Unburdened: How ending my search for purpose allowed me to find peace.

Rick Warren, with his best selling book “The Purpose Driven Life” brought the search for purpose into the mainstream. To date millions of people in a desperate attempt to discover what their purpose is or at least make some sense of their lives have read his book and others like it . Many people have been greatly helped as they sincerely sought to discover their purpose by asking great questions about life, meaning, significance and eternity. I think you’ll agree that everyone could benefit from doing this type of soul searching.

Recently though I have become aware of a troubling trend. A trend found within many Christian circles, groups, organizations and in many churches. I have to admit I am guilty of being swept up by this trend too. My concern is that this trend threatens to undermine purposeful living. In effort to stress the need to discover one’s purpose teachers, authors and leaders may have caused purpose to become the new standard by which we judge a person’s value and worth.

There are several issues I have noticed since purpose has become more mainstream. A major factor is how some Christian leaders, including myself until recently, have been teaching about purpose.  Here are my concerns:

  1. When you attempt to gain meaning only from what you DO instead of who you ARE a troubling pattern emerges. First, you begin to base your worth and value as a human being on success, contribution and accomplishment. Second, you begin to judge other people’s worth and value based on their success, contribution and accomplishment. These two ideals oppose a very important basic belief that many people accept. People like the founding fathers (see the Declaration of Independence), Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and the person they got the idea from – Jesus. They all believed that all people have innate value and worth based on one truth. All men are created equal. Everyone is created in the image of God.
  2.  Purpose has now become institutionalized instead of personal. In other words organizations, churches, etc. are teaching that without them you can’t know your purpose. Or they will tell you that you should seek to discover what your purpose is and they will be glad to help you but then proceed tell you they know what your purpose is. Your purpose is to serve in their organization, give to their organization, or join their organization. Once you begin to do those things you will discover your purpose because those things are your purpose. Yet, even though the individual may feel good about those things because in many cases doing those things are good things to do the individual is no closer to discovering his or her purpose. I might add that the person is no better off because he or she has unknowingly exchanged institutional purpose for personal responsibility.  (That can be good especially when what one’s purpose has been to indulge in rebellion and sin. But that is a fledgling type of faith that all new Christians need and experience as they learn what it means to live in Christ).  Be cautious: “I will follow the institution” may replace “I will seek and follow Christ.”

    Riding on the coattails of point 2 is the next point:

  3. Purpose is in danger of becoming the new legalism. It is the new standard for measuring a person’s faith, performance, devotion, relationship to God and righteousness. Much like the Pharisee’s of Jesus day who used the law to manipulate the masses and stay in control of the Jewish religious system some Christian Leaders, Churches and organizations have with good intentions unintentionally “institutionalized” purpose.

Don’t get me wrong I do believe that a person who is connected to a healthy body of believers will be motivated to discover his purpose and to live purposefully. But purpose has almost become a measurement used to discover who is greater, better, more devoted, more obedient, more sacrificial, etc. Worse, some Church leaders use a person’s deep longing to have meaning to manipulate, control and guilt them into action. Even worse (and this is why it is the new legalism) finding your purpose is being promoted with such veracity in some circles that it becomes the new law that needs to be observed in order to attain, sustain or improve a person’s standing with God. In other words, purpose has become a works based righteousness instead of something that flows out of an abiding, faith in, relationship with Jesus.

So, we’ve come full circle. Is one’s worth and value found by “doing” or “being”? Surely since “you are” you have inherent worth and value. Jesus died for you before you did anything – good or bad. Since, that is true your inherent value and worth cannot be increased by what you do including; perfectly living in God’s perfect will. Now, don’t misinterpret what I am saying because “doing” will erupt out of “being”. (I will share in an upcoming post how I believe we can know our value and worth. Surprisingly, it is by recognizing the inherent value and worth in others. Hint: It’s found in The Greatest Commandment.)

However, that is not how “Purpose” is being taught, therein lies the danger of it becoming new version of works-based righteousness. When purpose is taught as “You have to find and live in your purpose or you won’t be acceptable or pleasing to God” it becomes a works based righteousness. Can you see the danger in that line of reasoning?

In the next post I intend to explore “purpose” more. I intend to address our tendency to stress over and worry whether or not we are in “God’s perfect will for our lives”. As I now see it I find it hard to believe that many of the people whose lives are recorded in the Scripture continuously fretted over “discovering” their purpose or spent near as much time as we modern people do worrying about it.

 

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Humiliated?

Every person will experience humiliation at some point in his life. More than likely multiple times in a lifetime and to one degree or another experience some form of humiliation on a daily basis.

As I reflected on a recent humiliating event that occurred in my life I eventually began to ask these questions.

Can a humble person experience humiliation? 

Or more appropriately, how does a humble person experience humiliation? “How” as in how does a humble person receive and respond to an event that causes great humiliation. Specifically, events that one is not in control of, does not deserve and is mostly brought on by other people?

Can humiliation have long term “control” over a humble person?
What is the difference between the reactions of a prideful vs. humble person to humiliation?
The first conclusion I came to is of course a humble person can experience humiliation. Duh.

The prime example – Jesus. There are many Scripture references that describe Jesus’ humility. Philippians 2 comes to mind.

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the
form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for
His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form
of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in
His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the
point of death —even to death on a cross.

 So Jesus who loved, served, cared for, healed, helped, and who is God experienced an unimaginable and undeserving humiliation. Talk about experiencing a humiliation that you don’t deserve! It was unfair and unjust.  Even if you don’t believe that Jesus is the Son of God you still have to admit his crucifixion was unjust. He didn’t deserve it. He hadn’t done anything that demanded this type of response. He was innocent!

No doubt, you can reflect back on a humiliation that occurred in your life just as I can and say to some degree, “I didn’t deserve that!” But it happened.

So what do you do now? How do you respond? How do you move past it?

As I reflected over a great, unjust humiliation that occurred in my life I realized that it had allowed much pride to take root. Pride was keeping that event and all the emotions, etc. on life support. Pride was fueling my anger, my distrust and keeping me from moving past it.

My pride, not the event, was causing me to shut myself off from my future and from vital relationships.

Astonishingly, pride was actually empowering that past event. It was my pride that was greatly limiting my outlook and diminishing my hope for a better future. I couldn’t see past the humiliation. I couldn’t see how I would ever be useful again. And I blamed this all on “them” but in reality it was pride that had somehow craftily crept into my life.

It was like that humiliating event was the snake bite that allowed the poison of pride to be injected into my life. Or maybe it was that event that activated the pride that was already there.???

I can’t really tell you when pride first showed up. Was it there before the event? Most likely to some degree or another. Was it a result of the event or revealed by the event? All I can tell you is that pride is a nasty sin that can easily masquerade itself.

Pride blames, excuses, accuses, hates, dulls, demeans, eludes, hides, and causes one to unjustly question his self worth and value. Pride builds up but at the same time destroys. Satan wants your fall to be hard so that you will never attempt to stand again. So that you will give up. So that you will go through life blaming others for what you could have been but never reach your potential because you are afraid to take risk. You stop being willing to put yourself out there for fear of experiencing another humiliation. Or you put yourself out there in the wrong kind of ways? Regardless, pride builds up but pride destroys.

Pride builds one up like a towering skyscraper. But what pride doesn’t
show is that skyscraper is built with rusty, corroded rivets.
It’s beautiful, but it will eventually crumble under its own weight. 

How do you know if your prideful? Well, that humiliating experience still controls you. It is controlling your response to the humiliation. Pride is controlling how you see yourself, view today and view your future. All based on a past event. You just can’t get over it. That’s pride. That experience still makes you sick every time you think about it. That’s pride. You are still fighting against feeling humiliated by that humiliation. That’s pride. They’re, He, She, it is not going to get the best of me! That’s pride.

The only antidote to the poison of pride – confession and repentance. But what pride says is, “Hey wait, this happened to you. What do you have to repent of? You didn’t do anything wrong. They need to confess and repent not you.” But repentance is the only path back to humility and freedom from the power that humiliation has over you. And the reason it still has power over you – pride. It is in humility where you will find peace of mind and soul. It is in humility that you will able to properly evaluate your experience and actually gain valuable lessons for your future.

Maybe, the most important lesson is to guard yourself against pride like it is a lion trying to steal your baby.

Often people attempt to address the humiliation with accomplishment. “I’ll show you!” That’s pride. That’s also living an enemy centered life. If getting back or getting even is your is your motivation. That’s pride.

Someone has wisely stated, “Humility is a safeguard against humiliation”. I believe he was on to something. I don’t think this implies that a humble person will never experience humiliation. Remember Jesus? But I do think the effects of humiliation on a humble person are far less detrimental than to a prideful person. For me I have realized that I was still living with and reliving my humiliation. I’ll leave you with that. But now I have some confessing and repenting to do.

 

Authority and the Heart of Submission

In the first post on this topic, Authority and the test of submission, I shared the story of a friend who recalled to me one of many encounters his pastor has had with disgruntled church members. After describing the situation he partly asked and partly stated,

“I don’t get it. Why are people so unwilling to submit to and respect
the authority of a godly pastor?
Why do people say things to their pastor that
they would never say to any other person in authority over them?”

Simple, in every other sphere of life people are “required” to submit to the authorities over them. In most cases people submit because a boss, the government, a parent, a teacher, etc. has leverage over them. A boss can fire an employee who refuses to do his job or curses him out.  So, in most of the areas of life people, even believers sometimes, reluctantly submit to authorities.

However, the heart of all true, God-honoring, Spirit produced submission is voluntary.

In most cases because submission is voluntary in the body of Christ, the church is the one place where the heart can be exposed as to whether or not a person has a true heart of submission and this demonstrates whether or not one understands what it means to honor and respect those in authority.

So, Why do people say things to their pastor that they would never say to any other person in authority over them?

1. One conclusion is that people already feel powerless over their lives.

The Church then becomes the one place where people can flex their muscles so to speak speaking to those in authority over them without fearing reprisal. It is the one place where they can assume control of, have influence over, speak their minds often without impunity, expressing all their underlying anger with the other authorities in the life. Unfortunately and often the Pastor becomes their preferred target since he is, according to God’s Word, the leader of the church, since he in their minds should just take it because that what he’s there for.

 There are the few exceptions where church leaders abuse their authority and
coerce and manipulate people into submission, however those are truly few and far between. Most emotionally healthy people can identify that culture very quickly.

2. Another possibility is the feeling of entitlement that predominates the church. Since, one gives money to the church, he is entitled to address anything he doesn’t like directly with the pastor in whatever spirit he so desires. 

When you think about it there are really few entities that exist that gives people such direct access to those in authority over them. Often, angry, disgruntled people use their money to control the pastor and justify sinful, venomous accusations. It’s the old, “I’ll take my money and go somewhere else if you don’t respond the way I want you to” scenario. (“my” is bold because a person who talks like that demonstrates he is not submitted to the Lord, because someone who is doesn’t see the tithe as “mine” but “HIS”.) So, the color of the carpet, salaries, the nursery, the music, etc. all become reasons for people to challenge the authorities over them and make a fuss about…well just about everything.

Hopefully, you see how quickly a Pastor can become overwhelmed and with all the possible scenarios and people he is bound to make a mistake, let someone down, respond in anger, or just grow tired of the constant inquisition. No man is able to endure that
without failing at some point. 

3. The amount of churches to choose from allows for church hopping and church
shopping.

Options embolden people. “I can say what I want when I want, act however I want then go down the street if I don’t get the right response.” And, most likely the behavior will be repeated at the next church because no one can hold or has the right to hold them accountable. If the leaders try they will leave the church moving on to the next one on the list.

No wonder a culture of discord and dissension permeates churches.
There is no incentive and less willingness to work things out. 

4. It is because many do not have a heart of true, God-honoring, Spirit produced
submission.

The way they would treat a godly pastor who cares for them, serves them and shepherds them exposes the spiritual reality that they are not truly submitted to Christ as their Lord and Savior. Again, this is true even when the pastor lets you down or is not performing in a manner that you agree with or has made a decision that you don’t understand.

Some people are submitted to tradition, their preferences, peers, denominations, clics, etc. but are not submitted to Christ. The evidence is their unwillingness to voluntary submit to those God has placed in authority over them trusting God to hold him accountable.

Every good pastor will voluntarily submit to some form of peer accountability.

Again, the principle emerges. Submit unto ________________ as unto the Lord.

Let me close this series with a few suggestions that I believe demonstrates a heart of submission.

  1. The next time you see a church member getting testy with the Pastor step in, intervene, and help the person express his concerns in a way that honors the Lord. Refuse to allow your pastor to be publicly disparaged.
  2. The next time a decision is made that you don’t fully understand or agree with trust that the Pastor knows things you don’t know and can’t fully explain why the decision was made or why the action was taken.
  3. Don’t hate just because something is changed. Change is necessary and good.
  4. The next time you hear gossip, slander, ridicule or a person mocking the pastor stand up for him. No gossip, slander or ridicule is to be tolerated in the body because it fuels discord and distrust. It gives Satan a foothold. Remember, Satan will always attempt to remove the authorities over you especially your pastor. He will always strike the shepherd to scatter the sheep and unfortunately it is the sheep whom Satan uses to strike the shepherd.
  5. If you assume that your pastor is himself not submitted to Christ it is not your personal right or role to put him in his place. Pray for him, offer him help, and provide resources he may need if it does come out he has an issue. Even in cases where there is failure on his part he should be met with grace. Of course, if his failure is a crime he should be reported. If it is something else it doesn’t mean he is no longer in authority over you. (see previous post) He is to be submitted to because God has placed him there. God will deal with him, God will remove him, God will hold him accountable. (Use common sense and discernment too to know how to respond!)
  6. Finally, if you cannot in good conscious submit to his leadership, after it is proven that the pastor has failed and refuses to repent then quietly leave the church but before you make a final decision graciously, lovingly, humbly speak with the pastor or another leader. Let him know why you are thinking of leaving, but be open to changing your mind because there may be something going on that you are not aware of. Again, trusting God even when you are unsure that you can follow your pastor is the heart of submission.

 

 

Authority and the test of submission

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend whose ministry can best be described as a “pastor advocate”. He was sharing how the church he is a part of and has been a part of for years had lost its way as so many monument churches do. Over the years it had become cold, unloving, unwelcoming and completely disengaged from the community around it. When its tenured pastor of 30 years left a new pastor was called. Of course, with a new pastor comes new passion, vision and …challenges.

The new pastor began to set forth a vision that challenged the cold, dead religiosity of this stagnant body but in doing so he had to endure some ugly battles. After several years in this transitional ministry, which nearly burned he and his family out, he resigned. Once again a new pastor was called. There were all kinds expectations for this new pastor. Some hoped for a return to tradition, but some who had tasted hope, life and transformation desired to become a vibrant church that would become a light in its community, used to redeem people with the gospel, heal the scars of the past, and help people live with a new found purpose and meaning that is inherent in a relationship to the Father.

Not surprisingly, the new pastor experienced as much or more adversity as the previous one. In many ways it was “their” last stand against loosing “their” church.

As I listened to this pastor advocate recall what his pastors had endured he shared one event that highlighted the topic of this post. He stated how after one Sunday morning one of the disgruntled members hastily approached the pastor in the parking lot began arguing with him, spewing ugly profanities and nasty accusations then raised his fists readying himself to pummel the pastor.

(Unbelievably, this happens more often than you would think. Someone very close to me had a man approach him and began shoving him in front of the church over a point in his sermon and I have experienced fingers in my face, in my chest accompanied by what I could only label as venomous speech. I don’t know of a single pastor that hasn’t experienced being publicly called out and falsely accused at some point in his ministry.)

Thankfully, in this case someone intervened. Sadly, however from that moment on as a precaution the pastor had to have a security person escort he and his family to and from their vehicles at every church gathering.

As this pastor advocate finished up his story he partly asked and partly stated,

“I don’t get it. Why are people so unwilling to submit to and respect
the authority of the pastor? Why do people say things to their pastor that
they would never say to any other person in authority over them?”

With that I chimed in, having experienced similar things in churches before I have come to my own  conclusions. Now, I do not believe or pretend that I understand this entirely however, I do believe I can speak with authority and clarity on the matter.

It has everything to do with an individuals understanding of authority. Especially, biblical authority or the principle of submitting to authority. Undeniably, this principle is pervasive throughout Scripture, specifically the principle of “submitting unto _________ as unto the Lord”.

Think about it. Jesus praised those who understood the principle of authority and submission. Remember, the story of the faith of the centurion? How about Jesus himself, who never acted on his own but acted according to what he saw the Father doing? The principle of authority is found in the first chapter of Genesis and in the last chapter of Revelation. However, it was and is man’s prerogative to declare his independence from the Creator and any authority over him, which by the way seems to always result in catastrophe.

The Apostle Paul challenged the Roman Christians living in the epicenter of the Roman Empire to submit to those in authority. Paul insisted that they give the Roman authorities the honor and respect they deserve or don’t deserve “for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” Can you see the principle emerging? Submit unto __________ as unto the Lord. He even goes on to command that even though the Romans are godless, heathenish, pagans; Christians did not have permission to needlessly dishonor or disrepute them.

Now here’s a shocker. Paul’s conclusion. Those who needlessly refuse to submit to earthly authorities whether its the government, work, church or the home are rejecting God’s authority. A person who consistently, persistently, intentionally, and needlessly rejects the authority that God has instituted rejects God. A person may claim submission to God, but what does his voluntary submission to those God has put in authority over him tell us about his true nature?

Keep this next thought in your heart and mind because I will explore this further in a follow up post.

If God expects you to submit to godless authorities whom he has placed
over you how much more so does He expect you to submit
to loving, godly, albeit imperfect authorities he has placed in his church
over your soul care? (Hebrews 13:17)

What’s at stake? Well in regards to the government it is the ability to “lead a tranquil and quite life in all godliness and dignity”.  Theologically, the degree one submits to authority determines the degree one experiences the protection, benefits and blessings from God and that authority. Most genuine blessings are a result of the degree one submits to authority, but it is not only spiritual blessings that are at stake. There are real world, material, life implications for us all.

I will introduce you to that principle in part two of this series.