Friday, May 29, 2015


                Over the years, I have taken several psychological and personality tests. They can be very helpful in gaining a better understanding of myself. One of the things that came out strongly in these tests is that I am a people pleaser. I want to be liked by everybody, so I tend to do what I think will please them. There are several major problems with that approach to life. First, I cannot please everyone. In my efforts to do what one person wants from me, I find myself disappointing someone else. Second, trying to be what everyone else wants me to be leads to a loss of my own, unique identity. I can become a human chameleon, and in the process forget who I really am. Third, always trying to please others leaves me with a duffle bag full of unrealistic guilt. Every time I disappoint someone, I add to the weight of the duffle bag.

                There are at least three approaches to dealing with the fear of not being liked. Two of them are unhealthy and one is the healthy way to respond. We can just give in to the fear and allow other people to set the parameters of our life. This is unhealthy for the reasons I mentioned above. If we take this approach, we will become more and more drained, discouraged and guilty. We can choose to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side and just ignore what other people want from us. This approach results in a calloused and hard heart that is very self-centered and self-serving. The healthy approach is to truly discover who we are, and then humbly serve others within those boundaries. Instead of letting others define us, we need to listen to God, and strive to become the person He created us to be. When we are secure in Christ’s love and acceptance, then we are not so easily swayed by needing to be accepted by others.

                If we are going to grow as a person in a healthy way, we need to first understand who we are as a unique individual. My tendency is to have a low view of myself. For others, their tendency is to have an inflated view of themselves. What we all need to strive for is a realistic view of our selves. What are my strengths? What are my weakness? What are my limits? What are my boundaries in life? Paul challenges us to take a good look in the mirror and see ourselves as we really are.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Romans 12:3

                If we are going to grow as a person in a healthy way, we need a clear understanding of who we are in Christ. What drives a people pleaser is insecurity; a need to constantly be affirmed by others. The antidote to that insecurity is fully embracing our relationship with Jesus. When we put our faith in Christ some pretty amazing things happen to us. We are redeemed, forgiven and justified. We are no longer on the wrong side of God. Instead, as the Bible tells us, we have passed from death to life. But that is not the end of the story. We are also included in God’s family and commissioned for God’s service. We are fully accepted, loved and appreciated. Because of God’s great love for us in Christ, we can love others unconditionally. As Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. John summarized it well in 1 John 3:1a. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

                If we are going to grow as a person in a healthy way, we need to live within the limits and boundaries that God has placed in our life. We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot do everything that we are asked to do. On the other hand, we can humbly serve others within the boundaries of our gifts, talents and abilities. When we serve others out of gratitude for Christ, we think more about pleasing Him than pleasing others. Living a healthy life involves saying no to far more things than we say yes to. We should be willing to say yes often, but always keep in mind that there are limits on our time, energy and abilities. When Paul told us to bear one another’s burdens, he did it in the context of having a healthy understanding of ourselves. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. Galatians 6:2-5

                When Jesus walked the dusty paths of Palestine, He did not meet every need. He did not heal every sick person. He did not conform to the expectations of others. In fact, He refused to give in to the pressure to be what others wanted Him to be. Instead, He understood who He was in relationship to the Father. He knew clearly what His mission was and what it would take to accomplish it. At the end of His life He was able to say, Father I did everything that you commanded me to do.

                When my wife and I go to the grocery store, we usually have a list of items that we need to purchase. As we walk up and down the aisles, other items catch my attention. Periodically I will slip an extra item or two, or three, into the cart. When we get to the checkout, my with will jokingly say, where did this come from.

                In life, I have a role to play; a life list, so to speak. I am a husband, a father and a pastor. I have certain responsibilities that are on my life list; things I need to accomplish to fulfill my purpose and calling. Along the way, other people try to slip extra items into my cart. Sometimes these items are small and don’t make a big difference. But, if I allow enough items to be added to my cart, soon I am over-burdened with trying to please others, rather than being true to who I am.

                I will probably always struggle with the fear of not being liked. But the more secure I become in my relationship with Jesus, the less I am swayed by the expectations of others. I serve one master, and his name is Jesus. His plan and purpose for my life is my top priority. Everything else is secondary.


Friday, May 22, 2015


                One of the foundational tenets of our faith is the return of Christ in bodily form. Jesus predicted that he would come again in power and glory. He will come to gather His church to himself and to judge the world. No one knows when that event will take place. Jesus said that it would be like a thief in the night. Jesus’ return will take people by surprise, but it will not be missed.

                The disciples lived in constant anticipation of Jesus’ return. They believed that Jesus would return within their lifetimes. That belief was a constant source of energy and resolve for them. They lived with their eyes on the spiritual horizon. They labored with intensity and determination.

                It has been over 2000 years since Jesus ascended into heaven. The sense of urgency that the disciples felt has long faded. Many have fallen into a subtle complacency; giving intellectual assent to the return of Christ, yet living as if it will not happen in their lifetime. Many others have mocked the idea of the return of Christ as a myth and a fantasy. Peter warned us that this very thing was going to take place. First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 2 Peter 3:3-4

                As Paul neared the end of his life, he was still living within the vibrant reality of the return of Christ. He summarized his quest in his second letter to Timothy. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

                The end of Paul’s summary is a challenge to all of us. “--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” What does it mean for us, in 2015, to long for Christ’s appearing?

                Some use the return of Christ as a scare tactic to get people to put their faith in Christ, or to motivate them to serve Christ more diligently. I have experienced this approach firsthand. In fact, as a child, I lived in fear that Christ would return before I had grown up and had a chance to live life. I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind.

                Some see the return of Christ as an escape from the trials and troubles of life. I had a friend, upon the death of a close relative, who longed for Christ to return to free him from the pain of this world. I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind either.

                Some see the return of Christ as an academic exercise in interpreting signs and calculating an exact date for His return. They create elaborate charts and graphs that “explain” all of the signs and symbols in the Bible. They carefully extrapolate their findings to pinpoint when Christ will return. Back in 1988, a pastor produced a book titled, “88 Reasons Why Christ will Return in 1988.”Christ did not return, so he revised his book for 1989.

                So what does it mean for us to long for Christ’s return? Jesus expects us to look forward to His return with joy and to be busy preparing for His return by accomplishing His purposes in our world today. We should see it as the joyous reunion with a cherished friend, long absent from our lives. We should prepare for it, as we would prepare for the arrival of an honored guest, making sure that everything is ready.

                The return of Christ will be the culmination of His redemptive plan. The salvation that we trust in today will be fully realized. The transformation that has begun within us will be completed. Justice will rule, but so will grace, mercy and love. For those who know Christ, His return is not something to be feared, but to be celebrated. That is why it is so important that we invite as many as possible to put their faith in Christ now. Jesus made that clear in the parable of the ten virgins.

                "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
    "At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
    "Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'
    " 'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
    "But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
    "Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'
    "But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
    "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour. Matthew 25:1-13

                Jesus does not want us to passively sit around and speculate about when He will return. He has entrusted to us His mission in the world. He expects us to be diligent in fulfilling that mission. When He returns, He will reward those who have been faithful to their calling.

                "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:45-51

                Unfortunately, I think we have fallen into the camp of the unfaithful servant. We rarely think about or talk about the return of Christ. We do not live with a sense of urgency that He could return at any time. We need to start cleaning our spiritual house and get ready. The master may arrive at any time. When He does, it will be a great celebration, if we are prepared.

                Paul said that there is a crown of glory waiting for all who long for Christ’s appearing. Do we truly long for His appearing?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


                Sometimes we forget that we are all sinners saved by God’s grace. Through faith in Christ, we have been clothed with righteousness. We have been justified by God and are no longer under the threat of condemnation. But, that does not mean that our sinful nature is eliminated. It no longer has control over us, but it still lurks in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to trip us up, if we are not careful. When we begin to think that we are above sin, we are treading on thin ice. John states it very clearly in 1 John 1:8-9. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

                This lesson was brought home to me yesterday. I was confronted with an issue that had long term implications for my personal life. As I was discussing the matter with another person, my sinful nature slipped out. I became agitated and raised my voice to inappropriate levels. Fortunately, I did not say anything vulgar or derogatory, but I was much too forceful in expressing my opinion. Almost immediately, I was aware that I had crossed the line, and that I needed to apologize, which I did.

                Paul wrote to the Galatians to be on guard against the very type of situation that I was facing.  Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1) This verse reminds us that we can never let down our guard against sin in our lives.

                It is far easier for us to see sin in other people’s lives than in our own. We wonder how they can be so blind, when their sin is so obvious to us. It is at that moment that we are in the greatest danger. Jesus was very clear that, before we judge others, we need to take a hard look in the mirror. "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Matthew 7:3-5

                Paul says that those of us who are spiritual should restore them gently. Instead of making us proud, that statement should make us careful. Spiritual in this case does not mean perfect, but discerning. A person with genuine spiritual insight can see things others miss. This should not lead to arrogance, but to compassion. When my children fell and hurt themselves, I didn’t chide them for not being careful. I picked them up and comforted them. A person caught in sin knows they are in trouble. What they need is someone to come alongside of them and help them get back on their feet. This can only be accomplished when it is done gently and with humility.

                Paul goes on to warn us about falling into sin ourselves, even as we are trying to help another person recover from their fall. The danger here is not that we will fall into the same sin as the other person. The danger is that we will fall into the sin of arrogance, pride and judgmentalism. We will trip over our own self-righteousness. When a soldier is wounded in battle, his buddies don’t chide him for not being careful enough. They do their best to get him to safety. We are all in the midst of a spiritual battle. When one of us gets spiritually wounded, the others need to come to his rescue.  

                I have been reminded this week of how easy it can be to let my sinful nature trip me up. In an unguarded moment, it exploited my vulnerability. It revealed an area of my life where I have failed to really let Christ be in control. My response needs to be one of humble repentance and a renewed commitment to letting Christ be Lord over all of my life. 

Friday, May 8, 2015


                The term “bubble” has become a common part of our language. We speak of the technology bubble, the housing bubble, the economic bubble, etc. I was reminded this week that we can also have a personal bubble.

                The term bubble refers to an inflated situation that is fragile and likely to collapse. In economic terms, a bubble is unsustainable. It brings great profits for a while, then the bottom drops out. A personal bubble is having an inflated view of your own importance. Like an economic bubble, it can boost your ego and sense of value for a time. Eventually, something will happen to cause your bubble to pop. When that happens, it is usually painful.

                The Bible tells us that God opposes the proud, but lifts up the humble. The problem for many of us is that our understanding of pride and humility is fuzzy. We can think of ourselves as being humble, when, in fact, we are very prideful. Sometimes our illusion of humility is our downfall; we are proud of our humility! Graciously, God brings situations into our lives to make us aware of our error. Usually, when God holds up His mirror to us, it is a painful experience, because we see ourselves as we really are. There is no hiding, no excusing, no explaining. God does this for our good; to correct our errors, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.

                When God allows us to be confronted about our personal bubble, our first response is to become defensive. We try to justify ourselves, make excuses, and rationalize our behavior. Then we try to turn the tables on the other person. We start to find fault with them. We accuse them of being unfair or unloving. We do this because we know that, even if their accusations are exaggerated and hurtful, there is some truth in what they are saying. I think that, in part, this is what Paul was referring to in Galatians 6:1-5.  
                Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

                Self-righteousness always leads us in the wrong direction. Humble self-examination is the antidote to ungodly pride. The temptation that Paul is talking about is thinking that we are better, more spiritual, more holy than the other person. Instead, we need to realize that we are fellow strugglers, and that we need each other.

                Paul hits on this in Romans 12 :3-8.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

                Paul reminds us of three important truths. First, we need to have an honest, accurate understanding of who we are in Christ and as an individual. Second, we are part of a community of faith that God wants to work together for His glory. Third, we are to use whatever gifts God has given to us to the best of our ability and with humility.

                My personal bubble has been pricked, and it is deflating. It makes me sad, not because my bubble has been punctured, but because I allowed it to get overinflated. It is time to take a close look in the mirror again, and make the proper course corrections.