Monday, September 30, 2013

Life in the Valley

He that is down needs fear no fall,
   He that is low, no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
   Have God to be his guide.

--From John Bunyan’s, The Valley of Humiliation

You see the vision. You hear the call. Like Christ’s disciples, you’re up on the mountaintop, seeing Him in all of His transcendent glory and power. “This is it. It’s show time. Raise the banners and blow the trumpets!” And the next thing you know, you are down in what Bunyan called the Valley of Humiliation, singing with BB King, “The Thrill is Gone.” What’s up with that?

“What’s up” is reality. Mountaintop experiences give us a boost, the fuel we need for living down in The Valley where real people are living real lives. The mountain is where we see the vision and hear the call.  The Valley is where we discover the true meaning of the vision and the path to its fulfillment.

It’s easy to live for God’s honor up on the mountain. Well, I say “for God” but come on, it’s partially The Thrill isn’t it: the adrenalin rush that comes with finally seeing and hearing what we have been questing for? The question, however, is this: can we take this “for God” down the mountain and into our daily lives where work needs to get done and where people are not interested in hearing how things are up on the mountain but in what we can do for them, today?

On the mountain you saw that God was God, and that all power in heaven and on earth was His. You saw it. You breathed it. It flooded over you with such a sense of certainty that you knew you would never doubt Him again. As for the vision, you knew-that-you-knew, “This is what I am here for. This is my reason for being in the world. I am going to move mountains with my faith!” But before you can even say, Eureka, you are in The Valley of Humiliation wondering where in the world is God.

Where is the power and glory I experienced?
Where’s the thrill, the nuclear powered faith?

And then comes the temptation to doubt, then to become a skeptic, and then a cynic.

Did I really see and hear God or was it a figment of my imagination?
Does He even care about what’s going on in The Valley?

The Valley is where the true nature of my faith in God and commitment to my vision is tested. How much am I willing to sacrifice for God’s sake, for the sake of realizing my vision, for the sake of loving others as I love myself? How long do I hold on to the promises of God while it feels like He is nowhere to be found?

The Valley is also where I meet two of the greatest enemies I will ever face in this lifetime: The Accuser and Myself.

Next Post: Turning Humiliation Into Humility

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

On The Way To Your Destiny

In the movie The Last Samurai think of Katsumoto as King Arthur and his Samurai as Knights of the Round Table -- before the final battle with the Japanese Emperor’s army, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) asks Algren (Tom Cruise) a very important question:

Katsumoto: Do you believe a man can change his destiny?

Captain Algren: I believe a man does what he can until his destiny is revealed to him.

What do you do when you don’t know what your calling or destiny is? You do what you can, in the present.

Not knowing what your calling is yet is not a call to do nothing.

As I wrote in my last post, while all of us have a peculiar calling, a unique reason for our being here, there is one calling that we have in common: We are all called to seek justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6.8)

In seeking justice, we maintain an awareness of and concern for the fundamental rights and needs of others. Broadly speaking, doing justly to others requires that we treat them with the dignity owed to fellow creatures of God’s. Each individual you encounter has been made in the image of God. (This includes Republicans and Democrats, Hindus and Atheists, Rich and Poor, Dog-lovers and Cat-lovers.) Combine this reality with the words of Christ, that when you have done something to or for “the least of these,” you have done something to or for Christ, and you will have a good place to start regarding seeking justice for all.

When we unpack the Hebrew word for “kindness,” we find words like mercy, benevolence, and faithfulness. Each of us is called to being kind and merciful to others. Every encounter comes with opportunities for demonstrating the fact that this particular individual has worth before God. Show him kindness. Show her mercy. Show them charity. In doing so you are showing them something of God’s heart.

We are all also called to walking humbly with God. Actually, Micah says to walk humbly with your God. Humility is rooted in your relationship with the Almighty. He is God; you are not. He is in charge; you are not. He is not simply, “God.” He is your God. Your life and all of its situations and events belong to Him and are to be lived before, under, and through Him. Whatever your calling turns out to be, it will be heard from within the context of this relationship.

Every worthy quest has within it the quest to serve God wherever you are on your journey. Two of the ways we are all called to serve Him is by seeking justice and being kind to others. Any Merlin worth his salt will tell you that if you aren’t serving God today, if you aren’t following after the call to do what you know to do in this moment, then you aren’t ready to discover your destiny.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Wrong Kind of Great

8th Century B.C. It’s the same old story. Israel has once again gone off the reservation. Its leaders are corrupt. The poor have been kicked to the curb. The people are chasing around some new and shiny idols that are promising fewer commandments, shorter workweeks, and their neighbor’s houses. It's a redefining of good and evil, baby, where everyone can run around proclaiming his goodness while behaving like demon spawn. Can it get any better than this? Right on cue, however, Micah comes along and tells the partiers that God sayeth all of this has led to their destruction and judgment. Time to ditch the party hats and don the sackcloth and ashes.

People: We blew it. Big Time. Mike, tell God we'll square things away with Him by sacrificing a ton of sheep!  

God, however, wasn’t amused or impressed. Micah explains why, when he tells the Israelites that God isn’t after their sacrifices. Never has been. He is after their hearts. Always has been.

One of the more frequent experiences I have come across in people when they first realize that their past quests have been all about their idols-of-choice (greed, fame, power, wealth, being loved and admired, whatever it is by which they evaluated and defined their lives), is a desire to make sacrifices. “I’ll sell my business and go work with some primitive tribe in Africa!” The problem is that the sacrifice is about “me,” in all the wrong ways. I want to feel better about myself. I want to show everyone around me that I am good with God. “Look at my sacrifice. Man. I butchered far more sheep than the other guys…and all my sheep were primo, buddy!”  We totally miss the facts that, 1) God doesn’t need our sacrifices; 2) He is after our hearts; and 3) O yeah. Someone already made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.  

The whole my-awesome-sacrifices routine then morphs into wanting to make the big splash, doing the Great Deed(s) that will set us apart and mark us, either in the eyes of others or in our own minds, as a man or woman who is getting it done. “Look at me, I am slaying dragons!” We’re not going to piddle around with penny ante stuff like being eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, or fathers to the poor. No-siree. My quest is going to be the stuff of legends. But this isn’t about Legendary Leadership, is it? It’s about fame and personal reputation. It’s about me. It’s about asserting my ego, rather than surrendering my heart to God and being made into the man He intends for me to become.

Anyway, back to Micah and Israel’s wanting to establish Sheep Week, where they slaughtered as many as possible, showing God just how great they were … errrrrr sorry they were.

God (via Micah): Uh, no. I am not after self-promoting sacrifices. Actually, I have already shown you what I want: seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6.8) 

People: Come on, Mike. This is the best you got? You call this The Word from God? Point us in the direction of the nearest Goliath and we’ll take his head. All for the glory of God, dontchyaknow.

This is the mindset of someone who is going to have his head handed to him. And then?

Hey, look at me. I lost my head for God’s honor. Top that one, suckerrrrrs!

While each of our paths toward becoming who God called us to be and doing what He called us to do are unique, there are similarities. One of the similarities is that each of us is called to seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God. We are not called to be great, in the sense of being famous. We are all called to quest for transformed hearts and, therefore, lives: lives that demonstrate God’s goodness, love, and mercy, to the world around us.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Monday, September 16, 2013

Psst: God's Calling

You have to love music more than you do food. More than life.
August Rush, 2007

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.
--Charles Bukowski (On Being a Writer)  

These are the words of men who understand the nature of their calling and gifting. Being who I am and seeing what I see, I am propelled forward, my calling is my meat and drink, and the sun of my vision is burning my gut. I have found my reason for being here and believe-you-me I am going to Be That Reason.

But what about you? You love God, love your family and friends, seek to do good work, but when you meet men and women who’s calling comes out of their souls like a rocket, you wonder if there is something wrong with you, as you have no such focused passion, do not feel connected to any Reason for Your Existence. This is a complex issue, for sure, but there are three things I think are important for us to get our heads and hearts around, here. There is a reason for your being here; discovering that reason rarely comes in a single burst of insight; and in every situation you find yourself, the loving God is continually seeking to awaken you.

God created you to be you and “do” you. While we can gain insights and wisdom from the lives of others, we are always Other Than. At the end of time, God isn’t going to ask you why you were not St Paul or Mother Teresa, Michelangelo or Steve Jobs: He is going to ask why you weren’t you. Being a unique individual, both your existence and your reason for being here are unique. Discovering your reason (calling) is ultimately birthed from looking to your Creator and looking within, not at the lives and deeds of other people.

As I pointed out in my book, Legendary Leadership, most of us will never have a Damascus Road experience where a blinding light and voice from above show us the road we are to take and the reason for taking it. Callings are usually gradual dawning’s of awareness where, over time and with halting steps, we find our way. Some have that Ah-ha moment at 30, some at 50, and some, at the end of their days, look back and see, “So, that was my reason.” Yeah. I know. This last one is weird and counter-intuitive. How can you be and do, if at some point you don’t see and hear? But what if all those side roads and detours and switchbacks were God’s path for you? Come on: if you knew the destination, you would have logged into Google maps and found the shortest route and avoided all the roads that were actually leading you toward and preparing you for God’s intention for your life, right?

Right now, in this moment, in every situation and event you find yourself, God is seeking to awaken your mind and heart.  As you reflect on your life’s circumstances, realize that within it all there are seeds of Truth for you: seeds that can grow into wisdom for your life and calling or seeds that will fall by the roadside, because your heart wasn’t receptive. And here lies one of the chief barriers for discovering God’s intention for our lives: our hearts are hardened by fear. Having little faith in the God of Love, we fear the unknown. We fear losing the identity we have created for our false self and to which we have become so attached. Finding God’s seeds of Truth in our life’s circumstances requires a willingness to let go of lies we proclaim as truth, masks we were never meant to wear, and for seeing paths we have willfully ignored. Have courage: He isn’t seeking to lead you to destruction, but toward what St John referred to as “abundant life.”

God’s love for you is infinitely more than you could ever hope. Because of this love, He is and always will be seeking your good, seeking to awaken the real you so that you can do what He called you to. Holding on to faith, hope, and love, is the only way to remaining receptive and malleable, open to the often faint but always clear voice of God who is saying, “This is your path to becoming yourself and realizing My intention for your life.”

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Forbidden Fruit and The Making of Pharisees

God tells Adam that he could eat the fruit of any of the trees in The Garden except that one over there: the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a No-No. Not 24 hours later, Eve adds her twist to the commandment when she tells the serpent that they can’t touch the fruit.

Eve: You know, Adam, I have been thinking. God said we weren’t to eat the fruit of the tree but what if we touch the fruit, the juice then gets on our hands, and we touch our mouths? You see where I am headed, here?

Adam: Got it. Good point. Yeah, verily, boys, God doesn’t want us to touch the tree, to not get near it.

Boys all grow’d up: Cain, I have been wondering about this Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat policy. You know how our children are always playing Kick the Grapefruit? It hit me that, man, if the grapefruit flies up and knocks down some fruit from the No-No Tree, I think the temptation might be too much for them. What do you say we build a fence around that tree? I think this would please God .... probably what He meant to say all along. Able then tells their boys that God’s will is to stay one-hundred yards away from the tree, while Cain begins sawing away at a tree to make wood for a fence: both pleased with themselves for seeing deeper into the mind of God than their parents.

Adam’s Great-grandson to his wife: Honey, the other day the children were playing Throw the Watermelon and it sailed over The Fence of Our Fathers. George being who he is climbed the fence to retrieve it. Scared me to death. What if there had been some forbidden fruit lying on the ground? I was nauseated at the mere thought. We need to erect a new fence, farther away from the old one. So. Up goes a new fence, farther away and higher than the First Fence; only this one was made of stone, so the sight of the tree far off in the distance wouldn’t tempt them. “Children, turns out what God actually requires of us is …”

And so on and on it goes, until there are so many fences that no one has access to all the trees, rivers, and beauty, of the Garden where all is good and to be enjoyed … except the fruit of the No-No-Tree, which is not to be eaten.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Say It!

At the airport the other day, I overheard a lady telling the man she was sitting next to, “Don’t tell me you love me: show me.”  I get that. Many people are all talk and no show. But my experience is that just as many people have difficulty expressing love and care, verbally. How long has it been since you told your spouse, parents, children, or friends, “I love you” or “I so value our friendship,” or “I deeply care for you,” or even an, “I believe in you”?

“I told her I loved her 25 years ago when we were married. If I change my mind, I’ll let her know.” Great. Really funny. And wrong headed.

Telling someone that you love him in a way that truly communicates your heart requires a vulnerability that, for some people, is quite uncomfortable. Question: is this loved-one worth rising above your comfort zone or not?

Demonstrations of love are critical, for sure. Being loyal, honoring, and kind is important behavior in our relationships. But words are just as important. Sometimes I can’t see your love because of my self-doubt or some other issue. Sometimes I don’t see your behavior as “for me.”  Sometimes you are the same way. Sometimes we need to hear you say it.

A few weeks back a friend of mine, who is a Police chaplain, posted a comment on Facebook about how he had presided over five funerals that week. He then noted how we don’t tell our loved ones how much we love them often enough, “can’t tell them often enough.” Don’t wait for a funeral to remind you of the frailty and fleeting nature of life. Don’t wait for a special occasion. You need to say, “I love you,” as much as your loved ones need to hear it.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013