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Posts Tagged ‘Growth’

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – Saint Augustine

For most of my life I’ve had an ongoing battle with perfectionism but it took me over fifty years to see it as a hindrance rather than a help.

Daily we are bombarded with images of men and women who appear to be highly successful because they strive for perfection in their appearance and professional life. However, if you take a close look at anyone’s life, no matter how “together” they may appear, it won’t take long to discover that even among the best of us there is a much deeper longing for meaning in life and relationships.

Deep down I really know that I’m a deeply flawed individual but it would be nice to appear to “have my act together” to everyone around me so that my faults and failings don’t come out too often.

For those of us who have a personal faith in God it’s easy to quote chapter and verse either to justify our perfectionistic tendencies or excuse our shortcomings or both.

Jesus’ words above recorded by Matthew have often been quoted to me by some who say that God expects “perfection” from people, speaking mainly of the followers of Jesus. The implication is that perfection in this life is somehow attainable through whatever means are necessary to achieve it.

Honestly, that’s no way to live life with a heart for God and it’s not even realistic or even achievable if we stop to think about it.

What was Jesus saying here and does the Bible teach us that striving for perfection is a motivating factor in our lives? Before drawing any quick conclusions just take a closer look at the Biblical language, especially in the case of Jesus’ words.

The Bible speaks of God’s “perfection” as in Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “perfect” here carries the idea of “blameless” or “without fault.” I think most people with a faith in God and particularly Jesus-followers would have no problem with the concept that God is perfect and unblemished.

However, when it comes to the way the Bible speaks of humans in relation to “perfect” a different word is used. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus uses the Greek word “teleios” meaning “perfect” in the sense of “having reached its end,”  “complete” or even “mature.”  In other words God is perfect and can’t be “matured” any more than He already is but we humans are far from mature. The good news of the Gospel is that God is in the process of “growing” us up as we trust His perfect Son Jesus and live by faith.

In my battle with perfectionism I’ve found that there’s a world of difference between striving for excellence as opposed to perfectionism as a “soul-condition.”  Human perfectionism no matter how well-intentioned is rooted and grounded in pride while the Gospel message of Jesus is one of humility.

Striving for excellence can be very much about serving God and others if our motives are to glorify God in everything we do. Perfectionism on the other hand is a mindset that seeks to avoid being judged or criticized by others. The malady is one of obsession with what others think, or may think of us.

Researcher and author Brene Brown defines perfectionism as “a cognitive, behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, and live perfect I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”

The peril of perfectionism is that we can actually become callous to our own humanity so that we don’t have to face our failings and imperfections head on.

The alternative to prideful perfectionism is humility and vulnerability which breaks down pride in our lives and gives us a healthier appreciation of God and true freedom to trust Him with the reality of who we are – warts and all.

Ms. Brown expresses it well when she says, Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No – the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.”

I think our Lord and Maker is more interested in enabling us to serve Him out of faith and love rather than approving of our efforts to create a false image of ourselves. He provided a very humble, gentle and vulnerable Savior to show us the way to do just that.

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“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.” – Proverbs 24:3-6 (NIV)

Yesterday Dustin Johnson, the thirty-year old, highly successful professional golfer at the top of his game, announced that he has decided to take a break from golf to address personal issues in his life and seek outside professional help.

Today the news is that drug use is the issue. It’s being rumored that he is being suspended for six months by the PGA for being tested positive for cocaine.

So the sporting world is facing a new challenge for one of its star performers. Even so I can relate to where Dustin is at just now.

Being a film-fan I always enjoyed a good western movie. In the great westerns of yesteryear you could generally count on the US Cavalry coming to the rescue in desperate situations. When the peaceful, hardworking homesteaders on the frontier got surrounded by the enemy and all hope was lost, the US Cavalry seemed to arrive just in time to save the day!

Life has a way of landing us in trouble that we can’t squeeze out of unless someone from outside comes to the rescue. The problem is that we often don’t know how much trouble we’re in before we call for help. I don’t know about you but it seems that in my life I keep having to learn lessons the hard way. All too often pain seems to be the best teacher.

In the early days of US television there was a famous western series called “The Lone Ranger.” It featured a masked man who, along with his trusty Native American sidekick, “Tonto” would rescue people out of hopeless situations.

In my generation, it was every boy’s dream to be “the Lone Ranger.” Strong, independent and reliable were subliminal code words we seemed to inhale with every episode.

For most of my life I preferred “The Lone Ranger” to “The Cavalry”. I wanted to be able to solve my own problems and meet my own needs without having to call in anyone else to help. For more years than I care to admit, I never sought out a mentor, although I often heard that it might be a good idea.

Unfortunately in the real world pride makes small men even smaller. Proud men dislike outside help. Hollywood, fueled by pride and competition, doesn’t preach that sermon.

In reflecting on Dustin Johnson’s situation I can’t help but think back to the beginning of Tiger Wood’s problems in November of 2009. He was in deep trouble long before the news hit the media. Although many of his problems may be resolved he’s still working his way back to prominence in golf almost five years later. He was in a deep crisis way before the Cavalry arrived.

The verses quoted above from Proverbs direct us to a much different pattern of life  – people who are wise, successful and productive in life have “houses” (i.e. lives) that are built on understanding, knowledge, strength and guidance from many advisers!”

The best leaders are also people who are led, most of time by the people they intentionally and willingly choose to follow. They are team players, not Lone Rangers! They rely on key outsiders and even disgruntled customers to speak into their lives and situations.

People who are growing and influential are vulnerable and connected to others. They welcome feedback because they know they can learn from it. They seem to know who they can trust. They confide in those people, seek their input and make mid-course corrections. Generally everyone wins from that type of behavior.

Because of our natural self-protection and blind spots we often don’t know we are in trouble until someone on the outside gives us a clue that we are not in a good place and that we need wisdom beyond our own boundaries.

Several years ago when facing a personal crisis I finally started to stop trying to be the Lone Ranger and start calling in the Cavalry. It made all the difference in my own life and new life patterns of dealing with problems emerged.

Often our own pride blinds us to see God-given advisers all around us. The truth is that we can’t watch ourselves travel through life – but others around us can. Many of them are smarter than we are and have pretty keen eyesight and life experience.

Look at your own life. I’d say that your “Cavalry” is all around you. They can be friends, spouses, small group leaders, pastors, teachers, church leaders, business consultants, coaches, doctors, specialists in a field of interest and the list goes on.

Now that I’m a little wiser I continually update my list of “Cavalry” members God has placed around me. I’m grateful for a growing number of key people near me whom I can call in to help before the crises of my life get out of hand. It’s like heeding the warning signs of cancer as soon as they appear – and doing something about them before it’s too late.

My hope is that at age thirty Dustin Johnson hasn’t left his decision too long before seeking help. If things go well for his recovery he’ll be the real winner in the long run.

Now when I see a crisis brewing I’m quicker to spot my foolish pride and call in my own Cavalry because in reality Lone Rangers finish last.

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September 1, 2009 marked a new chapter in my life. In the weeks leading up to September 2014 I want to share the top five lessons God has taught me during this season of my life. 

 Lesson One – What’s the Connection?

 “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’”     2 Samuel 11:2-3 (NIV)

It can all happen in an instant. We can be going along very nicely then something captures our attention and starts us down a different road.

It tends to happen more frequently these days when we are subject to many interruptions every waking hour with computers, tablets, televisions and mobile devices which are constantly armed for action.

When new information comes crashing in we rarely stop to ask – “What’s happening right now and what connection does it have with the rest of my life – past and future?”

The incident quoted above – King David’s first encounter with Bathsheba – is a huge turning point in the book of 2 Samuel and in David’s life. Up to this moment in David’s life he’s been the golden boy – a true success story. All the way from a shepherd boy to the King of all Israel.

At this point in his life David had just about everything any man could ever want or hope for.  He had influence, friends, power, possessions, wives, concubines and most importantly a rich spiritual life. The Bible describes him as “a man after God’s own heart.”

After David’s encounter with Bathsheba, his life would never, ever be the same. He committed adultery with her, had her husband Uriah killed in battle and kept her for himself.  All of David’s life changes with what is described in these two short verses.  The rest of the story is described in the remainder of 2 Samuel and it’s not pretty – being confronted by Nathan the prophet, the death of his child born to Bathsheba, the breakup of his family and the fragmentation of his Kingdom.

Many wise sages throughout history have grappled with David’s actions. How and why would he sacrifice all he had and all he was for the woman he saw bathing?

Most men I know, including myself, see ourselves in David’s story. We seek to be admired, successful, influential, and even “a man after God’s own heart.” However, at some unsuspecting moment something or someone enters the picture and we lose track of everything, especially the bigger picture of who we are and where we are.

For David he lost it the moment he saw Bathsheba bathing. Even though he had multiple wives and concubines he might have called on at that moment – he lost the plot. The plot turned ugly from there, sparked by his view of someone beautiful.

In reflecting on my own faults and failures in the area of lust I think David lost one vital thing that I’ve learned to appreciate in a new way over the past five years.

It’s summarized in the word “connection.” David lost connection.

In September 2009 I began meeting regularly with a Christian counselor. One of the first comments that the counselor said to me was, “Jesse, everything in your life is connected!” I was age fifty-five at the time and the thought had never occurred to me!

As I learned more about this vital inter-connection I found that my life was far more compartmentalized than I had ever realized. I knew that men tended to compartmentalize their lives but never did I see it in myself until I experienced a personal crash.

It’s been a real education over the past five years looking at subtle ways I disconnect internally to keep from facing reality around me.  Although I’m far from an expert in connection, I can now spot disconnection more readily in my own experience and I see it here in David.

At the point of David’s greatest temptation he lost connection with who he was. He was David the man of God, he was David the husband and father and he was David the King, just to name a few.

David as man of God had a vital role of walking with God and living for God. He had an intimate relationship with his Father. At the moment of temptation, I think he began to think and feel that he could section off his life and operate a part of it independently of God – not the whole – but part of it. That was indeed part of the temptation. He momentarily lost connection with His God.

David was also a husband and father. Obviously he had several wives and concubines (cf. 2 Samuel 5:13-16) but none of them ever entered his thinking when he saw Bathsheba.  He didn’t connect with the reality that his actions were out of harmony with his family. When he least expected it he momentarily lost connection his family.

David was also King of Israel. It was a huge responsibility for anyone. David had been doing a wonderful job as King. He was good at it. It was God-ordained. But in an instant he momentarily lost connection with his vital role in the Kingdom of God’s chosen people.

Do we really ever live one day with the full realization that our lives are connected with those around us? Do we ever fully appreciate just how much the decisions we make really do matter to others?

It’s been a different path for me the past five years as I have been more aware of trying to see the vital connections between everything in my life. I think the life of faith is learning to live with a clear knowledge that the connection is there whether I see it outright or not. Our loving God and Creator is the One who connects everything in our lives.

The fallen world around us says that what we do our own personal business and no one else will be affected. That’s probably one reason why we see such turmoil today – people thinking they can be a law unto themselves and what they do really has no affect on the rest of us. It was clearly seen in the incident of the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine last week.

We may not have the power and influence that David enjoyed, but if we look at the reality of God and the larger picture of our lives we’ll see that there’s much to enjoy with gratitude, even down to the fine details.

Next time something grabs your attention or when temptation comes calling, stop and think about the vital connections in your own life. You’ll find, as I have, that the bigger picture is a great picture and you and I are fortunate to be part of it.

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“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

Now that I’ve hit age sixty, I think I’m finally beginning to see that my desire for personal comfort is somehow contrary to my desire for personal growth. Why do all the major lessons we seem to learn in life have to come the hard way?

This week the famous golfer Gary Player was being interviewed by the Golf Channel in La Quinta, California where the Humana Challenge is currently being played on the PGA tour. Those who are familiar with Mr. Player know that he has been a health and fitness advocate long before professional golfers knew much about how H & F would bring them to a higher level of competition.

Gary Player has never been one to take the comfortable route in life. Speaking of the health of the average American he said something to the effect that it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get the average American to go to the gym and eat a healthy diet! He advocated eating less and walking more as a creative, less painful alternative!

Those of us like myself, who serve in professions where we work with people and love to see them develop are always interested in the dynamics of change and growth. What are the barriers that hinder our growth and development?

After having come through a season of life when I faced some tough discipline issues myself I have come to see that the path of least resistance looks pretty good to most of us, whether it be a physical, emotional, spiritual or relational challenge.

The writer to the Hebrews in the verse above observes the type of discipline that our Heavenly Father often imposes on His children for their good and well-being. The discipline may be painful – cutting out undesirable habits or unhealthy patterns of relating to others. But the good part is that after the discipline has run its course it produces a harvest – one of genuine righteousness and peace.

Recently in conversation with a good friend we just happened to observe that there are people in our lives who tend to cause us pain and “push our emotional buttons.” Quite simply we feel judged around them or inferior because of the ways we interpret or filter messages they send us. I notice that I tend to withdraw from such people for my own sake. Preferring comfort to change and growth, we withdraw and accept the status quo.

It looks selfish when you really examine it.

Not surprisingly, I have several friends in the counselling field. One of them told me on one occasion that the human heart is as soft as a marsh mellow so we tend to encase it in armor for comfort and protection. This is a natural response to the wounds we have suffered in the past.

I’m finding in these years that it takes courage to risk being hurt and rejected to really have a life of growth and positive change. When we move toward others in love our marsh mellow heart may get wounded, but the results may be a harvest of “righteousness and peace” further down the road.

The price of genuine growth is never cheap, but it’s well worth the pain and the price over the long haul.

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But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things” Philippians 3:13b-15a (NIV)

I must admit I find it easier to look back than to look forward.

I suppose I tend to be a more of an introspective, reflective and reactive person rather than a forward-thinking, proactive individual. As I approach my sixtieth birthday on the 8th of January 2014 here are some of my reflections at this fairly advanced stage of life and a few aspirations for the future.

My natural reaction to turning sixty is, “I never realized it would be this difficult.”

Over the Christmas break we enjoyed a visit from my son who now lives in Holland and his new wife, our first daughter-in-law.  During the few days they were here at our home in Ireland she asked if she could see our wedding photos, which my wife happily dug out for her to browse through. I found I was taking a closer look at them myself. Our wedding was over thirty-eight years ago and it’s fascinating to see what we looked like as a pair of twenty-one-year-olds making serious life choices on that day in 1975.

I was struck by several things in our wedding photos. Obviously, at the time we looked much younger than we do now, and thinner too – at least I did! But I was captivated by one thing and that was how “happy” I appeared to look in the pictures.

Now that I’m turning sixty, I never realized at the time of my wedding that it would be so difficult to maintain a happy, positive attitude throughout life.

I think the potential is always there for us to be happy and positive, but all the pain and suffering in life takes its toll on us, at least it did on me. Even though our marriage started out well, we actually had a car accident on our honeymoon that was my fault because I didn’t take time to check the brake fluid on the old car we were driving!

During the course of our marriage, we have had many joyous times and abundant blessings, but we have experienced almost every family problem and tragedy one can imagine. We have had a blessed life and marriage, but not without major challenges and suffering. From parents and siblings dying to having all sorts of accidents and other issues with our six children through the years we have had our share of hard times.

I never realized how much these things would cumulatively affect my life and attitudes but I also never realized how they would shape and mature me either.

I also never realized that it would be so difficult to maintain reasonably good spiritual and emotional health and physical fitness over the long haul. For a season of life when we were raising our children and also heavily involved in ministry and church life, my personal fitness regime went totally by the wayside. I also let my emotional life get into free fall as problems seemed to mount up one after the other and my responses to them did more harm than good.

I never realized that caring for myself in appropriate ways would actually be a gift to my family and others around me who might actually benefit from a healthier “me.” Thankfully over the past few years I’ve begun to do better about appropriate “self-care” in most respects – spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physically. I never realized that this would be such a vital priority and that I would have to intentionally work at it!

I also never realized that being faithful to my wife, my children and my calling would require so much effort and would require so much of me. I think for a season of life I grew weary in many respects and perhaps lost focus of what was most important. Seeds of becoming a workaholic started to bring up some shoots. I had few dreams but only hopes of recognition from peers or those I considered “significant authorities” whom I felt had to approve of me and my work in order for me to feel good about myself.

I’m learning now to be much more process oriented and see growth as a lifelong project that we were designed to enjoy along the way, even with its suffering and apparent setbacks.

Going forward I think I’m trying to live a much simpler, more joyful and expectant life. I want to return, in some respects, to the man with the happy smile in my wedding photos. In order for that to happen I see a few important truths I will have to live by going forward –

  • Gratitude must become a daily reality and be as natural as breathing
  • Life will continue to be challenging and suffering will be part of the process
  • Listening to God and learning from Him and those He places in our path is vital for our health and growth. We were never intended to travel the road alone
  • Proper self-care is not only a gift to ourselves but also to our loved ones

Recently I had some extended time to talk with a friend of mine who has been a caring pastor of a growing congregation for over thirty years. We both agreed that in the church we find “grumpy old men” and we both agreed that we don’t want to become one of them.

I never realized how dependent I was on the grace of God Almighty to avoid becoming grumpy as I age and how completely I would have to trust and cooperate with Him.

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