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They are all staring at me. Lori’s wig is crooked. She’s got a nine-year-old and is losing her battle with cervical cancer. To her left is Paul. He has pancreatic cancer and his wife, Evelyn, will lose her partner of forty-seven years in only four weeks. To his left is Beth. She just had a lumpectomy, lost her left breast, and is beginning a chemo regimen. Her engagement to sing her first solo concert at the Kennedy Center has been canceled. The other side of the room is not looking much better. Bill’s abdomen is distended and he looks as physically uncomfortable as his wife does. They don’t even have the comfort of a diagnosis. To their left are Maya and William. They just got run over with positive biopsy results and resemble emotional road kill: blank eyes staring at speckled tile and no signs of life. Sitting next to them is Mike. The wrapping on Mike’s head can’t mask the huge divot of missing skull from a surgery that removed a glioblastoma from his brain. As I look at him, I can’t fend off the thought that he’s a goner. His kind of cancer is not the kind you survive. His chin is in his chest and I can’t see his face. His new wheelchair makes him slump. I can’t tell whether he is doing well today or not.
By contrast, Michelle is supremely visible. Outwardly perfect, she is flanked by her two perfect girlfriends. Their perfect world, perfect nails, and perfect makeup suggest all is very well. But Michelle’s insides betray her outsides. Blond and beautiful outside, but bellicose and bitter on the inside. She is losing her fight with an aggressive breast cancer. The trip to Japan to explore experimental therapies was a failure and she’s back with us in Orange County. On this night, in this room, the big C is defeating the OC.
Oh, and did I mention? They are all staring at me.
The year was 1993, and I was twenty-nine years young. I was attending seminary, working full time, and had been assigned a clinical pastoral rotation on an oncology unit. One evening a week we met in the basement of the Western Medical Center in Anaheim with about thirty cancer patients and their families or friends. To describe this time as a defining moment seems to cheapen this chapter of my life, but it captures the ethos of the year in which my world was beautifully ruined by God. It was a year of first-time encounters with reality:
• first time I was afraid to show up for work
• first job in which mortality was a daily reality
• first sustained connection to cancer and its victims
• first encounters with true despair and imminent death
• first exposure to “unfixable” emotions
• first big crisis of faith
• first funeral
• first time I caught a clear vision of life and heaven
What did I see for the first time?
• I control nothing.
• Trauma dissolves the trivial.
• Relationships define riches.
• Personal discomfort leads to discovery.
• Reality, however painful, is where we find eternity.
• God’s vision for me is different from my vision.
• Physical poverty produces spiritual clarity.
A cancer support group was God’s agent of new meaning and purpose in my life. I didn’t like His choice, but He didn’t care. He let me borrow His glasses. He decided that’s the kind of reality I needed to get clear in order to see Him and, in the process, see myself. I saw that Kenny likes sanitized, sanctified, and tidy. He prefers comfortable and predictable, like any good adult child of an alcoholic. I saw a man who freaks out and wants to run when the environment gets emotionally negative or out of his control. God showed me how I prefer the focus to be on someone else who needs help. I don’t like feeling helpless. He pointed out my affection for regular outward results, numbers, and success you can quantify.
He made me face my tendency to rewrite reality to make people feel better. He pointed out how I wanted to teach more than be taught—to be someone’s solution versus process an issue. I like prescriptions that cure and solve, not processes that end poorly or, God forbid, remain unresolved. He showed me that it’s possible to prefer heaven so much that it leaves little room for the real emotions and problems of earth. He showed me just how much I like my version of serving God and being God’s man. But my version wasn’t working for Him. It was time for an Etch-ASketch moment, or better, an Etch-A-Ken moment. I turned my screen upside down and erased the picture that was there. I didn’t want to start fresh, but it happened.
Glad it was me and not you? Not so fast. You’re going to get to wrestle too. God wants to erase what you’ve drawn on your Etch-A-Sketch and instead draw His dream for you. Will you let Him?
The Big Oak Tree
In my neck of the woods, Live Oak Canyon Road is famous. It’s famous for its curvy sloping turns. It’s famous for the large and beautiful heritage oak trees that canopy its spirited descent past Cook’s Corner. It’s famous for its horse ranches and a steakhouse. On weekends, it’s home to scores of Harley-Davidson riders and car enthusiasts alike. This road has it all.
It calls out to you to roll down the windows, blast your music, and step on the accelerator. Travelers never forget this little stretch of heaven, and campers know it as the entry of passage to O’Neil Regional Park.
But you might start to notice other things along Live Oak Canyon Road, things that tell another side of its personality. Little crosses and bouquets of flowers enshrine some of the larger trees. Abnormal gouges mar the woody flesh of others. On certain days, you might see people standing side by side, staring at or praying next to one of the big oaks.
And on others, you might see a police car on the road, an officer instructing you to turn around. There’s been another fatality.
Live Oak Canyon Road is famous for a lot of things, and one of them is death.
The brutal fact that belies the beauty of this road is the invincibility of oak trees. Oak is hard and oak trees bend for no man. My neighbor Gary lets me borrow his spare Harley Road King, and we ride down Live Oak Canyon Road. I feel free, empowered by the throttle, more confident with each shift of the gear box. I gain speed, control, and comfort as I climb to cruising speed. Yet there is a sense that danger is just one slip away, and my acuity for my surroundings is heightened. I am especially aware of the oak trees. It’s a weird combination, but a necessary one if I am going to enjoy this ride. I have to respect the oak trees. I have to be sure of that. I wonder if everyone who has perished on this road was feeling the same way before something went horribly wrong. Elation, then devastation. You have to be alert and respectful while enjoying the beauty. Live Oak Canyon Road is the dream of being God’s man. It’s so inviting, so attractive. It’s beautiful and challenging. It’s also very dangerous when you take too many liberties, look too long, or begin to think you have it figured out. It’s not hard to get loose in the corners. It’s easy to outpace the road. New tires can breed overconfidence. It’s tempting to push for more speed when caution is in order. It’s easy to feel like you have this course wired.
And just when it feels familiar—you guessed it—a million little pieces. God’s vision for you is solid, invincible, and has been in place for a long time. It is an oak tree. It is unstoppable. Only arrogance or ignorance would attempt to displace it, try to cheat it or ignore it. And yet we do. We presume to design what we will become in Him. We chase our fantasies over His chosen vision. We forecast and fashion our lives in our own image. We reengineer ourselves for cultural acceptability. We shape our dreams around our own insecurities and dysfunctional tendencies. And then there is the fatal error: we take God’s plan for our lives and make it something to be conquered. We get behind the wheel and take over. I wonder what God thinks of all our presumptions, our engineering of His plan for our lives. The dream we have for ourselves is unnatural. It is not
God’s dream for us. God tells us in numerous places and in numerous ways, “My version of your future is not your version. Your dreams are not My dreams. Your paths are not My paths. Your ways are not My ways.” If salvation is not a result of what we do, then why would we think His vision of greatness as a man would be dependent on our exploits?
God’s dream for us is not something we chase; it’s something we become.
God set Samuel straight when he set about looking for a God’s man among Jesse’s sons: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart”
(1 Samuel 16:7). God’s dream for your life is not external, designed to impress. It’s not internal, a value or a purpose. It’s not even a spiritual discipline or set of beliefs. God’s dream for you is a heaven-owned vision of greatness, a God’s man image built upon that of the God-Man. You have known this and felt it inside of you ever since you were a little boy. It’s time for all of us to recapture it.
The Dormant Volcano
I see the volcano in my eleven-year-old son, Ryan. He’s dormant one minute and exploding with magma the next. It seems so random. All of a sudden he blurts, “Wouldn’t it be great if our car could fly like both a plane and a helicopter?” His creative outbursts don’t apologize for defying modern physics. They unshackle him from the realities of the earth that are boring, cumbersome, or rule bound. He’s thinking, Just give me some technology and an Xbox controller and I’ll take us home Ryan-style.
I love these creative moments and visions. Not because they’re impractical but because, in a more masculine sense, they satisfy. They thrill. They problem solve. They defy simple logic. They unshackle. They satisfy. And all these visions inside that young brain are like ours—before they got buried. The common denominator of Ryan’s visions is that if they were reality, they would result in a deep gasping for air. An unforgettable sensory experience. Soiled shorts.
When life isn’t going well, we long for a better life. Heck, even when life seems to be perfect, we long for more. Admit it! We feel this pull to rearrange reality, to experience freedom, to gratify deep longings inside. Take it from Ryan. That’s why he blurts these things. They are bursting dreams: unorganized thoughts, sensations, and images that need to break free. They come from down in the core, cooking and bubbling below the surface, the mysterious magma pushing upward to reshape our reality. Look at yourself and the men around you and think, Kilahuea. Kilahuea
(kill-uh-WAY-uh) is the most active lava-producing volcano in the world. It used to be dormant. In
Hawaii, it started exploding in 1953 and again in 1983.
It hasn’t stopped flowing lava since, according to the U.S.
Geological Survey. All men are Kilahuea, bursting with bright orange visions and dreams that will challenge reality and shake up the landscape forever. Some men have magma close to the surface. Some have theirs buried deep. But make no mistake—it’s there, it’s alive, and it’s put there by God. That magma is called eternity. It’s called His image.
You were made to dream creative visions, because you were hardwired for more.
You don’t have to accept less or feel bad about wanting to transcend reality.
You’re Daddy’s boy—you are made to be great like Him.
Between Reality and Glory
Yet there’s more to this natural creative vision than just challenging reality. The real driver is to become an agent of greatness. The means are secondary. Talk to Ryan—the car-plane-helicopter is just the vehicle. He is the pilot who will crawl out of the cockpit of this revolutionary aircraft, pull off his helmet, and wave to the crowd. When little boys play, it’s all about the glory. Regress for a minute to when you were ten. I had a scrapbook filled with cut-out pictures from old Sports Illustrated magazines. Images of men in the midst of glory, poorly cut-out tailbacks breaking free from tacklers, receivers escaping gravity to catch a pass, two sets of opposing lineman about to go to war on fourth and goal. Where are all these men headed? Glory. Flip to the next page. Same thing. It’s a boy’s personal dream museum: larger-than-life men doing something great which lands them in places where glory resides. In my mind, that was me in those pictures someday!
So what happened to the pictures? Well, they were changed. Or maybe they were replaced.
I don’t know exactly when it happened, but time was not a friend to my early visions of greatness. I had to grow up. We all did. As this happened, our visions of glory were tempered and morphed to reflect the realities of life. Time wasn’t always on our side. The events of life got in the way—
divorce, death, disappointment, unreasonable standards. We started to lose hope. Our loneliness split our loyalty and disintegrated our faith in real relationships. The pure, ideal visions simply went away and were replaced with insecurities and fears which led not to dreams but to fantasies that soothed our hurts. Escape and relief relegated greatness to just getting by. Glory was simply not reality anymore. Reality won. Glory was lost.
This war between reality and glory happens in cycles throughout our lives. The magma of our dreams pushes its way up again. There are a few sparks. Going off to college.
Graduation. Career. Promotions. All visions of heading off for glory. Then reality nudges in, reshapes things and blocks our path to real glory. Our vision gets tackled for a loss. It’s fourth and long, and we have to surrender the ball. The energy drains out. Gravity wins. Earth pulls us down. We may have heard the rumblings, but we never saw the bright orange magma, the awesome power we had planned to see. It fizzles. Just say the word fizzled. Catch my drift? I don’t like it when my dreams fizzle. Which dreams?
• being great
• doing great things
• winning battles
• changing lives
• maintaining integrity
• giving generously
• influencing men
• being good
• performing under pressure
• great relationships
• a legacy for God
• slaying giants
• rising above circumstances
• conquering fears
There you have it. Those dreams are the substance of my magma. When I am not the man I should be, I long to be this man, the man I ought to be. When I don’t do the things I should, I long to act differently so I can win at life. I want to do all that great stuff, but how can I with all my limitations? I would have to live somewhere else. Possess a different station in life to accomplish that kind of stuff ! Become someone else.
Reality says that 5 percent of life is extremely satisfying. Another 5 percent is extremely disappointing. The rest—the other 90 percent is just life, plain peanut butter and jelly. The dream for me and the glory that goes with it reside somewhere else, in some other life, some other place,
far away from the peanut-butter-and-jelly life. It’s somewhere out there for the select few and uberspiritual. In Africa maybe.
Then a little voice whispers, Or is it?
It’s at this point I need Ryan. I need to recall what it means to dream and have a simple vision that can transform, thrill, and satisfy. I need to blurt, “Wouldn’t it be great if my regular reality were the pathway to glory? What if this life could cause my dreams of being great to come true?
What if this ordinary life could achieve glory every time? Yeah, every time! That’s why it’s called a dream. And we can realize it if we have the courage to face it and allow God to transform the ordinary. Ready to dream again, Kilahuea?
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:17–19)
God’s dream for you is not a matter of availability or proximity; it is a matter of connection and awareness. It’s already there for the taking! If the apostle Paul were an island boy like me, it might read, “I am asking God to tsunami you with His dream for your life and explode His power within you.” The dream to be great and to do something great is put there by God. Don’t be ashamed of it; embrace it in Christ! It’s time for a fresh vision of who He has called you to be. It’s time to seek the glory which is yours for the taking right where you are. Embrace these five DREAM principles for every God’s man:
• Decide to let God decide for you.
• Reside in the glory of your reality.
• Exchange your vision for God’s.
• Accept God’s process.
• Move your borders in continual growth.
Decide to Let God Decide for You
God’s man lets God decide the dream. When I was working in that cancer unit, God’s dream for me looked like this recipe:
• 1 cup of hospital assignment
• a handful of mixed cancers
• 3 tablespoons of unfixable realities
• 1 large crisis of faith (unpeeled)
• 1 ton negative emotions and loss
• Mix in doubt and stir thoroughly.
• Bake at 350 degrees for one year.
• Remove and serve with humble pie.
The minute I start letting feelings, culture, or others decide what defines my dream, I am cooked as God’s man. Jesus is our Master Baker on this one. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus let His Father decide what the dream for His life on earth would be. The dream didn’t depend on His circumstances, His rights, His parents, His friends, His critics, or His feelings. It’s no surprise then that the exact dream God has for you is in the mold of His Son. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). For every God’s man ever born, this has been the plan, and this is the process we are all engaged in: becoming like our firstborn Brother, Jesus. We’ll define the specific targets later, but for now, resolve to let God decide what goes in His recipe dream for you.
Reside in the Glory of Your Reality
Your reality is God’s glory. Everything that is happening in your life— especially the stuff you want to keep a secret—is an ingredient in God’s greatness. You might be thinking, I don’t want God to use that! God’s reply is, That is exactly what I want to use. God is eager to use your nowlife, not your cleaned-up version. To fuel the dream, He prefers struggles over strengths. One gives Him glory, the other gives you glory. Yep, it’s the spots on the lepers and their utter helplessness that got God excited and put the clean to shame. Got some ugly spots dotting the epidermis of your life right now? Got old spots and scars that the masks can’t cover? God is operating in your uncomfortable realities today, not in the ideal future. Sound weird? You’re in good company.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Reality is where glory resides. I know this from personal experience. If the disciples saw me as a seventeen-year-old, they would have asked, “Lord, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be doing drugs, looking at porn, lying, and making choices that will ruin his future?” Jesus would reply, “This is happening so that the work of God can be displayed in his life.” And it has. Feeling better?
Alcoholic dad. Codependent mother. Repeated dysfunctional choices. Good and bad desires in conflict. Destructive habits. Dishonesty in my marriage. This was my unsanitized reality. But God did not remove it when He came into my life; instead He used it to deliver the dream. My awful realities, tendencies, and testimonies became His glory, His dream as Christ replaced the crud inside of me. The chump becomes a champ. Take out Kenny and replace him with Christ.
The result? God’s man bears His reality, and others see the transformation and begin to believe!
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:2–3)
Reality is where glory resides. From what can’t you seem to deliver yourself? Don’t run from reality; let God bring glory through it.
Exchange Your Vision for God’s
Some men envisioned their lives would turn out a certain way, but those plans fell apart. Some of these guys feel ripped-off and angry because they were supposed to achieve their dads’ visions. They felt controlled and forfeited their chances to choose. A lot of men were wounded so badly by their dads, they chased the opposite vision in response. Resenting or trying to please those wounding fathers only led to anger, and they ended up becoming just like them. Others were trained by tradition. Mom and Dad taught them that their lives should look and feel a certain way, and that’s exactly what they turned out to be. Tradition triumphs over the individual. But that’s not the man’s life, it’s his parents’. Still other men have built their lives to directly reflect their insecurities and masculine fears. These guys attach to cultural definitions of success, stockpiling pleasure, power, or possessions to gain what they could not find in their early relationships. This kind of life almost always fragments relationships and leaves men starving for intimacy and connection. In each of these cases, the dream leads to emotional, relational, and spiritual bondage.
They are the false dreams that involve chasing, wishing, and hoping. They are not Christlikeness. They are empty and void of spiritual power because they are the man-made fantasies, not the God-made dream. If you’re God’s man, the contract reads like this: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:16–17). This means:
• The man-made versions of greatness are supposed to be thrown out.
• The “in Christ” vision mutually excludes the world’s self-serving visions.
• Self-preservation and security must cease being a vision—you cannot be your own cause if you are God’s man.
• It’s not just a wave of new behavior but new waves of thinking and believing that never cease. God doesn’t stop creating the new you. It’s continual and dynamic.
• Christlikeness becomes all. Exchange all other visions for God’s—the one in Christ.
Accept God’s Process
God is not very product oriented. That’s a bummer for most men, including me. We like to look at what we’ve done. Leader-coach Walt Henrichsen puts it this way:
God is not as interested in how holy you are as in the degree to which you are engaged in the process of application. If you are new in Christ with a great deal of carnal self still present in your life, but you eagerly seek to do His will, you are pleasing to God. If you have known Christ for years, but have ceased seeking to grow in Christ through the process of application, you are not pleasing God.1
Surrendering to the process is not a masculine gift. In fact, the Bible is littered with stories of leaders who ran ahead of God because they were impatient. And they paid the price. Both ancient and modern men of faith can relate to the proverb, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). When the timing and means are not as we would have it, or the results feel unjust or unacceptable, we tend to fight the process. Fighting an unjust process is not a bad thing. Fighting God’s process of making you the man He created you to be is disastrous. Avoiding that sinkhole takes guts and a belief that God is more capable of deciding what’s needed and best for you at any given moment.
God’s dream of molding you into the image of Christ will involve discomfort, conflict, loss, and pain. Stick with me. For so many years I trained myself to preempt, deflect, or deny entry of these growth opportunities into my life, and I missed God’s process all together. Eventually, because
He loved me, He cornered me through circumstances until the pain exceeded my fear. He pinned me. So many times, I
wish I had done the hard thing and engaged the conflict or the process earlier. I should have trusted God to work instead of bailing and avoiding. I wish I had willingly volunteered rather than waited to comply. You might be there right now. If you’ll surrender and do the exact thing you don’t feel like doing, you’ll be glad you did.
We will unpack this more later. For now, just remember this: nothing happens to you unless it passes from God to you. And if it comes that way, it comes with a purpose—to make you like Christ.
Move Your Borders in Continual Growth
The ambition of God’s man to become like Christ requires aggressively pursuing that one ambition. We need to constantly stretch the borders of our growth for the duration of our life on earth. Jesus didn’t mince words or parse verbs on the whole topic of growth. He said either you are growing or you are dying—fruit or no fruit. There is no middle ground.
That’s why many men who e-mail me are so incredibly down: they’ve chosen to coast in their spiritual lives, and then they’ve found they are not coasting, but dying! They stopped abiding in the vine of Christ, disconnected from His process, and have no source of nourishment for their convictions. God’s dream for God’s man always involves personal growth and fruit. He is increasing; I am decreasing.
More Christ, less Kenny. More humility, less pride. Less self, more service for others. And so on…
God’s man prays the brave prayers of continual growth. Prayers like Job’s emerge when he opens his life up to God’s inspection and gives his Maker freedom to rewire his life. He keeps moving the borders, giving God more and more freedom to change him.
If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit— let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless—if my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled, then may others eat what I have sown, and may my crops be uprooted.… Then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her. (Job 31:5–8, 10)
Whoa, mama! That is what you call the open-kimono prayer. The dude is naked before God because he wants growth and spiritual integrity. It’s a bring-it-on confession and prayer. Key words: “Let God weigh me.” Are you willing to go there in your walk with God? The place of full examination? If so, you will experience His dream and catch His vision for your life.
What will be the results if you keep moving your borders of growth?
• new insights
• less selfish impulse
• new character
• less confusion
• new conduct
• less confession
• new spirit
• less collateral damage
• new growth
• less disappointment
• more impact
• less regret
• more motivation
• less frustration
No extra charge for the deep, gasping adrenaline rushes and unforgettable testimonies of God’s power, which will also be yours. Read that list again. Go ahead. God says, That’s what I want for you.
Paddling into DREAM
In my last book, Risk, I challenged God’s men around the world to take stock of their faith and let God be big—really big. If God is allowed to be who He says He is, then we will make equally big choices that please God and help others. In Dream, it’s about becoming a great man who seeks glory by joining God’s personal process of becoming like His Son, leaving fantasies of greatness, and choosing to embrace our everyday reality to bring Him glory. To become God’s man, you will Decide to let God decide for you, Reside in the glory of your reality, Exchange your vision for God’s, Accept God’s process, and Move your borders in continual growth.
As you read, watch for the big wave rider image. When you get to each one, a place of application, that’s your signal to stop, pray, and reflect on a spiritual principle for realizing God’s vision. In the chapters ahead, you’ll find that the essence of living the dream as God’s man is letting God decide who you are and learning to apply what He shows you. The goals are simple, yet all require faith.
So…connect with God’s vision for your life, cooperate with what God reveals, and create new relationships that bring Him glory. Ready to hit the surf? Paddle out, my brother.