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.

Two significant lies about significance, part 1

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There are at least two lies Satan will whisper in your ear about your significance.

LIE #1: You’re not important.

There are 7 billion people in the world (give or take a few several handfuls of millions).

What makes you special? You aren’t significant, especially compared to that significant person over there.

Sometimes we’re able to shut down such thoughts…other times, we’re crushed. We follow the road most traveled. Destination, self-pity.

The answer to Lie #1 rests securely in your identity.

That you’ve been created in the image of God. You and every person you meet are image bearers of God. “We are God’s workmanship,” wrote the Apostle Paul to some folks in the 1st century struggling with identity.

Just like art curators and experts identify works of art based on certain characteristics or styles of an artist, you are identified as this remarkable work of God because you bear His image. You have the capacity to think and feel and love and imagine possibilities of what could be.

King David captures this beautifully in Psalm 139.13-14

For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. Your works are wondrous, and I know this very well.

I know. It should say “fearfully and wonderfully…” You start using fearfully in everyday conversation and I’ll change it.

For now, though, you are awe-inspiring, worthy of reverence, distinct, distinguished, set apart. Just how you felt after your last screw up, right?

Think about the fact that the Spirit of the living God inspired David to write that about you, of all people! You. You are remarkable and wondrous. A work of God.

But sometimes you don’t feel remarkable, do you?

Our failures have a way of reminding us how unremarkable we can be. It’s in those moments we feel this thing called SHAME.

SHAME tells its own lies: (Brené Brown gave a TED talk on this that went viral)

  • Shame says you didn’t just make a mistake. You are a mistake.
  • Shame says you didn’t just fail. You are your failure.

And in those moments when shame or guilt or fear or insecurity crowds in and starts telling you lies, that’s when you have to proclaim these gospel truths:

  • I am a work of God.
  • I am loved by God.

Until you are able to embrace the deep reality that you are loved by God simply for being, you will always struggle to feel significant because your identity is not secure. More than likely you will seek identity in what you do, a responsibility of some kind.

But in God’s economy, identity precedes responsibility.

It’s why God came to Abraham and established a relationship before sending Him out. It’s why God established a relationship with Moses and Israel b/f giving the law.

You have been created by God…You couldn’t be loved by God any more than you are in this very moment. Drink it in.

I’ll post Lie #2 soon enough, so check back. Better yet, subscribe and have each new post sent straight to your inbox.

Ash to ash, dust to dust

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I remember the first time I saw someone with ash on their forehead in observance of Ash Wednesday.

It was in college (that’s how denominationally aloof I was). It was a professor of mine, Dr. Dillon–great American History professor. [If you read this, Dr. Dillon, I fully regret not caring more about your courses…aging often speaks its own rebuke.]

I thought it strange, though, the ash. Messy and unnecessary. Uncivilized perhaps.

I thought myself as somehow beyond such ancient practices.

I also grew up a little during college, and a bit more since.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

I need that reminder.

The psalmist captures it in a hauntingly beautiful fashion: Psalm 39:5 “Lord, let me know my end and the number of my days, so that I may know how short my life is.”

Microscopic organisms and Mack Trucks and malignant tumors are no respecters of persons.

It’s going to end.

Life, that is.

When is the variable, not if.

Ash to ash, dust to dust…

For what or whom are you living? Spiritual or not, everyone has to answer.

Do you live for what you get more of when you die? If so, you could say, like St. Paul, “to live is Christ; to die is gain.”

 

Ever feel like you’re serving in a ministry of death?

Death // Spirit

Condemnation // Righteousness 

Fading // Enduring

These are the contrasts employed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. For the sake of context, please take it in

“Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to look directly at Moses’ face because of the glory from his face — a fading glory —8 how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation had glory, the ministry of righteousness overflows with even more glory. 10 In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was fading away was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.”

— ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭3:8-11‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

It’s a weird text, really. Paul is saying that the old laws (e.g., 10 commandments) were a ministry of death and condemnation and, ultimately, are fading. Makes you want to jump into Deuteronomy and read it all right now, doesn’t it?  

But when you compare the old law, now fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 5:17-18), with the law of the Spirit, now you’re talking about something different. It’s the law of life and peace (Romans 8:6). Life and peace or death and condemnation…tough choice. Yet we choose the latter so often.

This got me thinking about just how easy it is, given our various ministries contexts, we to feel, well, dead. Whether that ministry is on a church staff or in a Christian school or at a dentist’s office, unless it is being lived out though the Spirit at all times, it will feel like death, like condemnation, like a fading fad. 

See, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” writes Paul later in 2 Corinthians 3:17. Freedom. Do you feel free–more free!–in your work because of Jesus? Because the Spirit of God dwells in you and leads you? 

If not, something’s off. If I work day in and day out and feel dead or condemned or like the work is petty, then I’m not living life in the Spirit. I’m living by my power, for the approval of others, or something lesser than the Almighty God. I’m certainly not living by the Spirit. 

If it’s really better for everyone that Jesus left us the Holy Spirit and ascended into heaven, then how about showing the world how it’s better? I think the world is calling our bluff, dear church. It’s our move. 

What would a life of freedom lived in and by the Spirit look like? How radically different would it be from the mostly mundane lives of death we’re living now?