Broken or Dead?

One of the aspects of growing older is that things which confused or frustrated me in my earlier life often become clear. This isn’t always the case but usually does. One of the most frustrating times in my life, without exception, was the 14 years I spent starting a church in Orlando. I was 32 and had:

  • an engineering degree and experience with General Motors,
  • I had worked on my MBA and understood leadership,
  • I had a seminary degree and experience on a good church staff in a large church, and lastly
  • I had taken a medium-sized church and grown it dramatically as well as daughtered a successful new church from it.

With these kinds of credentials, I felt I was the best spiritual gift God could give the Northeast suburbs of Orlando. Little did I know that God has so much more in mind that simply planting another mega-church there. During the next fourteen years, hundreds of lives were changed for eternity, and God did some amazing things. However, the church never grew beyond 200, and I felt like a failure. No matter how much prayer, bible study, spiritual disciplines, strategic planning, disciple-making, emotional processing, goal setting, leadership development, or systems analysis I practiced, people came, and people went.

I have never tried so hard to accomplish anything in my life, and we struggled financially, emotionally, and finally, I had no energy left. It seemed like no matter how much of myself or pleading with God I put into the church; we never gained momentum.

So I resorted to going back to school because I had learned the more effort you put in, the better grades you get. And I got my PhD in Psychometrics. I ended up on faculty at the University of Central Florida and loved it. My students and fellow faculty loved me as well. I thought I had found my niche. Then, new leadership came into the college, and all the non-tenured faculty were let go. Again, I found myself a failure. 

Looking backward, I can now see what I couldn’t see at the time. I was going through a well-worn path of spiritual growth. God’s caring hand, which had built me up carefully in the disciplines of my earlier faith, was tearing down all that I valued. I had read about spiritual stages of growth and leadership1,2 before this, but until you experience them, it is only head knowledge. 

God wanted to do something much deeper in my life. Early on, he wanted to teach me disciplines and boundaries, and principles to live by; he was building the container of my life3.  But as I entered the second half of my life, God wanted to build an inner life with which to fill the container. I never “lost” my faith in God; throughout the entire time, I was trying to turn toward my Heavenly Father. But to be very honest, at times, he didn’t seem to be responding in a manner I appreciated. I remember telling a friend that I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall which really hurt, and the brick wall was God. I couldn’t get over it or go around it. I had to sit and be faithful in the little things.

So, I learned to slowly trust in him when things didn’t go the way I wanted. I noticed several attitudes and behaviors inside of me that I surprised me. I read God’s word and prayed differently. I learned to be faithful in the little things and not worry about the big things.  I finally became content in my life of obscurity. Eventually, I experienced what Willard identifies as the four stages of brokenness4:

  1. Surrender (the situation to God)
  2. Abandonment (my whole life to God)
  3. Contentment (experiencing the peace of God)
  4. Participation (involved in the work of God, often much different than before)

This was over 20 years ago, and today I am amazed at God’s grace through this whole process. What I now know is that there are several stages of spiritual growth which have been identified throughout the ages, but every generation or individual must learn and experience them to understand them.

In fact, the earlier stages have little appreciation for individuals in the latter stages and judge them as naïve, simple, or “checked out.” However, the latter stages can look back at those in the earlier stages with grace and understanding. It is ironic to me that the latter stages can graciously look at those in the earlier stages with compassion, but not the other way around. I judged those in latter stages when I was young in my faith, and I now experience it from those who are still caged in earlier stages.

Simply stated, we spend a lot of effort working on our security in the first half of our lives, spiritually and otherwise. We work hard to make ourselves spiritually sound and people of significance. Then through being broken, we discover that this isn’t enough. Only through being totally exasperated and resigning our expectations and control do we enter the second half, where we get to experience God’s grace in our depths for the rest of our lives.  Unfortunately, far too many people get caged in the first half, where performance and production reign. They don’t experience true grace and freedom that is found through being broken and restored.

Some describe the spiritual development as simply two halves of life, while others identify 4,5,6, or 7 stages of spiritual development. Next week I will share how my six stages of spiritual growth fit into these two halves of our faith-life.   See you then.

1 The Critical Journey of Faith by Guelich & Hagberg

2 The Making of a Leader by Bobby Clinton

3 Falling Upward by Richard Rohr

4 Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard (my synopsis, structuring, and paraphrase of Chapter 8)

Let Me Study Your Psychology

sea of clouds during sunset

In college, I came to faith in Christ and became part of several hundred other collegiates who were also growing in their faith. As I grew deeper in my walk with Christ over the next few years, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Often the way individuals grew and expressed their faith was related to their personality. For example, those who were accounting or engineering majors were much more black-and-white in their beliefs and behavior. They often matured in linear and predictable ways. On the other hand, the art or literature majors were much more expressive and nonlinear in their behavior and beliefs. 

Over the last 50 years, I have seen this repeated in many different but similar ways. I have known people, pastors, and scholars who come from a wide variety of theological persuasions, and there is a similar pattern.  I am convinced that:

If I study your psychology, I can tell your theology.

In other words, how you think, feel, act, express yourself and relate to others clearly informs your theological beliefs. Those people who are analytical in their thinking often adhere to theological systems that are rigorous and have God all figured out. They have their doctrines defined and refined such that their view of God and his expectations of them are stated in clear and delineated ways.

While others who are more artistic are often more comfortable living with the gray and a more unstructured view of God. They often see doctrine as dry and academic. They are often more relational in their view of God and the way he relates to his creation. 

With some analytical and some artist inside me, I can understand how people are drawn to different conclusions from the same scriptures because of their a priori perspective with which they approach life and God. I am not saying that there isn’t absolute truth; there is clearly reality based upon God’s truth. However, our limited capacity may impede our ability to fully grasp His Truth at some points. This is as true of me as it is in each one of us, and it should keep us humble and continuing to learn from his Word, his people, and his creation.

CS Lewis said that all truth is God’s truth. So we have no fear in pursuing truth. God is Truth, which is ultimate and infinite reality. As we continue to grow in our walk and understanding of Him, we will continue to grow in grace. None of us, this side of heaven, have a complete understanding of God,

Let me give an example of what I am talking about. How did God create the cosmos? I know there are some who feel he did it in seven 24-hour periods, which I have trouble comprehending from scripture because, in Genesis 1,14-19, God didn’t even create the sun and moon with circadian rhythms until the fourth day. 

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

Genesis 1.14-19 (NIV)

Now, if God chose to bring everything we see into existence in 24 hours, he could surely have done so. But there is nothing in scripture that suggests that is a necessary or even admirable position to hold. 

Here is where one’s psychology will reflect how one views this issue. I am okay with different positions because I am both analytical and an artist at heart.

According to Hebrews 11.3, God didn’t create something from nothing, as is often said (about the Genesis 1 account); but rather created what is seen from what is not seen. God created matter that we can see, touch, smell, and taste from his words. Think about it. His words are energy. God is often described in the OT as a consuming fire and in the NT as baptizing people with fire, so it could be a natural conclusion that through his energy, he brought all of creation into reality.

I wonder how this perspective fits into evolution? In other words, how does this align with his creative will guiding our world’s creation into what we know today? Did he use his energy to guide all of creation’s direction? I understand that this would be heresy for some people.

There are many things I have yet to understand, despite many great thinkers who have everything already figured out. Obviously, I am not one of them. I have many questions to ask God in eternity. However, I feel they won’t be that important then.

By the way, this is why I enjoy reading authors like Dallas Willard, CS Lewis, Richard Foster, and others because they portray the truth about God, creation and mankind as it is shown in scripture in all of its contradictions. So often, individuals or schools of thought tend to portray these truths as how they fit into their theological framework. In other words, they tend to have truth figured out by their systematic theological statements and therefore read the truths about God into the scriptures that support their view. Whereas these authors simply describe God as the scriptures show him, and therefore their view of Him is bigger than any one theological system. This is what attracted me to DL Moody’s systematic (The Word of Truth) in seminary. This also represents my view of theology in general and God in particular. This keeps me from fitting neatly into any one camp, but that fits into my psychology anyways.

But you all knew that because you understand my psychology.

Who are you called to become?

selective focus photography of black rotary phone

I’ve had to [learn that] the important thing is not what I accomplish but the person I become. What God gets out of my life is not what I accomplish; it’s what I become…Dallas Willard*

I recently read this quote from a talk Dallas Willard gave about 9 years before he died, and it rocked my boat. In my October 10th, 2022, blog, I wrote about becoming rather than just either being or doing. This quote really brought that thought home for me. I find it interesting that Dallas said this later in life, and he had learned it. 

He was a professor of Philosophy at USC, an accomplished author, sought-after speaker, astute thinker, husband, father, and mentor to many of today’s great leaders and thinkers.  Yet, after accomplishing all of this, he says God is more interested in what he becomes rather than what he has accomplished!

If you really believed this, how would it change the priorities, plans, and principles by which you live?

So often, this time of year, I review my previous year and plan my goals for the following year. In Dallas’ book Life Without Lack. He has so much to say about our job, our work, our call, and our reason for existence. They are the things that I have had to learn but need to be reminded of every year. Rather than me summarize what he says, let me share with you some quotes from the book which obviously inform why later in life, he made the statement above:

​God created us very like himself (in his image), but every one of us is unique. An original, not a copy. We each are made to assume the role of a particular child of God, and our uniqueness ties in with our unique purpose. God has ensured us a special place and purpose, giving us tasks that he specifically wants us to accomplish in our time and in our place.​

p. 57

Our challenge is to fill our hours, minutes, and actions from day to day with the appropriate amount of love for God’s creation and creating, and then work to produce more of the good he has put in this world. This is every person’s calling.

p. 57

Your work is the total amount of lasting good that you will accomplish in your lifetime. That might include your job, but for many of us, our families will be the largest part of the lasting good we produce.

p. 57

​Today much that is called work is not the use of energy to produce good. In our fallen world we must distinguish between a job and work, because many “jobs” can produce evil. Your job is what you get paid to do, and it might or might not contribute to lasting good. Of course, some of you may be at a point in your life where you do not have a job or do not want one. That’s all right. You still have work to do; you still have the opportunity and responsibility to produce good in the world.​ P57

p. 57

I have a lot of students who do not want a job that requires work; what they want is a position. A position is where you have recognition and get paid whether you do anything or not. Additionally, many people base their identity on their work and their job—that is, they think they are what they do. This is problematic because they will identify their jobs with their lives and their personal sense of worth. Then they are apt to draw terribly mistaken conclusions, such as, “Since I do not have a job, I am a nobody.”

p. 58

Our work may be of many kinds. It might include having and raising children, developing good personal relations, being artistically creative, leading politically, working in the church of Jesus Christ to spread the truth, building houses, running trains, doing all the necessary work available to human beings as they live together in this world to produce what is good. But regardless of our specific work, the real challenge to every person’s faith is that we do everything to the glory of God, even in the smallest actions of our days. And this will certainly entail making sure we do not sacrifice our families to our ministry or jobs.​

p. 59

Here is a truth you must never forget: God is more interested in your life than he is in any of the other things listed above. He’s more interested in the person you are becoming than in your work, or your ministry, or your job. And the surest way to realize the full potential of your God-designed self is to live in eternity while you are in time, conscious of the loving gaze of your all-sufficient Shepherd, in whose care nothing of the good you do is lost. It is stored up in your own self and in the lives of others you have touched.

p. 60

Thanks, Dallas…well said.

*Dallas Willard, “Streams in the Desert and Wells of Living Water,” For Such a Time as This (Baylor University, Waco, TX, February 23, 2004), MP3, 44:00.

**Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 Hardcover, 2018, Dallas Willard

People Who Polarize

child in polarized mask in countryside

Over the holidays, we had a great day with some friends. One of the reasons it was so much fun was that there was no polarizing. We had great discussions on several in-depth subjects, but no one sought to persuade anyone else to their position. We talked about a lot of things, but nothing was controversial. I find this contrary to so many discussions today. We currently live in polarizing times.

So why do people polarize? 

I don’t mind talking about Christianity or politics or abortion or LBGTQ+ or vaccines with people who I disagree with if there is a sense of mutual respect and appreciation of differences. However, if I differ in my perspective on an issue with some people, they challenge me with a sense of me being ignorant or small-minded for taking that position. They speak as if they are trying to convert me to their position rather than trying to understand my position. If I try to understand their position, often I can see the merits or reasons they would take one position over another. Most often, I don’t agree with their assumptions, and they probably wouldn’t agree with mine. So we just need to appreciate each other’s perspectives as different.

How often do people far from faith feel that way about us? Just as I described above, they feel as if we are trying to convert them to our view rather than trying to understand their view.

Both Tim Harford* and Adam Grant** arrive at the same conclusion from their totally different methods of research. They both conclude curiosity or asking the why question is key to being open to others with whom we disagree. I find very few people today actually engage in conversations with this as a premise. If I am trying to understand their position, I should be able to state their position with their reasoning. People who tend to polarize implicitly behave as if they know all they need to know and that there is nothing new that could change their minds. That is why they struggle to see anything from a different point of view.

Often, I feel people don’t understand me. What is my problem? I think there is an assumption on most people’s part that I am in their camp. If they are Christians, then they think I hold all (or at least most!) of the positions they hold, which is not true in many cases.  The same is with those who are highly educated or white or over 65 or whatever category I may fit into with another. Because we make assumptions about where others are, we fail to understand them.

This is an important point. 

Because we make assumptions about others, we fail to understand them. 

In all of life, assumptions are necessary as they allow us to function throughout our lives expeditiously. Assumptions are essential and healthy. I assume people will drive on their side of the road, the chair I am going to sit in will support me, the checkout person in the grocery will not intentionally cheat me, and so forth. But, at some point, some of these assumptions are violated. So they work for us most of the time, sometimes all the time, and allow us to function without living in fear or investigating the soundness of every piece of furniture before we sit in it. 

But these same assumptions in the relationships we have with others that we just met, or haven’t seen in a while, or look like us, can be very dangerous. The alternative to assumptions is to ask questions. Don’t assume; explore. In many of these areas of differences, we must create safe spaces for exploration to take place. One way to state it would be, “I know there are a lot of valid and varied perspectives on this, but what do you think/feel?”.

Obviously, in the statement I included the words “valid and varied, “ which connotes safety for taking any one or more acceptable positions. This hopefully would create space for the person to honestly state their position despite their assumptions about where I would be.  From there, it would be fun to simply explore why this person feels or believes this way and how they arrived at this position. The “how” would be to explore whether they have always believed this way, and if not, why not?

Now, these would be fun discussions to have. 

Jesus does this throughout scripture. He always gives the person a safe place to share their position,

  1. The woman caught in adultery,
  2. Many of the people he healed,
  3. His disciples in Matthew 16, “who do people say that I am?”.  I wonder if he was curious about who the disciples thought that he was but put it in the context of “other people” to provide a safe place for them to state their position. 
  4. In Luke 10, when asked by the expert what must he do to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him an open-ended question back, giving him an opportunity to state his position.

Most chapters of the gospels reveal this approach of Jesus. He was a master at getting people to share what they really believed. Jesus always met people where they were, but he didn’t leave them there. As with the Good Samaritan story, he shared a story that illustrated the truth to an “expert of the law” without confronting him and condemning him for his position. But, this expert was able to appreciate the truth of loving others without Jesus antagonizing him.

It would appear the only individuals that Jesus directly challenged and condemned were the Pharisees, who came after him to find reasons to kill him. Most of them were polarized and not open to understanding him. They were threatened and therefore wanted him gone. 

My prayer is that I will explore further this year, assume less, and appreciate conversations with others more.

*How to make the World Add Up by Tim Harford
**Think Again by Adam Grant

The End of Average

On April 21, 2022, I wrote a blog on the book entitled: The End of Average by Todd Rose. As I have lived with the concepts from this book and processed through my life, I have had several new thoughts. So, at the risk of repeating myself, let me take that original post and expand it some in this post. 

This book is a must for every parent, educator, assessor, leader, and friend. Don’t pass go without reading this book. It describes the strategy I have had to learn and develop in my life the hard way.  Todd is a statistician like me. Ironically, he dropped out of high school and struggled with learning until he figured out that he was unique! The premise of the book is that in every area of life (including the church), we are conditioned to compare ourselves with the average. We have glorified this concept of average to such an extent that we think something is wrong if we are below average in anything!

Averages are meaningless as far as describing reality is concerned. In the graduate statistics classes I taught at the University of Central Florida, I would illustrate this with my students by stating the average American has one breast and one testicle! But it is still difficult to find someone that matches that description. And that is true of averages. Most often, averages don’t describe reality. The point of the book, and something I believe with all my head and heart, is: NO ONE IS AVERAGE. To combat “averagism,” one must establish a concept of individuality. In other words, we are all unique individuals. And I believe created by God that way!

There are three conditions for individuality, according to Rose: 1) Jagged, 2) Context, and 3) Pathways. These three so clearly describe my perspective of assessments. I believe everyone is “Fearfully and Wonderfully made” (Psalm 139.14). I have done thousands of assessments, and every one of these individuals was exceptional in some unique way.

Basically, Jagged means that one cannot adequately describe a variable such as intelligence, talent, character, or most things of significance in life by a single number. I understand we try to do this in all of life, but when we do, we violate so much of the uniqueness of the individual and lose much accuracy. Just because you finish a test quicker than another, does that really mean you are more intelligent? No. Jigsaw means we are fast at some things and slow at other things. Most things in life are jagged by their nature.

Context means we are all different in different contexts. In some contexts, I act one way, and in other contexts, I act differently. This is true for most of us. Not only are most concepts jagged, but most contexts cause us to respond according to what is happening around us.  For instance, I am normally not a detailed person, but I can become compulsively fixated on details when I am in the midst of elaborate statistical operations. Context is very important!

Pathways mean we all learn through pathways that will be unique to our jaggedness and consistent with our context. This doesn’t imply that there are as many pathways as there are people.  But usually, there are multiple ways people learn, process information, grow and/or change.

Even babies now are known to learn to crawl much differently from each other. Just 15 years ago, babies were compared to averages or a standard milestone of developmental crawling. If a baby didn’t meet a certain milestone by a certain age or if they did it in a completely different method, the parents were often told something could be wrong with the child. We have learned so much in just 15 years! There are at least 25 different ways children learn to crawl, and some never crawl at all, they learn to walk without crawling, and there are no related problems.

So how do followers of Christ grow? I think we must keep the Jagged, Context, and Pathways criteria in mind as “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect* in Christ.” (Colossians 1.28).

Think of how often we try to help individuals grow by totally ignoring these three principles.  We ignore jaggedness when we measure someone’s spiritual growth or maturity by a number or a milestone. If they have not progressed adequately, we make a judgment about their lack of motivation, passion, godliness, etc. Two years after beginning my new life in Christ at the University of Michigan, I graduated and took a job in the marketplace instead of going on staff with Cru as I was “challenged” to do by my mentors. I distinctly remember being told that my perspective was a lack of maturity because I wanted to go out and make money rather than raise money from others to support myself. Sorry, Daryl, I didn’t do it your preferred way.

We also plot a linear path which we expect everyone to follow in order to grow spiritually. First, we complete Book #1, then Book #2, then Book #3, and so on. There is often only one path that we think everyone must follow. As an Engineering student at Michigan, the guy (Bob) in whose group I was initially placed, wisely chose the first book we studied as new Christians as Genesis in Space and Time by Francis Schaeffer. He knew my questions were on a different plane than many other students. This book changed my life by allowing me to think and grow in my faith according to a path unique to my context. I know Bob took lots of pressure for deviating from the ‘curriculum,’ but I am eternally grateful. Thanks, Bob.

I have been so privileged in my spiritual pilgrimage thus far to have had mentors who guided me and understood the context in which I needed to be pointed. This is so critical today as various expressions of the body of Christ (the Church) become manifested. For example, some people got upset when their church did or didn’t meet on Christmas because it fell on Sunday. So what? Remember the context! Had I been expected to show up on Sunday morning in college instead of Thursday night (it was called the TNT, for Thursday Night Thing), I doubt I would be where I am in my faith today. I would have rejected what I felt were forms over function. Context for me was critical for my developed faith.  Thanks, Chuck, Paul, and Al. 

My prayer is that we would all keep jaggedness, context, and pathways in mind as we guide others in their faith.

A Christmas Reflection

This past week I received an email from my friend and colleague, Stephen Lewis. Mary Kay and I were greatly touched by his reflections and expressions. He gave me permission to share it with all of you this season. Thank you, Stephen. I pray you are as touched as we were.

Christmas Reflection

In this season, we celebrate the messiness of a human birth, of the displacement of God from heaven to earth, from infinite to finite. Immanuel, God with us. We honor the obedient faith of a young woman and of her husband, of a family displaced by political circumstances beyond their control. And it resonates in my heart and mind, broken and caught by the displacement in our world today of millions.

And that’s what I’ve noticed in reflecting on the outlines of the Nativity story this year, that Christmas highlights displacement, the effect of being moved, removed, from the place where we were—of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem; of God from heaven to earth, from immortal to mortal; of shepherds from field to town; of Magi from the east to Bethlehem; of a family warned of death escaping to Egypt; of Rachel weeping for her children.

Displacement introduces us to a liminal space, a space between what was and what will be, a place where we may live for a moment or for a lifetime, often due to circumstances beyond our control, whether it’s the Ukrainians who find themselves on the run for safety and fighting on the frontlines, the Congolese in flight from the fighting along the border with Uganda and Rwanda, the millions whose lives have been caught in the unrelenting rage of COVID, or the Venezuelans fleeing starvation, seeking a place to earn enough to live on. 

The truth is that I’m overwhelmed by the news of displacement. We’re overwhelmed by it. We’re fatigued by life in a liminal space that we’ve only begun to traverse.

As midnight strikes on New Year’s Eve, 2022 will be displaced by 2023. None of us knows what displacements, what new places, what reversals, what detours, what celebrations, what successes await us in the new year. But we know that our God is faithful, that our God draws near to us and sustains our hope.

“Father, remind us that you have drawn near to us. Give us hope and strength for the days of change in which we live, strength and hope to remain present with eyes wide open, engaged in the displacements of our time. And soften our hearts that we might draw near to the millions of our neighbors experiencing displacement in this world. May we live with eyes and hearts open. And may we be your presence in doing so.”

Dying Daily

Most people would say I am in the “Self Help” profession. I spend most of my time helping people figure out their “A-game.” I have spent years developing assessment instruments to help people figure out what they are naturally wired to do. I spend hours with leaders helping them to lead better. I enable them to become better versions of themselves or be better influencers of others.

However, there is an assumption in my work that may not be obvious. I believe that God creates each of us to be unique and unlike anyone else. Ironically, many of us try to be someone quite contrary to this unique, gifted self for different reasons. My observation is that people can only become someone contrary to their wiring at great effort and at great cost to themselves and their impact. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139.13-18). The early events in our lives can reinforce this wiring, alter it or destroy it.

I spend a lot of time helping people see how God can use the good, the bad, and the ugly in their lives to form them into someone special and irreplaceable. It isn’t only the nature of the events but our response to those events that produce our exceptional abilities. Most often, the passion people possess originates from the pain they processed and passed through. 

So I am not in the self-help profession as much as I am in the God-help profession. I don’t think we need to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps to make someone of ourselves. I think we need to die to our self so that we can be the kind of person our loving God intended us to be…someone like no one else, a one-of-a-kind creation. Only as we die to our desires to be someone we were not designed to be, are we able to be who God created us to be. 

In other words, as we love God more than a desired “image” of ourselves will we be on the road of becoming who we were designed to be by our Master Creator.

I am convinced that is why Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament say we must die to self over and over (Luke 9.25, Romans 6.6, Ephesians 4.22-24, Colossians 3.9-10). Only by dying to self are we able to be who God created us to be. Most Christians today would agree with that statement. So where is the problem?

Here is the conundrum I have working with people…

How do I get leaders to accept and develop their wonderful unique, inimitable strengths while at the same time giving up their own desires to have things the way they want them? 

As I have written in previous Thursday Thoughts (TT-Keeping the Faith, April 28, 2022), I believe there is a healthy breaking when we reach the end of our own resources. It is in this season of hardship we are more pliable in our creator’s hands. However, in this blog, I am talking about a need to die daily, which needs to be a part of our lives if we are going to love others and be the best version of ourselves.

For me, this process of dying to self began in college. As a twenty-year-old engineering student, I came face to face with who Jesus is. I comprehended for the first time how he wanted me to be the best version of myself through loving him above everything else in this world. I had no idea how to love others. At that juncture in my life, it was all about Greg. It took me years to fully appreciate and apprehend how God’s love for me would literally change how I relate to everyone for the rest of my life. I am still learning.

Two years later, at my wedding ceremony, I heard and grasped a transformative concept of what it meant to love others. The pastor, Don Loomer, was explaining to me how to love my bride, Mary Kay Anderson. He told me I was to love Mary Kay like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5.25-33), and as romantic as it sounds, few of us would ever have an opportunity to love our wives by physically dying to save her as Christ died on the cross for the church.  He was right. I have never had the chance to throw my body in front of a speeding car to save her. I have been hit by more than one car, but not out of love for her, more out of stupidity or impulsivity (TT-Living in Light of Eternity, August 4, 2022).

Don continued to say that I would have thousands of opportunities to deny myself to serve Mary Kay. In other words, I would have many chances to die daily for her. He was right, and nothing has so profoundly helped me grasp what it means to love her. I needed to choose daily to deny my own desires and wishes to allow her to have her way. Don further explained that if both individuals in a loving relationship treated each other like this, the relationship would be one of growth, wonder, and depth. Now, these four and a half decades later, I wholeheartedly agree with him. It has taken a lot of work, and we haven’t always demonstrated this kind of dying daily towards each other, but this has been our goal. To die daily for the other.

I think this aspect of daily denying to our self is necessary for us to be the best version of ourselves; only then can we love our God and others appropriately. The litmus test for me is this: what am I willing to live without in order to be who God is making me? How often am I willing to serve and love others who don’t like or agree with me? 

Simply look at the social media feeds of people who claim to be followers of Christ to see how they are willing to deny themselves for others. We are wired to love and be loved. This is only going to happen as we learn to die to our idealized version of ourselves and allow God to renew us from the inside out. 

What a great time in our culture for us, as followers of Christ, to demonstrate love and compassion toward those who don’t reciprocate it. Unlike many around us, we can act differently by denying ourselves daily for others. Only then will our unique strengths allow us to be the best versions of our self as intended by God.

Good News is Living with Love

Jesus is clear in his life and teachings that our love for our God is foundational for living the life he desires for us to live. As I wrote the blog Principles and Practices (November 24, 2022), this is a very primary principle. We will become all he has for us as we first learn to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love others as we love ourselves. This kind of love will be seen in our joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control within ourselves and with others.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking, and envying each other.

Galatians 5.22-26

The presence of God living in us through his Spirit naturally produces these qualities. In this passage, Paul wrote to remind the Galatians that there was no need for laws or lists of do’s and don’ts, but rather they were to simply love others in this way, nothing else. These first-century followers of Christ turned the world upside down, not by their use of force, power, persuasion, or money. Quite to the contrary, they didn’t have any of these resources; they just lived the kinds of lives that demonstrated the Spirit’s fruit through the way they treated others. They profoundly loved those around them, their enemies, the outcasts, the underserved…like no one else had ever seen throughout history.

Paul wasn’t a Pollyanna as he wrote these words; he was tortured, beaten, and eventually killed for his life of loving others through Christ. He was rooted in reality as he served people who were far from Christ. His faith and life were built on living in the presence of an ever-present God. This faith was not dependent on what happened or how others treated him.  Despite what took place or how he was treated, he simply did what his master modeled. He was convinced that Jesus’ life and teachings compelled him to love everyone, and likewise, so should we. 

Jesus is quite emphatic when he says,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13.34-35

Ask people who don’t attend a church to describe a Christian, and I guarantee that most of them will not describe disciples of Christ as those who love others regardless of how they are treated. I doubt they would say that most disciples of Christ even love life. So many Christians today are known for what they are against or what they believe rather than the quality of love they demonstrate. It bothers me how few followers of Christ exhibit these attributes, fruit, or byproducts of the presence of the Spirit within us. These loving qualities simply result from being in a thriving relationship with God.

Many people who are far from the church surely wouldn’t describe what Christians believe as “Good News.”  Yet, we call it good news because it is good news! The gospel (which means good news) is that we are no longer bound by the events and happenings of this world but are literally citizens of another world. Our lives should express the fact that we can love God, others, our lives, and ourselves because our love is not based upon merit, ours, or others. No matter what anyone can do to us, we can still love them. No matter how distorted our culture becomes, we can still be people of grace, joy, peace, and contentment. 

Life isn’t all there is; we don’t have to have our way or have all our needs met now. We have all eternity to do so. Until then, let’s be people of good news that looks like the good news.  Let our lives be lived in such a manner that people will wonder what we know that they don’t. That is the good news…a life free to experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control through life on earth.

Who do you need to love today, whether they deserve it or not?

What Are Your Dreams?

When I was in my twenties, I used to get so frustrated by older men and women who gave up trying new things. They would just settle. As I would dream about what could be, some would tell me it would never work while others would listen patiently, and yet I could tell in their minds few, very few, would engage with the idea or entertain how to make it a reality with me.

In my first board meeting in the first church where I was the lead pastor, I literally had an elder tell me, ”But Greg, we have never done it that way…” and so discounted the new approach I was suggesting for how we did “church.”  I was shocked because I thought it was obvious that the issue was the very reason the church was not reaching new people or seeing lives transformed.

As I have aged, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. Most old men and women don’t dream dreams any longer because they simply are worn down, lost their energy, and become “grumpy old men (and women).” This is such a generally accepted fact of life that books and movies have been produced around this theme. It is just the way it is! Or so it seems.

In Acts 2, Peter gives his first sermon on Pentecost. Peter quotes from Joel when he describes what happens to people who are indwelt with the Spirit of God. One of the marks will be that “…old men will dream dreams…”. Why does he say that? I think it is because as people age, they generally give up walking by faith and settle for walking by sight. And we know their sight it is getting pretty bad!

I wrote last week about how often people who define their call by a role can become grumpy old people when they are no longer in that role. However, the problem is more pervasive than just ex-pastors.

As men and women age, they have seen it all. They were passionate young people who had fire in their veins. They tackled injustices and tried to make a difference in the world through their zeal. However, as life happened and relationships failed, their edges got a lot softer.  In some ways, this was a good thing. But there is another parallel process that is also taking place; they became more cynical. “They have tried that, and it didn’t work.” 

The result of this wearing-down process for most people is that they lose their creative energy. They have no mojo. They give up and simply let life happen. They are carried along by events rather than attempting to engage in a transformative way.

That is what I love about Peter’s description of old men who experience the transforming power of God’s Spirit at work in their lives. They dream dreams again.

This last week I listened to twenty presentations of mostly young Christian entrepreneurs who are launching out on creative ways of serving the world and church in bringing the transformative power of Christ to bear in our culture. There were some pretty “out of the box” kinds of ministries that are being launched. Most were seeking financial, prayer, or participative support.*

Somewhere deep in the recesses of my head, I could hear myself wanting to say, “It won’t work. You will be disappointed, broke, and frustrated because of the struggle…”. But just as quickly as I heard that, I felt the Spirit nudge me to help network with those that I could be of benefit. I needed to encourage them and help them. I needed to dream dreams with them.

I have personally experienced the disappointment and brokenness in life that comes from failed relationships and failed opportunities of impact. I have heard the thoughts that a certain young person has no clue of what is going to happen to them when they launch out into their grand venture. But I also know the power of the Spirit at work in me to keep an expectation to dream dreams. I know the hope that things will work out differently for others than they may have for me. I know the faith that leads me to take steps beyond what I can reasonably accomplish in and through my own efforts. I launched this blog, Thursday Thoughts, as a 68-year-old.

I don’t judge those who no longer dream dreams. I actually pity them. I feel sorry for the fact that their life is lived on a plane of drifting along, blown by the tides of culture. I also know they don’t have access or at least don’t know how to access the transformative power of the Spirit of God working in them. Because once they do, they will walk by faith and not by sight, and then they will dream dreams.

I have worked hard at not growing old before I die. That is not easy. I know of quite a few older men and women who stopped dreaming in their late 30s and died in their 80s. I also know a bunch of cool people who died physically before they stopped dreaming.

One was Mac Rigel. He and I had just had a conversation about some new church he wanted to start the day before he died, well into his 80s. He was driving from an appointment and pulled off the road, and died of a heart attack. He died in the saddle! He is one of my heroes. Sure he dreamed a lot of dreams that never became reality, but he lived by faith and transformed a lot of lives.

That is my prayer for my life.

What are your dreams?

*Missional labs

What is Your Calling?

What is your calling? Why are you living on Earth? 

Let me put on the table that we are all called. I am bothered by professional pastors who identify their call as something more special than others of different vocations. 

We are all called. Period.

One’s call is no better than another’s. It is interesting to me to see how as churches grew in size and organization over the 300 years after following Christ’s death, this sense of pastoral call became elevated over the call of others in the body of Christ.

So regardless of who signs your check, what is your calling?

I have had about six completely different careers thus far in my lifetime, but only one calling. It surely has looked different in the different roles I have filled in churches, organizations, and ministries. However, my call has been consistent.

If your calling is defined as a role, eventually, you will be disappointed. 

I work with a number of young pastoral candidates who define their call as identified in a role. In other words, they feel called to be a Lead Pastor, Youth Pastor, Children’s pastor, or however they label their idealized role. I believe this kind of thinking is why Covid was so difficult on many pastors. And it explains why there are so many bitter pastors post-covid.  They no longer find fulfillment in their role because the rules have changed. If they had defined their call more broadly, when their role changed, they would still be able to fulfill their call. As we will see later, your call informs your role, but it isn’t the same.

I have seen another danger of defining your call as I have worked with congregations. Some of the most cantankerous people in the congregation were those who had defined their call to be a pastor, but for one reason or another, they were not able to fulfill that role. These ex or wannabe pastors are bitter because they have an inner angst that results from them not fulfilling their desired role in a church. 

I also see the danger in defining your call as a role with those who retire from that role.  They basically check out of Kingdom work. They think retirement means moving on from their call to play golf. I have no problem with playing golf. Well, actually, I do have a problem playing golf, but that is because of my inability, not because of the sport itself. The reason I struggle with this is because, in scripture, death is retirement. 

Paul says in the last chapter of the last letter he wrote before he was killed, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4.6-7). Paul saw he had finished the race as he was dying, not when his support checks from the church at Philippi ended.

Paul’s call never changed despite being a pastor, planter, apostle, author, prisoner, evangelist, or tentmaker.  His call remained the same through all of these roles.

If we are all called, how do we define our call? 

Let me suggest our call is informed by how we are uniquely wired and the principles we find in scripture that guide the way we live. We will unpack that in the second week of January 2023. Until then, take time to search the scriptures for the principles that guide your life and identify how your unique wiring helps you fulfill those principles, given who you are.

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