The Downside of Being a Perfect Kid

I was a pretty awesome kid, if I do say so myself. Polite and well-behaved, I never recall talking back to my parents or any adult.

I worked hard at school and got good grades. My parents never had to worry about me skipping classes, getting into fights, using profanity, or disgracing them in any way. They were proud of me, and rightfully so.

Never once did I try a cigarette, smoke a joint, or get drunk.

And all this time, I never doubted that my parents loved me. Of course  they loved me. I was quite lovable, after all.

So what could possibly be the downside to this seemingly idyllic picture?

During my recent sabbatical, I came to a surprising and quite troubling realization: Yes, my parents loved me, but there was a problem…

Because I was so “perfect,” I subconsciously assumed my virtue was the reason I was loved.

This created an obvious dilemma: If my parents loved me because I was always lovable, how could I ever know they’d love me when I was unlovable?

Flash forward to today, and I realize how this warped perspective has infiltrated my relationship with God, my Heavenly Father.

If someone asked, “Jim, do you think God loves you?,” I would say yes, probably so. But my answer would be based largely on the fact that I’ve been a “pretty good Christian,” just like I was a good kid for my parents.

Do you see the problem here? (And it’s a BIG problem!)

If you think God loves you because you’re such a good, well-behaved person, there’s no room left for His grace. On days when you feel good about yourself, you’re confident the Lord loves you. But when you realize you’ve fallen short in some way, you find yourself questioning His love.

This makes God’s love dependent on your performance…your behavior…your productivity. As long as you’re perfect, everything’s fine. But if you screw up, you assume your Father’s love and favor will be withheld.

What a shaky foundation this is!

If you’re having a good day, you think God is certainly pleased with you. If things aren’t going your way, you assume He must be disappointed and angry.

No wonder the older brother in the Prodigal Son story had such a struggle (Luke 15). He had been the perfect kid, faithfully serving his father year after year. Yet because he felt that he was so “good” and so “worthy,” he never experienced the unconditional nature of his father’s love.

The prodigal, in contrast, couldn’t rely upon his good behavior as a reason for his father’s affection. He knew  he needed mercy and grace—and he received them in great abundance.

So let me ask you two questions:

  1. Do you know, really know, that your Heavenly Father loves you, and loves you deeply?
  2. If your answer to question #1 is yes, do you realize He loves you even when you’re an underachiever…or mischievous…or downright rebellious? Do you realize His great love is able to cover even “a multitude of sins”?  (1 Peter 4:8).

It’s such a wonderful relief when you finally recognize you don’t have to be the perfect kid in order to get your Father’s love and affection. You’ll find yourself entering deeper into His love and, perhaps surprisingly, your conduct will improve as well.

It turned out that the older brother in Luke 15 wasn’t so perfect after all. Instead of entering the father’s house and enjoying the party, he just kept on working.

In the same way, a funny thing happened by the time I got to the end of this blog. I realized I wasn’t really  a perfect kid, either. Countless sins have come to mind, and the greatest of all was pride.

Those, like me, who grew up with an inflated view of their own worthiness will usually end up with the same twisted view that their Heavenly Father’s love is based on performance.

He loves you, my friend. Not because you’re the perfect child, but because His love is greater than all your shortcomings.

So go ahead and enter the Father’s lavish party. He’s throwing it for you, after all.

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So, You Think You’ve Died Enough Already?

I recently had an experience that forced me to die to myself. It was a “Who Moved My Cheese?” type of moment, when I made my wishes known on a matter but was overruled.

In the overall scope of things, this incident was clearly no big deal. But I hadn’t gotten my way, and it hurt. I felt disrespected…disregarded…undervalued.

Yet what hurt the most was realizing I had overreacted, blowing up the whole thing much bigger than it actually was.

Thankfully, God graciously showed me what had happened during this strange emotional meltdown. The incident that triggered my flood of ugly emotions was relatively minor. But like the tip of an iceberg, it was meant to alert me to the fact that a much BIGGER hunk of the iceberg was still lurking beneath the surface.

You see, the small incident in question had a very strange effect, causing me to experience flashbacks of numerous other times in my life when I had felt rejected or unappreciated. I thought I had long since forgiven and been healed of these past experiences…but some of the wounds apparently remained.

Ouch. It was painful to see the ugly sense of pride and entitlement hiding deep within my heart. But I also was grateful to the Lord for exposing it. I saw that the real issue wasn’t the tip of the iceberg that was in view, but rather the hidden iceberg in my heart.

I surely don’t like dying to myself. None of us do. And in my case, I felt like I had already died to myself enough to last a lifetime! Why did I have to do so again?

At that point, I remembered a time in the 1990s when I was a senior pastor facing a horrific wave of rejection due to a massive church split. It was excruciating to be rejected and lied about by people I loved and had endeavored to pour my life into.

Finally, I reached my limit. I’d had enough.

So one day I told my pastor friend Duane Flemming of my decision to resign. “I don’t need this, Duane. It’s just not fair, and I don’t have to take it anymore.”

Duane is a man of great wisdom, and he listened intently as I went on and on about how I had been mistreated. Finally, he asked me a simple question that still haunts me today:

“So Jim, are you saying you’re enough like Jesus already?”

How could I answer a question like that? Of course I wasn’t enough like Jesus yet. Jesus bore the cross all the way to His death on Calvary, yet I was ready to jettison my cross at the first sign of pain or injustice.

Forgive me, Lord. You’ve helped me see that I’m not entitled to bypass the cross today, just because I died to myself on some occasions in the past.

What about you, my friend? Are you able to relate to my story today? Is there some issue in your life where you are being forced to embrace the cross…die to yourself…and extend forgiveness to those who may not deserve it? Do you find yourself squealing like a pig, just because you aren’t getting your own way?

Amid the trials and disappointments of life, let me encourage you to fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Yes, I know, you probably have already died to yourself a million times before. But the life a disciple requires dying daily (Luke 9:23, 1 Corinthians 15:31), not just in the distant past. That’s the only way to experience more of Jesus’ resurrection power, after all, and it’s a process that’s not going to change until He returns.

 

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What Platform Are YOU Standing On?

When I recently I hit 20,000 Twitter followers @BestBibleTweets, I started having eerie flashbacks of a conversation last year with a pastor friend named Steve. He had spent a considerable amount of time trying to build a social media “platform” to promote a book he had written. Some marketing guru apparently had told him that if he could gain 20,000 followers on Twitter, it would be a breeze to sell his book.

It took several years, but finally Steve achieved his Twitter goal and was ready to launch the book. He was so excited. Steve was convinced his book would sweep the country, if not the world.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well. He had invested most of his life savings to design and print 10,000 books, figuring he could easily recoup his investment when the books sold.

But within four or five months of launching the book, reality was beginning to set in. Instead of selling thousands of books, he had sold only hundreds. And he found himself giving away many copies of the book for free  to friends and relatives.

Steve was bewildered. He thought he had built a pretty impressive platform. But somehow the response from his Twitter followers and Facebook friends was lukewarm, at best.

Meanwhile, Steve had withdrawn from most of his pastoral responsibilities so he could go on the road and promote the book. He spoke at some churches, did some book signings, and even was interviewed on a few local radio programs. But despite these noble efforts, he still had over 9,000 books stored in his garage.

If you are looking for an easy moral to this story, I’m not sure I have one.

I’ve seen lots of disillusionment over the years from those who sought a higher platform. Some of these people seemed very well-intentioned, with a sincere passion to impact the world with their message. But in other cases, the message seemed to get buried amid narcissism and self-promotion.

I’m not against platforms. I’m glad to have an ever-growing tribe of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I want to get my messages to an ever-wider audience.

But I’m still wary of all of the social media hoopla. The Bible is clear that true promotion must come from the Lord, and nowhere else (Psalm 75:6-7). If you are trusting in something else or someone else to give you a platform, you’re likely to be greatly disappointed.

The more I walk with the Lord, the more it seems like the safest “platform” is the one closest to the ground—where we humble ourselves before others to serve them and wash their feet (John 13). And doesn’t this kind of face-to-face, hands-on, behind-the-scenes ministry bear greater fruit in the long run than any lofty type of platform?

When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, will He really ask us how big our platform was? Or will He simply want to know whether we faithfully loved and served people with whatever platform we were given?

Despite the clear words of Jesus, it seems we’re still prone to seek the place of honor at the banqueting table instead of the place of service (Luke 14:7-11). Meanwhile, Jesus’ model of leadership was to build a platform to lift others  higher, not ourselves.

 

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