I wrote this almost 6 months ago and sat on it. I wanted to make sure that I was not just letting emotional lightning scorch the keys and then publish a vain and wayward post. As I have had my coffee with Jesus over the last several months, I still feel the same way… even though some things have changed. So…
Jealous may not be the word I am looking for, or even the best word to describe what I am feeling, but what I feel seems to feel a lot like jealousy.
And why wouldn’t I be jealous?
I have seen Dan struggle, think, sacrifice, and work like a mule in order to become a pharmacist. (I still don’t see how it is all that hard though, I mean, you’re just counting pills and calling people’s names right? Just Kidding!) I have seen Dan persevere through some mentally and emotionally grueling days and I rejoiced with him and his family when he landed a job. Albeit a LONG commute each day from home and not quite the environment that he had hoped for, but a job none the less.
When we made our detour trip through Washington en route to Japan, Dan picked us up from SeaTac. He told me about this great opportunity that, more or less, just fell in his lap. As Dan was telling me the ins and outs of what was going on, I was getting super excited for him. I felt as though he was scared of committing to this new opportunity. Did I mention that Dan is a calm, quiet, gentle man? Though I was busting at the seams with excitement for him, I tried to temper that and merely encourage him to take the offer, or at least meet with whoever he needed to meet with to see if things really were going to be as good as they sounded. Were it my decision, I would have jumped at it in a heartbeat.
My family stayed with Dan and his family while in town and used his home and backyard as a defacto base of operations. We had many MANY late LATE nights with some of the people we were involved with before we left the Great State of Washington.
Dan sat with me every night that I was there. His house became a revolving door of men, one at a time, or married couples, coming in and going out almost constantly in order to spend time with me or my wife and I (and sometimes just my wife) and Dan was by my side for almost every bit of it. These people would share with us the joys and sorrows, the victories and struggles of their lives over the last year or so and would look to Jessica and I for advice, counsel, and encouragement… which we were STOKED to give. (Something in me just comes magnificently alive when I get to function in this role) I would listen and would engage, all the while noticing that Dan would have his fingers running at mach 3 through the pages of his Bible. At one point it seemed like he had 13 fingers holding 15 different passages of scripture in queue. Dan would say nothing… or almost nothing… most of the time. When he would speak up, I would be blown away by the depth of his wisdom and insight. Every. Single. Time.
When Dan and I would talk after all of the visitors had left, I would be amazed at how concerned Dan would seem. These meetings were adventurous bouts of spiritual and emotional grappling which fuel my fire and leave me refreshed and encouraged at the end of the night. Did y’all catch that? These long hours and stressful, delicate conversations leave me refreshed and encouraged. These meetings are things that I pursue and run after, engaging every chance I get with little hesitation. Like jumping out of the car and running down a wilderness trail with reckless abandon. Dan seemed to view these meetings with… um… well… with what seemed like a bit more maturity. He seemed to be, at the same time, intimidated and confident, simultaneously academic and studious while being deeply burdened and frankly concerned.
This seems to have rabbit trailed from why I am jealous of a pharmacist to simply being a tribute to my Bro-mantic feelings for Dan. I digress.
Why am I jealous of this man? He has been deeply blessed in a very real, tangible, public way. That is what fuels my jealousy. This is such a problem for me. I see Dan’s life and I see the principles and themes present therein and I immediately think that if I apply these to my life, then I too will be blessed in a truly deep, tangible, and public way. If I make the right sacrifices, if I work hard enough, if I study long enough, if I persevere and endure the hardships, then one day I too will be as blessed a man as Dan.
How ridiculous is that?!?!
While Dan did work and sacrifice, he was not blessed because of these things, he was blessed because he was a man of integrity who spent time in the word and on his knees before God. Every conversation that Dan sat in on while I was there was, for him, an exercise in blowing through the scriptures finding dozens of references that applied to EVERY topic we were discussing. That cannot be faked. That cannot be developed in a matter of weeks or even months. That is the evidence of a man who knows the cannon of Scripture. Likewise no amount of hard work alone will result in the kind of blessing in my life that Dan is seeing in his… that is a result of falling broken and contrite, scared and alone at the mercy of Jesus.
And one more thing… why am I chasing His public, tangible blessing with such fervor when what I should be chasing is simply intimacy with Christ?
And if that wasn’t enough, why do I feel so moved and motivated to see such a blessing in my life… as though being healthy, having such great relationships with my wife and kids isn’t enough?
I know. I can be so shallow sometimes.
Dan, if you are reading this, I am proud of you (and I feel a lot like a little boy saying that to an adult).
Truly I am.
I sent this to Dan in order to get his perspective and permission to post this. I sent it to him almost 6 months ago and the following paragraphs are an excerpt from his response. I hope y’all can hear the depth of this mans heart. I have a deep yearning to sit again with this man and his bride by a fire.
When I was reading what you wrote I was really thinking, “I had no idea he thought that way.” I honestly did not know you understood why I am who I am and the beatings required to walk this road.
Things that are true: When I was at [Grocery Store] as a pharmacist, I was taken emotionally and mentally to my very limit. I would have lines of people who had come to speak to me; a couple that had just lost their first child at the very end of pregnancy, a man just diagnosed with a brain tumor, a woman who had just been raped, a mother with 3 children who just found out she had 3 months to live, an old man whose wife of over 50 years had just passed. All of these one after another after another. It wears on you. I do struggle, I feel burdened, intimidated, concerned and find it hard to keep up in conversation with quick thinning people. I do try to be calm and gentle. I want to be mature, studious, wise, insightful, quick-thinking, and easily able to navigate scripture to the exact reference. It is very true that I feel very blessed. God has provided a new pharmacy with an owner who expects me to be in prayer. My wife is a blessing to me and all those she comes into contact with. She is a far better pharmacist than I am and yet she has sacrificed a career which she loves to serve our family and God. My oldest son as a teenager is thinking about others and praying that he and his friends would delight in reading the Bible and loves time together as a family. My younger 2 children have confessed that they are children of God. God has richly blessed us beyond what I could have planned out. Not one of these things is because of me, they are in spite of me.
He says “In spite of me.”
Funny thing is… a few months after he sent me his response, he told me that the new pharmacy job dried up and life again was looking difficult in front of him. His question to me…
And my answer…
Yes, Dan, I am. Why wouldn’t I be?
… and again, Jealous may not be the best word to describe it anway!
Discipleship, faith, family, leadership, Mentorship, purpose, values
I think the standard definition I get for integrity when I ask folks what it means is, “Doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”
While I agree that doing the right thing when nobody is looking is a very good thing, a noble thing, an appropriate thing, a thing that needs to be done more often, I have a hard time standing on that definition.
This may sound bad, but I actually have a hard time with integrity.
I hear the phrase, “Man of integrity” often and I am left wondering what, precisely, is being said of this man.
For all the side conversations and implications that come with my different ideas about integrity, I think it is fair to say that integrity is primarily a qualification of a person and their character based upon their actions. But even this thought troubles me a little bit. It means that the label of integrity is granted by an observer to the actions of a particular person. Who defines what is “right” in a particular moment? How do we know that the “right” action was “right” enough? Could there have been a better action? If the action was just good enough and not the best decision for the given moment, then does that mean that the person’s integrity is weak?
I got to thinking about a phrase I hear often in the Navy… Hull Integrity…
What does that mean?
It means that the hull, the skin of the ship, is completely intact, there are no holes or cracks that were not planned in the hull, and that the hull is still strong enough and sound enough to fulfil the specific role for which it was designed.
What if that is the definition of integrity?
What if integrity means to act in manner that is completely congruent with who we are?
Integrity would no longer be a subjective judgement based on the actions of an individual, but an objective affirmation that an individual is in fact what/who they say they are. A lack of integrity would no longer mean that somebody did something that was not right, but that somebody has acted in a manner that is not in accordance with their identity.
I understand that there are troubles with this definition too. It means that the observers to the situation must understand the identity and the purpose of the person they are observing. It means that the person being observed has to understand their identity.
I think that integrity and identity go hand in hand.
If a thief steals, have they violated their integrity? I say no. They have not violated their integrity at all, they have merely acted in accordance with the designated purpose which was determined by their identity. I am not saying that it is okay to steal.
I think if this is the crux of integrity then the solution for “integrity violators” is not behavior reform, but identity and purpose development.
When a person has done something that is out of line with what is expected then we need to evaluate the expectations placed upon them, their identity, and then the action. If a person has been put into a position which is not appropriate for them, then the organization that put them there has set this person, as well as themselves, up for failure. If the person is in an appropriate position for them, but acts out of line with what is expected, then they need to be counselled regarding their understanding of who they are and how they fit in then grand scheme of things. There must still be some kind of repercussion for the wrong which has been done, but the repercussion is not the solution or the correction.
I had a Senior Chief one time who had a leadership style that seemed to drift between psychotic and brutal depending on which way the wind was blowing. One of his favorite phrases was, “Hold a man accountable for his actions, then get that man the help that he needs.”
I am now very careful about the labels I place on somebody. If I have a junior sailor who shows up to work late several times in a week, has a uniform that looks like a bag of doorknobs, seems to be trying to shave with a polished rock, I am careful to not call him a dirt-bag. I might call him lazy, or nasty, or weak, but I don’t call him a dirt-bag, a worthless sailor, a cancer to the team. I used to, I don’t any more. If I give him one of these labels and he feels as though he will not ever please me or the Navy at large, then what stops him from developing a defeated, “it is what it is,” kind of attitude about it and then internally resigning to be a dirt-bag? Nothing stops him from doing that. If I punish his lateness, his nasty uniform, and his hairy face, then spend my time later talking about what it means to be a servant of the American people, about personal sacrifice and honor, and about who he is as a man and a sailor, then I can hopefully set him on a course to root out the weakness that he brought to the table.
If I punish a thief for being a thief, I should not be surprised when he steals later that week. I told him he was a thief and he agreed with me. If instead of punishing a thief for being a thief, I punish a man for stealing and then connect with him as a man, then there is a chance I have helped him build a bridge to move past his current behavior.
Integrity… Easy for me to understand on the surface. Difficult for me to understand the full reaches of the topic.
If it is doing the right thing when nobody is looking, then it is a description of compliance to rules which have been placed upon the individual. If it is acting in line with identity, then it is a purposeful act of affirming the maturity and stature of the individual in their identity.
identity, integrity, leadership, purpose, values
Why questions can be hard questions to answer.
As I kept looking at what was going on in my life, I started to feel an awareness that I had not yet known. I had been doing all of these Christian things, leading other believers, and submitting to Jesus for years. I talked about this life being a spiritual war and I talked about Angels and Demons. I had not spent any time thinking about the implications of this ideology.
It was almost as though I talked about these things like a peace time military talks about war. There are great examples and references to war. There is an intimate understanding of war and the stuff that goes along with it. There is no knowledge of the taste, smell, and sound of war.
I continued to sit and think.
This is why I believe Jesus allowed my life to spiral out of control like He did.
Jesus says at one point that the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. He commands His disciples to pray unto the Lord of the harvest to thrust out laborers. I am a laborer. I want to be a leader of laborers. Jesus knows that His Kingdom advances. In that language, the language of an advancing Kingdom, there are strong implications. There is a King. There is a Kingdom. The Kingdom advances into new territory. This territory must be held by an enemy. Jesus wants men who labor to be prepared to lead other laborers into a hard environment as He advances against His enemies.
These leaders need to be seasoned. I remember the calm and peace that would come over me when I knew that the team leaders in my platoon were seasoned combat veterans. They were intimate with the hardships, tactics, logistics, and mission of the war in which we were engaged. They knew the pain of loss and the exuberant joy of mission success. They knew the sting of missing family and the innate passion to get back home. I knew that they had felt everything I was going through, had the same fears, had the same misgivings. I also knew that they had found a way to survive and that built a lot of trust.
I think this is what Jesus was looking for in Peter. He knew He was going to thrust Peter to the front line of the advancing kingdom and he wanted Peter to lead well and fight hard. It worked too. Peter was sifted. He was broken to a point of abandoning Jesus, abandoning his only friends, and running away from what he had come to believe. He made his exit and went back to fishing.
After a short conversation with Jesus, Peter felt encouraged, took up the task, and left his nets for the last time.
I endured such despair. I quit the mission. I told everybody around me to move on.
As I started putting these pieces in place, I got in touch with a friend named Mike. Mike had helped me walk through some hard times in the past, so I trusted him. He got me in touch with a group of counsellors in Colorado and, for 2 weeks, I got some help. We talked about my family history, my marriage, combat, and ministry.
After these trips I felt like a new man. I felt grace in my life like I had never felt before. I felt as though Jesus really had chosen me to lead. I felt a deep peace in the midst of the parts still falling down around me.
I firmly believe that Jesus has invited me to labor with Him for the long haul. I believe that Jesus has asked me to lead others as they labor with Him. I believe Jesus has chosen for me to fulfill a specific role in the Kingdom. I believe He let me struggle and flounder in order to season me.
I believe I met Jesus.
Before this encounter He was the most significant character in a story. He was the point upon which an entire religion pivots. He was something to study and talk about. He was what Christians try so hard to represent well.
After this encounter I became a significant part of His story. He is no longer the point upon which my religion pivots, He is my friend, my encourager, and coach. I do not study and talk about Him, I spend my time with Him in study and conversation. I do not have to try to represent Him well.
I simply have to follow Him and tell the truth about who He is, what He has done, and represent my story with integrity… even the ugly and hard bits.
And what about the things in which I had been misled, or misguided, or misunderstood? Well… I’m still working on those. I have taken a step back from a lot of the dogma which I used to believe. I have taken a step toward simply knowing Jesus.
I can already see a massive change in my life because of this new paradigm. My political views have changed a lot. The way I grade whether or not a ministry is successful has changed. I have become very sensitive to the hippy, liberal, college age critics of Christianity. I hear them saying things that have now started resonating deep within me. I no longer feel as though their rhetoric is an attack on me or the Church. It is a passionate plea for me to be like Jesus, as I get to know Him, instead of the dogma that goes along with Christianity.
Hopefully this demonstrates the difference…
Before this ordeal I spent a lot of time thinking about the points of Theology which were presented by Jesus in His various discourses. I completely missed His heart.
Jesus reads a scroll at one point in His life that says,
The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because He has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent Me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
He finished reading this and sat down making the point that this passage is talking about Him.
I have found myself being deeply moved to see captives set free. I spend more time trying to figure out how to free slaves than I spend strengthening the points of an argument.
Jesus escalated force to beast mode in order to set me free.
I am no longer motivated to argue the points of Christianity.
I am excited to sacrifice my desires in order to see grace, love, and freedom come to those who are oppressed and enslaved.
I guess you could say that I am no longer so concerned about representing the religion of Christianity…
I just want to be like Jesus.
So here I am… Standing on the beach having just broken through the jungle. I guess it is time to learn how to swim or fly above the waves!
faith, Freedom, joy, purpose
I stood on the edge of a pristine beach. My heart was broken within me. All the hope I had ever known had just been flushed from my soul. While other people rested at the waters edge upon the warm, sugary sand, I stood lost in a numbing, bitter pain. As the confusion faded and I began to realize clearly the position I was in, my pain became anger. Anger became Rage.
And I decided the best choice I had was to burn the jungle to the ground.
I have been a Christian for a long time. I have taught lessons, led studies, and hosted discussions. I have given advice and counselled those who were looking for help. I have read and studied so much and memorized entire books of the Bible. I have spent entire backpacking trips focussed on prayer.
And I have collapsed to a point of suicidal hopelessness when it was all said and done.
The only analogy that I could come up with during this dark night of the soul was about me walking through a jungle all my life. Surviving as best as I could. I had been told at one point that on the other side of this massive jungle there is a magnificent city. Paradise. Rest. Gumbo and cold beer. As I encountered other folks cutting through the vines and brush, I would tell them about this restful paradise. I would encourage them to keep pressing into the jungle. I would help them sharpen their machetes and coach them as they started swinging again. I was making my way to the clear meadow with warm sunshine and a bath, and I was encouraging and leading others to the same.
Can you imagine the way I felt when, all of a sudden, I could see the edge of the jungle. I picked up my pace and feverishly hacked and slashed through the vines to get to the clearing. As I got closer and closer the sound of water grew louder and louder. Like a bowling ball striking the pins, I came bursting out of the jungle and onto the beach.
There was no city.
The very thing which I had set as my life’s goal had been washed away. I had been deceived. My life had no purpose. I could not keep doing what I was doing because I had come out of the jungle. Go back in? Not hardly!! That place is full of hard work to survive and I knew there was no point in pressing on. There was nothing for me to press on towards.
I had never even heard of the beach and swimming was not a skill ever discussed in the jungle. What I needed to do was communicate to everybody else that they were living a lie. A sham. The most effective way to do that is to light a match and watch the whole thing go up in smoke.
So I did.
I would go for a run each day during work and I would cross busy roads without ever looking for traffic. I would chant over and over again that my life was worthless and death would be better. I did not care if I got hit by a car. Getting hit by a car would have been an improvement.
I told my wife to take our kids and move back in with her parents. I told her it would be better for them to not be near me. I explained to her that I was about to put an end to life as I knew it and that she really did not want to be there for that.
I told the group of people who met in my house for a Bible Study that I was a sinking ship. I could not tell them with any confidence that God existed. I was sensitive to the fact that they cared about their beliefs and I did not want to cause them such turmoil and pain. I encouraged them to leave, seek spiritual guidance elsewhere, and stay as far from me as possible. I was full of poison.
I was hit by the bumper of no car.
My wife refused to take my kids and leave.
The men and women who had trusted me to teach and lead them in their faith risked their sanity and remained faithful to me.
So I was stuck. Sitting on a beach. I lit my match, I started a small fire, I warned the people to take a step back, and they just sat and watched.
Then the fire went out.
And I just sat…
Since there was nothing else to do but sit, I started to think. Thinking can be dangerous. My dad told me years ago that a mind is a terrible thing. (We did not have many deep conversations growing up, but that one was a life changer for me.)
What if the goal of my life was wrong? What if I had misunderstood who I was or been misled in the early years of my travels? What if my entire perspective were wrong?
So I sat still and started rethinking my paradigm.
I could not be an atheist because of some of the things I had already heard and seen. Just like there are some things in the world that are hard for a Christian to explain, and things within the Bible that are hard to reconcile with other things in the Bible, so also are there some things in the world that are hard for Atheists to explain, some things in life that are hard to reconcile to a belief without God. So I maintained faith in a higher power.
I have read and studied a wide variety of religious writings which lead me to believe in a monotheistic God. After getting to that point, it was easy for me to reaffirm my belief in the God of the Bible.
But this left me with a dilemma…
I believed this before and it led me to a beach instead of a city.
In order for this Jesus to be real, and for me to have been let down as I had been, then perhaps the Jesus that exists is not the Jesus that I knew. Is it possible to be a Christian, pray to Jesus, read His word, and still not really know him? Or to know Him but miss a really significant part of who He is?
despair, hopeless, joy, purpose, suicide, value
I talk about this one a lot.
I have been very fortunate to have been allowed the access and involvement in the lives of people with the purpose of influencing them to greater maturity. I have spent a lot more time working with guys than I have girls so this may not be completely accurate for the the lady folks out there, but it seems to be quite accurate for the dudes.
So I said to the tool,
“What kind of tool are you?”
“Are you a screw driver, a shovel, or an axe?”
“Easy question,” said the tool, “I’m an axe!”
“Awesome… how do you know?”
“Because I have this handle and my blade is sharp.”
“I enjoy cutting down the weeds and scrub brush in the ditches…”
“I like when my blade is sharp… that is when everything is right in the world.”
No… I have not ever actually wandered into my garage and selected a tool at random and started a conversation, though I have gotten frustrated enough that I have rebuked my tools for not working as I think they should. This conversation seems to fit the standard pattern that a lot of my conversations with younger (and some not so younger) guys tend to go. I am essentially asking them, “Who are you?” The answers I usually get is, “I am this, because I have evaluated the things I enjoy and the things I value, and that has led me to believe that this is who I am.”
This is not a bad thing. Introspection coupled with some good observation skills and a little bit of counsel or advice can really help a man define precisely who he is. Although this is not a “bad” evaluation method, I find it to be a bit flawed. I would rather start with an identity, and then use this kind of evaluation to bring a bit more clarity, detail, or understanding to that identity.
Why do I think there is a flaw?
Because I have lost count of the men who tell me who they are, and yet live defeated, unfulfilled, frustrated lives of simmering anger and a frozen, stifled resignation to accept the status quo. They rage within because of the frustration, some of them even going to great lengths to straighten out what is crooked, and often there is no deeper fulfilment, no longer lasting joy, no resonating peace within their lives. If so many of the men whom I have spoken with have defined their identity in the above manner and yet come to this same end result, then there must be a flaw in the equation.
“An axe, you say?”
“You derive great joy and pleasure from cutting the scrub brush and weeds in the ditch, but what about the firewood?”
“Yeah… about firewood… I’m more of a ditch weed kind of axe.”
“You do not cut wood?”
“Nope… I’ve had a bad experience in the past… really hurts.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe you are not an axe?”
“Maybe your starting premise was wrong?”
At this point it gets kind of grimy. When I look a man in his eyes and start to imply that he has no idea who he is, I feel as though I am potentially releasing a raging bull hopped up on coke and looking for a fight. I’m always scared when I broach this part of the conversation.
Our identity seems to be defined for us when we are young. Whether this is done by people that we love, or people that we have to be with, it is defined for us. We go through life viewing everything around us, including our own thoughts, values, priorities, actions, desires, etc., through the lens of our identity. If I tell a man that he does not know who he is, then I am pulling a card, a bottom card, from his house of cards… his whole world might collapse. Lucky for me, I am not too convincing the first time I start talking about this kind of stuff!
“What if you are not an axe at all… What if you are shovel”
“Shovels have sharp blades…
and do pretty well at cutting the weeds…
and scrub brush in the ditch…
but they really come alive when they get to dig…”
I get to ask questions!! I love asking questions. I never know what is about to get uncovered. I am not trying to cause trouble for these guys, I want to see them free. So I ask questions that will hopefully get them to start thinking the “why” questions for their life. I want to introduce doubt into the equation. Even if who they think they are really is who they are, a little doubt and questioning goes a long way in shoring up their confidence in who they are. At the worst I get to help them embark upon a seekers journey… and sometimes I get to help them figure out who they are.
After establishing an identity, I like to talk about purpose. The trick is that this is where these conversations usually start. A man will tell me that he feels so frustrated because he is doing everything that he knows to do, is doing good things, things of value, and yet he is frustrated. He just wants to make his little mark on the world but feels as though for all his work, he is still waiting to work where he feels he fits. This is a question about purpose, but I cannot encourage a shovel to keep on beating his head into trees in an axe world. So we go back to identity and figure out we are a shovel. Most of the men I have had these talks with have a hard time understanding that identity drives purpose. They seem to instinctively think that purpose drives identity. “I am good at this, and it is what I do, so it must be who I am.” Sorry bro… no.
“Is a shovel a shovel because it digs, or does it dig because it is a shovel?”
So after working out identity, purpose kind of starts to fall into place.
After purpose starts to fall into place, values start to fall into place.
If we judge our purpose and then derive our identity from that, then we have determined who we are. If we are the ones who define our identity, then our values are really quite arbitrary.
So where does identity come from?
I believe it comes from Jesus. In the book of Ephesians, I read a line that says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father in Heaven, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” There are a couple other passages which talk about Jesus giving us a new name or knowing our name. I understand that my name is the label of my identity.
So I spend time reading scripture with the these guys and sitting at the feet of Jesus. I encourage them to forget about trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and instead give this a shot and try to figure out who they are.
It has not worked %100 of the time, but it has worked a lot more than it has failed.
As a matter of fact, one of the guys I meet regularly with right now started meeting with me because of one of these conversations. He was adamant that identity does not matter! Purpose… what is my purpose? He trusted me and decided to play my little game… and in the last 6 months this dude has figured out 2 things…
1. A shovel is not a shovel because it digs, it digs because it is a shovel.
2. He is not a shovel.
So this is what I say…
Identity drives Purpose, Purpose drives Values. Looking for the source of identity within tends to be inaccurate. Looking for the source of identity external seems to produce slightly better results.
If you do not know who you are, send me a message. I would love to help you start looking for the source of your identity.
faith, identity, purpose, value