Perfectionism: The cruel burden we place on each other

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect….” (Matthew 5:48)

First, let’s get the theological argument out of the way.

Let’s make this perfectly clear: God knows you are not perfect and will never be this side of Glory.

And even clearer: “God does not expect sinlessness out of you and me. He is under no illusion about us.”  See Psalm 103:14 “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” And Romans 3:10 “There is none righteous, no, not one.”

Got that?  The illusion of sinless perfection is all ours, my friend.

We read Matthew 5:48 and come away with the erroneous conclusion that God ordered us to be perfect, that perfect means sinlessness, and therefore we can be sinless.  But since we cannot achieve perfection–no one you know has ever pulled it off–then He has given us an impossible standard to live by, one that crushes us and frustrates us and forever disappoints Him.

The result would be that we forever live with a disgusted God and in fear of the celestial woodshed, the destiny of children who bring in failing grades.

Yuck. What kind of theology is this?  And yet, you and I know people who believe this and call themselves Bible students, serious disciples of Jesus, and even evangelists (“sharers of the good news”)..

Now, let’s drop the other shoe here… Continue reading

How Christians may insult the Lord Jesus

Sally had been a teenager in a church I once pastored, and her parents were dear friends. Her father, a former Marine, is in Heaven now, and her mother, now in the care of Hospice, is having a little trouble coming to terms with her own impending departure.

I sent the mom a note by Sally, suggesting that she read it to her.

The note to her mother and my Facebook note said: “If we could interview a baby in the mother’s womb about to be born, we might find that he/she is frightened by what lies ahead. It’s about to leave the only world it has known–warm, soft, safe–and emerge into a strange unfamiliar world with people it doesn’t know, who all speak an unintelligible language. To the baby, it would be death. But to everyone else, it’s a birth. When you get to Heaven, you will look back and say, ‘I was afraid of THAT?!’”

Had there been room on Facebook, I would have added something more. So, two hours later, we tacked on the following:

“The Apostle Paul literally taunts death. ‘O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?’ (I Corinthians 15:55) In college football, he would be flagged for showboating. Followers of Jesus Christ, you are not allowed to fear death. To do so insults the One who went to the cross and experienced the grave for you. Laugh at death. Like a honeybee that has lost its stinger, death still flies around scaring people, but it can’t do you any permanent damage.”

For a Christian to fear death is to insult the Lord Jesus Christ.

I suppose the biblical word for this would be “blasphemy.” But since that word is used almost exclusively in theological realms and associated with falling from grace and incurring God’s wrath, and not something we speak of in our everyday life, I’d just as soon not conjure up images of the Inquisition.

We are not talking about apostasy here. Just poor discipleship.

Continue reading

Ten things only the strong can do

Facebook “Memories” reminded me of this a few days ago, and I’ve not been able to forget it.

We had stopped on the interstate at a Pilot Truck Stop for a bathroom/coffee break.  After paying for the coffee, I realized I did not know which was my exit. I said to the clerk, “Do people get turned around in here?”  She laughed, “All the time.”

Then she said, “The exit to the truckers actually goes up a few steps, but the exit to the cars is at street level.  Last week we had an elderly woman on a walker in here.  I called to tell her she was headed to the wrong exit.  She turned around with fire in her eyes and said, ‘I may be old, but I’m not stupid!’ and went right on.  When she got to the door, she saw her mistake, and turned around and went toward the other exit.  But she never said a word as she passed me.”

I smiled. I know how that is.  There is a simple line that explains her rude behavior:  Only the strong can admit they’re wrong and apologize.  Everyone else will try to justify themselves, find excuses, or even place blame.  The strong will have no trouble admitting to the error and not try to hide it.

The more I learn of God’s word and human behavior, the more I see a number of activities which only the strong can do.  Here’s a partial list.  You’ll think of more…

Continue reading

Why Christians need traffic cops, umpires, authorities

Someone has to be in charge.  Don’t they?

On the highway, in the classroom, at the factory, during the ball game, and in the Christian life, nothing works without someone present being empowered to say, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21).  Right?  Or not?

Let’s think about the subject of authority….

In “The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published,” David Skinner describes the hostile reaction that greeted the release of “Webster’s Third Edition” in 1961.  The incident makes a great point for church folk.

First, a few words about the book.

Skinner’s book traces the development of dictionaries in this country and their struggles to determine what goes in and what stays out. Secondly, it chronicles the work of G. and C. Merriam Company to produce a new kind of dictionary this time around.  (The book is not easy reading and I admit to having read it off and on over several months.)

What made “Webster’s Third” different is that the editors came to the interesting conclusion that no one had made them the authority over the English language.  No one had put them in charge of English as spoken and written in America.  In fact, they decided there is no authority.

No authority on the English language.  Imagine that.

Continue reading

Heaven: One surprising thing we will do there

A friend gave me a small reminder of what Heaven is going to be like.

I was having lunch with Pastor Michael and Jane Perry after the morning services in the First Baptist Church of Moss Point, Mississippi, where they serve. We got started talking about families or football or something, and they said Jane’s father–now in Heaven–was the biggest Alabama fan on the planet.

“He had Bear Bryant pictures all over the house,” she said. “He’s gone but they’re still there.”

That’s when I related my little tale of the 1980 game between Bama and Mississippi State. As I began talking, Michael started smiling. I said, “Have I told you this story?” He said, “No, but I remember the game. Go ahead, and I’ll tell you when you finish.”

Okay. The story—

We had driven from our home in Columbus, MS, to Jackson for the game. Alabama had a 17-game winning streak going and State was a perennial doormat for the Southeastern Conference. Even though we liked both teams–Columbus is located between both universities on U.S. 82–we were rooting for Bama that day.

When the game ended, the score was State 6, Alabama 3.

Three hours later, arriving home and pulling into the driveway, we saw people inside our garage. Several of our neighbors were painting a large sign for my house, no doubt rubbing in the loss.

Continue reading

What a resounding testimony will do for you

A resounding testimony of faith in Jesus Christ will get you into more trouble than you’ve ever been in, in your life.

You thought we were going to say how good life would be if you went “all in” for the Lord and told everyone about Him?

Let’s say it again…

A strong outspoken witness for the Lord Jesus Christ will box you into a corner and make you put up or shut up.

That’s why you ought to do it. That’s why you ought to erect a neon sign in your front yard declaring that “Jesus is Lord at 203 Garden Cove” or wherever you live. You ought to put a Bible on your desk and wear t-shirts that celebrate Jesus and put Him in your conversation.

Pray in restaurants before meals, speak to waitresses about their spiritual welfare, and witness to your colleagues at work.

So live and speak that when someone wants to attack the Lord Jesus Christ and can’t lay hands on Him, they start looking for you. (Acts 5:41 comes to mind.)

In declaring yourself for Jesus, you ought to remove your safety harness and throw yourself totally into God’s hands.

Quit being so cotton-picking careful.

What are you afraid of?

Continue reading

How to stimulate fear in others

“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)

I had arrived early at the church where I was to preach that morning and found that a Sunday School class was meeting in the auditorium.  I made my way to a chair and joined the dozen or so adults of various ages.

Whatever scripture they were studying that day, they had wandered far afield from it.  Class members were excitedly speaking against abortion, gay marriage, transgender acceptance, hate crime laws, political shenanigans, the coming world government, the antichrist, the president, and the possibility of an armed uprising in America so everyone had better have plenty of ammunition. Also, blood moons, Armageddon and Joel Osteen.

At one point, during a lull, I asked, “So, what is the scripture for today’s lesson?”  As far as I could tell, only the teacher caught the irony (and gentle rebuke) of that.  He named some place in one of the prophets.

As the members of the class fed on one another’s fears, something occurred to me from the Lord. “This is what happens when Christians quit praying and trusting Me.”

They fear.

These believers were frightened out of their wits.

It spoke volumes about their failure to trust the Lord.

Continue reading

A text the legalist cannot handle

“He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10). 

Do everything you can to make sure your church does not put legalists in charge of anything. Doing so is a death sentence for all they touch.

The letter of the law killeth; the Spirit giveth life (2 Corinthians 3:6).

The legalist reduces our duties to God to a list of rules. Legalists delight in the Ten Commandments, of course, but since the New Testament does not codify all the tasks we must do in order to please God, they do it for Him.

How kind of them to help God out.  Someone said of a legalist, he knows God didn’t require this rule in the Bible, but He would have if He’d thought of it.

The legalist has God figured out.

To the legalist, everything God does has to do with our grades, our performances.  And for us to insist, “He has not dealt with me according to my sins nor rewarded me according to my iniquities” just does not compute.  Such a teaching does not work in his system.

This is the text–and grace is the doctrine–which the legalist cannot abide.

Continue reading

Full-bodied, three-dimensional preaching

I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Galatians 5:21)

Grady Cook, a wonderful Mississippi artist, told me how he had improved his technique. “The picture you bought from me last time,” he said, “was all right. But I still had a lot to learn.” I assured him Margaret and I thought it was fine and that it was hanging in our living room.

“Since then, I’ve studied under a wonderful teacher,” he explained, “and have learned how to add darkness to my work.” He said, “Here. Look at this.” Pointing at the picture I would buy from him a few minutes later, he showed the shadows and the blackness of the undergrowth of the forest. It made the picture far more three-dimensional than the earlier one. The trees stood out. It looked like someplace I’d like to explore.

We still have both pieces of art on display in our home, but since he explained the difference, I’ve enjoyed the last one far more.

“There’s something missing in this sermon,” I said to myself. On the surface, it seemed to work just fine. The “fruit of the Spirit” passage of Galatians 5:22-23 is a familiar and well-loved one. I’d studied it numerous times over the years and had preached it on several occasions. I like what it says about the effect of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer who abides in the Lord, that as he/she grows in Christ, they will grow all nine qualities of this “fruit” in his life. The nine qualities are the “fruit,” not “fruits,” and we do not specialize on one or two, but the indwelling Spirit will be producing all of them. Full-bodied believers, I suppose we could say.

And yet, trying to put myself in the place of my people and listen to my own delivery of the message, it felt rather blah. It just lay there, boring me–and if I was bored, how much more the poor hearers would be.  Something was wrong.

Then I realized what it was.

Continue reading

Waiting on the Lord may be the hardest thing we are asked to do

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….  (Isaiah 40:31)

I waited on the Lord and He inclined to me and heard my cry…. (Psalm 40:1)

So, wait on the Lord.  Be strong. Let your heart take courage.  Yes, wait on the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  (Mark 14:37).

It takes time.

God has all the time in the universe.

Throw away your watch and your calendar, follower of Jesus.  You’re on heavenly time now and nothing happens on your schedule.

I suspect most of us are like the fellow who prayed, “Lord, give me patience–and give it to me right now!”

You’ve been praying for a loved one. And you don’t see an answer.  You keep praying.  For years, you pray and wait and hope.  Then the one you were praying for is in a traffic accident and killed.  Clearly, God never answered your prayer.  You are devastated. So disappointed.  Your faith in God wavers.  You’re so unsure any more.  What is the point in praying and in trusting?

And then one day, years later, something happens.

Continue reading