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Pressing Print

I’m a writer. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist. (Some that know me are saying, “A BIT?”) That’s kind of a bad combination. I can spend 15 minutes stewing over which word to use in a sentence. I’d like to think that all the thought and reflection that I put into my communication brings clarity to my message and makes the reader’s job easier. But the danger of my introspective analysis is that I never get around to saying, “That’ll do.” If my fear of missing the mark of perfection is not overcome, my analysis will become all-consuming and the revisions will never end.

It kind of works the same way in life. As cliché as it sounds, we all go through seasons. For the Christian, there are times where God seems to be less active with us. Those stints can tax our hope and test our faith. While I have learned that times of heaven’s apparent inactivity can foster positive fruit in my life, I still don’t enjoy them. Eventually—as I trust my Father’s heart and listen for His voice—I will enter into a time of more tangible spiritual activity in my life.

That’s where it gets tricky.

It’s exciting when you are able to emerge from a winter of stillness, and experience a springtime of God’s activity in your heart. But when you’ve been living in a cold and seemingly desolate holding pattern, it can be intimidating to take the new life God is stirring within you, and put it into practice. It’s as though your spiritual muscles have atrophied, and transforming newfound intent into action can feel virtually impossible.

Has God been doing a new work in your life—renovating your heart, expanding your understanding of your purpose, and equipping you for the next phase of your mission? Eventually you must actually step forward and begin to live out the Father’s instructions. It does no good to endlessly examine God’s plans for you, without ever walking them out. It is not enough to be impressed with the Lord’s loving infusion in your life. The investment of the Almighty isn’t for the sake of giving you ‘warm and fuzzies’. Ultimately, you must take courage and begin to move forward in obedience.

Usually that obedience involves—to one degree or another—stepping out and ‘going public,’ whether that involves going for a meaningful coffee with one person, or launching an entire ministry. That can be an intimidating prospect, especially if you’ve been living the hidden life for a long period of time. But eventually, you must participate with God if His investment is to produce fruit. You must embrace obedient exposure. The preparatory revisions must cease. Sooner or later, you must set aside the thesaurus, push through the fear of failure, and press print.

I’ve always been hungry for times of connection with the Father and fruitfulness in His Kingdom. I long to experience transformation in my life and to participate in the transformation of others. But transformation has never come from a good idea, even if it’s from God. True revolution—in one life or in many—comes when a good idea is embraced and acted upon.

If you’ve been given a mission from the Father, don’t get lost in endless contemplation. The world needs your obedience…almost as much as you do.

James 1:23-25; James 4:17; Matthew 7:24-27

Bumper Sticker Theology

I find bumper stickers intriguing. I suppose the modern-day equivalent is the social media meme, but there’s something to be said about the permanence of a decal adhered to your vehicle. (Have you ever tried to take one of them off?)

It’s always interesting to me the statements people choose to make to the world that is stuck behind them in traffic. Some boast about the particular demographic represented by the driver… or insult another group. Some proclaim loyalty to a particular company or a brand. Some make clever statements about life. Others communicate passionate affinity to some social justice cause. And then there are the religious declarations.

I’m sure we’ve all seen the ‘God Loves You’ sticker or the ever-popular Christian fish logo. I suppose part of what keeps me from affixing such a message to my vehicle’s back end is the fear of reflecting poorly on my faith. I lack confidence that my driving prowess will never give anyone a reason to shake their fist at my fish.

But there’s one type of religious bumper sticker that drives me nuts. “God is my pilot.” Or, “If God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat.” If it weren’t for the fact that it would be unloving (and likely to snarl up traffic), I’d love to pull one of these people over and ask them to sit in the passenger seat of their car so that I can see where God-as-Chauffeur would take them.

Many Christians don’t like to take responsibility for their lives. Thinking it to demonstrate submission to God, they attempt to absolve themselves of the obligation to make decisions and move forward with purpose. People who really believe that God makes all of their decisions and does all the driving for them are either living in fear—afraid to make mistakes—or hedging their bets, keeping their options open to defer blame. An impotent existence is pinned on God’s ‘inactivity,’ rather than their own. Poor choices are blamed on having erroneously decided to take action, rather than sitting back and letting God do everything ‘like they were supposed to.’

We’ve been trying to defer responsibility for our lives since the beginning of time. When God asked Eve why she ate forbidden fruit, she essentially said, ‘The Devil made me do it.’ Adam’s excuse was worse. He blamed both Eve AND God. “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Now before you get too excited and start accusing me of proposing that we make decisions and take action in a God-vacuum, hear me out. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the Lord shouldn’t be involved in our decisions and our activity. In fact, I believe that the truth requires an even greater dependence upon God than the person sitting comfortably (and impotently) in the co-pilot’s chair.

Using the image of the airplane, I think what follows might be a more helpful (though not perfect) way to look at it:

The Father functions as my Control Tower. It is up to me to trust that the Control Tower knows and wants what is best for me, understanding that He sees a far bigger and more complete picture than I ever could. It will only go well for me as I put my faith in Him and follow His instructions. Jesus is my Living Manual. Not only has He provided instruction on how to operate, He has demonstrated how to fly, and stirs me to walk in fruitful obedience. The Holy Spirit resides with me in life’s cockpit as my Instructor and Navigator. He is the one who keeps me connected to both the Control Tower and my Living Manual. He shows me how to walk in obedience to the Control Tower. He points to the Living Manual, and illuminates how to follow His example in my life’s context. As I spend time with Him and listen to His guidance, I remain connected to my Skyward Authority and move toward my destination with accuracy and efficiency. The success of my ‘flight’ through life is incredibly dependent on my connection to God.

But I am the pilot. If I do not take responsibility for walking in obedience to the instructions of my Lord, I will go nowhere. I will sit on the runway and rust, never knowing the exhilaration that comes from soaring toward my destiny. God will not control my life for me. That is my job.

I must engage with Jehovah. I must listen. I must trust. But I must also walk (or should I say ‘fly’) in obedience. I must take ownership of my responsibility, placing MY hands on the controls of my life. In spite of my trepidation, I must release the brakes, open the throttle, accelerate down the runway, and ‘pull up’ into the skies of fruitfulness.

This understanding has transformed my approach to life and revolutionized my Kingdom participation. It doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker, but I’m finally moving toward my destination.

Deuteronomy 5:33; John 14:26; 1 John 2:6; Isaiah 41:13

Triple Bypass

Two days ago, my father’s heart stopped beating. I’m not kidding. But it was not the tragedy that you might think. The shutting down of my dad’s blood pump was temporary, and it was on purpose.

My dad had been experiencing chest pain, and a trip to the hospital revealed that three of the arteries that fed blood to his heart were substantially blocked. The result was a dangerously low supply of the resources required for this critical organ to carry out its work. His heart was literally being starved. And so, in a procedure intended to keep my father from dying, a surgeon opened his chest, reached into his body and started a life-saving procedure… by stopping his heart. For the first time in 72 years, my father’s heart lay still. Relying on a machine to circulate dad’s blood, the surgeon began a procedure that involved taking healthy, unobstructed vessels from elsewhere in his body and grafting them into the affected arteries, ‘bypassing’ the life-threatening blockages.

Have you ever had bypass surgery? I have… just not the physical kind. Evaporating hope and chronic discouragement had resulted in the neglect of my soul. My intake of healthy spiritual ‘fuel’ had been replaced with a steady diet of apathy, offense, and self-pity. Years of stagnation had resulted in the narrowing of my spiritual arteries. God was no longer allowed to move freely to my heart. My bitterness had blocked His access. Refusing to humble myself and recognize the growing danger, the constriction of heaven’s nourishing flow left me lethargic and unmotivated. Cardiac disaster loomed.

The Surgeon stood at the ready. His longing to restore me to a place of health was matched only by His skill to carry out the procedure. But He needed my permission. That’s right, God needed my virtual signature on a spiritual waiver. I had to give up my right of refusal. I had to place my very life in His hands and allow Him to do whatever it took. I needed to humble myself enough to admit that my operational pathways needed to change. The road to healing required that I allow Him to dig down to my very core and rewire the most basic operations of my life. I had to submit to severe – but temporary – trauma in order to experience a flow of resources that would not only allow me to survive, but to flourish.

It took me a long time to yield. Dangerously long. But eventually, with a revelation of the Surgeon’s unfailing commitment to me, and the gently insistent encouragement of compassionate friends, I laid down on the operating table of the Father and unfolded my arms. The operation was not quick. It was not painless. But it was worth it.

When I compare the condition of my heart 10 years ago to now, I marvel at the faithfulness of the Great Physician. It’s not that I’m the ultimate picture of spiritual connectedness with the Father. Far from it. I still have arteries that need some cleaning. But my heart is strong. Jesus has free access to my heart, and the resources He brings flow sweetly to my soul. I am walking with a strength that I lacked for years, and I am moving toward my God-intended destination with Spirit-fueled stamina.

How’s your heart doing? Are your life-giving pathways clear, or is there a clog in the flow to your soul? If you pay attention to the condition of your heart and catch unhealthy blockages early enough, a change of lifestyle and an intake of Holy Spirit medicine can stave off and even reverse dangerous constriction. But if the problem is ignored, your health neglected, and Doctor checkups skipped, the results can be fatal. If the obstructions are serious enough, the only option is submission to major surgical intervention. New paths must be opened up through which life can flow. Sometimes a ‘hard reset’ is the only way to abundant life.

At the end of dad’s triple bypass operation, the surgical team ‘shocked’ my father’s heart back into motion. It had been strained by the steadily diminishing supply of resources that had led to the operating room. It had suffered serious trauma from the assault of surgery. But the operation was a success. Tenuously, weakly, but steadily, dad’s cardiac organ began to find its rhythm. My dad and his heart now face a significant period of recovery. It will not be quick. It will not be painless. But it will be worth it. The pain of surgery will dissolve into a new level of strength. Increased flow of nutrients and oxygen to his heart through newly ‘installed’ channels will result in an increase in his physical capability. My father can approach the challenges of life with a heightened level of confidence.

My dad’s bright new outlook was made possible by his submission to the invasion of his heart by someone he could trust.

So was mine.

Proverbs 4:23; Proverbs 23:26; Psalm 34:18; Psalm 73:26

How Do You Identify?

Our society has gone more than a little crazy lately, trying to figure out who we are. Much debate has arisen surrounding how people choose to label themselves, and the personal convictions being expressed are as intense as the feelings that lie beneath. In a culture that reveres individual belief as sacred, conclusions regarding personal identity are virtually incontestable. I’m not interested in debating the legitimacy of those conclusions; a million others are arguing passionately about such things, and many have been scorched by the lava that bursts from personal conviction. What fascinates me is the underlying source; the magma that feeds the volcanos of identity-based passion as they spew onto the screens of our computers, phones, and televisions.

The conclusions that some individuals are reaching regarding their identity may seem new and surprising, but the fundamental question is nothing new. Since the birth of humankind, no root issue has caused more turmoil. No underlying concern has fostered more confusion. Though it has been phrased a million different ways, no question has been asked more frequently, or with greater sincerity. What humanity longs to know more than anything else has always been:

Who am I?

If you ask me who I am, I would likely tell you that I am a Department Manager at a local construction firm. I would probably tell you that I am a husband to a fantastic wife, an uncle to a host of precious children, and a friend to many wonderful humans. I may declare – with a twinkle in my eye – that I am a middle-aged man, with an abundance of freckles and a scarcity of hair. Press me to give you more than a surface answer, and I would share my passion to be an ambassador of hope to the broken. But lately, I have wondered if the greatest hint at my identity can be found in the most common response to the question of who I am. When introducing myself to someone, the first thing I utter is – quite profoundly – my name.

What’s in a name? The traditional structure of a name in our society paints a bit of a personal picture. Most people have a first name, a last name, and often a name or two in between. Your first name (and any middle names) can be seen as declaring the personality and values that were desired for you; speaking to what is unique about you and laying out the specifics of who you are intended to be. It is chosen – at least initially – by your parents, and is typically either selected because of its meaning, its association with another person of esteem, or the sentiment in conjures up when you hear it spoken. But your last name is different. Your last name – your official title – declares the family to whom you belong. In most places, your ‘family’ name – by default – is taken from your father.

Remember the story of David and Goliath? David had been holding down three part-time jobs: shepherd to his father’s sheep, personal musician to King Saul, and armor-bearer to the King’s court. Then the Philistine giant, Goliath, stepped into the story. Armed with nothing but a sling and some legendary courage, David stepped up and used a pebble to cement his place in the history books. You have likely heard the story before, but have you ever noticed how it ended? At the conclusion of 1 Samuel 17, King Saul makes an interesting query regarding the newly minted warrior. As David comes before him, still holding the massive decapitated head of the slain Philistine, Saul asks him a very peculiar question. “Whose son are you?”

Don’t forget, Saul already knew who David was… at least on the surface. He was the local shepherd with harp skills that Saul had recruited to bring serenity. He was the impressive young man that Saul had promoted to serve as an armor-bearer in his court. But David had just gotten the King’s attention in a big way, and now Saul wanted to know who David REALLY was. So, he dug as deeply as he knew how, and asked… “Who’s your daddy?”

King Saul was onto something. To really understand who a person is, you must gain an understanding of their context. And nothing fashions context quite like a person’s origin. The best way Saul knew to learn about David’s identity was to discover his pedigree.

It is the same with me. I may be a husband, a manager and a bald, white guy; but none of those labels really get to the heart of who I am. To really understand me, you’ve got to go to my roots. Yes, my earthly father and mother can give you some pretty effective context for understanding where I came from, but if you really want to understand who I am, you should really meet my heavenly Father.

He is the One who chose me and gave me purpose. It is He who has not only given me a reason to live, but partners with me in the journey. Anything I have of value, I ultimately owe to Him.

So how do I identify? In a world that is struggling to know how to define itself, I am peacefully content. You see, I don’t have to struggle to ‘find myself’. Somebody already found me. Somebody decided I was worth a great price. Somebody loved me enough to make me His child and bless me with His riches. Everything else is just details.

Who am I? I am a child of the King of kings. Who is He? Well, I could fill a library telling you about Him, but you wanna know what makes me really grin? He identifies as my Father.

I think that’s pretty cool.

1 Samuel 17; John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17

Pop Rocks

Remember Pop Rocks? As a kid, I used to love ripping open the paper packet and shaking the little pebbles of oral fireworks into my mouth. Allowing my spit to combine with the sugary chemicals, the sounds of fizzing and crackling always brought an open-mouthed smile to my vibrating face. Sometimes when extravagance took over (and mom wasn’t watching), I’d put a whole pack in my mouth at once. What a rush!!

A number of years ago, I felt the Lord pressing me to write; not just a blog, but a book. Having given me experience-based insight on how to leave a wilderness of despair, the Father was asking me to put pen to paper and share what I had learned. I was inspired. My heart had been revolutionized by the pulse-pounding experience of redemption, and I longed to bring hope to others who were struggling. Now, here was God Almighty, commissioning me to take concrete steps toward my destiny. My chest was bursting with a passion to partner with the Father to see others set free from their own desert strongholds.

It was as though an entire box of Pop Rocks had just been dumped into my soul. God’s infusion of potential-laden purpose combined with my thirst to be found useful, and the resulting ‘crackle’ of excitement was intense. I had never felt so inspired. With great gusto and even greater expectations, I launched into my book-writing project. I prepared a book plan: identifying my mission, outlining a thesis, and even developing a complete table of contents. I envisioned six months of writing, followed by the glorious emancipation of wilderness prisoners. My Pop Rocks were firing on all cylinders.

Anticipation filled my soul like the experience of sitting in a roller coaster as it climbs the incline toward the first big drop. My seatbelt was fastened and I was ready to ride. As I plunged into writing the first pages of my manuscript, inspiration coursed through my veins with all the nerve-tingling sensations that I had expected.

But just like on an amusement park ride—just like with Pop Rocks—the feeling of euphoria was short-lived. Before long, the pop and sizzle of excitement gave way to the toil and grind of the task at hand. Writing was hard work, and as inspiration waned I found it nearly impossible to continue. The only real writing experience I had was in composing my blog, and for that I had always waited for a feeling of inspiration before I would sit down to start typing. If enthusiasm evaporated, my blog would be put on hold until sensory motivation returned. I needed to feel stimulation to push me to action. A blog only required short bursts of productivity to yield results, and I had experienced just enough moments of inspiration to spew out the occasional post. But writing a book? That’s no sprint; it’s a marathon. Waiting for moments of inspiration proved to make my progress painfully slow. Passion faded as I began to realize that this book was going to take a hundred years to finish, inching forward during my rare Pop Rock moments. Eventually I put down my pen and gave up. For nearly two years, my mission was relegated to the back burner.

Don’t get me wrong; inspiration – like a packet of Pop Rocks – is a wonderful thing. Moments of motivation are a gift from the Father and make for some amazing experiences. In fact, the feeling of inspiration is one of the catalysts behind most great exploits. But it is only ever meant to be a kick start. Like pulling the starter cord on a lawnmower, inspiration gets the engine firing and ready to carry out the task at hand. But to actually accomplish anything, more is needed. The lawnmower needs fuel that the pull-cord does not provide.

A diet of only Pop Rocks would yield little more than a uselessly hyper and cavity-filled existence. If a life of substance and fruitfulness was to be achieved, I was going to need more than the Pop Rocks of inspiration.

I needed the granola of obedience.

This revelation transformed my book-writing journey. The Father had already given me the plan. During beautifully inspired moments, God had handed me a heavenly blueprint. Under His guidance, a strategy had been formed. I did not need new inspiration; I needed to be faithful to follow through on the marching orders I had already received. When I finally clued in to my need to stop searching for candy and start digging into granola, the door of productivity began to open. Moments of inspiration came and went, but I no longer relied upon them. Obedience was my all-access pass to the strength I required. As I was faithful to walk out my mission, God’s providence carried me and progress was made.

How are you doing with your mission? You may or may not have a clear understanding of God’s plan for you, but do you know even ONE step that He would have you take? Are you waiting for inspiration—or a fuller picture of the destination—before you move forward in obedience? I would challenge you to set aside your search for Pop Rocks and start engaging with God’s directives for your life. If a single item remains on your divine to-do list, do what it takes to fulfil your task and cross it off. Your world needs what the Lord has asked you to offer, and your destiny will only be reached as you put one foot in front of the other.

The manuscript of my book is now complete and moving toward publication. Stirred up emotions were an occasional blessing on the journey, but diligent obedience was my ticket to progress.

Granola now resides at the top of my spiritual grocery list. Pop Rocks are nice, and I’ll take them when they come, but for where I’m going, I need more than tingles.

James 1:22; 4:17

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Bumper Sticker Theology

Triple Bypass

How Do You Identify?

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