Life is so difficult…

Sin has so tarnished all of life. One of the sad realities of sin is that sin is never singular. There is never a time where we sin one sin. James makes it very clear in James 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” So often, sin piles upon sin and the results of this can make life very difficult for everyone involved. Their sin means you are suddenly faced with perhaps some very difficult circumstances to navigate through. You must first navigate through your own sin that just comes gushing out of your heart. If that isn’t enough, you must learn then to navigate through the sin of those around you who are reacting to the original sin. Layers and layers of sin, destruction, hurt, and discouragement can really throttle your soul and turn your heart from the sweet grace of God in Christ. So, when these things take place, it is important that we have some real anchors for our soul that are sure and steadfast.  

Below is a list I have used personally to help steady my soul when facing difficult circumstances. Maybe you have some steady anchor points you would add these to. Consider these truths!

1. Immediately guard your thoughts. Our mind is so deceitful and can very boldly think things that are quite nasty and very hurtful if not held in check. Few people knew this better than the prison-bound Apostle Paul. While in prison he wrote his letter to the Philippian church that speaks of the joy in Christ that is unlike anything here on earth. In Philippians 4:8 he writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” “[You] think on these things.” It seems to be very clear there are several other things you could think but you don’t. Instead, you turn your mind to “these things.” I would simply add the word, “immediately” to that! Immediately, think on these things. Setting your thoughts toward God when your heart would naturally think its own thoughts is vital to stability.

2. Only Speak that which is true.The immediate default of our heart is always “self-righteousness” and it seems to come out of nowhere. We immediately seek to protect ourselves from hurt. We quickly seek to justify our wrong actions or reactions to the difficulty, or we seek to simply escape it all by ignoring or pretending it didn’t happen. These actions flow out of the lie that somehow, we can either manipulate life, control the circumstance, or sway others to our view of the storyline. Our “creative” (read deceitful) minds will be tempted to put a spin on the story that will favor us. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:25 “…put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth…” When the difficulty arises, guard your thoughts and watch your words! Truth is so vital. Your spin on the truth will only work evil and will eventually destroy relationships around you. 

3. Don’t repay evil for evil. This is just a natural impulse, isn’t it? There’s an attitude adjustment that needs to be made here. The word “repay” is the idea to render and carries the idea of paying in full. It is the attitude, “You do this to me, I do this back to you in full!” It is a vicious punch-and-counter-punch that can actually be reflexive. Paul says this in Romans 12:17 and then adds “but give thought to that which is honorable in the sight of all.” He calls for self-control—Holy Spirit control! Act! Don’t react. Take a deep breath and allow the Spirit of God to adjust your attitude. Jesus did this perfectly on our behalf. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1Peter 2:23 

Amazing, isn’t it? This is only possible by trusting the Father who judges justly! 

4. See your log first! Pride is a killer! God resists the proud! Others are not the biggest sinner in the room. Matthew 7:3-5 compels each of us to cease from looking at the spot in our brother’s eye and look first to the log in our own eye. A person who is consumed with self-glory has to keep pointing at the spots in others eye in order to justify their view of self. But it is more than a spot in our eye! It is a log! See it! Get help removing it. Do that first! To constantly point out someone’s unrighteousness is nasty and so destructive to relationships. Certainly do not make their unrighteousness a topic of conversation to others. God gives grace to the humble to see your own log.

5. Be reconciled! We are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation. In Christ, because of His gracious gift of righteousness imputed to our account, we are then to take His righteousness and apply it to every relationship in life. Once again, the Apostle Paul speaks to this in 2Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;” Christians are to be people who pursue reconciliation. Understandably, there may be times when because of the hardness of hearts, reconciliation will seem impossible. You can do everything you can possibly do to set the table for reconciliation, but the other party won’t come and participate. However, In Christ, we can always be the ones pursuing it with grace in our hearts.

6. Look to your Savior. This is not listed last in order of importance as much as it is for emphasis. The process of our sanctification is often pictured as the Christian on an upward way “new heights I’m gaining every day.” The emphasis seems to be on our works and every day we are getting better and better at holiness. It sounds good, but it’s not really a complete picture of what is happening. The victory given to us is Christ’s victory on our behalf. Peter says it best in 2 Peter 3:18 “Grow in grace and knowledge of Christ!” Peter is seeking to encourage persecuted people not to “do more; try harder” to persevere but to be looking to their Savior. True spiritual growth is seen in our understanding in a clearer way all that Christ has already done for us on our behalf and trustingHis finished work. These very difficult times are God’s way of showing us our default of self-glory and thus giving us the grace to repent and turn in faith to His work in us for His glory. Our sanctification is growth in faith in Christ not in our perfect work. Look upward and outward rather than inward or downward! Look to your Savior and don’t take the eyes of your heart off of Him!

Christ alone is our steady anchor. It is in Him and through Him that we can even possibly begin to handle the very difficult times with courage. His steadfast love and care for us work in us His great grace and glory but we cannot be passive. We are called to repentance and faith! Trust Him!

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.

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.