My Greatest Fear

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It’s an ambitious title for a post. I know.

And once you read it, you may think me shallow or self-centered.

But this fear has haunted me for half of my 35 years on this terrestrial ball that hangs in mid-air as if held in place by some magical force.

My greatest fear?

      That I will do nothing to leave a mark on the world. 

  • I won’t write a book that changes the way people live their lives.
  • I won’t preach sermons that God uses to launch a movement.
  • I won’t shape a school in such a way that future generations are transformed for the better.
  • I won’t start something that lasts and serves as a legacy.

In other words, I’ll be…ordinary.

Attempting to stuff that fear back into its proper place, I found myself reading through the Acts of the Apostles once again–in addition to my regularly scheduled Bible reading > because I’m so awesome.

There’s one verse in particular that I have an on again off again sort of relationship with. When I read this verse, I go “That’s my life verse!” and want to get it tattooed on my person flesh. But prior to reading it again a few weeks back, I’d mostly forgotten about it. This reading was different as well because, for the first time in a long time, I’m not a pastor. And I had always read this verse through that one, narrow, particular lens of a pastor.

This is the apostle Paul’s posture toward life and legacy

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20.24, ESV)

For years I interchanged ministry and pastorate. That is, preaching and shepherding and leading in a local congregation. As if the only ministry I, or anyone, could receive from the Lord was a church ministry proper.

This, of course, caused great anxiety for me vocationally speaking because my identity was tied up in the title, which meant where I worked and what I did at a church was the sum of who I was at a given moment, not to mention what I’d be in the future!

Now the title is gone. I’m ordinary (I know this was always the case, but I’m searching and sharing my soul, so play along).

Yet, even though I’m not working on a church staff, Acts 20.24 still speaks. The Spirit asks, “What ministry, then, have you received?”

Answer. Look around. Where has the Lord placed you for such a time as this? What comes with where you are?

Husband. Father. Friend. Educator. Administrator.

All titles that are overflowing with responsibility and expectation.

Moreover, if God cannot be confined to a building or an occupation or our hearts, then He’s everywhere. And if God is everywhere, then there is no such thing as ordinary, because where we go, there God is. There, in his presence, the ordinary is sanctified, set apart, made holy.

Changing the diaper. Playing in the pool. Greeting the attendant at WalMart (or Target if you’re fancy).

Dallas Willard writes in The Divine Conspiracy of the ordinary being the well-kept secret of spiritual living. He calls it a receptacle of the divine. Which as best I can tell means that the ordinary spaces and situations of life become sacred when we acknowledge the presence of God in whom we live and move and have our very being

Isn’t this what Jesus did?

He worked an ordinary job in an ordinary town for a couple of decades before calling some ordinary guys to follow him and welcoming ordinary women to minister alongside him. His greatest spiritual teachings centered on ordinary items like bread, water, birds, grass, bushes, and fishing.

Jesus’ very incarnation puts this principle on display. The divine entered into the ordinary, and the world was changed forever.

A similar invitation is extended to us.

Acknowledge the presence of God in every moment. Welcome in the divine and watch as God takes ordinary to new heights.

Leaving a mark may mean some level of notoriety or fame. Not for most people. But, being fully present where you are and with whom you are? That will change your life. And it will change the lives of those around you in ways you will never know.

Approval, acceptance, and you

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I’m not a hunter. I don’t have a moral issue with hunting. It’s just not something I grew up doing. I did own a pair of camo cargo shorts that my wife eventually made me throw out.

Hunting would be more of a sport if you didn’t use the urine of an animal to hide your scent. Also guns. Guns are cheating. At least chase that animal down like a nomadic hunter whose life depends on it and look it that beast in the eyes whilst taking his life and whispering, “It’s all gonna be okay….” #Epic

I have been hunted, however. Not in a “rich guy pays to hunt you on his private island” sort of way. But in a “you want the approval of others and don’t realize it’s going to kill you” sort of way.

Proverbs 29.25 says it like this: The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.

A snare is a trap  meant to lure you in and kill you instantly or, more likely, keep you in place and lead to a slow, miserable death.

The fear of mankind is the snare of approval. I seek the approval of a certain person, a certain group, a sector of society. Longing and living for the approval of others  leads to death. And approval seeking leads to appeasing, whether that means living for a lesser dream or violating your conscience, it’s deadly either way.

The problem is some of us don’t realize we’re trapped because the death is slow. The death of a dream. The death of a vision God had given you.

The tricky thing is that dying in this sense can look pretty normal. It could mean going to work, coming home, eating dinner, watching Netflix and going to bed. REPEAT.

All the while we hear a faint echo of what we believed God wanted us to do, where He wanted us to go, how He asked us to risk, what He told us to quit, that thing He urged us to start…

But life in the snare has become normal. Safe. And I have the approval of others.
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I think Jesus knew very well that his disciples (you and me disciples) had a bent towards getting complacent and drawn away into the snare of people pleasing.

So here’s what Jesus instructed his followers then to do as he sends them out to minister in different places and do things that the locals weren’t used to, and I think it’s the same for us now.

Greet a household when you enter it, 13 and if the household is worthy, let your peace be on it; but if it is unworthy, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone does not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that house or town. – Matthew 10.12-14

What do you do if they don’t like what you’re doing or saying? Shake it off.

Shake, shake, shake, shake, shake it off.

Leave their approval and acceptance right there with them and move on.

Don’t stay explaining why it makes sense and how you arrived at the conclusion. Shake it off and head out.

See, we’ve become conditioned to making sure the people around us understand our intentions and the process we went through to make a decision and trying to let them know that we aren’t crazy….Jesus didn’t really do that. He shook it off.

So perhaps don’t spend precious energy trying to get them to where God has brought you. They’ll need their own journey for that, and you’ll need that energy moving forward. Just shake it off.

Have you noticed there are people who are made uncomfortable when you get out of your comfort zone? It’s like they go, “No, get back in the snare. The snare is safe. It’s known.”

Different is scary.

But God’s love FOR us and IN us pushes us beyond our fears.

And that means if God is calling me to risk something, to sell something, to move somewhere, to stop or start a certain ministry, to leave a job, then it is God’s LOVE compelling me to take the next step.

God is faithfully for me, and in turn I can be fearlessly faithful.

And if someone takes issue with that and can’t understand where I’m coming from and that it couldn’t be of God because God would never tell them to do that, then I respectfully shake the dust off my feet and move on to where God’s leading me.

So if you have that move of God in mind and you’re struggling to take a step out of the snare, repeat after me —  The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Hebrews 13.6)

  • When you feel the pull to stay right where you are because people might talk….The Lord is for me, what can man do to me?
  • When you feel paralyzed by the thought of taking a step forward even though all the details aren’t lined up…The Lord is for me, I will not be afraid.
  • When you find yourself caring more about what “they” might think than what God thinks…The Lord is for me, what can man do to me?

If the Lord is for you, what are you afraid of? Who are you afraid of?

Be free