The last five years have been one opportunity after another to do something different. To quit running, turn around, stare the fear down, and run straight into it. I have been astounded again and again by how many of these fears were “monsters under the bed” with no more reality than my childhood imaginations.
Here is the latest fear I have confronted. Money. Not running out of it, but asking for it. Here is the story.
When Landmark Journey Ministries began almost two months ago, the board set a figure to raise: $84,000 for one year ($7000/month). It would be the capital to get the ministry off and running. So I was asked to do something I have never, ever done…call others and ask for money.
The fear of this was not terror or panic. It came out instead as a mild anxiety and discomfort. But I knew I needed to push through it because of what this ministry could do for others. But more importantly because I knew God called me to it. So I got a large list of names and started. The first few conversations I fumbled and stumbled over my words. There were other conversations where I just couldn’t pull the trigger. It felt like being a teenager, calling a girl for a date, and never asking! Other times I would avoid the topic until the very end of the time on the phone.
The real breakthrough came for me one day when I made some calls to complete strangers. I remember one conversation that had actually gone well and this popped out of my heart: “If I can do this, I can do anything.” It hit me that fear was no longer stopping me. I had broken this barrier. I felt alive, tingling, with a deep strength welling up inside of me.
Paul said in the book of Romans that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” I know that his words mean so much more than just handling fear. But I can’t help but believe that they at least include fear. That’s what I felt like in that moment, like a loved conqueror.
So here is the question. What is fear stopping you from today? What would happen if you quit running and stared it down?
I have a good friend who grew up hunting. He loves the challenge of it, but more than anything, he loves being outdoors, in the quiet, away from the helter-skelter of daily life. So when his son was old enough, he began to take him hunting, coaching him along the way. The son, now a young man, loves hunting, the skill of it as well as the scenic beauty. In many ways, the son picked up his delight in hunting as it rubbed off onto him from his father.
I believe this is just how we grow in the things of Christ. The New Testament says over and over again that the trajectory of our lives, once we have decided to follow Jesus, is headed in one direction only: we are to become like him. And one of the main ways that happens is by this transfer of delight. We are to get close enough to the Father through Jesus so that what he loves, we begin to love. What he delights in, we begin to delight in.
God becomes the emotional template for our hearts, what we pattern ourselves after, much like the son did with his father in hunting. We begin to feel what God feels, long for what he longs for, love what he loves. That’s how we become more like his Son.
So, what does the Father delight in? I ran across this verse last week that answered the question in a point-blank way. “But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth,”…and then the kicker…”for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jer. 9:24)
There it is. Kindness. Justice. Righteouness. It’s a really good place to start. This is what God loves. So I need to get close enough to him each morning to feel this, to love what he loves. It’s how I have felt such deep change in me recently as I think about loving others each day, engaging them, and delighting in God’s image inside of them.
But my mind projects further out. What if the human race as a whole delighted in just these three things? What would happen to our world? What evils would be eradicated, what relationships restored, what beauty unveiled?
And then I get it. That’s heaven.
The question is jarring. Yet it leads to other more uncomfortable questions. Is there just one thing? How do I find it? What do I do once I find it? What will it cost me to do it? What will happen if I don’t?
I have come to believe that inside each of us is a task, something we must do that flows out of who we really one. To find out our identity and then our special task in life is the one precious thing that puts the pieces of our lives together. It is the desire woven into all our other longings.
It made me think about the desire written in my heart to help men, both as fathers and as sons. It made me consider the suffering involved in doing the task as well as letting go of other paths. But more importantly, I am realizing the depth of the desire in me.
For the one desire is not something you could do with your life. It is the one thing you cannot live without doing. And here is the really intriguing thing. When you open the pages of the Bible, you find God calling out men and women to that one precious thing, that one task. It becomes their passion, their quest.
One final note. This is not just a good idea. It’s the one idea that makes everything else in our lives good.
So what in the world are these boys doing? A new form of workout? Getting bitten by bugs? Having a contest to see who can jump the highest? But that wasn’t the only strange photo I took this weekend. I happened to be called by this young man to look at what he had done. This was the picture I snapped:
So…anybody got any idea what I was doing and where I was? It was step back into the past for me, one that was so much a part of my life that this blog got its name, Words from Coach D. Yes, this is the high school boys cross country team at a meet in N. Alabama. I was the designated bus driver (not the coach!), and the boys were doing their traditional cheer before the race. For the second photo…keep reading!
The meet is the biggest one I have ever seen, with 6000 runners in 10 or so races. There was a torrential storm before it all began, so the race course quickly became a mud pit. But what I noticed most of all was not the course conditions or even their race times. What I noticed was what the team wanted after the race.
I went around to each runner, and they each began to eagerly tell me a story of excitement or disappointment, depending on how their race went. But they weren’t as interested in any specific pointers I may have given. What they wanted was my time, my ear, my heart. They just wanted to know that I noticed, that I listened, that they were important.
I was struck again by the magic of coaching, but its power, its wonder. But I was further reminded that this is exactly what we all long for–to be listened to, coached, guided, and loved despite our mistakes.
And then it hit me. This is exactly what God offers to us through Jesus. He offers to coach us, to lead us into the truth, to always hear us, and to love us to the end. It is this personal coaching from the Father that has so revolutionized my life. To hear his personal encouragement and guidance has been the key to the healing of my heart. And I believe it is key to every human heart.
By the way…the second photo was an injured runner building a sand structure in the starting boxes! Love it!!
The last blog noted the clutter of motives that entangle our lives. Now it’s time for some cleaning.
I got a good taste of what this may be like recently. Here was the challenge: clean out our corner garden in the backyard. Sounds easy enough until you get a look at it. Weed-choked, thorn-infested bramble with no discernible beginning or ending. I was faced with an immediate dilemma. Where in the world do I start? It seemed the only way through was work the edges and move back.
And so it began. I cut, pruned, pulled, yanked, grabbed (very carefully with all the thorns), and tossed it all out in the yard.
I stopped and picked up the next day, this time to tackle the remaining bushes. More cutting and hacking. And then the really tough stuff. To get rid of the weeds and bramble, I was going to have to go for the roots. I dug and chopped and ripped out long tentacles that had burrowed in every conceivable part of the garden. But now it no longer looked like a garden, but a blown-up mine field.
But that’s where we wanted to go. Now we can start over with a new garden that is clean, clipped, and hopefully one day radiant.
It struck me in all my sweat that this is the inner work we need to do. The bramble of fears, the weeds of guilt, the thorns of pressure, the roots of shame–it all has to be cleaned out. This is the work that we hate to consider. And if we do, we don’t know even where to start. It will probably cause us pain. It will probably make us weary. And there may be times when we despair and think that we can’t do anymore.
But when it is done, there is something there that is clean and clipped. It is the our hearts–ready to live out of desire, ready to connect to God, ready to reflect glory. And hopefully one day we will look radiant.
So what about you? Are you ignoring the clutter? Or are you clearing it out?
Why are you doing what you are doing? This week? Today? Right now? It almost seems like a silly question. But underneath the apparent silliness is an ocean of chaos, darkness, and questions we would often rather not face. Here are some common reasons why we do what we do…
- We live out of obligation, duties that are imposed on us, or ones that we impose on ourselves. We don’t feel free but almost robotic.
- We live out of pressure, pressure to perform and to live up to some standard in our families, our schools, our workplaces, or our churches.
- We live out of guilt, trying to make things better, or appeasing those we have offended, or just trying to run away from it.
- We live out of shame, covering what we don’t want to have exposed or dreading the exposure that may come.
- We live out of fear, avoiding whatever we are scared of, not considering what would happen if we faced it.
Of course, there are other motives, but this is a good list to get us thinking. For underneath the surface of our daily behavior lies an ugly tangle of motives and drives. All of this not only blocks us from true happiness in life, it blocks out real intimacy with God.
A number of years ago, I had go below the surface and examine the ugly tangle in my own heart. It was not something I easily chose…but something I had to do to get out of the black hole I was in. And after pulling the tangle up and straightening it all out, here is what I discovered. It’s the one motive that frees me to be the man I long to be, the one reason to do everything. It’s one simple word:
To feel the Father’s delight in me through Jesus, to really feel that, is now Job #1 for me every morning. And then to live the rest of the day so that I can stay in that delight is Job #2. It is to do everything because I love my Father and I love staying in his delight of me as his son.
And now I realize something else. This was also the secret of Jesus’ extraordinary life. But there’s even more. He wants us to come and experience that. Incredible.
That’s the invitation of Christianity. That’s the invitation to all of us. Right now.
I like to think that I love adventures, and often I do. But true adventures are full of unknowns, including things we don’t like or can’t control. Just such an adventure happened to Heidi and I today.
We spent a wonderful weekend visiting our daughter in Knoxville and decided on the drive back to Nashville to take a hike somewhere. We looked up hikes along I-40 and ran across something we had never heard about, Mt. Roosevelt State Forest. The mountain for which it is named has an incredible view at the top and a side trail to explore. We were hooked. That’s where we are going to go.
So off the interstate we went on some back roads and then up a narrow paved road up to the top Mt. Roosevelt. The vista that opened out to us was stunning. We could see all the way across the Tennessee River basin to the Smoky Mountains. I had no idea such a view existed from the Cumberland Plateau. The first part of this adventure was going really well.
So then we decided to try to find the side trail. The whole top of the mountain seemed to be fenced in except for a gate that led out onto a small gravel road. It seemed to be the only place for a side trail to start. So off Heidi and I went. Not 20 yards around a bend, we noticed what looked like a house, and then before I could react, a snarling dog came hurtling towards us. I instinctively stood my ground and tried to look big and mean. Standing in front of Heidi, I snatched up some rocks to throw at the dog if needed. Heidi then turned to run back up the road. After a brief stand off, the dog pulled back, and I quickly retreated.
OK…that could have turned out much worse than it did. Heidi and I looked at each other and decided the same thing. No more trails. This adventure was over. We were disappointed, but safe.
It reminded me that walking with God is also an adventure, unknown and sometimes unsafe. And yet always worth it. Heidi and I are still glad we went up Mt. Roosevelt.
If you have never been up this mountain, it is worth seeing.
Just forget about the trail.
Wow…40 years between these photos! So much has changed, and yet some things haven’t. For I may look like the photo on the right. But I have often felt like the one on the left. Especially this morning. Let me explain.
I look reasonably happy at 15, but I was actually miserable. I had my heart broken by a girl and quit track over fear of failure. I often felt disconnected and alone during school. Depression began to rear its ugly head. And underneath it all was a deep self-hatred. I wanted to be anybody except myself.
Over the years, I tried on many costumes to cover it all up. I thought that success or fame or approval could somehow cure all the aches and sadness. But I was deceived. It only made things worse. That’s because I was always running, running from that 15 year old with his shadow haunting my every step.
I knew that I had to do something different. And terrifying. I had to turn and face the shadow and descend into it. I had to surface all the longings of that 15 year old, with all of the pain and confusion, and just wait. I had to wait for someone to come and get me. I had to wait for God.
The waiting has happened in early mornings on my back porch with my Bible and journal. I wait for the Father to come and get me. Just this morning, I was reading this out of the Bible: “And to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” I was asking to feel that love. And what surfaced was a memory of looking at myself in a mirror at home during those early years. I felt contempt for what I saw, longing to be the popular or athletic one, but knowing that would never happen. I felt trapped.
But then something interrupted that memory. I heard the Father’s whisper: “I love that geeky boy, that stumbling boy.” And about the image in the mirror I heard this: “Let that go. Let me love you.” And with that the release of tears. I was feeling it, the love that surpasses knowledge, no longer trapped.
This is how the boy on the left is becoming the man on the right. Where do you need to let go of your past?