Choosing Fruitfulness

“There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. A successful person has the energy to create something, to keep control over its development, and to make it available in large quantities. Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. A child is the fruit conceived in vulnerability, community is the fruit born through shared brokenness, and intimacy is the fruit that grows through touching one another’s wounds. Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness” (Henri Nouwen).

I’m not anti-success. I love it when I try something new or take on a difficult task and succeed at it. Success is a great feeling.

But it should not be the final aim of the believer. Fruitfulness should.

To be fruitful is to pass along a legacy of faith first handed down to you.

To be fruitful is simply to abide in Jesus and let His work take root and grow in you, to let His words sink deep into the soil of your heart, and to let His love germinate inside you until it encompasses your whole being.

Let us choose success, but let us choose foremost to be fruitful.

 

Thoughts On Mr./Mrs. Jenner

I’ve been thinking about the former Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner. There are a lot of people applauding how brave he/she is and there are other’s villifying him/her.

Here’s what I think.

I think that if Bruce wasn’t happy with who he was, then I doubt Caitlyn will be. I think that once all the media hoopla has died down, once Caitlyn returns to whatever semblance of normalcy that she can manage, she will find out that changing the outside won’t fix what’s wrong on the inside.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my own life. Actually, it’s something that I keep coming back to again and again because I’m so forgetful.

It’s only in Jesus that you can have enough or be enough because Jesus in and of Himself is enough.

Those who chase after fame or wealth or status will eventually find that it doesn’t quite fill the vacuum inside. Nothing fills that God-shaped hole except God.

I have enough because I have Jesus. I am enough because Jesus is enough and He has me. It’s really that simple. No matter what happens from this point forward, it will always be that simple and true.

I truly hope that Caitlyn Jenner finds for herself that Jesus is enough.

I hope that I keep finding out and keep being reminded that Jesus is enough, because chasing after the Joneses and the brass rings and climbing the ladders are all so very exhausting.

Jesus is enough.

I can feel my heart-rate slowing as I read those words. I remember that it’s really not up to me to make my life work, to give my own life meaning. I remember that Jesus promised He would meet me where I was, love me as I am, and take me where I need to be.

That is enough because Jesus is enough.

 

Blog #1,796 (or What I Took Away from Another Good Night at Kairos)

Tonight’s guest speaker was Tyler McKenzie, who spoke from the Beatitudes about what it meant to be blessed.

American culture has a decidedly different take on what being blessed looks like than Jesus. Unfortunately, too many believers (including me at times) have fallen into their idea that wealth, success, power, popularity, and recognition are what it looks like when you’re blessed.

Jesus had a very different idea. He said that you were blessed if you were poor in spirit, mourning, meek, righteous, merciful, pure in heart, and persecuted. Those are not concepts that you’ll find in the self-help section of the bookstore or in any motivational speeches. At least not in 99% of them.

Blessing involves foregoing the immediate and temporary pleasures of the now for a greater and lasting joy that’s partly now but mostly later. It means following the path of Jesus, who for the future joy set before Him endured the present pain and suffering of the cross.

Pain and suffering aren’t words we normally associate with blessing. I’d much rather have comfort and convenience (and chocolate as often as possible). I’d rather choose the easy over the hard path. Sometimes, I’m content to hunker down in my safe haven and pray to be able to coast into heaven. But that’s not the gateway to joy.

As I remember, the Greek word for blessed is a very interesting word. Before Jesus used it in this context, it wasn’t ever used to refer to people but rather to the gods. But here Jesus is saying that if you’re poor in spirit, you have the joy that God has. You can experience (or come as close to experiencing as any fallen human can) the state of blessedness that God lives in. You can have joy overflowing and life abundant.

I don’t want this to turn into another burden of “you and I really need to add this to the list of things we need to work on.” It’s not something I need to work on, but something Jesus is already working on in me. Ultimately, I’m not blessed because I have it all together but because I know that Jesus has it all together and He has me.

 

Elvis Turns 80?

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So, today would have been Elvis Presley’s 80th birthday. August 16 will mark 38 years since he passed away very suddenly in 1977 and left the music world in mourning. People still show up at Graceland on the anniversary of his death almost 40 years later to mourn and grieve his passing.

I was a huge Elvis fan when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because my dad loved Elvis’ music. Maybe it was because even at a young age, I connected with the singer who grew up in Memphis and never forgot where he came from even after he became mega-successful.

Elvis is a reminder to all of us that fame can be the best and worst thing to happen to a person. It’s the best because all their dreams come true and it can be the worst because all the scrutiny and pressure on that person increases a thousandfold and any character flaws that person has are magnified and exposed in a myriad of ways.

So maybe that’s why I haven’t been hugely successful and popular with my blog. Yeah, I’ll go with that.

I’ve heard stories about how Elvis never lost his love for Gospel music and always sung spiritual and sacred songs at his concerts. I can’t speak into the man’s beliefs, but to me that says something. It reminds me of my grandmother who passed away from Alzheimer’s a few years back. She couldn’t tell you her address or probably remember your name, but she could still remember the old hymns that she grew up loving.

There’s power in those songs, both old and new. When Andre Crouch sang about the blood that never loses its power, he was singing powerful truth.

So I watched a couple of Elvis movies and remembered that as an actor, Elvis was a really good singer. His movies aren’t the best ever made and can be painfully bad at times, but they’re still fun to watch.

I personally would much rather listen to his Gospel recordings.

It’s A Good Feeling When . . .

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It’s a good feeling when you can finally be you– the real you– with no shame or embarrassment. That you can be a full-on goober and not care what anybody else thinks. That you can be the ultimate anti-hipster and go against all that is hip and trendy and not give a rat’s . . . tail.

It’s a good feeling when people walk out of your life and you can smile and wave goodbye and move forward. When you know the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind. The people in your life are God’s blessing to you. When He removes people from your life, it’s often a bigger– though underappreciated– blessing. You never really know what He protected and saved you from when He did that.

It’s a good feeling when you’re content with who you are and realize the best things in life can’t be bought or sold or even valued. When you hear your Abba’s voice and decide that that one voice speaks more meaningfully to you than all the other voices of popularity and fame and success.

It’s a good feeling when you can finally forgive yourself for not being all things to all people, for not being perfect all the time, for being a forgiven sinner and not a first-rate saint. It really is a good feeling when you can not only hear God calling you His beloved in whom He is well pleased, but receive it and live out of it and never ever get over it.

So go live boldly. Make big mistakes and fail ridiculously. As one of my favorite quotes from a movies goes, “Have the courage to fail big and stick around and make ’em wonder why you’re still smilin’.”

And most of all, go out and love being you because not even you can love being you as much as God does.

 

A Beautiful Borrowed Lenten Prayer

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I found this Lenten prayer from Henri Nouwen when checking my email. I’m subscribed to a site that sends me a daily quote of his because I am a huge fan of his writing. This one spoke powerfully to me and echoed my own thoughts better than I could ever express them. It seems very appropriate for this Ash Wednesday.

“The Lenten season begins. It is a time to be with you, Lord, in a special way, a time to pray, to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.

I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, pleasure, power, and influence. Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.

I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are not times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.

Please, Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life that you have prepared for me. Amen.”

I could only add that God would give me the discipline to take the time I normally spend on social media and use it to delve into His Word and not just read words but to have my mind and heart transformed by what I read.

 

The Kingdom of God and My Expectations

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In the Gospels, there’s a part where the crowds that had been chanting hosannas about Jesus suddenly did a 180 and started shouting for his crucifixion. I”ve always wondered why the sudden about-face?

Then I got to thinking. Maybe it’s because Jesus didn’t fulfill their expectations of what the Messiah would show up and what the Kingdom He ushered in would look like.

They were fixated on the idea of a political Messiah routing the Romans and restoring the rule of Israel to the Israelites. They looked for Jesus to lead an army prepared to fight, but what they saw was Jesus teaching a rag-tag following about going the extra mile and turning the other cheek. So the crowds turned on him.

I wonder if I don’t have false expectations of the Kingdom of God. Maybe we all do.

Maybe we think of the Kingdom of God in terms of electing Christians into Congress and the Senate and getting our kinds of laws passed. Or maybe the Kingdom of God is seen as a kind of utopia where there are no poor people and where we all share and share alike.

I personally have thought of the Kingdom of God in terms of where Christians are the majority and where we have a lot of power and influence.

But the truth of the matter is that the Kingdom of God is nothing more or less than the presence of God among His people. It is His rule and reign. It is now AND not yet.

Sometimes, I’ve thought the Kingdom of God meant an uninterrupted pathway to peace and prosperity and success. I’m finding out that it’s not. More often, the Kingdom of God looks like persecution and suffering. It looks like losing.

But Jesus said that in the Kingdom, the first would be last and the least would be the greatest. He said that whoever wanted to save his life had to start off by losing it.

In my own experience, it means that I’m not promised a 100% success rate or comfort or prosperity. I am promised that Jesus will always be with me and never leave or forsake me.

I know there’s a whole lot more to the Kingdom of God, but these are some thoughts I’ve had recently and I thought I’d share them with you. May these words bring you comfort and hope and may the God of all comfort and hope be with you.

The Love of God Revisited

“Take your human feelings, multiply them exponentially into infinity, and you will have a hint of the love of God revealed by and in Jesus Christ.  With a strong affirmation of our goodness and a gentle understanding of our weakness, God is loving us – you and me – this very moment, just as we are and not as we should be.  There is nothing any of us can do to increase his love for us and nothing we can do to diminish it” (Brennan Manning).

Tonight at Kairos, I got a much-needed reminder about the unconditional love of God for me.

It’s easy for me (and I’m sure you as well) to get caught up in the trap of a performance-based view of love and then transfer it to God. It goes like this:

If I live right, God will love me more.

If I read my Bible more, God will love me more.

If I tithe more, attend church services more, treat people better, and so on and on. . . .

The truth is that if I never read my Bible one more time, God’s love for me would remain undiminished (thanks to Michael Boggs for that gem of a reminder).

The truth is that the nature of God as love means that He cannot love any less than perfectly anymore than He can be anything less than 100% holy or 100% righteous. So He is 100% loving toward you and me.

The catch is that He chooses to love me when He doesn’t have to. He chooses to love you simply because it is His pleasure and His delight. It’s nothing that you and I bring to the table or anything about us that makes us lovable. Only the love of God in us and for us can make us lovable.

A dangerous prayer to pray (that may not seem dangerous) is to ask God to show you just how much He loves you. Your mind won’t be able to contain the answer. After all, it is beyond human comprehension or understanding.

As always, let that love be what defines you, not what your friends say or think, what your annual job performance review tells you, what your level of success and influence tells you, or anything like that. You are not defined by marital status, career, finances, popularity, or even religious standing.

Only God’s love has the power to define (or redefine) you, heal you, save you, and transform you into something worth loving.

Oh, and one more thing. I’m not loved this much to hoard it all. I’m loved so that I can receive it and turn around and love those around me the same way. In fact, the true measure of how I’ve really received the love of God is how well I share it with those around me who need it most but deserve it least.

Just think about that for a while and see if it doesn’t blow your mind.

The Winning Side

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“So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty” verdict is already declared. Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing. As the psalm says, On Your behalf, our lives are endangered constantly; we are like sheep awaiting slaughter. But no matter what comes, we will always taste victory through Him who loved us. For I have every confidence that nothing—not death, life, heavenly messengers, dark spirits, the present, the future, spiritual powers, height, depth, nor any created thing—can come between us and the love of God revealed in the Anointed, Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39, The Voice)

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I love how Pastor Mike described salvation this morning. He said it was like when you played at recess. The team captain, who also happened to be the best player, picked you. Suddenly, you went from a nobody to being on the winning team, because this guy’s (or gal’s) teams always won.

Jesus picked you. Don’t ever miss that. He intentionally chose you because He wanted you on His team, not because you were the only one left and somebody had to take you.

Jesus set His heart on you from day one. Actually, before then. He chose you before you were born, before your parents were born, before any of creation. He saw you at your darkest moment and said, “This one’s mine.”

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If He loved you like that at your very worst, what makes you think He won’t love you just as much or more now? If God is for you, does it really matter who or what comes up against you? Can anything ever really for a moment come between you and Jesus’s love for you?

One word: nope.

Nothing gets in the way of Jesus loving you. Not your past, not your bad habits, not your fears, not your failures, not your abandonment, not your anxiety, and not even you.

A movie or sporting event becomes way less stressful once you know the outcome. If you know in advance your team won, then you don’t get overly worked up when your team fumbles or misses a shot or strikes out. You can handle the main character in a movie getting in trouble if you know he ends up alright in the end.

Have you read the last page of the Bible? Guess what? Your side wins. Overwhelming victory is yours through Christ. You don’t fight for victory but FROM it. That’s a huge relief (at least for me it is).

That’s some very good news.

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Strictly Grace Lessons

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I saw a movie tonight. For the first 10 or so minutes, I wasn’t so sure I had made a wise blu-ray purchase. But by the end, I was loving it. It’s now my very favorite Baz Luhrmann movie.

Kinda like grace.

Sometimes, like the movie, grace calls us to step out from what’s normal and expected. Grace calls us to go to places no one in their right mind would go and to love people no one else wants to be around, much less love.

Grace has a rhythm all its own, one that can’t be counted but only felt in the heart. Grace dances to a different drummer with different steps and leads to the most unexpected yet most amazing places.

Sometimes, you have to let go of people who don’t understand or who don’t want to walk your new path with you. Sometimes, you will meet up with the people you least expected to follow you in this new grace-dance.

I realize I am probably mixing all kinds of metaphors here, but my point is this. Be YOU and chase YOUR dream and pursue YOUR calling. YOU have a role in the Kingdom of God that only you can play, a note only you can sing, a dance step only you can do.

I know that I never would have dreamed I’d be where I am (much less be full of this much joy). I may not have much or look like much according to the typical definitions of success and accomplishments, but I am finding out what  it means to be the Beloved and to live out of that Love. It’s better than any six figure salary or trophy wife or mansions or fancy cars.

I still love being me, although I sometimes still have moments of awkward goofiness. That’s what makes me me. That’s the way God made me and He’s the only one I ultimately have to please, Not you. Not Me. God.

That’s all that matters.

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