Medals-with-red-ribbon-on-white-backgroundI think many of us males get lost in our need for significance and success. We measure our lives against the expectations of culture and our closest peer group. In doing so we forget the crucial identity piece: Who are we? My closest peer group has been leaders in Pentecostal circles. Our conversations so often centered around what we did and how well we did it. I’ve  most of my working life the pressure to perform well and be successful. The compulsion to impress any given audience was my only way to show how worthy I was of support. It came to a head while being a missionary in Thailand. I left for Thailand under a central funding model, but  years later it was transitioned to a shared funding model where every missionary was responsible to find his own support, every penny! That’s when I did myself an injustice and began to worry too much about my performance. That’s when competition crept in too.

The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Which is true. But so is the fear of not having enough, it can have detrimental effects on your life. I remember a seasoned Dollarsveteran teaching me how to raise money.  Since my wife at the time didn’t get a salary, but was very involved in what I did, he told me to tell congregations, “See, here you get two missionaries for the price of one!” And I would follow-up that statement with: “There’s no better deal than that, right?” Not only that, I would add that I was no newbie, and had sacrificed a lot to learn languages, cultures, and live in extreme weather! That’s how I presented. I actually don’t know if my new kind of talk helped or hindered the raising of funds. I think now it sounded ‘entitled.’ But in the moment I tried to impress.  I became reduced to how one dictionary described performance:  “the continual performance of a single task reduces a man to the level of a machine.” I felt machine-like wherever I went to ask, ask and ask again for support.

Now performance in itself is not evil and we all should do our very best with the hand God has given to us. However I had to come to my own conclusion as a ‘preacher’ and spiritual catalyst of sorts that I am not my performance on Sunday (or any other day when I am in front of some group speaking for that matter.) If you are a spiritual leader reading this, I encourage you to get this right; you and I are not ‘the great holy man of God’ that some want to label us with. We are not Moses, Billy G, or John Maxwell! And most of us are glad that we aren’t Bill Hybels right about now. But oh how we wanted, at one time or another, to be known as a successful world-shaker, right? But better watch out if you make that your identity! Here is a better more accurate picture of our identity, we are servants, we are lovers, and we are God’s children. That takes off some of the silly pressure that we put on ourselves to be something. Our roles and gifts are not our identity. They are simply the way we express our love to God and His world.

Since my brain surgery in 2012 I’ve tried to be more me, more authentic. Well, ‘try’ is maybe the wrong word, I’ve determined to be more me. That means not worrying so much about the expectations of others. It also has led me to being more open to the struggles of others. I’ve become more sensitive to the pain of others, more forgiving, more inclusive and hopefully more like Jesus. I now am also less afraid, too, of who I hang out with. I like people of all kinds from those who like to eat non-fat yogurt to those who smoke a pipe! And I’ve noticed people like to be around that kind of me, too.  It is kindness, not judgement, that slowly changes people’s attitudes and lives.

But it is not easy walking this path. Many people in church leadership structures want performance reports with numbers about all aspects of ministry. The stress on uniformity and speaking the same language (doctrine) and the need to be successful and more successful than the guy down the street is real. In many circles uniformity is next TheSoldierPeteto godliness. And this is where I return to my main point, if you don’t know your identity, you’ll confuse your self-worth with what you do and how well you do it. Performance.  Yes, it is a good feeling to be able to show big numbers. However I believe the epiphany we need in life happens when we realize I am not my big numbered performance. There’s more to me than that.  I am loved for who I am. And my life is about being true and faithful and generous and caring and not caring who sees me.

So stand up confidently and be different. Be quirky if it is you. Be engagingly outgoing if it is you. But please be unabashedly you.


Greatness: Just the Basics

The Greatness Question:

Was Jesus really the wisest teacher of all?

Did the way He live out His short life revolutionise our world?

The writers of the four books we call the gospels shared stories that made themselves look less than stellar. They had no shame in doing so. They were goobers, spiritually inept. One thing can be said though, when in the presence of greatness, they knew it, and thus it mattered not how clumsily insignificant they came off looking in the annals of history. What mattered most was the story. They all knew to the very last of them that the one who was in their midst was no ordinary rabbi. Here’s a Christ (not Jesus last name, by the way!) that breaks all the rules, gets all the religious establishment gunning for him and leaves everyone in awe. One of the more awkward disciples, Peter, would soon say what Jewish culture considered blasphemy and ascribe to Jesus the status of “Godhood!” In Peter’s eyes, Jesus was that good!

My friend David Hazard tells the story of one of his church members at the time who was on the same plane as the renowned Pittsburgh Penguins. She knew absolutely nothing about hockey. She unwittingly bumped in Mario Lemieux, (known as Super Mario and one of history’s most talented forwards) and after some small conversation about hockey, she asked, “So Mario, are you any good?” Ha! Are you any good? I think Mario answered something like, “Yeah, I’m not bad!”

We all love talking about the greatest this or that. A conversation starter often is like this, “What’s the greatest movie, book, leader of all time?” We’d answer, “Yeah, that wasn’t bad.” It was also the conversation starting question that the disciples asked Jesus on more than one occasion, “Jesus, who is the greatest in our gang?” I think you know that this line of questioning is a troubling one. The need to be great and remembered has ruined many a man! 

The way Jesus answers their question surprises. Jesus begins by saying, “Unless you change… (change what?) your way of thinking about greatness…” (Mathew 18:3) Oh, by the way, did you know that the word, “repent,” actually means to change your way of thinking. Now that might surprise a lot of people who think repenting is crying over bad choices and deeds. Not really! It begins with a turn around in the way we think, perceive and understand.

Wrong thinking is what we call stinking thinking and that smell pervades how we, like every society, elevate and grovel before leaders.  Even in the context of church life have you noticed how hierarchies, status building, elitism and hero worship still remain today? Be clear about it, it was never meant to be that way. Jesus flips the script on His followers and says, “Keep thinking that way and you are not going to amount to much in the Kingdom!” And because Jesus wants us to repent (change our thinking on this issue) He does the unthinkable, grabs a little child and says, “Unless you become like this kid, you will never be great in God’s eyes.”

Think about this physical metaphor in the eyes of Jesus’ followers. In light of what we know of the culture in Jesus’ day, it was a culture that focused around adults. There was little catering to children in that day. The disciples didn’t even like having these twerps take up any of Jesus’ time. And Jesus, with the child in his arms, implicitly says, “This is the best model of leadership I know, the one standing before you right now, this kid!” Imagine that! There before them was a kid who enjoyed no status, no rights, no entitlement and had little inclination to push to get to the top.” Children own their littleness. That is the purest way to lead Jesus says.

I am sure there is nothing wrong with wanting your life to count, even wanting greatness in some form! However, can I say is like this, greatness should be defined as humility joined with awesome potential and confident love.

Maybe the most revolutionary thing Jesus did in the eyes of His inner circle was on the night he was betrayed, in that upper chamber filled with food, sweat and dirty feet.The narrative says Jesus knew where He had come from and was going and knew that the Father had given Him true leadership over all, (John 13:3). The fooImaged was ready for enjoyment. Custom said that feet needed to be washed before food was consumed. But there was no one to wash their dirty feet. Immediately, without hesitating, Jesus hangs up his robes, takes the towel and begins washing their feet. Of course it is the proudest of the bunch, Peter, that remonstrates and refuses the water and towel on his dirty feet, “You really want to go down that far, Jesus?”

And Jesus says, “This is how we do it in my Kingdom.”

Peter, who we keep using as a less-than-stellar example, learned humility the hard way, lousy embarrassing failure!  But eventually Peter, after repeated red-faced anguished moments, learned it and afterwards he wrote a letter to all his friends about it, using prose like this,Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

Most run from the way and posture of humility, it’s not human nature to want live under the greatness of another. Yet it must begin with us.  It begins with the bedrock realisation that we are alive in our world and in the presence of the Greatest One that has ever been. No more posturing or needing to impress the masses or even a handful because, heck, we know we lost the ‘greatness competition’ already! Nothing we could do could really impress the One who knows all and is the greatest. We must find a way to hang up our robes of grandeur and humble ourselves by trusting that we are already loved, worthy and in are included in His-story.

I finish with the repeated reminder that greatness is not about big bank accounts, world travels or how successful we appear before our peers and our world. I actually laughed when I wrote this last sentence as I thought of Jesus’ bank account on earth, He never even barely stepped out of that tiny swath of land called Israel and in the end it look like he lived a life that was a complete failure. Ironic. Yet this wounded one carries today an authority unmatched. This man that emptied himself of all status, trusted His Father, quite like a child, to make the story of his life bring the change needed to millions upon millions of people. I am one of those people. He was and still is that good! Revolutionary.