Beneath The Surface

waterBGIt’s our new routine…and our happy place. Sitting on the back porch watching the sun rise across the small lake on which we live.

Absolutely calm and still, absent of the afternoon breeze, our lake is a polished mirror with perfect reflections of the large oaks, beautiful houses and thick summer clouds that create its frame.

My favorite thing about these mornings is to watch the lake wake up. As the sun elbows morning to crawl out of bed, life surfaces from the lake’s deeper places.

  • Hungry bass burst from the brackish depths to pursue their prey
  • Timid bluegill pop the still water snapping up their buggy breakfast
  • Fat carp roll in the warm shallows as if emerging from hibernation
  • Lazy turtles surface and submerge creating little whirlpools in their wake

And because it’s Florida, a small gator or two stealthily slip to the waterline like submarines surfacing for a look around.

Our little lake literally comes to life.

But we can only see that life when there is stillness at the surface. Once the cooling ocean breeze dances across the lake, the roiled surface disguises what is beneath.

There is a kind of sadness for me in that rippling of the lake. With the stirring of the surface I lose awareness of the abundant living that goes on below.

Now I know, life thrives on top and along the banks of the water. But what truly defines the lake–what makes it what it is–is not what is nourished on the surface. Its true identity lies in the hidden biosphere of its depths.

Every time I watch this waking lake I hear a faint call in my own inner space.

It may well be what the Old Testament song writer felt when he wrote,

“Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.”  (Psalm 42:7)

The surface of my life gets the most attention these days. It is the constantly squeaking wheel gobbling up all the oil. I am so busy making a living in the ordinary monotony of the daily that I miss creating life from the extraordinary flashes of eternity.

What demands my attention and too often gets my affection is the stuff of life that goes on at the surface. All the people and things that draw part of their existence from what I produce get the greater (and better) parts of me.

Like my lake, I am good at supporting what is around me. That, of course, is not a bad thing.

But what creates the life I offer to all that thrives around me is the secret life perpetually growing within me. Because of the energy swirling below there is something to give away above.

The life I have to offer to the world around me is utterly dependent on the life I have germinating inside me.

Without that life beneath the surface I am no more than our still lake when it is reflecting its surroundings. I can quickly become a mirror of the culture. A mere reflection of what is around me.

It may look nice, but that is not why the lake exists.

It is not my purpose either. The numbing busy-ness and inane activity of the surface can easily make me inattentive to what lies beneath.

The real stuff that defines who I actually am is not found in the wakes or the waves but in the dark stillness of the depths. The life that matters most is below the churning surface.

Where God is.

God “desires truth (reality, authenticity, transparency) in the inner parts” (Psalm 51:6) because that is where He is busy working. He lives in the underbelly of my existence–the subterranean Spirit “in whom (I) live, move and have (my) being.” (Acts 17:28)

But because He is hidden He is also easily ignored.

This is the very tactic the enemy of my soul exploits. His one purpose to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) is accomplished when he roils the daily stuff of living so my focus becomes success or survival.

Getting by. Getting through. Getting more. Getting ahead.

But in all this “getting” what am I giving up?

Too often, it is who I am. There is little that robs me of meaning as quickly as letting my “self” be defined by the stuff at the surface.

Whether accomplishment or failure, possessions or position, acclaim or abandonment, popularity or isolation, when I am defined by what is seen I lose the profound beauty of what is unseen. The stuff called “me” that God knit together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

These real, gut-level, God-reflecting idiosyncrasies make me uniquely individual. They keep me from dissolving into the mindless blob of indistinguishable “humanity”.

They are the reason I am.

This is what lies beneath the surface. So why don’t I dive deeply in to find and release this stuff?

Honestly, I refuse to be still enough to see what lies inside mainly because I’m scared.

Guilt from unremedied failures, pain from unhealed hurts, anger from unresolved griefs from the past…these lurk beneath the surface too.

In the inner space of who I really am, there be dragons.

I don’t swim in my backyard pond because there are unfriendly critters in its murky depths.

I don’t submerge to explore the depths of my soul not because I fear what I don’t know but because I am terrified of what I do know lies beneath.

But this fear of the known is most certainly not worth missing the experience and adventure of what I have not yet discovered about who I am as God defines me. Sometimes I have to risk the potential pain of delving into this space in order to uncover its living beauty.

“What is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Most of my faith as a Jesus-follower is like that. I live sacramentally.

  • It isn’t about bread and wine…but the body and blood of Jesus that lay behind them.
  • It isn’t water at baptism that counts…but immersion into Christ.
  • It isn’t human hands laid on the sick…but divine life flowing through them.

It is what lies beneath that matters.

I am not what I have made myself–good or bad. I am what God is making me. I am His vision under construction. His dream coming true.

Oh yes, I am often clay on the wheel that has to be squished and re-formed. But the truth is, I am becoming. And what I am becoming–the shape I am taking–is ultimately an expression of what is within. The “what-God-is-up-to” stuff.

The potential is always in the seed. The life is ultimately in the womb.

What matters most and most defines me is what goes on beneath the surface.

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The Intellectual Laziness Of The Easy Answer

EasyAnswerSloganA political season for me is on par with buying a used car or getting a root canal.

They are all unavoidable necessary evils.

And each is a genuine pain in the…well, you know.

In politics, the way extremes emerge, agendas are touted and leaders are lampooned grates on my nerves like a classroom of first graders simultaneously scraping their nails on blackboards.

It appears that ignorance of every stripe puts on disguises of every style to promote idiocy of every sort.

Some seasons are worse than others. Few have ever matched the current one. The onslaught of insults to my intelligence from all points on the political spectrum is the stuff of Guinness world records.

What irks me most is the oversimplification of complex issues. The utter absence of thoughtfully-formed answers and the polarization of our collective community is absurd at best and potentially catastrophic at worst.

What stuns me even more is the irrational exuberance with which we as a people accept this unpalatable Pablum.

Of course, the political parties are like dogs marking territory when it comes to their ideas. If the thought doesn’t rise out of their ranks it simply cannot be embraced no matter how much sense it makes.

We’d rather be stupid with our own ideas than right with someone else’s.

Weary as we are of a do-nothing political system and a drifting moral consensus, it’s just too easy to blindly and blithely swallow the easiest answers that requires the least intellectual energy or imagination.

Give me a slogan to hang onto, a catch-phrase to chant or an enemy to demonize and I will be lulled into the insanity of believing that simply by repeating the mantra I am actually part of the solution.

Honestly, when is the last time you heard a sane, substantive, intelligent give-and-take debate on the issues that weigh on contemporary culture? Have we reached a point that we can no longer explore the difficult issues of our day with civility and respect? Are we beyond the point of humble compromise for greater good?

Easy answers are never based on a realistic assessment or contemplative consideration of the facts. They are mostly cheap cop-outs. Great for media sound bites or political sucker punches, but inconsequential in solving any real dilemmas.

Just because something is a popular opinion does not make it an informed one.

There are no easy solutions or pat answers to the:

  • Personal and economic debris left in the wake of a natural disaster
  • Political dissension left from the collision of polemically disparate world-views
  • Ethical dilemma posed by competing belief systems or conflicting moral codes
  • The gray areas left along the fault lines of church/state or public/private

When we adopt the stance of opposing teams over the divisive issues of our day, we have lost hold of the reality that we live in the paradox of a fallen world. When we accept paradox we understand…

  1. The problems are far more complex than we’d like to admit. They involve people–real people. So they are as diverse and complex as are the various parties involved.
  2. The answers are far more involved than we’re willing to face. We seem to want some sort of magic wand waved over the ideological canyons separating us that will fix the problem and make everyone happy.
  3. The solutions are far more demanding than we’re willing to accept. Real solutions require real involvement. The fix requires getting our own hands dirty. Such answers place demands on the “us” part of the “us-and-them” dichotomy we are so fond of drawing.

As believers in Jesus especially, we must see things from a very different perspective than that of the world around us. We belong to the right-side-up kingdom in the middle of this upside-down culture.

We have to begin and end with Jesus.

His seemingly lopsided value placed on the disenfranchised and marginalized challenges our protective notions of rights and rules. His commitment to an invisible Kingdom runs counter to our nationalistic leanings. His passion for redemption and healing cut across the grain of our fondness for exclusion and isolation.

It is time for a more considered approach. One based on humility, justice, and mercy as Jesus defines them. It is OK to admit we don’t have all the answers, we all have a part to play and there is no silver bullet.

Imagine the answers Jesus could reveal for the calamities of our societies if we simply tried these three things:

  • Identify–authentically connect with people who are ACTUALLY facing the problems we are THEORETICALLY discussing. In this approach we say, “I want to understand.”
  • Be humble–Face the truth that none of us is infallible, all of us are valuable and together we can find credible ways forward. We hold firmly to our convictions, but with this mindset we say, “I could be wrong.”
  • Embrace community–understand that the highest goal is not to be right but to be redemptive. Experiencing and embracing community that unites instead of dogmatically clinging to ideologies that divide. This is where we simply admit, “I don’t have all the answers.”

You see, the “clear” answer–especially when it is the easy one–may or may not be true. It often is a thin veneer covering our unwillingness to wrestle with the inescapable uncertainty, perplexing duplicity and constant inequity of life together as a people.

Easy answers are most often easy because they are lazy.

The Garden

It started in a garden.garden tomb

Creation.

Worlds erupted to life. Stars flung through skies. Planets spun into orbits. Mountains sculpted. Seas filled.

Chaos took shape as order was formed. The void animated with the energies of new life.

Out of dust man was created. From his body, a perfect match forged. In place of nothing, a beautiful, flourishing Garden called Eden burst forth full of life and love.

The genesis of God’s dream to create a community of beauty and purpose–an extension of the intimate dynamic that had always existed within the Trinity–literally sprang to life in that Garden.

Then, Eden was spoiled. Soiled by sin. Sullied by selfishness.

The Garden once filled with everything God loved was fatally flawed by everything He hated. The picture-perfect work of His hands marred beyond recognition by one senseless act of doubt-fueled rejection by the ones He loved completely.

It seemed the Garden had come to the withering finality of death.

Then…

It too began in a garden.

Redemption.

The Creator chose to restore what had been ruined. God never intended to let His beautiful plan be derailed by the short-sighted selfishness of men who had risen from mere dust. The freedom of choice He had built into these beloved humans was not going to end with a rejection of the One who had so tenderly formed them.

He would win our hearts again.

So in intricate detail and at ultimate cost, God entered His Creation and lived among us to clearly demonstrate what He really meant when He made us in the first place. This “Second Adam” was a panoramic and personal display of all man could have been and would one day be when he chose to live within the Spirit of his Creator.

This act of radical revision was not pretty. In fact, uglier moments have never been seen in all human history. The hatred, venom and evil of a creation seething with frustrated purpose exploded from its core–the heart of man. The poison released killed the Author of life.

Man at His worst silencing God at His best.

And then, as John records, “after it was all over” man laid God in a garden of death. The absolute antithesis of when God had placed man in a garden of life.

Man thought he had finally put an end to the haunting memory of what he had been in that first Garden. The festering longing for original intention buried in a tomb. The last hints of what might have been locked up tight behind a king’s seal.

But what began in the Garden of creation was forever renewed in the Garden of redemption.

The seed fell into the ground and died so that the Garden of God would bloom again. Rather than the end, this Garden was a new beginning.

The hints of greatness man thought he had buried were germinating underground for those days of silence when the great Gardener lay behind a stone.

Death was not fulminating there. Life was germinating.

What came next–what blossomed in that Garden–was a beauty no one could ever extinguish again. Hope restored. Purpose recovered. Death reversed. Life renewed.

The hidden work in the Garden of Death would once and for all restore the days when man and God would walk together sharing intimacies in the cool of the day.

His verdant Garden would flower once more.

 

A reading for Lent. Thoughts from John 19:38-42.

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The Dignity of Humilty

Political fightArrogance seldom has as good a platform to strut its obnoxious nature as during political seasons.

The current one might well take the cake.

A mind-numbing glut of information has simply made it worse. Social media allows politicians to parade pride like an anorexic super-model posturing on a catwalk.

It does seem hunger for power has the uncanny ability to compromise even the best person. But there is more.

Intellectual laziness on the part of constituents seems to be elevating ignorance and vulgarity to the level of wisdom and statesmanship. The rhetoric has descended to historic lows while the rancor has climbed to epic highs.

The verbal wrangling is only a little above the physical sparring seen in less “civil” political systems.

These potential “leaders” boast of the impossible things they will do if elected. Claims made in their polished marketing packages border on lunacy and insult the intelligence of anyone willing to think for longer than a sixty-second soundbite.

No matter how many promises of decency and civil discourse, even the best of them seems incapable of avoiding the ends-justifying-means of negative campaigning. Slinging mud like four-wheelers, they cover up real issues and focus on the hype that will get them the most media coverage.

Yet, the masses appear to relish this stuff. We go after the bait like starving sturgeons swallowing a fisherman’s smelt—hook, line and sinker.

Ultimately, unrealistic promises will culminate in unrealized hopes and the frustration, disappointment and cynicism that has created this cultural circus will only deepen.

I know I sound like a hardened skeptic. But it is difficult to miss the place that arrogant self-promotion has taken in our culture.

Why in the world do we buy the snake oil politicos are selling?

Could it be that we actually believe a flawed human system can provide a quality of society that will only be found in Jesus’ upside-down Kingdom?

I may be cynical, but I’m not surprised. It is what I expect from a world where immediate and impermanent values serve as the overarching source of happiness. In a culture stuck in the now, survival of the fittest is the modus operandi.

But those of us who follow Jesus should not be living in the prison of the temporary.

We have been set free to see the lasting, long-term life that is bigger than the moment. This freedom changes our perspective…and should also radically alter our part of this cultural discourse.

The stark contrast between the current political posturing and the lifestyle and leadership of Jesus is profound. As I study Him during this Lenten season, it is as if the dark political background has made the diamond of Jesus character even more brilliant.

Take my recent reading of John 13–that epic moment when Jesus showed his disciples the extremity of His love by washing their filthy feet at their last meal together. The basin and towel became His avatar of leadership.

Stripping off His well-deserved qualifications as Rabbi, He clothed Himself as a servant and did the unthinkable. He served His followers humbly and sacrificially.

Yet, no moment of His life was filled with more dignity.

After the live-action parable was completed, Jesus left this mission statement for Kingdom leadership: “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”(John 13:13-17)

No one has ever had the impact in our world Jesus did. Millions have followed Him…multitudes even to a martyr’s death. Only the greatest of leaders can inspire that kind of loyalty. Only love can elicit that kind of sacrifice.

Seems to me there is a desperate need for a rudimentary course in the basin and towel among those who so desperately want to be “leaders” in our world.

I doubt too many of us will be inspired to give our lives for the rancorous egotism flaunting itself as leadership in the current public debate.

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I Thirst

IthirstWe had just left the opening night of our church’s passion play. The scene that unfolded in the restaurant is still a source of laughter around our house.

I was worship and arts pastor at a substantial church bent on authentically reproducing the Crucifixion every year. (That year we nearly killed Jesus by dropping him off the cross.)

Fortunately, we did succeed in getting him crucified and resurrected before we headed out for a burger. The waitress walked up and cheerfully asked what she could get us. I doubt she was ready for what happened next.

Our oldest son, Nathan, who was around five at the time looked up at the waitress and in Oscar-worthy dramatic form cried out, “I thirst!”

He was reenacting the melodrama he had just seen at the Easter production. But what he really wanted was a Sprite.

Thankfully, we know there was a real scene in the Passion drama where Jesus, agonizing on the cross was apparently overcome by dehydration. At this apex moment in the epic story, Jesus called out in the foggy hysteria of pain, “I thirst!”

Some pain-numbing concoction was soaked into a sponge and placed against His lips. Immediately He spoke the words that changed history, “It is finished.” Then He died.

It is intriguing that John records, “…so that Scripture would be fulfilled,” Jesus said, “I thirst”. The Apostle is likely hearkening back to an Old Testament prophecy that had the Suffering Messiah saying, “…in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Psalm 69:21b)

But what was really at the bottom of this strange prophetic cry of Jesus? Yes, He was really parched. But that pain would certainly not match the scale and scope of the other physical atrocities he was enduring.

Why was His last cry for help, “I thirst”?

I am convinced that in that moment He made the ultimate connection with the central–perhaps sole–truth about the human condition.

We thirst.

It isn’t difficult to see in contemporary culture.

  • The addict tries to assuage his heart’s thirst for happiness by taking one more pill or having one more drink.
  • The business man attempts to satiate his soul’s longing for meaning with the one big deal that defines him as a winner.
  • The lonely housewife does her best to fill the gnawing emptiness in her spirit with the next pair of shoes or designer bag.
  • The bored husband tries to answer his gut-level craving for intimacy in the arms of the wrong woman.
  • The obsessed academic longs to calm the haunting questions in his restless mind with just one more obtuse philosophy.

On and on we go. Longing. Aching. Desiring. Searching. Yearning.

We are continuously caught in the angst of longing for:

  • Truth in a world full of broken promises and bold-faced lies.
  • Meaning in a culture fascinated with the superficial and addicted to the trivial.
  • Hope in a climate fueled by despair and ruled by depression.
  • Purpose in a society gone mad with infatuations and numb with distractions.
  • Reality in a population fascinated with image consultants and spin doctors.

We are literally dying of thirst.

So we take short-cuts toward substitute solutions that neither satisfy our throbbing hunger nor answer our aching questions.

Like the millions on this planet who lack clean water and drink from whatever source they can find, we gulp from the contaminated wells and polluted fountains of a bankrupt culture to somehow satisfy the insatiable internal longing.

C. S. Lewis famously wrote, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus made it clear by both the content of His words and the construct of His life that He was the Living Water capable of answering the deep thirst of our real souls.

“…the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”(John 4:14b)

“If anyone is thirsty…come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)

“He who believes in me…from his belly will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38)

He clearly acknowledged and then modeled that we human beings are a thirsty lot. And not just those who do not know God.

We who are believers do not stop thirsting. We simply have the privilege of knowing where to find the fountain of life. But we still must choose to go there.

This past year of loss and change has left my soul’s water level pretty low. The aquifer of spiritual refreshment has been siphoned by the passionate demands of life and the pressing needs of loved ones.

Once again, I thirst.

But I have learned one thing in the 56 years of trial and error I call life. There is no source offered by this world that will satisfy the cravings of my depleted soul.

I have tried the artificial springs offered by the world around me and proven them useless to meet the ravenous desires of eternity crying out in me.

Isaiah, the great Prophet, spoke so clearly of the single source of life-sustaining water for our weary souls. “The LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places; and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:11)

So I seek. I push. I cry out. I allow the longing to deepen and the thirst to grow. Unsatiated by this world, unsatisfied by its offerings. I acknowledge with King David, “all my fountains are in you!”

Only there is the true source of living water when…

…I thirst.

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Ripples

ripplesThe lake behind our new home is my new happy place.

Each morning as I watch the sunrise over the horizon and see the collage of color and images it creates on the still water, my tired soul quiets and my guarded heart opens a little more.

One thing particularly fascinates me. The ripples made in the water by any movement just below or on the surface.

  • A bass hits the surface to find its wriggling breakfast…ripples.
  • A duck playfully paddles across the pond…ripples.
  • A turtle pokes its tiny head through the liquid membrane…ripples.
  • A tiny water bug skims across the glassy surface…ripples.
  • A cool breeze wafts its way from seashore to the east…ripples.

It doesn’t take much to disturb the surface, and once the ripples start they become minute waves that don’t stop until they hit the shore.

Watching the water’s natural response to even the tiniest impact reminds me that nearly every decision and subsequent action in my life creates ripples that impact people all around me. It begins with those nearest to me but often touches and moves on to those I hardly know.

Degrees of separation erased by the ripples of life lived.

I think of people I know intimately or at a distance touched by my own life. Then there is the way I have been moved–toward good or evil–by the choices and actions of other lives.

There is a dark side to this.

  • A lie is told to cover up a mistake and prop up a reputation…ripples.
  • A compromise is made as a tiny escape from a reality barnacled in boredom…ripples.
  • A little money is siphoned to meet an urgent need with the best intention to return it…ripples.
  • A child’s concert is missed because the overtime earned is more important…ripples.

But there is also another side.

  • An anonymous gift is given at a moment of crisis and saves a family from eviction…ripples
  • A kind word is spoken to a bereaved heart and is the morsel of hope needed to go on…ripples.
  • A meal is prepared and provided when a family is wondering if there will be dinner at all…ripples.
  • A boy is given a loving home after years of being overlooked at adoption parties…ripples.

You get the idea.

Ripples are the small things that make a big difference in the life and future of those touched by the waves.

Adam and Eve decide their way is better than God’s…and the rest is history. Isaac and Rebekah choose sides with their boys…and millennia later, the two sides are still fighting. David chooses not to go to war with his troops…an affair is inflamed and a family imploded.

But the other side of the story…

Abraham chooses to obey the inexplicable command of God…and on that mountain we learn about the Lamb slain. Esther risks life and limb to carry her burden to the King…and a Chosen People still stand today. Jesus lays down His life in the face of ultimate cruelty…and the rest is eternity.

These are soul disturbances that travel across miles, seasons and relationships. They change courses of history and pathways of destiny.

They even span generations.

Good or evil can be carried on the waves set in motion by the choices we make and the chances we take. The interplay between our lives is far more substantial than we want to realize. We are interconnected at levels we scarcely acknowledge.

These ripples tend to increase in size, carrying greater and greater impact over time and distance.

Alcoholism and abuse ripple and amplify over generations. Ministry or musical gifts seem to flow in family lines. What is sowed in my generation is often reaped–as a harvest of blessing or a bushel of pain–by many generations to follow.

Someone back there somewhere made a choice and it made a difference in my life. I make such choices now for those who follow.

These thoughts hit me at a deep place in my soul. I know I have started ripples with my life that have cascaded pain into the lives of others. I pray I have started other ripples that have sent some in the direction of Jesus.

Jesus was talking about this influence when he said we already are, just as we are, the only light and salt on this earth (Matthew 5:12-13). The Apostle Paul spoke of this interdependence when he said “For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.” (Romans 14:7).

I am challenged to look at my daily choices–big or small–and ask myself, “What effect will this have on those around me?”

  • Will I make decisions that promote healing?
  • Will I set priorities that will create opportunity?
  • Will I speak words that instill hope?
  • Will I offer love that will move boundaries and breach walls?
  • Will I embrace truth that dispels darkness and displays authenticity?
  • Will I reflect the heart of Jesus that changes everything for someone?

Too much of my life is lived on auto-pilot. The consequences of my speech and actions are frequently ignored in the panicked pace of survival mode.

I need to slow down enough to have time to consider the impact I am making, the example I am setting and the legacy I am leaving in the mind-numbing reality of the daily.

Funny thing about ripples is you can’t stop them once you start them.

Choose wisely, my friend.

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A Different Kind of New Year

cleaning-partyIt was a blur. I heard rumors it happened, but have only a hazy recall.

NewYear

 

 

Yep, missed it completely. And no, it wasn’t too much celebratory Champaign.

We were moving into our new home and throughout both Christmas and New Years when everyone else was partying we were packing and unpacking.

Cardboard boxes replaced the crystal ball drop marking the passage into a new year.

Luckily that means I also missed the resolution-making frenzy. My only resolve was getting that last darned box emptied.

With the job completed, I have had a bit of time to sit by the lake and reflect on my belated beginning to this new season. In the quiet moments watching ripples on the water and hearing the song of my new bird companions, the year ahead has come into a bit better focus.

Rather than aiming to do something different, I am resolving to make a difference.

I don’t want this year to be focused on getting thinner, smarter or holier…although I’d like each of those to happen along the journey.

When the next glittering ball drops announcing a new year, I want to know I have made an impact in the real issues of real lives with real needs.

Difference makers are history makers…they help change what is into what should be by getting their hands dirty in the messy work of transformation.

Now I know it sounds as nebulous as a Miss America contestant calling for world peace, so I did some thinking about what it takes to make a difference. I want to know what I should set my heart on and my hands to each day so that divine fingerprints are left behind when I am done.

Looking at the lives of those who open doors and alter futures, there are some common characteristics clearly on display. These are the traits I must pursue if I want to make a difference in my little plot on this planet.

  • Compassion–this is caring with focused attention. Not simply a tug in my heart that feels a hurt, but a movement of my resources to fill that need. Not just excitement, but engagement. Heart-felt, hands-on love.
  • Creativity–this is curiosity with a distinctive purpose. It is a willingness to have my mind teased enough that I have to see what it is up to. When my instincts are aroused that something should be done, my mind becomes fertile to receive from God the answer in seed form. Downloaded from God, down-to-earth dreaming.
  • Comradery–this is partnership with like-minded people. I know I won’t make much difference with only my ideas and resources. Relationships with other people who are dissatisfied with how things are and hope-filled for how they can be is what brings dreams from mind to market. Hand-in-hand, iron-sharpening-iron allies.
  • Courage–this is movement in the face of risk. There will be much discouragement both in the start and along the path of this journey to impact, but destination is never reached by planning alone. At some point the scales must tip in the direction of ends over means. Leap-of-faith, go-for-broke chances.
  • Commitment–this is decision-making with determination. There is no mistaking talking for doing at this juncture. I am the pesky player incessantly demanding on the sideline, “Coach, put me in!” Roll-up-the-sleeves, get-in-the game action.

If I pursue these characteristics with resolve, I will surpass any resolutions I concoct to make me feel better about myself.

I think this process was behind Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46)

Growth in these key impact-zones isn’t about merely setting goals or adjusting priorities. It is about seeing the extraordinary opportunities disguised as the ordinary people and experiences in my daily.

I can only make a difference when I see the future through the lens of hope and live toward it with singleness of purpose. This requires that I be aware and willing. My eyes have to be open to what is underneath the surface of my ruts and routines. Then my heart has to have the “yes” bent.

Opportunities are present in the stuff of each day. But they pass in a blur unless I am intentional in my heart and missional in attitude.

I’m not down on resolutions. I just want to see and do more than dust up who I am by tweaking what I do.

I want more. I want this year to be characterized by…

Leaving a mark.
Forming a legacy.
Changing a life.
Making a difference

After all, making a small difference for others will make a big difference in me.

In the end, that is the resolution I desire most.

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