Fear is not your friend

There’s a lot of fear going around the world today. This isn’t an exaggeration. Right now, the world is united in their fight against a virus that for 20% of the people who get it, can be devastating.

My wife speaks with people all around the world, teaching conversational English. The topic with every single person, whether in Japan, Saudi Arabia, or Brazil, is the same. There is fear. Probably rightfully so. After all, it is better safe than sorry. My kids’ school is cancelled for three weeks, and my church has done the same. People are going to the grocery stored and stocking up on their apocalypse supplies like it’s Y2K all over again. As my country has closed the border, it is like the country is singing as a choir, the David Bowie song that goes, “I’m afraid of Americans, I’m afraid of the world.”

One of my favourite books is The Barbarian Way by Erwin McManus. While speaking of fear, McManus writes,

“What we fear is what we’re subject to; our fears define our master. Where there is no fear, there is no control.”

Right now, who is our master?

Before you jump to conclusions, I am not talking about ignoring Health and Safety advice and running into the senior’s home because you have no fear, or walking into the home of an isolated individual. Fear and recklessness are different. The verse “no weapon formed against you shall stand” does not mean that you will never get sick, be hurt, or die, let alone what you might give to someone else.

Just because there is danger doesn’t mean we need to fear. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is speaking to his disciples about worrying when he says,

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:25-34

There are a lot of things you could worry about. However, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, life is but a vapour. Jesus came to show us that this life is merely the stepping stone into eternity. It is because of that we do not have to worry. After all, Jesus has come in perfect love, and as John tells us, perfect love drives out all fear.

When we open up our hearts to perfect love, we invite Jesus to be the master. Jesus drives out fear. Let’s confess our fear to Christ, allow him to squeeze it from our hearts, and choose to walk, not in fear but the life and hope of Christ. For we know that no matter what happens in this life, whether good or bad, that Jesus is still King, that his kingdom will come, that our present life isn’t all that there is, but there is an eternity ahead with the God of love.

It is because of this I can give that extra toilet paper roll away. It’s because of Jesus that I don’t have to be scared to go outside for a walk, while still being smart about my interaction with others. What it means is that even if I catch the virus, I can follow the steps, not getting all worked up, letting my mind going to the worst-case scenario. It means that we can hope and trust that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads by still waters, if not in this life, the next.

Be safe. Be smart. But do not live in fear.

Do I really need to give up my life for everyone: a fresh look at John 15

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

John 15:12-13

What does it mean to lay down our life for another?

Is Jesus telling us to die for another literally? Or maybe he is saying give your life, with the emphasis on the word give? As in, you give your love, resources, your essence away to those who are your friends.

However, this brings up another question. Who is a friend? Like, what qualifies a person to move into the friend-you-give-up-your-life-for (whatever that means) category? It may seem a little extreme for either interpretation of “give up your life” to be applied to the guy you see on the bus every once in a while and have a chat with between stops.

Jesus also tells us to love one another as He has loved us. Good luck with that. To be honest, I don’t think I could love anyone as much as Jesus loves them or me. Has Jesus fastened us to perpetual failure?

If we look, as one commentator labels it, at the full formula in verse 12, Jesus is calling us to lay down our lives as he literally laid down His. WHOA. Are you ready for that? I’m not sure I am.

Craig Keener, in his amazing two-volume set on the Gospel of John, points out that in the ancient world, the subject of friendship was much debated in many essays. Greco-Roman and Jewish philosophers debated. The word signified a gambit of interpretation from a dependant to a political dependent of a royal patron to a high official in Hellenistic Syria to a friend of Caesar. Most commonly, in the ancient world, the word friendship meant alliances, cooperation, or nonaggression treaties among people. No matter what the exact definition is,

“Hellenistic ideals of friendship include a strong emphasis on loyalty.”

Keener p.1009

So what does this mean? Keener points out,

“John therefore portrays friendship with Jesus as an intimate relationship with God and his agent, one that John believed was continuing in his own community, and one that no doubt set them apart from the synagogue, which has a much more limited understanding in continuing pneumatic revelation.”

Keener p.1015

While we are called to love and be grace-filled in every interaction, we are not to give up our life for everyone. That would be physically impossible. After all, I am not Jesus, and neither are you. What is interesting is that if every follower of Jesus gave up themselves to their sphere of people, YOU or I wouldn’t have to give up ourselves for everyone because WE would give up our lives for everyone.

In chapter 14 Jesus is talking to the disciples (we) and says that the Holy Spirit will come upon them “and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12). It is not Peter, John, Matthew, or Simon, who is going to do great things than Jesus through the Holy Spirit. It is the WE. It is you and I—all of us together.

The burden of doing greater things and the burden of laying our lives down for others isn’t a burden that lays upon one of us. It is a burden that, as my friends in the south would say, is for all y’all.

Don’t be anxious about all the burdens in your community. You or your church can’t do it all. What we are called to do is to give ourselves to our sphere of influence. We are to join with all followers of Jesus to meet the needs of the whole. The pressure is on, and the pressure is off.

Let’s carry the burden together.

The art of letting things slip through the cracks

I missed the deadline. I probably could have reached it. I most certainly had content that I could push out there that would have been mildly entertaining, slightly informative, and might be worthy of a share. However, I could not. Wednesday night, Thursday morning, and as the day progressively carried on and the deadline passed further and further into the distance, my mind and body couldn’t bring itself to type a single word.

Flashes of the Youtuber who lost a million followers when he didn’t post a video one week went through my mind. I was ignoring the advice of some of the most respected voices in the blogging world, voices like Michael Hyatt, who says you must post often and consistently. The gong of advice inside my head couldn’t compel me to persevere.

Why?

Well, I’m glad you (and I) asked.

I’m tired. 

Over the last four months, I feel as though I am going at an insane pace. My everyday life consists of my job as a pastor of a church plant, father, and husband. What this means is that I am studying and producing a sermon every week. We have a small church, so it also means, I lead all the music, I do the youth, and run the programs and admin. There is some help here and there, but it up to me to get it done. I have four young kids. They need to be read with, put to bed (which is an ordeal consisting of a plethora of prescription drugs that would make a pharmacist salivate), and have family and one on one time. It’s a worthy investment, but as any parent knows, it can leave you dried up and tired.

On top of that, I have a relationship with my wife to maintain. She is blogging, watching kids throughout the day, and teaching conversational English at night. After I put the kids to bed, while she works, it is our only time together (as we try and make our way through the Marvel chronology). 

Now we need to add up all the additional things that we add into our lives. I am trying to write my second book, I’m studying to be a personal trainer, I am working out three hours a day to be in shape, so I can be a personal trainer (four years of injuries have taken their toll), and blogging twice a week.

I’ve kept up the pace. Thursday, I just couldn’t. Something had to give. I just hope I don’t lose a million followers (as if I could).

I believe we all have deadlines, goals, and priorities we need to let slip. We have to ask ourselves what are the primary responsibilities that we have.

For me, husband, father, and pastor (in that order). We then have secondary responsibilities. Again for me, studying to be a physical trainer and exercising so I look like a physical trainer. Even though I love to do it, writing has to fall into a third category. Yes, I may not sell as many books, get as many hits, or raise my social media platform (which has been suffering a lot the last few weeks), but it is not worth sacrificing the former two categories to be prolific in the later.

What I have yet to mention the uncategorically most important, my spiritual life. I need time for prayer, study, scripture, worship, meditation, and sabbath. I cannot even come close to achieving anything on the priority list with even half an ounce of “average” unless I pour into myself. It’s like the picture a flight attendant might show us how we put our mask on first before we help anyone else. 

After all, isn’t this what Jesus did? Sure there weren’t social media or blogs (although I’m sure he would if they had). Even though Jesus didn’t have all the noise of modern society around him, Jesus still had to deal with pressure, family, friends, and yes, even his own spiritual life. We see him waking early and retreating, he goes to temple, he goes to pray with a few friends, and he even says no to people requesting his assistance. 

Jesus needed to set the priorities, so do you and I. We have to be willing to let some things slide. What is vital, though, is that we don’t let the most important things slide. We must not let our spouse or kids fall through the cracks of our busy lives. It might mean we disappoint a few people when a post doesn’t come or the deadline isn’t reached in time, however, as Jesus once said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” We must not lose our soul, the essence of life, in the process.

Today, give yourself permission to let something, that’s not all that important, slip through the cracks.

Grace for days: The greatest love story ever told

When I think of my life, the moments of pain, stress, and disappointment, I wish I could say that I am quick to give grace to other people or even myself. Grace is a mystery. This is especially true when it comes to the grace of God.

I love how James Emery White defines it, 

“Grace, at its heart, is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do.” 

The crux is this, we don’t deserve it, especially when it comes to God’s grace. This is why grace is part of the greatest love story. Understand, I don’t think that we don’t deserve (to use White’s words) because we are vile, or as one hymn states “wormwood and gall.” What makes us undeserving is, well… we do dumb stuff. We hurt people and ourselves and create destructive patterns and pass them on to our kids. We push God’s love away. 

Yet, God continually comes and gives us unbounded grace. My favourite verses on this are found in Romans 5:6-8

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We were powerless when we received God’s grace. We are like Steve Rogers (before being transformed into Captain America) being beaten up in an ally having to be saved by our best friend, Bucky. We are not the heroes in the grace story. It is God. It will always be God. Why? Just as verse 7 points out, as a whole, us humans rarely would give up our lives for a completely innocent person. We maybe, might possibly, if we’re in a good mood, give up our life for someone who has done nice things for us (what “a good person” is insinuating).

As verse 8 points out, we were none of those. We are not innocent. We have not given anything “good” enough to deserve the unmerited grace we have received. Simply while we were still sinners—while we were still opposed to God—Christ died for us. Unrequited grace. We didn’t want it, even though we needed it.

It is because of this unrequited grace that I love the theologically contested song, “Reckless Love,” by Corey Asbury. For God to love the way God does, while we reject Him is reckless. If it were our child who was chasing after someone they loved and that person continually rejected them and pushed them away, we would say they are being reckless. We might even say the same thing to a parent who has experienced incredible hurt and brokenness from a child. We might say they are enabling them by giving unrequited love. When we anthropomorphize this divine love, it is reckless. 

Saying all that, a love that perseveres is the thing that the greatest stories on earth are written of. Knights and dragons, princesses and witches, sleepless nights in rainy cities—as compelling as authors and directors have made these fantastic stories— they still don’t compare to the love that bestows grace and sheds it abroad upon our hearts freely to us.

We must always remember that the prerequisite for grace is, and will always be love. Tina Turner may ask, “what’s love got to do with it?” but our answer was, is, and will always be everything.

As John 3:16 famously states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his son.” It’s all for love and love for all. God’s love is bigger and grander, and because of grace. God would rather love us, give grace, and be hurt than to not have us a part of His family. Now that’s amazing grace.

Check out the resources used in this post

He stood with the boy: a story of how weakness was turned to strength.

As a parent, I feel as though it is my job to instill in my kids how to be a functional human being. Sometimes us parents get it right, and sometimes we don’t. There are moments when they can look at how we interact with others and see Jesus in our example, while there are other moments when we find ourselves giving them the opposite pattern. At best, I hope that the positives outweigh the negatives, and they don’t need too much therapy.

There are also other moments when your kids surprise you. The hope is that there is more good than bad; however, there are no promises. There are no promises that your kids will listen to the good things you teach them. There are no promises that they will choose to live out the good examples that you set rather than the bad. A parent can only hope. The best parents can have a child who lives in a cycle of destructive patterns, and harmful parents can raise a well-adjusted child. Parenting can sometimes be a great mystery.

The other day my wife and I had one of those surprises. When the teacher called us, it left us in tears. Luckily for us, it was positive. The most perplexing is that we don’t know where it came from, why he thought to do what he did, but it was a day we were proud that he was our son. To go further, my son showed me what it means to be like Jesus. I was proud and convicted. First, at his age, I would have never done what he did. I probably would have done the opposite of my son. Secondly, I don’t know if I would have the courage as a grown man to do what my son did.

When the phone rang, and it was my son’s teacher, we thought there was maybe an injury or had an allergic reaction. His teacher went on to tell us that during class, a boy was trying to read a poem to the rest of the class. The boy was struggling greatly. It was embarrassing for him. That is when my son, my beautiful son, who is so much braver and caring than me (he must take after his mother), stood up, walked to the front of the class and stood with the boy to help him read.

Even now, it brings tears to my eyes.

There is something you need to know; my son isn’t a great reader. Just like his dad, he’s in Resource because his reading isn’t up to par.

My son was Jesus to that young boy.

Through weakness, there was a great strength.

In our weakness, we can turn to Christ, who, in ultimate weakness, the cross, demonstrated great strength. When we are weak, we can trust that Jesus is standing there with us.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Chruch in Corinth,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 cor 12:9-10

My son reminded me that just as Christ comes to stand with us in our weakness and makes us strong, so we, too, are called to do the same for others. Though we are weak, we can stand with others amid their weakness through the strength found in Christ—relying entirely on His grace to bring us through.

Let’s be Jesus in someone’s weakness today. Let’s learn a lesson from a seven-year-old boy.

The most overlooked Book in the Bible, just might be one of the most important

I’ve recently been on a preaching journey through the book of Lamentations. To be honest, I’ve never heard a sermon on the subject, and my theological library only had half a book on the subject (minus my commentaries). While Lamentations is a difficult book, it’s a rich piece of art that, when we read with foresight that Jesus comes as the Christ, becomes a very powerful book speaking to the darkest moments of our life. Christopher Wright tells of this fantastic book,

“There is hope in this book, not just because it is set within the whole Bible story with its redemptive heart and glorious climax, but because the book is saturated with prayer. Even when it is angry, pain-soaked, protesting, grieving, questioning, prayer, it is prayer anyway.”

It is an important book that challenges God, their circumstances, and dives deep into our emotions. In a society that is all about speaking our truth, we need this sacred text to show us how to mourn.

A little about Lamentations, it originally bore no title. In Hebrew, they called it “Alas, How…” In the Septuagint, which is the Greek NT, they call it Threnoi, which means wailings. The Vulgate, which is the Latin translation, kept this name and added the subtitle, “It comprises the Lamentations of Jeremiah the prophet.” Thus, the name slowly became known as Lamentations. It is usually attributed to Jeremiah for many reasons. However, we don’t know the author. What we do know is that they seem to be an eye witness to the events of Babylon invading Jerusalem, and it is a man. Lamentations is called a Dirge poem. While the Sumerians were the first to write sombre works commemorating the destruction of their great cities from enemies, I think Lamentations perfects it.

It is a sad commentary on the outworking of the prophetic that you reap what you sow. Nevertheless, I believe it speaks to all of us to remember the dark realities of life. I think it’s especially poignant today as we see wars and threats of wars around the world. It speaks of the pain of the casualties. In a day and time when the world seems to be at each other’s throats, Lamentations is an essential reminder that there are casualties in war, and they too have feelings of loss, pain, and deep mourning. Lamentations bears witness and pays heed to Israel and Judah’s voice. A voice we need to hear as we look at those under the attack of another country, regime, or force. Understand this is the voice of the everyday person, the mother, father, and child who are affected by governments and regimes.

Lamentations has been ignored too long. It’s a powerful book that teaches us about the consequences of our choices. However, when we view this book with Jesus as the answer to the questions, the book becomes even more powerful.

While Jesus comes as the answer to the eternal questions, he comes to be the shepherd to help us learn and make it through the hard times of life, and we see that as we apply this book to our life, just like Judah and Israel in this poem, we have to struggle through the hard times. Still, we realize we have a God who hears our cries and has answered them himself, through Jesus.

Next time you are told not to question God or not to have doubts remember Lamentations. It is a book of questions and doubts. It’s a book about mourning. And when we read it through Christ, we see that it is okay to mourn, but we, in the words of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians,

“…do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13

Don’t ignore Lamentations. Dive in deep. Feel the raw emotion that has been poured out upon the page. Also, remember Christ, our hope in the midst of the mourning.

Check out the resources used in this post

Keep the conversation going: Let’s keep talking about mental health

In my country, the phone company Bell has started a movement called Bell Let’s Talk. Over the years, it has brought a lot of awareness to the issue of mental health. Throughout January and February each year the conversation is revived, lingers for a few moments and then disappears. To be honest, it is a commercial for Bell, but at least it’s a commercial that benefits a good cause.

As great as the one day a year is at heightening mental health awareness, it’s more than a one-day event in a person’s life. Mental health is an issue that, for some reoccurs seasonally, others it is situationally, and unfortunately, for many, it is a struggle that will last years or even a lifetime.

Mental health should never be exploited. It is not a publicity stunt, it’s real life.

Bell Let’s Talk day needs to be the beginning of the conversation, not the start and finish. Depression, anxiety, bipolar, and the like affect families, careers, and friendships. It is life and death and not a conversation we should have once a year as part of an advertising slogan.

What we need to do is to keep the conversation going.

It is why I talk about it so much on this blog. Over the last few years, I have had to wrestle with my mental health. Better sleep, physical activity, better eating habits, recovering from injuries, has helped, as well as sharing it openly. The reason I write about engaging in community, having love and grace for others and ourselves, and sharing our heart with God is that it is a must.

The dark feelings that sometimes overshadows our light should never be a conversation but a continual conversation. We need outlets. As long as we hold the words in, they keep us captive. We find freedom when we speak our truth. It doesn’t have to be loud. It just has to be loud enough for a caring person who’s close to us to hear.

We need friends, therapists, and God.

Keeping our broken spirit to ourselves isn’t even Biblical! I’m sick and tired of a “positive confession” faith that says trust in Jesus, believe and it will happen. I once heard a preacher say that if you are Christian there is no room for lament. Well, what a burden that is. It’s certainly news to Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

The Scriptures spell out to us in numerous places that we must express the pain. Moses and Jonah ask God to kill them. David and the other Psalmists mourned, raged, praised, and poured out every imaginable emotion you can fathom. The book of Lamentations, one of the most beautiful pieces of art ever, is a book all about pain and anger. It is a book with no resolve.

Yes, Jesus changes the lament. He turns the cry, the mourning, the rage, but it’s not extinguished.

We must not forget.

You’re not a bad Christian. Jesus wept. He cried over loss. He wept over a city. He mourned in a Garden. King David sang song after song of struggle. Moses travelled through all of the emotions while trying to lead. These stories are not stories that say bottle it up, keep it hidden, stuff it away for one day a year. It is a plea for us to share all the broken pieces of our lives. Kinnaman and Lyons write,

“Pain, brokenness, and suffering are not to be avoided; they are to be endured because God redeems those experiences in order to renew us and bless others.”

Or as the Apostle Paul says,

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

There is no need for shame. Let’s share the pain. When we do, I believe that is when we produce perseverance, character, and, ultimately, hope through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and others. In turn, the shards of our broken soul are formed into a beautiful mosaic that articulates hope.

Check out the resources used in this post

In what ways have you dealt with your mental health?

A season to plant—A season to water, but God

And so the war begins. Maybe war is too strong of a word. There is however a clear distinction between two styles of churches and both think that they know the best way to do it.

Are you an attractional church? Maybe a church you can invite your friends to. After all, the church is the hope of the world. Or perhaps you’re a church that emphasizes the Word? Didn’t Jesus tell us to teach people to obey? Indeed, the Scriptures help reveal to us who God is, and if we can’t recognize who God is in the pantheon of gods, how can we have a relationship with him?

There often appears to be two types of healthy churches out there, churches that are good at planting seeds and ones that water well. Of course, there are the dysfunctional churches that keep seeds to themselves, and there is no water in sight, but that is for another blog.

What I have too often seen is that these two types of churches battle between which is the better/more-biblical model. What ends up is a reciprocal argument. “We want people to feel this is a safe place to discover Jesus.” “Yes, we need to communicate the Good News, but they need to know the whole of Scripture.” “But, you can’t disciple if there are no converts.”

It reminds me of the battle in Corinth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the discord in the church where the people were aligning themselves to one person of the Gospel or the other. The Apostle Paul was travelling around and telling people of the Good News that Jesus has come to be their Saviour. The other guy, Apollos, was in the teaching/discipleship vein. Sound familiar?

The Corinth Church began to argue on which was correct. They found themselves in camps. It is like modern-day people saying, “I’m a disciple of Billy Graham,” and another saying, “I’m a disciple of Wayne Grudem.” Or saying that one group are disciples of Nicky Gumble and another is a disciple of N.T. Wright, and allowing it to destroy the Christian fellowship between them. The argument is silly. They all want to point people to Christ. They do it in different ways and are for different points of the journey.

We have puffed out chests—inflated egos, rather than humility, and wanting to learn from each other. What ends up happening is that we create idols out of style, personality, models, and theology. Instead, we should be looking to God first and have the humility to learn from one another.

The Apostle Paul writes it like this, ” I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” 1 Corinthian 3:6

I don’t care what you have done, what you know, how charming, experienced, or connected you are, unless the Holy Spirit is working, your church will never grow.

Sure, we may be able to get people in a room by our marketing savvy, maybe even be able to close the “back door” with our groups and programs, but God requires more of us. On the flip side, there’s a tendency to be so engrossed in the Word, that we miss what it is saying. We can be so busy learning about what God is that we never enter into the relationship to know who God is—to know His heart.

We have planters. We have waterers. Maybe you are either or depending on the season. However, we must always always always remember that it is God who makes it grow.

Instead of the war of words—the whose doing it better—we need to seek how to learn from each other and accept the challenge from each other to do better in what Christ has called the church to be.

Yesterday I sat in Starbuck’s across the table from a colleague who used to pastor in the same town as me. We talked about ministry. We encouraged each other in where God has called us, and what God has called us to. We did it because we are united in Christ. He, a Reformed Presbyterian, and myself a (some would say more liberal in my theology) Pentecostal. Challenging and encouraging. A hardcore Calvinist and me, a hardcore non-Calvinist.

It’s not about who does what. It is about pointing people to Christ. It is about knowing the heart of God. It’s about being united because we are all a part of the same family, the family of God. Most importantly, it is about having the humility to know that we don’t have it all together and that no matter how good we think we are, God is bigger and greater and is the only one who can bring real lasting, life-changing growth.

Don’t Confuse Goals With Purpose

As 2020 approaches, it’s the season to set your New Years’ resolutions. Lose weight, be the real you, go for the career you always wanted, eat less deep-fried wontons—whatever it may be that is going to revolutionize your life, or at least help you to be a better you.

Our goals can be fantastic! I love setting mine. Maybe, at times, I love them too much.

Goals are crucial because they help you have something tangible that shows progress. If my goal is to lose ten pounds, but I have gone through half the year and gained ten, it tells me that there is something that is amiss between how I live and what I say that I want. Of course, they do need to be clear, attainable, and within a time frame.

Though they are important and though they are necessary, it is all too easy for them to become our god. How many people personally and professionally worship at the feet of almighty goals. It’s a god shaped in the form of their self-interest, yet it makes them slaves to a self-imposed expectation that profoundly affects their self-worth.

We morph ourselves from human beings into human doings.

No longer do we live lives of love or hope. We no longer have time for friends and family. We miss the pleasures that everyday life can bring. All too often, I connect with colleagues who are stressed out, overworked, feel like failures, and are spiralling down a staircase of self-doubt, depression and anxiety. The crazy thing about all of it is that much of the stress is self-imposed. It’s because of their goals. If we cannot enjoy the journey of self-improvement (whether we reach that goal or not), what’s the point?

I’m not saying that goals shouldn’t be hard or that sometimes they are not enjoyable. I believe that anything worth doing has a challenge to it. And if there’s a challenge to it there is a chance of failure. As G.K. Chesterton writes,

“Anything worth doing is worth doing wrong.”

When we tie our goals to our purpose and then fail to attain our goals, our “being” that has morphed to “doing” becomes human-failings. I know I have been there. I have felt my being slip away as my goals—some self-gratifying and others Kingdom-oriented—changed me into doing. When everything is going well, it’s…well, going well. Then as soon as there is a slip, the failing creeps in. Instead of learning from failing, we are dragged down into a vortex of self-loathing due to our incompetencies.

Maybe I’m being dramatic. However, I think it’s not far from the truth.

Jesus once said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

Matthew 6:24

While in this context, he was referring to money, this statement is also true when applied to anything. The reality is whether your goals are inflating your ego or leaving you wrecked and ragged, both compete with what God has said about us.

I write about this in my book Hidden Faces,

“We turn our lives into commodities. Yet all we’re selling is our accomplishments, whether they be good, bad, amazing, or delusional.”

And point out,

“Our skills, talents, abilities, looks, intellect are all finite. They’re all perishable. The constant that always remains—that endures indefinitely, the one thing that will never fail us, is Christ. When we define ourselves by who Christ declares we are, we cannot help but live in the future that He has prepared for us.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” Jer 29:11

Don’t confuse goals with purpose. You were created to enjoy the God who made you, the world He’s put you in, and the people that come across your path. God created you to be a being and not a doing.

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Before you spend the holidays with family

Family can be great.

Family can also be stressful.

The issue is that it’s easy to let our guard down when we’re with family. I believe that subconsciously we think that we can say and do whatever we want, and the people that are close to us will love us regardless.

And this is why Christmas can be stressful.

We’ve eaten excessive amounts of refined sugar, we’re secretly dreading the impending post-holiday bills, we’ve stayed up too late watching Boy Meets World on Disney +, the kids have been acting like wild orangutans, and you’re about to have to put on the fake faces of appreciation when you open that sweater.

As much as family can be great, they also can be overly honest (let’s call it what it is, opinionated). “Have you put on weight?” “Have you lost weight?” “Are you ever going to settle down?” “If that were my kid, I would give them a smack.”

As much as family can be great, they can also be stressful.

What we must remember is that we are to be like Jesus. We’re to love indiscriminately. Maybe your family aren’t your enemies, but if we’re supposed to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), then we need to love our family too.

Love is a nice sentiment, but what does it mean?

1 Corinthians 13 spells it out perfectly,

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

While this may be an ideal we may never live up to this entirely, this Christmas when we reflect on what it means that Jesus came to start a kingdom of love let’s keep 1 Corinthians in mind. It may be hard but, this is what love looks like.

When your mother asks you again when you’re going to give her a grandchild, remember, love is patient. When you have to drop the kids off at the ex’s, remember, love is kind. When your husband gives you a spatula for Christmas, remember, love keeps no record of wrongs. When everything is going wrong—things aren’t adding up—remember, love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

When we can remember that love is a choice—a choice that is sometimes hard with those close to us—it can revolutionize our relationships.

Maybe your parents, spouse, kids, aunt Ruth, or grandma give judgemental stares and weighted nuanced comments that drive you completely nuts! You just want to react. I know I’ve been there. I’ve even done it. But there is a better way.

That better way, is to choose love. We choose to be patient and kind. We choose to love because it is what God chose for us. Romans 5 says it,

“While we were still sinners, Christ gave up his life for us.”

In a small part, we are now to do the same. Essentially, while your mom still judges your life, love. When your grandma comments about your weight, love. When you Dad disapproves of your life choices, love. When your ex is being difficult about seeing the kids, love.

If God does it when we oppose him and gave up his life at that, we can at least try this holiday season to pass the gravy in peace, loving despite the family drama, and demonstrate why there is good news for all people.