Category: Uncategorized

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

Use Your Words

I’ve watched the exchange many times. A little toddler struggles with the desperate need to be picked up or the agonizing trial of having to wait for a drink. Meltdown is imminent. With many squawks and much arm-flailing the child expresses great displeasure with the state of affairs, and the longer the tribulation continues the more frantic the display. Tears stream, shrieks resound and cheeks tremble until mommy takes hold of the flying fingers, puts her face near that of her beloved and says that familiar phrase. “Use your words.”

It is a lesson that pretty much all of us are taught at a tender age. If you have a problem, you need to talk about it. There is seldom resolution until there is interaction.

How many times do we forget this simple truth when it comes to our Heavenly Father? Faced with some need or obstacle in our life that we don’t know how to handle, we quickly spiral down into frustration. Our hands are thrown up in despair and our world turns black. And because God didn’t prevent the unfortunate situation or instantly solve it, we turn red in the face and throw up our hands in disgust. Effectively, we give God the ‘silent treatment’.

God does know what I am going through. He does understand. He does know what to do about it. But what He craves is way more valuable than giving me solutions. What He values most; what He really longs for is to engage with me in the pursuit of the answers. I was created for primarily one reason: Relationship with God. Yup, when the Almighty created me He was being selfish. Well at least in part. Of course my existence is a gift to me as well, and my Father knows exactly what is required to make my life most rewarding. His ultimate desire is to know and be known by His children, and in that relationship we find our ultimate fulfillment. If I want to know just how much He values His relationship with me, I don’t have to look any further than the cross. The King of kings is deadly serious about restoring, protecting and developing His relationship with me, and He gains little pleasure from a one-sided conversation.

David knew how to use his words. The Psalms that have brought deep comfort to millions of people over thousands of years were born from a heart that had no filter. It didn’t matter if David was bursting with praise, venting frustration or weeping in sorrow.  The man after God’s heart was exactly that… after God’s heart. That’s where David lived. Whether he was surrounded by smelly sheep on the side of some hill, running for his life in the wilderness or sitting on a throne surrounded by admirers, David knew what it was to commune with his God. His worshipful heart did not guarantee a life of flawless happiness or the eradication of all pain, but it did bring a deep sense of peace. Even as he penned his most desperate Psalms, David consistently came to a place of recognizing the faithfulness of the Lord. David was able to do that because he was constantly engaging with his Father. He knew his God and was known by Him.

Do you ever find yourself grunting your displeasure? Do you flail your emotional arms in voiceless frustration and wonder why Jesus hasn’t ‘made it all better’.

He takes no joy in watching us flail, not because it’s annoying (which it probably is) but because He knows there is so much more for us. He knows exactly what we need far better than we do, but He doesn’t just want to throw sippy cups at us. He wants to engage with us and relishes in sharing with us the living water for which we so deeply thirst.

When I take an honest look at my life I have to recognize that He is right. As much as I long for blessings and answers, I long for Him more. At the deepest levels, my greatest need really is Him.

Jesus, let’s talk.

Philippians 4:6-7

What It Takes

It was a long way to jump.  I was pretty good on the family trampoline and as a typical 15 year-old adrenaline junkie, I had mastered most of the tricks.  Front flips – ho hum.  Back flips – piece of cake.  Twist flips – check.  Suicide dives – no big deal.  But this was a little different.  The house didn’t look all that high when I looked up at it from the ground.  But standing at the edge of the roof and sizing up the leap to the trampoline below was a different matter.  Fifteen year old judgment being what it is, “SHOULD I do this?” was never really a question.  All that really mattered was: “Do I have the guts?”

I’m not the first one to ask the question and I won’t be the last.  From boyhood it has been one of the most pervading mantras that has run through my subconscious.  “Do I have what it takes?”  Seldom is the question actually vocalized, but throughout our entire lives this question permeates our hearts and motivates our efforts.  As a boy the questions went something like this:  Am I courageous enough?  Strong enough?  Fast enough?  Smart enough?  Popular enough?  As I grew older the questions evolved:  Am I sufficiently qualified?  Loving?  Virtuous?  Dependable?  However I have phrased it, the question hadn’t really changed.  In all of my self-examination, what I was desperate to know more than anything else was this one thing:  Do I have what it takes?  After much soul-searching and reflection I came to the conclusion that the answer is as I had feared.  I do not.  And all the ego massages from well-meaning friends can never compensate for the deficit in my ‘enoughness’.  As hard as I try, I can never attain to the level of excellence for which I long.

In reacting to this revelation, my natural tendency has been to mourn my inadequacies, while at the same time covering them up.  To sulk in my insufficiency while compensating with a show.  To despair at my inconsistency, as I bury the evidence.   But sulking is not helpful.  Despair will not add quantity or quality to my life.  And hiding my flaws is a burdensome career.

I used to expend great effort putting my best face forward.  I built intricate façades around my life to make sure that I appeared ‘everything’ enough.  Like the movie set of an old western, all the store fronts of my life were in place, and as long as I kept everyone on ‘main street’, they never knew that it was all a ruse.  As long as I could keep the public eye on the exterior, I was able to keep them from discovering that behind the doors and the windows and the porches lay a carefully assembled system of two by four supports.  Struggling to maintain the masquerade proved to be an empty pursuit, and what I finally came to realize is this:  My value is not measured by the height of my store front, but by the land I am built upon.

When I finally decided to light the match of integrity and incinerate my ‘front’, I was left with two things:  freedom and space.  The freedom that came from confessing my inadequacy was immense.  Because with my confession I was finally giving permission for God to come onto the scene and be, well, God.  Once the façade had burned, I became free to rest from the manic task of set-building and I discovered open space for God to begin HIS construction.  I became free from the unwinnable goal of being ‘enough’.  Free to put the sufficiency of Jesus on display.  Free to show that my weakness plus His strength equals MORE than enough.

In her blog, author Connie Cavanaugh dispels a common Christian myth and describes how our inadequacy highlights our need to rely on God:  “The reality is, God does give us more than we can handle. If you are following Him you are likely living a much ‘larger, harder, scarier’ life than you ever thought possible.”  I will never be smart enough to solve all the dilemmas that come my way.  I will never be skilled enough to do all that I was intended to do.  I will never be stable enough to go the distance alone.  I will never be righteous enough to measure up to God’s holy standards.  As painful and scary as it is I must ultimately admit it.  I am not enough.  On my own, I do not have what it takes.

But Jesus is enough.  He is completely qualified.  He is ever-loving.  He is perfectly holy.  He is always dependable.  There is no ‘enough’ worth being that He is not.  And the beautiful thing is that He has bundled up all of that sufficiency and against all common sense, He has given it… wait for it… to me.

Do I have what it takes?  No.  Well, actually, I kind of do.  You see, I know someone who DOES have what it takes, and I have Him.

You should see what we are building.

Colossians 2:9-10; Philippians 4:19; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 3:8

Jackpot

Have you ever spent a fortune?  I don’t mean a few hundred bucks, or even a few thousand.  I’m not talking about the amount you might have dished out for a nice house in suburbia.  I’m talking about a fortune so large that you have to work at spending it.  Believe it or not, I have spent a fortune like that dozens of times.  Well, in my imagination anyway.  Every month or so a story pops up on the news about somebody winning a mega-lottery, and each time I hear it I begin again the process of deciding how I would spend my newfound riches.

The plan always begins the same.  Once I have given generously to my church (ensuring that our pastor doesn’t suffer from heart-failure), the first order of business is to pay off our home, vehicle and all our outstanding debts.  Next I maybe buy a new second vehicle for my wife.  I don’t need a new car or a new home. (Aren’t I a humble soul?)

Then things start to get fun.  I pay off all the homes of my and Lisa’s immediate family (and buy a home for those members who don’t yet have one).  I create great big education funds for all my nephews and nieces.  I charter a jet and take an amazing trip with 100 friends to somewhere beautiful, and then maybe another longer trip with a smaller group of friends.  And hey, why not one more trip with just Lisa and me, traveling the world and filling our passports.

When I get home from my trip, I become truly philanthropic.  I take great pleasure in helping my friends with vision to see the impossible become possible.  I bring relief to dear people in my life who are hamstrung by financial bondage.  I partner with charities that are near to my heart, enabling them to move forward in ways previously only dreamed of.  I buy my friend the retreat center he dreams of and set up a trust fund to cover his salary.

Finally I invest wisely, so that I will never have to worry about paying bills or covering expenses as I spend the rest of my life fulfilling the destiny that God has declared for my life.

Of course I realize that the chances of these well-worn daydreams coming true are exceedingly slim (especially since I do not buy lottery tickets), but it’s fun to imagine.

A few months ago I heard yet another story in the news of a lucky winner, but this story was different.  The prize was the largest undivided lottery jackpot in history – $590 million US…  and it was won by an 84 year old woman.  I was kind of amused that this aging widow had beat out so many others to claim such an immense treasure.  Who wouldn’t want a grandma to experience such good fortune?  Yet in a way, I actually found the story to be kind of sad.  I obviously have no idea what kind of life this woman lived.  I have no idea if her family is sincerely celebrating with her in a spirit of love, or if they have just been turned into a school of hungry sharks, biding their time until she passes away so they can feed on her estate.  What struck me was wondering that by the age of 84, how many times had she ‘spent her lottery’ in her head?  How many of her dreams had gone untried because she lacked the resources?  How much of her life had slipped by without her ever taking a step toward her really BIG dreams.  Of course I’m presuming much about this woman.  For all I know, she lived life to the full every day.  But the whole idea of someone finally striking it rich at the END of their life forced me to do a little self-examination.

I think a person’s ‘dream-plan’ for spending the lottery tells you a lot about their heart.  It provides the answer to the age-old question:  ‘What would you do if money were no object?’  What makes me uncomfortable is the haunting question that follows…  If that is what I would do with unlimited resources, why am I not investing my time, money and efforts into those things NOW with whatever resources I DO possess?  As a good friend recently said to me, “If you don’t give to others when you are poor, you won’t do it when you are rich.”

Of course I’m not going to look into renting a Boeing, nor am I about to start making mortgage payments for all of my family.  (Sorry guys.)  But why can’t I begin to invest in the lives and dreams of my friends and family with the resources I possess right now?  What is stopping me from becoming a greater support to the benevolent groups that I walk with?  And it’s not just about my money (although that is an important part of it).  In addition to investing finances where I am able, why can’t I dedicate time and effort to providing practical and moral support in ways that will drive people to their destiny?  What is stopping me from fervently praying for the Lord’s blessing in the lives of others, and responding when His answer is to BE that blessing?

Perhaps more than anything, I need to ask myself this question:  If God has called my name and has a plan for my life, what difference does it make if my bank account reads ‘jackpot’ or if it just reads ‘jack’?  If He has declared my destiny, then it IS possible and I can walk in it – for richer or for poorer.

I will likely never receive millions in cash, and that’s okay.  To live the life that God has for me I don’t need to.  To walk out the purposes of God for my life, the only resources I need are His love and the opportunity to share it.  When it comes to those assets, I am rich indeed.

Luke 16:10; Luke 21:1-4; Matthew 6:21


Latest Posts


Wallet

Pressing Print

Bumper Sticker Theology

All Posts