Losing My Self-Sufficiency

Have you ever done something, or conversely, forgotten to do something that you then feel bad about? Or more specifically something that makes you feel bad about yourself. I’m not talking about evil things, necessarily, just honest mistakes or blunders. You get that aching, hole-in-your-gut feeling. You over analyze every word and look from those around you, wondering if they still think you are good enough, all the while beating yourself up on the inside because you yourself aren’t certain anymore that you are good enough.

We all have.  And we all have our own ways of dealing with that feeling. Some use it as motivation to do better and try harder, while some find a scapegoat to blame. Some overcompensate and come across as super confident, while others pull back just hoping to not be noticed. Some simply quit. We all try to find some means of handling it so we never have to feel that way again. And while some approaches are more successful and healthier than others, none of them are an absolute fix.

Christians, quite frankly, too often haven’t been very helpful. “Jesus loves you. Just come to Jesus and he will make you feel better.” No doubt, Jesus does love you, and in coming to him you may feel better about yourself, but if you really look at it, this approach implies that the God of the universe exists primarily to make me happy. I’m going to say something here that, for some of you, may rock your world: God never promised that in this life you would be happy. He promised peace. He promised joy. He promised strength for the day, but he never promised happiness.

So what do I do when I feel like I’m not good enough? Jesus gave the answer in Matthew 6:33. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Now be careful here, this isn’t a formula that will fix your life and make you happy, but when you remove your happiness or even self-satisfaction as the central motivation of your life and replace it with knowing Jesus these other things kind of fade. What actually happens is that you begin to find your confidence and your sufficiency in your identification with Jesus rather than in your own strengths and abilities.  This is, in part, what Paul, who was very confident and able, was talking about in 2 Corinthians 3:5.  “We are not competent in ourselves . . . our competency comes from God.”

Your problems may or may not be solved, you may or may not be happy, but you will know that you are good enough, because Jesus has made you to be. You will still make mistakes, but when you are pursuing something greater than yourself, namely Christ, your mistakes, and for that matter your successes, are overshadowed simply by the fact that he is more important.


A Relationship Parable

I have a parable for you today.  There was a farmer who loved his land.  A farmer loving the land is nothing exceptional, but this farmer was especially passionate about his land and took great care to make sure it was in pristine condition.  He didn’t have much land, just one field, but he loved to stand at the end of that field and see the perfectly straight furrows stretch into the distance.

But if a weed should appear, that feeling of pride and satisfaction in his land was turned on its head and in frustration he would jump into his tractor and drag his cultivator through the land, back and forth until the soil was clear and even again, and his anger subsided.  But if the next day another weed popped up back to the cultivator he would go.

He was so obsessed with keeping his field in perfect condition that he didn’t notice that each time he ran the cultivator over it the field dried out a little bit more.  Every pass broke down the natural fibres and proteins in the soil that held it together as the shovels on the cultivator raked across it.  The soil was becoming sandy, and though it was clean and even, it was dying.

Then the heat of summer came and the temperatures soared for two weeks straight, and with it came the scorching winds.  Still a couple of hardy weeds managed to struggle up in the field and the farmers frustration flared again.  But as he ripped into the soil once more the wind began to blow it away.

There simply wasn’t enough left in the soil to hold it together, and as the first grains began to fly it almost seemed like the field finally just gave up.  More and more soil was lifted into the air as the hot wind blew across field.  The small cloud picked up speed and momentum gathering more and more particles with it until the whole field was turned into a dust storm that blew across the prairies.  And when the storm was over the farmer was left with a barren empty wasteland.

Sadly, this is a picture of the way some people relate to those who are closest to them.  And what happened to that farmer’s land is what happens to husbands or wives or children when perceived imperfections are jumped on and they get raked by the one who ought to be, and maybe even intends to be nurturing.

To one degree or another we have all done this.  It seems to happen most easily when other stresses come into our lives.  Whether it be pressures of work, or responsibilities, or bad news, or just lack of sleep, that seems to be when we most quickly jump on our cultivators.

So how do we stop?  The first step is to be honest enough to recognize yourself in this story.   Then be honest and courageous enough to talk with the one or ones you have been slowly breaking down.  Humble yourself and be open and vulnerable with them and tell them you are anxious, or hurting, or scared.

In my experience, that kind of courage only comes when you have received it from Jesus.  When you realize that he loved you when you were at your worst and you allow him to express that love to you, he gives you the strength and will to risk being open and honest with those you love.

Deeper Than “Hello Beautiful“

When I was in college I noticed a gorgeous young lady sitting by herself in the cafeteria. I was immediately intrigued and drawn to this tall, slender beauty. I sat down across from her, introduced myself and two and a half years later we were married.

 If that was the extent of my courting Wendy I would have a very shallow and immature relationship with her. Imagine if my only focus and appreciation for my wife was on what an amazingly beautiful lady she is. I would be missing so much, and she and I both would be frustrated in our relationship.

That is a picture of the sort of relationship many people have with God.

Phil Webb has been a missionary to Columbia who counsels pastors and ministry leaders who are struggling in their relationship with God. Often these people are leading churches or ministries that are very successful, but they are discouraged in their own hearts, teetering on burnout. The first thing he asks them is what initially drew them to Jesus. Was it forgiveness of sin, or the promise of heaven, or Jesus’ love or some other aspect of God’s nature or character? Almost invariably he finds that whatever that initial draw was remains the primary focus in their relationship with God.

This doesn’t only happen with the first thing that drew us. At any point in our lives we can come to an insight on some feature of who God is or what he has done and be so enraptured by it that we stay there, rather than building on it and continuing to mature in our relationship with him.

This isn’t to say that whatever point you are at is false, or unimportant, or shouldn’t be appreciated. I am still amazed and very appreciative of how stunningly gorgeous Wendy is. In fact I appreciate it more today than I ever have because in my eyes all of the other wonderful things I have come to know about her nature and personality enhance her outward beauty.

God longs to have a mature relationship with each of us. If we cling to and fixate only on what we already know of God our relationship with him will stagnate and we will become frustrated and worn out, maybe complacent and maybe even apathetic in our walk with him. Spend some time this week with your Bible just listening to God. You may be surprised at how much more there is to discover.

Choosing Your Treasure

Before you read any further stop right here and name for yourself your top 5 priorities in life.  Got ‘em? Alright now hold on to those because I want you to go through them again after you’ve read the rest of this.

In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus talks about priorities calling them your treasure. In essence he says that your heart is going to be with whatever you treasure most.  That may sound like he is stating the obvious, but it really hits hard when put together with what comes just before this.  He says, again in essence, where I put most of my time and energy and focus is where my treasure is going to be.  And wherever my treasure is, that is what I will come to care about most.

Before I get to what Jesus was primarily getting at, let me examine this as a general life principle.  Reflect on your life for a moment.  Where is the majority of your time and energy focused?  Is it in your career, or the accumulation of things?  Maybe it’s in trying to make yourself secure or happy?  Maybe it’s even religious activity?  Remember the principle; where you put most of your time and energy is what you will come to treasure most.  Are those the things that you care about most?  Or is it relationship; your husband or wife, your children or neighbours?  Think about it.  Where are you storing your treasure at?  Wherever it is, your heart will follow.

On that note, let me explain the principal point Jesus was making.  If we store our treasure in anything here, wealth, happiness, power, status, etc. ultimately we will lose it.  If instead we pursue things of eternal nature, well, they’re eternal.  This is the same passage where he said we should seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness first, and all these other things will be added.  What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God?  Very simply, make knowing Jesus your top priority, and then allow his nature and character to be expressed through your life.  If you do this all your other needs will be worked out.  That’s not saying that life will be easy, you will never suffer of struggle and that things will work out exactly how you want.  But it will work out according to God’s way and wisdom and I guarantee you that your treasure will be safe.

Now, what were those priorities?

I Need To Be Convicted

Brace yourself, I’m going to talk about conviction of sin today. Now with that introduction this next sentence is going to sound like it’s totally out of left field, but stick with me.

One of the side benefits when we first had kids was I got to play with really neat toys and watch cartoons again. Of course I also had to endure the “Barney” phase, but I did enjoy some of the others. I even confess to enjoying Winnie the Pooh. I still know all the words to the Tigger song.  But I got the biggest kick out of Eeyore. You remember the manic depressive donkey whose tail kept falling off.

I think that’s the picture many of us get when the Bible tells us “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The “oh woe is me, I guess I deserved that” kind of attitude.  But really it’s essentially saying that it’s a good thing to be aware that I need Jesus. Believe it or not, this is where conviction of sin comes in. Not sins primarily, but sin. In John 8:8-9 Jesus said God’s Spirit will convict the world in regards to sin. He’s not talking about specific sins but about the sin nature that each one of us is born with.

Everyone knows that lying or stealing or cheating is wrong. We may or may not feel bad about it but we know that it’s wrong.  But it takes the Holy Spirit to convince our hearts that what, by nature, I cherish most highly is sin. That being self-realization; the right to set my own course. “The essence of sin is the claim to the right to myself, it goes down deeper than all the sins that were ever committed,” said Oswald Chambers. Why? Because it declares independence from God, and God made us to be dependent on him. That is going to rub some of you the wrong way but that is exactly why it takes the Holy Spirit to convict us of it.

Alright. So what? How does knowing this change my life? Stop trying to be good! God isn’t interested in making good people. He’s only interested in making saints; people who are absolutely and totally submitted to the Spirit of God living within them. People who have renounced any right to themselves and have Christ living his life through them. (see Galatians 2:20)

A person like that is no Eeyore. A person like that is powerful, purposeful, and complete.

It’s Game Day!

It’s football season!! I don’t mean CFL or even NFL, I mean minor football; high school, bantam, pee wee, and even atom.  It’s been a while since I’ve coached but I still get excited for the start of training camp.  I even enjoy just watching the drills.  But it quickly becomes evident who followed the coach’s encouragement to do some conditioning over the summer to get ready.

Those that have done the work in the weeks leading up to camp are able to go from drill to drill and maintain the level of performance at each one.  Their bodies are able to recover in the short time they have between drills.  Those that have done little or no preparation drop lower and lower in their performance levels till, almost inevitably, a couple of them end up having to sit on the sidelines unable to go on.

There are some very obvious life lessons in this, which is one of the reasons that I like football so much.  But there are equally some significant spiritual lessons for all of us.  If we haven’t put in the time and effort to learn how to differentiate the voice of God from all the other voices that clamour for our attention, our own included, if we haven’t learned how to rest in the strength that God’s spirit provides, if we haven’t practiced trusting in the Lord with all our hearts and not leaning on our own understanding, then when the hard tests of life come we will be overwhelmed and exhausted long before we have come through them.

But here is something more: Every day is game day.  No, not every day is a huge crisis.  But every day there are people that need to encounter Jesus through the everyday lives and everyday interactions of us who are Christ followers.

I have to admit that I don’t enjoy exercise just for the sake of exercise.  (As evidenced by my wife telling me to suck in my gut more often lately)  But I have been told by some that working out actually becomes something they look forward to and really miss if they have to skip a day.  I’ve never experienced that, but I have found that my favorite time of the day is my spiritual work out.  It wasn’t always that way, but as I have practiced and gotten better at it I genuinely hate to skip it.

By the way, why don’t you get out and support your local minor football teams? It’s a lot of fun and a great way to support your community.  The kids love playing for a crowd and you’ll make them feel great by cheering them on.

Goals and Dreams

I am not, by nature, a goal oriented type of guy.  I’m much more naturally a laid back, take-it-as-it-comes sort.  But over the years I’ve leaned to value and appreciate the power of goals and dreams in a person’s life, but I’ve also learned that it’s critical to keep those goals and dreams in proper perspective.  We need to learn to live with an eternal perspective.  Let me explain.

For years I had a dream to begin a retreat center specifically for pastors and other full-time ministry people who were struggling, wounded, burnt-out, or just needed some rest and refocus time.  My dream was that this retreat center would be structured around a small working ranch.  This was a dream and a passion that motivated and moved me.  Every experience and opportunity was evaluated against how it might prepare, equip, and move me towards fulfilling that dream.  In fact I began pastoring in large part because I could see how that would be another step leading me to that ministry center.

And it’s not as though this was something I wanted that God didn’t.  I am still certain that it was God who planted that dream, and it was with a sincere desire to serve God that I pursued it.  But through that process I have come to understand that there is a greater goal: Jesus himself.  And the ultimate fulfillment of the goal of knowing Jesus will be when he returns.  This is partly what Paul was speaking of in 1 Corinthians 15 where he speaks of the resurrection.  One person has paraphrased what he said in verse 32 this way.  “It’s resurrection, resurrection, always resurrection, that undergirds what I do and say, the way I live.”  An eternal perspective.

I’m no longer pursuing the dream of a ranch retreat center.  God used that to turn me to other dreams and goals.  Corrie ten Boom once said, “I’ve learned that we must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when the Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me!”  All my goals, even a basic as what I hope to accomplish today, I need to hold loosely before God knowing that as I do he will accomplish much greater things than I could even dream of that will be of eternal value.

Pursue your dreams passionately, but hold them loosely before God.