expense of another’s “loss”, is anything of substance truly gained? How does competition reflect the “others first” mentality?
I’ve heard and even espoused various “justifiable reasoning” for the benefits of “healthy”, “sporting” competition, but it’s getting harder and harder to make a sound, substantive argument in its favor, after almost 40 years of participating in it’s various personas.
I HATE TO LOSE AT ANYTHING! I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember. Whether it’s a game of cards, racquetball, checkers, OR a fight. (which, by the way, I’ve NEVER lost. When you’re below 5 ft. 3 in. for most of your school years, AND you’re a singer, you LEARN to take care of yourself.) I’ve been a rabid sports fan for most of my life, especially ALABAMA Football! It’s been a sick obsession with me. When Bama is losing, I’m fighting mad! I have been guilty of spewing nastiness toward the opposing team, their fans, their mascots, the referees, or anything that I feel contributes to Bama losing! I never knew that I could reach such levels of emotional outburst and borderline insanity!!! It is seriously scary!
Somehow, my validation, my desire to succeed, or my insatiable passion to win and be recognized as a winner was misplaced in the “success of the Crimson Tide”. Sad, huh?
I experience a genuine vitriol and hatred at times that reveal a darker side of me that I want to divorce from! What is revealed in me is that the “competitive nature” in me is completely out of control and in complete contradiction to the heart that God is creating in me!
Why is competition about winning, being better than someone else at something, achieving at the expense of someone else losing? Is there anything healthy about that? I guess one exception would be golf? Since you can be competitive all by yourself, and you don’t have to “best” anyone else…just your last score! What is the obsession with winning anyway? We justify it by saying that it teaches our kids to set goals, achieve them, learn the principle of team building, to become good winners and good losers, discipline, and so on. But, it seems that at the root of competition, is a rabid obsession with being better than someone else or proving our worth by defeating another.
I’m NOT saying that NOTHING positive has ever come out of competition, I’m just saying that so much of what’s at the root of it seems to be so contrary to the life that Jesus lived, and teaches us to live as well. How many times do we see the philosophy of John the Baptist practically lived out today, when he said of Jesus….”I must decrease that HE might increase”. In other words, I must lose, so HE can win”? I think it is possible to engage in “friendly competition”, but too often, it never stays at that level—certainly not for me. Maybe that’s more relevant to me personally than you, and you’re certainly free to disagree. I’m just looking at it from another perspective.
Maybe it’s a character flaw in me that’s needed tweaking, but I never seem to be able to keep things of a competitive nature in their proper place, so for me, this “different” perspective is certainly applicable. Why do certain motivating factors of humanity create such an environment of self-promotion, self-acclaim, and self-absorption, while at the same time, they have the complete opposite affect on another? When has our society ever championed a “willing loser”! Is there a Super Bowl for second place? I believe in giving honor to the honorable tasks and objectives and the people who achieve them, BUT, not when that honor magnifies the loss of another, and comes at the cost of exploiting the one who is considered the “loser”.
Think about the emotions that come with “losing”. The personal shame of one’s performance, the regret of not somehow trying harder, the loathing of oneself for NOT winning, the obsession with finding a way to win, the disdain for the one in the winner’s circle where you’re not. The “win at any cost” mindset that becomes prevalent, The detachment from the world and people around you as you are focused on NOTHING BUT WINNING!
Why does giving our best always seem to fall victim to the comparisons of another? Is it shameful if our best just happens to fall below someone else's best in the same area.
Life’s most meaningful “battles” shouldn’t involve a competition against another, but rather within our own hearts as we grow and mature into the unique, priceless treasure that God created us to be.
In the epic saga that is life, our competition is not against anyone, but rather against the enemy that seeks our soul. Competition has such a subtle way of drawing lines of demarcation, and dividing classifications. It does little to unite, to bring together on deep, meaningful levels of relationship.
What should motivate us is to be the best that we can be, NOT to be better than someone else! When using others as benchmarks and standards of achievement, we oftentimes inadvertently settle for something much less than the potential inside of us.
If we were able to practically adopt this philosophy, could we not bankrupt jealousy and greed, and learn the purity of true teamwork and community?
ROLL TIDE & War Eagle, Nike and Reebok, Yankees and Red Sox, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, McDonald's and Burger King, Democrats and Republicans, Coke and Pepsi, My product and your product, My religion and your religion, My way and your way. It's mind numbing how competition and division thrives in our culture? The pied pipers of power, money, and control are deceiving the multiplied minions of clueless mice, and are leading this culture away like lambs to a slaughter. Divide and conquer! Of course so many of us have learned to "skillfully" justify competition, diversity, and “the American way”. We claim to be the United States of America, but we have been drawn into a culture war of "us versus them". It's been said that the strength of this nation is in the diversity of its people. That might be the case, if we're not talking about flawed human nature. But we are, and I’ve found that it's not usually about diversity as many would disingenuously claim. It's really about "my way or the highway". My rights! My voice! Me, me, me! We tear down another to build up our own. We discredit one another in order to legitimize and validate ourselves. And this is not reserved to unbelievers, or those considered pagan by many. It’s an epidemic in the crowds of self-professing Christians too. And why is this? They’ve lost touch with their true identity, IN CHRIST. Many have looked to their achievements, their works, their performance, and their education to validate who they are, and to find significance. This tenacious and misguided drive has pitted them against one another in the never ending quest for self promotion and self preservation. Denominations, political persuasions, theology, social issues, and even members of families have all fallen victim to the demonic force of division. At the core of division, there is a self-seeking, power hungry, obsessive focus to be right, to be the best, to be significant, and to be relevant to the masses.
Whether in ministry, business, or relationships with family or friends, when you feel the need to berate, discredit, or tear down another in order to build up yourself or legitimize your perspective or venture, your focus may be distorted, your motives may be misplaced, and your character may need a bit of a correction. I tend to believe that the "spirit" of competition flies in the face of the heart of the Kingdom of God--righteousness, peace, & joy in the Holy Spirit. One body, beating with One heart, reflecting One alone.