I’m a perfectionist!

I never really wanted to be. I never thought I could be. But, I am!

I remember well as a young student pianist I would drive my Mom nuts when I practiced. I would take a two-note phrase and go over, and over, and over it until I could perform it perfectly three times in a row. If I made a mistake, I would start all over again. Usually, somewhere in the middle of my striving, I would get so frustrated that I would take both hands and hit the keyboard striking as many notes as possible. By this time, my mother would ever-so-cautiously enter the room, tap me on the shoulder, and softly say, “Why don’t you get yourself a drink of water and come back to this later?” Mom knew what she was doing. While that worked to divert my mind and emotions temporarily, it did nothing to quiet the beast that was forming in me and showing it’s ugly head. I say ugly, because that is exactly what it is. It is ug-ly!

Striving to be perfect is damaging on so many levels. We don’t realize everything that is connected to it at the time, but the evil beast from within is there storming about and seeking who it may devour.

The implications behind my perfectionism

I call them implications because they are not often quite so readily seen.

If I am perfect, I don’t really need a Savior. Now, think on this long and hard. If I can somehow, someway do it right or actually be right, why would I need Jesus. This is perhaps the most difficult truth about my supposed perfectionism. Jesus really didn’t need to die. We don’t need Jesus, really. This is more than just wrong, it is heretically wrong! This is rebellion at its worst. It goes against all that God’s Word teaches. I become the savior and I am my own righteousness. It speaks of ingratitude for Jesus. All that God did for us in Christ is unnecessary. Wow. I don’t want to go down that road at all.

If I am perfect, woe to the people around me! You see, if I am perfect, it is a perfection of my own making. It’s not God’s perfection, it is mine. It’s not really perfection at all and yet I demand that not only I must live up to it (which in itself is a big hoax) but everyone around me must live up to my standard. The problem is they don’t know my standard and so they fail miserably and constantly. But this is good for my perfection because it makes my position of perfection even better because no one else can be perfect like me! I then look down on them and treat them as the failures they are. I let them know about it too! They will never meet up to my standards. Over time, though, because no one meets my standards, people grow weary of not being able to meet up to my standards and they begin to resent me and desire to not to be around me. I am left to wonder why and am often sulking and feeling sorry for myself when I really it brought it on myself because “I have to be right!” I end up treating people in such selfish and unkind ways.

Yah, woe to them!

Well, the Apostle Paul understood this quandary of life. In 2 Corinthians Paul speaks of a dialogue he had with God. He said that God gave him a “gift of a handicap to keep me in constant awareness of his limitations.” (V7 in the Message). He went on to say that he didn’t quite think of it as a gift at first, but when God showed him that in his weakness, Christ’s strength became visible in his life, he was glad to have his gift! He was glad to have his God-given handicap. His imperfection made him glad! In fact V10 says, “Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer!”

Wait! Who really does that? Who really is glad and with good cheer in their limitations? Not a perfectionist! You see, my faux perfectionist heart is full of self-glory that keeps me from the two greatest commands of all Scripture: Love God, and love people (Luke 10:27). It’s damaging to the glory of Christ around me and it takes away an opportunity to love my neighbor. Why then am I even in this world then? No wonder I am discouraged!

But because of the Gospel of Jesus, I get to be a repenting faux perfectionist! And, I’m glad!

For more reading on this subject read here.

New Year…Same Battle

It’s a new year. For the genuine child of God who is seeking to live a life pleasing God there often creeps into our understanding that sanctification is a process of moving forward with God.  We interpret Paul’s words in 2Corinthians 3:18 “And we all…are being transformed…from one glory to another” as our sanctification moving us along in an upward direction that is more and more free from the pain and suffering of sin to a more glorious plateau of heavenly bliss that can only bring us more happiness and success. By success, we think it will mean complete victory over sin and even maybe to the point that the battle with certain sins will just vanish and our hearts will be at peace in this world. One look at the path of our Savior dashes the reality of an upward successful trek as He took the path to the cross (Philippians 2). This inward look comes around every year at this time because of the emphasis on the New Year with “new beginnings.” So we vigorously set up new goals in order to help us move onward and upward in our trek because, well, last year we really didn’t move quite as onward or upward as we anticipated. So our minds go to a quick review of 2018 and we measure ourselves by where we are in comparison to where we think we should be. We should be better. We should be more holy, more like Jesus, and more fearless in life. We should be…we should be…we should be… ugh! But we aren’t!

It’s an amazing deception. It is a masterful deception. The Evil One knows just how to push our buttons and get our eyes on to where they shouldn’t be. Living the lie that constantly pits our life against where we think we should be by now is a vicious and pernicious way of living. The flaw is where our eyes are going. Where our eyes look indicates where our hearts are. We are called to be people who believe. We are called to faith, only, not faith in ourselves, but faith turned away from ourselves (repentance) and turned toward trusting Christ–both who He is and what He has already done in our place. The glory Paul is referring to is not a self-produced, self-affirming glory from within ourselves but is a supernatural work of Christ in us and us in Christ. In just a few verses away, Paul exclaims, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!” (2Corinthians 4:5,6). So real glory is found only in an ever expanding and growing reality of Jesus as He lives in us and through us. This only comes by faith and faith only comes through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Every day we spend time looking where we “should be” we lose sight of Jesus and His perfect work on our behalf. We are then discouraged, bound by our lack of seeming success, and blinded to all the realities of Jesus. That’s right where the Evil One wants us. We grow cold towards the Word and faithless in our living.

So, it’s a new year. My friend, don’t buy into the temptation to look inward and compare to where you think you should be. Look outward and look upward to believe in the work of Jesus who is in you. His perfections and promises are all yours to trust in and live your life out of. Only as He works His kind grace will your life see and experience His great glory in every area of your life. The battles may all look the same and you feel overwhelmed, out numbered, and you are so tired of that same nagging sin that is dogging your weary soul. But, really, truly, “Greater is He in you!” (1John 4:4). With great joy in Christ’s finished work on your behalf, trust Him. Rest in Him. Believe Him!

New Year…same battle…even more amazing Savior! He’s your sweet hope!

Questions Every Pastor Should Ask A Missionary Candidate

Every pastor knows the routine. Missionaries are seeking prayer and financial support to go where God has directed them. We first get mailings which will include testimonies, facts about where the particular place, and usually a letter of recommendation from the mission agency or sending pastor. It often followed up by a phone call.
Most of the time, the pastor has no idea who they are or how the missionary got the churches address. Often, the missionary is assuming they will get a meeting and some will even suggest a date for a possible presentation for support. Having been a missionary, missions pastor, and lead pastor, I am very familiar with the routine. Some say it is in need of repair and even perhaps a major overhaul of the system could make missions less difficult for the missionary. That is something for a different post.
The purpose here though is to suggest some questions that every pastor needs to ask a candidate long before a missionary ever gets to do a presentation. It is also a reminder for the missionary to perhaps have some things in his own thinking that he needs to consider as well.

1.   What is the Gospel? This is not a question you take for granted. I think in my early years had someone asked me this question, I would not have been able to articulate it well. If a missionary is supposed to be the spokesman for the Gospel he should be very adept to speaking the Gospel from several angles and use several Scriptures rather than recite the “Romans Road.” Their understanding of the smallest points of the Gospel should be clear and precise. Their ability to articulate it should be literally at the tip of their tongue. Their passion for the purity of it should show up in their delight to talk about it. They should have stories about people they have personally dealt with who have been forever changed by it. You should see their love for the Gospel in their eyes.

2.   What is your greatest priority as a follower of Jesus? If anyone should know the Great Commission, it should be a missionary. For the glory of God all believers should make disciples of Jesus. Church planting can certainly be one outcome of the priority of disciple making, but there must be a solid, vigorous, and clear zeal to be personally involved in the lives of people (from all cultures) helping them to become more like Christ and less like themselves. This is the Christian’s greatest priority!

3.  What is your strategy for living out #1 and #2? Many candidates have little to no answer for this. The Gospel and disciple making is often something that is merely “understood” and not strategically planned. Part of a strategy will be to know your immediate culture. However, even knowing your culture is not enough. My good friend and missionary David Hosaflook says his strategy is “Pray, meet people, and tell them about Jesus.”  I love it. However, one may pray and for a myriad of reasons will never make “meeting people” a genuine reality.  If you love people and you love God you will purposefully be with people.  However, talking to some candidates, loving people seems to come with great difficulty. There needs to be a well-thought-out strategy in place that is honed over time that intentionally makes meeting people a reality. Paul suggests a strategy to be in place in Romans 10:14 when he says “…how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” I call it a philosophy of ministry, but it is simply a way that one person lives in such a way that he strategically meets people for the purpose of discipling them with the Gospel. It can vary in methodology but it must be there!

4.   Who are you now discipling? If a candidate is not presently making disciples being in a different country won’t flip on the switch. If they truly believe it, they will be doing it presently. I am often surprised at the answers I get when I ask that question. Take a cursory look at Paul’s epistles and they are littered with names of people he has discipled. Take a quick look backward in your life and see if you can see faces of people who are more like Christ today and less like themselves because of your immediate impact in their lives. A missionary candidate should have many.

5.   What is your timeline for the first 5 years? Knowing how to begin is one thing, but knowing how to plan for the future is another. Having at least a 5 year plan is crucial. A plan is a map, a guide, or a path that you plan even though you know you will need to have adjustments. Even a young, inexperienced missionary should make a plan and outline a timeline that he wishes to pursue and at the same time leave it open for God to make His divine providence known. Set goals, give priorities, and place them in a reasonable time schedule. Then take each step humbly submitting to God’s final and ultimate plan.

6.   What is your exit strategy? This addresses the question of the end. Many start out with much zeal only to find out that there is no end plan. In the past it has been considered noble to promote no end at all–just a desire to be “faithful.” While faithful is indeed noble, God actually desires that we consider the end (see Luke 14:30). Is there a retirement savings plan? But more than that, is there a plan in place to grow up their own replacement from within their own existing ministry? It is important to prepare the next generation and raise up leadership/servants to do the work when one no longer can do the work. Each missionary should seriously consider and plan effectively for their exit.

7.   What is the real level of commitment of your wife and children? I cannot tell you how many missionaries I have met who when speaking to the husband/father really had little to no real understanding of what they were asking of their wife and children. Often, you can see it the eyes of the wife. The family has such a powerful impact on the overall effectiveness of ministry–especially in countries where the family culture is so devastated with the ravages of a self-serving environment and broken relationships are the norm. The missionary’s family should be strong, unified, committed, and joy filled not only around each other, but their love for each other should resonate throughout the ministry.  The bond between the husband and wife should be obvious and unwavering. It will not be perfect and kids will always wrestle with the things of God, but there should be a grace-filled unity that gives space for each other in each step of life.

I am sure there are more questions to ask, but these questions address things that are often assumed and I don’t think we should assume these key elements. Anyone who is seeking to serve the Gospel should have a healthy transparency that welcomes the questions and they should even have reasonable answers for them.

 

A life…now a legacy.

You know that’s how it goes, don’t you? God gives you your life, you live, and then all is left is your legacy.  A legacy is what you hand down to the next generation.

Last night, our world lost a life, but certainly not a legacy.  Major Ron Brooks passed away due to a stroke he suffered earlier in the day. God took him home. thumb_12417920_10205776196781100_4652109840460545980_n_1024

He was my high school principal and a man I had the privilege of serving along side a church plant in Heidelberg, Germany. The generation he served and the impact of his life is today still being felt.  Thousands of teens sat under his preaching/teaching and many, many were rescued out of the grasp of sin and turned to Christ because of his influence. Countless numbers of men today stand in pulpits across the world because of his faithful influence.  Many today sit at home or at work and quietly live their lives for Christ because Ron at one point in their lives courageously risked his own relationship with them to enter their world and speak the Word of God into it. Many many more young people even today are continuing to be influenced because they are being reared by parents who sat under his influence for Christ and the Gospel.  The legacy is real. The legacy cannot be missed.

His time in the military had an indellible influence upon him.  It showed up in his preaching. There was always a sense of urgency that worked its way out of the text. There was a commanding way to him that spoke with authority.  It was what that generation needed.  There was clarity in his preaching that very often found its way to the heart where like it or not, he addressed your need. His time with his Savior had an indelible influence perhaps even more. It too came out in his preaching. You knew you were loved. You knew you were served with truth. Your life was greatly affected, even changed. Christ was exalted and God was glorified.

He was God’s chosen servant for a particular generation. Good servants of God are like that. They are “wired” and placed in an environment to do a specific task for a specific purpose.  He tended to his purpose with great zeal and tireless effort to bring the truths of God’s Word to bear in lives. It was his passion.  It was his delight.  It was his heart.  Lives were changed. My life was changed.

Thank you, sir!  Thank you principal!  Thank you co-worker and mentor. Thank you servant! Thank you lover of Jesus.

Your legacy is real. Your legacy continues and will do so to the 1000th generation (Deut 5:10).

May God’s sweet grace rest on you, Barbara, Ron Jr., Jeff, Leslie, and Stephen and may in the days ahead you find Christ as rich and satisfying as Ron taught us all that He is!

A life…now a legacy.

“Only one life.  Twill soon be passed.  Only what is done for Christ will last.”

5 Reasons why the Great Commission is, well, great!

Many people know the passage in Matthew 28:19,20 as the Great Commission. It is Christ’s final words to his own disciples to make disciples of Christ by going, teaching, and baptizing. That was their one job! He had chosen these men, trained them, and now he was sending them out to repeat the process.

But what is meant by “great?” The word great denotes the element of something that is the most important or the most worthy of consideration. By using the word “most” one implies there would be other considerations, but this consideration is great because it is so important, it deserves the highest priority.

Here are 5 reasons I think it is the “Great” Commission.

  1.  Making disciples is Christ’s only method left with us.  It’s pretty simple and he modeled it for everyone to see.  Find people who will believe in Christ (you could even be used by God to lead them to Jesus), walk with them and instruct them in all that Christ has taught you, and then see them identify with the body of believers called the church through baptism. It’s the perfect design!
  2. Making disciples fits best with the two Great Commandments.  Christ gave two great commandments (Matt 22:37-39) “Love God” and “Love People.” This identifies the heart of the true disciple.  He is one who passionately and purposefully loves God and this love for God spills out in a very intentional and relational love for people!  This pattern is reflected all through Scripture and Christ lived it out perfectly here on earth. We go because of our love for God; we teach because of our love for people; we identify with his church because we love God and his people. Our love for God shows up best in our love for people.  Our love for people is the main indicator of our love for God! John 13:35
  3. Making disciples is God’s tool for sanctification. God is good to bring people into our lives for the purpose of change in our lives. Often we think we are “helping” them, but in reality God’s design is to use their stubbornness, or their lack of self control as a mirror into our own lives. So often the issue we see in others is really our own problem which is why we see it. When was the last time you intentionally sat for coffee with someone who just annoys you?
  4. Making disciples is God’s cleansing agent for the church. Matthew 7:4,5 shows us just how important discipleship is. When we seek to help a brother take a tiny speck out of their eye, it is an opportunity to get a log out of our own eye.  Discipleship causes the church to get into the logging business. It’s very painful to remove anything from our eyes so helping someone else get a speck out will cause us to be very cautious, gracious, and full of mercy! This kind of caring church is a contagious church! Repentance takes on a whole new place within the body of believers.
  5. Making disciples is God’s method of growing leadership from within the church. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were among a number of men chosen to help start churches.These two were among a small number of men who were prophets and teachers who were fasting and worshipping together (Vv1-3). They were recognized by the Holy Spirit as men who were gifted and able to do the work of ministry and thus were sent out. The apex of any discipleship ministry is the privilege of singling out men who are gifted and prepared for ministry. This should be celebrated over and over in the life of a healthy church. Remember, you duplicate what you celebrate! A good barometer of the discipleship in your church is a list of people who are singled out and sent out to do ministry.

The Great Commission is just that–great! So, who in your world will be more like Christ and less like themselves because you invested Gospel filled time with them? Making disciples deserves our top priority in all of life.  It’s our one job and there really is nothing like it!

 

 

Questions for Discipleship

It’s a startling thing to grasp that the most important task God has given us, to make disciples, is perhaps the most ignored part of the Christian life. For many it is simply fear. They just do not know where to begin.

Love has to be the starting point.  Simply begin pursuing loving God with your whole heart.  Then, allow that love spill over on to people as you live your life. God loves people and when His love is in you, it is very natural for you to begin to just care for people.

A friend of mine asked me recently to give him some questions that help me begin conversations that can lead to discipling opportunities. Maybe these questions will stimulate your thinking and give you tools for this important task of making disciples. These are questions given to someone who is already a member of God’s family but is perhaps seeking to grow further.discipleship

  • What is God doing in your life and how is He changing you to become more like Christ and less like yourself?
  • What are some of the fruits of the Spirit that you are struggling to demonstrate in your life?
  • What areas of life is God’s grace becoming more important/more precious to you?
  • Tell me about what you pray when do pray.
  • How has your life demonstrated God’s glory more accurately today than last week at this time?
  • What three things have you repented of in the last 2 days?
  • What do you see are the steps toward spiritual maturity that you need to take? (I am constantly seeking to help them map out their own growth strategies.)

It’s not hard. Love God and then love people.

I Want To Be Your Friend

A friend sent this to me recently. Relationships are very difficult to maneuver through but with God’s grace at work in our hearts it should look a lot like this:
Martin Colborn writes,
“Can you criticize me without condemnation, ridicule or condescension? Can you express your convictions without expecting me to immediately adopt them as my own? Can you allow me time to test statements, in order to find out the truth (or error) of them for myself? Will you acknowledge that you, being human, friendship-daycould possibly be wrong, even in your dearest convictions and opinions, allowing me the same? And could we just talk, without cliche, without posturing or intimidating, without seeking to gain the upper hand or to win an argument? And when we must part, can we do so not to hurry to tell others each other’s faults, but to love and pray for one another instead, and look forward with delight to the time when God brings us together again? If you can answer “yes” to these questions, I want to be your friend.”

Christ-lovers and people who intentionally live for God’s glory should be the best at this.