Dead Right

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We have a saying in the motorcycle world: it’s quite possible to be “dead right.”  I ride in Phoenix and the drivers here are not so much aggressive as thoughtless and unaware of their surroundings.  Demanding the right-of-way and taking the attitude that I will just take what belongs to me is a great way to wind up as a statistic.  In other words, there is “right” and then there is “dead right.”  Every decision on a motorcycle has to be made through the grid of whether or not the rider is willing to be “dead right.”  You might have the right to do something, but will asserting that right be beneficial or will it lead to death?

This is very similar to the way that Paul viewed his ministry.  In the midst of a discussion on his rights as an Apostle of Christ in 1 Corinthians 9, he says this: “Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. “ (1 Corinthians 9:12)  He knew that using his rights would lead to hindrance of the gospel, which he couldn’t stand.  He would rather be wronged than be “dead right”!

How often I have seen people willing to be “dead right” in their relationships and in their decisions regarding life.  I get to see the tragic wrecks of “dead right” decisions all the time, and frankly it breaks my heart to see.  Where have I seen it?

  1. Parents who have a “right” to enjoy their leisure time any way they please exposing their kids to neglect, to harm emotionally or psychologically, or to unhealthy habits like alcoholism or similar habits.
  2. Spouses who demand their spousal rights.  This might be a husband who demands his wife submit to him regardless of his decisions, or a wife who demands sexual response from her husband at difficult times.  It might be a spouse who demands a spotlessly kept house or a perfect financial record.
  3. Friends who demand that those around them walk perfectly with Christ and cannot show them grace when they are wrong.  They must always be proven right in every discussion of doctrine or practice.
  4. Bosses who have inordinate expectations and employees who take advantage of company policies.
  5. Christians who demand their rights to one matter of conscience or another (drinking is a common one, as is movies with questionable content) as their “liberty in Christ” when around others.

All of these, and many more, may be “rights” that we possess, but that does not make them right to use.  We, too, can be “dead right” in our demands on others.

How about you?  Where have you been in danger of being “dead right” in the past?  How has God grown you out of that?

Taking Care of What Ain’t Yours

It’s been a whirlwind week!  Last Wednesday we announced that my wife and I will be heading to Rwanda for a 10-day trip next month; I will be teaching pastors there biblical interpretation and preaching skills (plus some pastoral stuff) and Laura is focusing on childbearing in various facets.  It’s an amazing opportunity that God has dropped in our laps, and we are very grateful to be asked to participate out of the blue.  Since sending out her request, Laura has raised over $2000 towards her expenses!  That’s half way there, and we are amazed at the generosity of people who want her to go and help the women of the Nyagatare district of Rwanda lower their death rate in childbirth as well as their infant mortality.

The request for financial help has produced some rather unexpected results as well.  First off, some significant contributions have come from people who do not consider themselves to be followers of Jesus.  They see the good that is going to be done and want to participate, which in my mind is really cool.  At the same time, I got a polite but very pointed email that basically made the following objections (boiled down to be polite to the emailer…):

  1. It is a waste of money to send an American to Rwanda; the money would be better served by giving it to an established organization providing relief there already.
  2. It is improper to provide relief that is religious in nature; the thought here is basically that there are ulterior motives and that it is inappropriate to proselytize with “bait” such as assistance in agriculture, medicine, or education.

When I first got the email, I must say that I was a bit hot under the collar.  To my mind it is one thing to dislike supporting religious charitable causes or to disagree with methods and not want to provide financial support, and another thing entirely to be adamant enough about it that they decided to send my bride an email telling her how wrong she was to ask for support.  This letter wasn’t sent to strangers, either (okay, okay…some of you here on ABF I may not know personally and it was posted here too, but it wasn’t one of you), so I suppose that I was frustrated from the angle that friends should be more polite to one another than that.

Then I slept on it, and woke up this morning realizing that the objections weren’t completely bogus and needed to be satisfactorily answered if we were going to go to Rwanda.  After all, emotions aside if I could not justify the trip then why are we going?  Is it wise management of resources to spend the money to go rather than just sending money or supplies to the people where we would be going?  And is it appropriate to provide relief in developing nations with an explicit religious purpose?  At the end of the day, I think that the answers to those questions are both resounding yeses.

Show Me The Money

The first objection is financial: is it worth the cost to go?  Would it be a better investment to send money or items to established organizations to distribute relief than go ourselves?  After all, it is going to cost approximately $4000 total per person for us to take a 10-day trip; at a per capita income of $370 annually, this trip could provide a family of four in Rwanda with 2.7 YEARS of income.  It could provide a village with 8 cows, which in a few years could make the village self-sustaining. (provided, I suppose, that they already have a bull!)  What makes us think that our presence is so vital that we are worth more than that?

The answers to this question are many.  The first was brought up by my 13-year-old daughter, who rightly reminded us that in developing nations like Rwanda corruption is rife.  There is no guarantee that any money we send to Rwanda would make it into the hands of the people who need it; many times it ends up in the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats or feeding criminal syndicates.  When we go, we guarantee that the help gets where it belongs, and there is much value in that.

Second, there are times when it is more important to bring expertise, support, and training than it is to provide for physical needs.  The pastors in the area have requested that someone come and train them in the art and science of Bible interpretation, in proclaiming the message of God to help their people, and in caring for the people of their community socially, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.  I have those skills, and the ability to teach them to others in a way that is impossible simply through books (and even with a literacy rate of 70%, the older generation who I will be teaching need help because their literacy rate is lower and their skills in my area of expertise are limited). 

Laura is coming to help the people learn childbirthing skills to help lower the 8.4% infant mortality rate (2008 State Dept. estimate); more than that, she is going to help with basic nutrition information, prevention of spreading infectious disease, and sanitation.  1 in 12 birthing women dies in childbirth.  Think about that for a moment, and then consider if what she brings is worth sending her.  How much is a human life worth?  If her training saves one woman and her baby it will be worth the cost.  According to Matthew 10:29-31 and Genesis 1:26-27, we are made in God’s image and are therefore worth the cost of saving.

Finally, there is a difference between sending and going.  By sending money we help a little.  By going we will not only help the people of Rwanda but will undoubtedly build a heart for the people there that will last a lifetime.  More giving and more partnering and more help will come from our trip than the cost can estimate; it is more an investment than an expenditure. 

So for these reasons and many more, the trip makes financial sense.  Yeah, it’s a lot of money to go, but it is money invested in the people of Rwanda that will bear fruit in the entire community for a long time to come.  A healthy baby in America, delivered vaginally, costs somewhere between $9,000 and 17,000 to deliver.  My seminary education cost in the neighborhood of $30,000.  And we can deliver benefits that are similar to Rwanda for a fraction of that!

Bait and switch?

The other objection I received concerned going as Christians and bringing aid under an explicitly Christian banner.  Is it appropriate to help others under a deliberately religious framework?

Well I think it is. 🙂 (I am willing to bet that you knew that)  Even from an atheistic perspective, is there any harm done in promoting Christianity, even if it is false?  If we are going to go teach the people how to live better, be healthier, and follow the tenets of Jesus concerning loving each other, why is that a bad thing?  Would it be any different if we went to tell people about the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  I am willing to bet that this objection is more about Christianity in particular than religion in general, in other words.

Secondly, I think that this objection overlooks what true Christianity says about how Christians are to live.  My first response is to question the question somewhat: would an atheist think more of a Christian or less of them if they actually obeyed the instructions of the God they claim to follow?  I would think that a Christian who is trying to obey would be better than a hypocrite who deliberately chose to ignore Jesus, wouldn’t you?  Well Jesus begins  this issue in Luke 10:25-37, which we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We are supposed to love our neighbor, and that means going out of our way both in time and in finances to help them whenever we see a need.

That’s great, but it’s not the end of the story either.  Paul says in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”  So in reality, if I am going to be an honest and true Christ follower there is no way I can leave Jesus out of my trip to Rwanda.  To do so would be to deny what I have been told to do, namely love God by loving people and helping them.  And I am called to do that while telling them about the God I serve who loves them too! 

Finally, Jesus tells us that we are supposed to take His message to the world:

“but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” ” (Acts 1:8, NAS)

So it is entirely appropriate to go in the name of Christ; as a Christian it would be dishonest not to.  Now I would agree that it is not good to pull a “bait and switch” or demand that a person convert to Christianity in order to receive aid or to benefit from our trip.  But of course, that is not at all a condition of our going or of helping people.  Laura will educate and help all who come.  I am there to help Christian pastors, who will then lead and help their communities as pillars and reach out to help all people as they are commanded by Jesus.

There are books written along these lines, but you get the gist: going in the name of Jesus is acceptable as long as it is not duplicitous.

Bottom Line

So at the end of the day, I believe that this trip is defensible.  I think that it is entirely wise money management to go rather than send a check, and it is entirely appropriate for us to go in an explicitly Christian manner and purpose. 

So to the person who wrote the email, I offer my heartfelt gratitude.  You’ve made me seriously consider the underpinnings of the trip we are headed on, and for that I am very grateful!  I mean that without any sarcasm.

For anyone else, we still need to raise almost $2,000 to cover Laura’s trip, so if you’d like to be a part of it we would appreciate it immensely!  Check the first link in this post for the ways you can be a part of our support, and please pray for us as we prepare.

Divine Appointments

You might have been expecting a couple of blog posts over Holy Week from me, it being the most important holiday of the Christian calendar and all.  I wish I could have indulged you, but it also happens to be a ridiculously busy week for me!  Adding another sermon to my week really makes the time fly by (a sermon typically takes me 15-20 hours to study for and consider at this point…), and God put a few obstacles in the way that reminded me of the important things.

I really was planning on putting a post up on Thursday while my son was taking a private lesson at kenpo.  Really, I was!  It was going to be several links to good resources for reflections on Holy Week.  We got there on time, I had my laptop to write, and I was all set to go.  Then God nudged me in another direction and gave me a bit of a divine appointment.  When He calls we can’t get so busy that we don’t hear the phone ringing, so I put the laptop aside and answered the call.

I am very privileged  to help lead some of the kids classes at our training center.  I’ve been studying for about 4 years (technically 4 years next month) and have a green belt, which is “middle-of-the-road-almost-competent-but-don’t-get-a-big-head-you’ve-got-a-long-way-to-go” territory.  In Thursday class I mostly assist our instructor by helping kids with their technique, leading warm-ups, and occasionally covering for our instructor when he is out.  The kids like me for the most part and respect me, even though I tend to be the disciplinarian in class and make the kids toe the line. (one of these days I will get me a cool “Smokey” and morph into Gunnery Sergeant Hartman without the cursing) It’s a fun part of my life and I enjoy it immensely.

Thursday God used the relationships I’ve built there and the training He has given me to help a young woman (we’ll call her Trudy because I don’t know anyone named Trudy) in a tough spot.  I noticed Trudy sitting in a seat near me, staring off into space about 20 minutes before her class was to start.  That was odd; she’s not normally like that.  She had a bit of a pensive look on her face and wasn’t really “there.”  So I asked if she was okay.

She wasn’t.  She was thinking about the conversation she had to have after class and not looking forward to it one bit.  I know that my selfishness wanted to just give her a pat on the head and tell her to use the mat as a safe place, but I just couldn’t.  So I sat down next to her and asked her what was up.  That’s when this poor pre-teen told me that she had to tell her mom and stepdad that if they couldn’t stop fighting that she was going to go live with her dad and stepmom full time.  And the reason that she had to have that conversation was because after the last fight her mom had bruises all over her, and she was scared.

I was so heartsick when she told me what she was up against.  I mean, going through your parents divorcing is ridiculously hard all by itself.  (mine divorced when I was a baby, so I missed a lot of the grief but still got a lot of the fallout)  Having to integrate into two families is really hard.  Dealing with parents fighting is frightening for kids of any age.  Dealing with domestic violence is more than any kid can handle.  My heart just broke for this kid.  And as it did, I thought of what Paul tells us in Romans 12:14-17,

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

First I had to remember verse 17 for my own heart, because my flesh wanted to put a pounding on a man who thought he was okay putting his hands on his wife.  That ain’t how I was raised, and it got my blood boiling. (the old sailor in me is never so far away that he’s not available at a moment’s notice…)  More than that, though, I remembered that this kid in front of me, not even a teenager, was being asked to confront an authority in her life about his anger and his sin.  What a horrible burden to bear at such a young age!  I have kids her age, and thinking about them being in her shoes just tore me up.

I dug a little further and found some more stuff to make me think.  This family is a church-going family.  They are regular attendees at one of the largest churches in our area.  They come, sing some songs, listen to a speech, and head home in a car with a Jesus fish on it.  They have no enrichment class, no home fellowship or small group to hold them accountable.  They are adrift in a sea known as a megachurch.  This young woman wouldn’t even know who the children’s pastor or youth pastor of that congregation was. (my guess is that there are multiple people in that role; I am not bashing large churches here but this model of “church” allows this type of relationship a lot more easily)

So insert me.  I got to pray with Trudy and encourage her a little.  I got to offer her (and her dad) my support in a pastoral role.  No they don’t “go to my church,” but I am a shepherd within the Church, and that role never gets a day off.  It’s not what I do, it’s who I am.  It’s what I’ve been bought to do. (Luke 17:10)  I also got several other reminders from that divine appointment:

  1. The people around you in church are hurting, broken people.  Just because they look good and smile doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering inside.  Look past the smile and get involved in people’s lives!
  2. Church is not about making a weekly pilgrimage to listen to a message and sing, give some money and go home.  Church only works when it involves getting to know people and being involved in their lives.
  3. Sometimes, though the cowboy in me wants to mount up and take care of some cattle rustlers, the best thing I can do is sit with someone who’s been hurt and weep with them.  Knowing someone cares is sometimes the lifeline that can let someone do the right thing in a tough spot.
  4. Regardless of what ‘”hat” I am wearing, I am always and foremost a follower of Christ, called to offer His mercy to a dying world.  I’ve been praying Micah 6:8 this year and asking God to show me how to love mercy; He listens.
  5. If I had been too focused on my own priorities I never would have seen a kid in need of some help.  I might have felt good about getting a blog post up and missed out on the significant opportunity God had for me.

I haven’t heard back from her on her confrontation, so this post isn’t wrapped neatly in a bow; I will ask when I see her next.

If you read my blog, please hear my heart: don’t get so busy that you can’t hear God calling you to help someone in need.  Look for those divine appointments.  They almost never come at church, and often come gift-wrapped in serious problems that someone else is going through.  You might be the lifeline that someone needs to make it through a tough spot, and God can use you to change the course of someone’s life.

Till Death Do Us Part (Part 2: His Responsibility)

So yeah, I blogged yesterday about the concept God has really been leading me with in mentorship, namely the idea of “teaching and admonishing” from Colossians 1:28.  I said there that God had really blessed the discussions I had in the past week or so in this vein.  He honored me speaking boldly and honestly with some men in my life, not only teaching but being strong in warning them about the consequences of their actions.

Tonight?  Not so much on the blessing, at least on the surface.  I had a very, very difficult conversation with a man whose marriage I am “bought into.”  He certainly wasn’t buying what I was selling!  I knew he was going to call me tonight, so I had been praying for wisdom and for grace to speak to him in a way that honored God and helped him live for Christ.  I know I needed to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and prayed for the courage to do so.  I believe that God answered my prayer and that I said what I was supposed to, even if he didn’t want to accept it. 

The upside I suppose is that the conversation reminded me that I needed to post the next entry in this series on marriage.  Part 1 can be found here.  There’s an adage that says that every healthy marriage is healthy in the same way, while every unhealthy marriage is unhealthy in unique ways.  While there are limits to that saying, it does bear a lot of truth.  A healthy, loving, God-honoring marriage comes when we each embrace the truths of Scripture and the responsibility that we bear to honor God with our life and with our marriage.

The place to begin the discussion on responsibility in marriage is with husbands.  Ladies, thanks for reading ABF and I will get back to you real soon I promise.  This post isn’t for you, and frankly you might not enjoy it or think well of me in places if you read it.  So you might want to end your reading of this post here. 

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Guys, let’s not beat around the bush.   Let me say it in plain language: the quality of your marriage is dependent on you far more than it is dependent upon your wife.  Did you catch that?  The quality of your marriage is dependent on you far more than it is dependent upon your wife.  Don’t believe me?  Read what Paul says about marriage in Ephesians 5:25-30:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her,
26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
30 because we are members of His body.

The relationship between a man and wife is compared by Paul here to the relationship between Christ and the church.  The marriage relationship is perhaps the closest human analogy we have to the relationship that we have with our Lord.  Think about this aspect of that analogy for a bit.  Who is more responsible for the relationship between Christ and the church: Jesus or us?  Who is faithful no matter what?  Who provides for whom no matter the cost (His death) or the heartache (our unfaithfulness)?  Who makes sure that the relationship is secure and God-honoring?  The answers are all quite clear.  Jesus is the One who does all those things, whether His bride responds appropriately or not.

This isn’t the only place in Scripture that we see marriage used as an analogy for our walk with God.  God also uses the analogy of marriage to describe His people’s relationship with Him in the book of Hosea.  In Hosea 1:2 God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute as a picture of His relationship with Israel.  Ahem…a prostitute.  In Hosea 3 God tells Hosea to take this woman back despite her continued unfaithfulness as a picture of His faithfulness to His people even with their sin.  He asked Hosea to forgive infidelity, even the prostitution of his wife, as a picture of God’s love for us.

Men, are you getting the picture?  You are called to be to your wife like Christ is to the church.  Like I said, the quality of your marriage depends more on you than it does on her.  Yes, I know that He is perfect and you are not.  I know that you have legitimate needs and that it hurts terribly when your wife disrespects you.  I know that she can make it incredibly difficult at times.  I know that it is an awfully heavy burden to carry, but frankly that’s why God gave it to you and not to her.  Your shoulders are wide enough to carry it!  You’re a man, so act like it.  Love your wife like Christ loves His church.  Love her like He loves you and patiently puts up with all of your garbage, even when you’re being unreasonable and childish.

Is the man in the mirror someone who you can honestly say is making every effort to love his wife like Christ loves the church?  Are you going out of your way to show her that you love her, and in ways that she can accept?  If not, why not?  Follow the example of your Lord and love when it’s inconvenient and painful.  Obey Him in your marriage (Luke 6:46 comes to mind) and see what happens.  I have yet to meet a man who is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who strives to live for Him in all areas including marriage, whose wife hasn’t eventually warmed to him.  Try it and see what happens; prove me wrong, I dare you. 🙂

So what does that look like in real life?  That’s the hard part, obviously.  It’s all well to say that you love your wife, but it’s harder to actually do it.  Here are some tips:

  • Put her needs above your wants.  She needs financial security more than you need new stuff, so quit being a boy and grow up financially.  Save some money, live below your means, and do what it takes to make it.  Sure, real godly men struggle with money at times.  Over long periods, though, a man needs to rein in his spending so that he can live within his income for the sake of his wife and kids, whether he makes $30,000 a year or $300,000.
  • Likewise, she needs your engagement with and commitment to your kids.  All the statistics say that kids with dads engaged in their lives have a much better chance of doing well in life, so get after it dad.  I know the baseball game just started; get a TiVo and go play some catch while you can.  Ask about homework and really care.  Listen and dialog; they’ll only be this age once, and you don’t want to be old and filled with regrets about how you raised them.
  • More than all of that, she needs to know deep down that you’re committed to Christ.  Man up and pray with her at least three times a week, and not over dinner.  Take her aside before you leave for work or before lights out and ask God to bless her abundantly.  Put your nose in the Word, too, and do it with her!  (as an aside, our online Bible study is teaming up for April with the ladies’ study to read the same passage…so join us!)  Work on your walk with Christ and see what that does.  Let Him change you from the inside out and your marriage will follow, I promise.
  • Quit using your headship for your advantage.  God did not put you where you are to be the chief tie-breaker.  Headship is a place of service, so look at it as a position of servanthood.  Use it to steer your family in the direction of Christ, not for your own benefit.  Always ask the question, “How would Jesus respond if He were the head of my household?”

Again, being a husband isn’t easy.  That’s why He gave that responsibility to you, because it isn’t easy!  Through thick and thin, though, as men we must always remember that God has put us in a position to serve our wives and children in a way that is very similar to the way in which Christ serves us.

If all of this sounds like it’s too much, frankly it’s because it IS too much for us to handle on our own. There is no way that a man in his own strength has what it takes to live as a truly God-honoring husband.  That, my friends, is why we need the grace of God and His work on us from the inside out.  When we come to God with our weaknesses and ask Him to take over, then we can agree with the Apostle Paul when he says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

For resources, there are few books for men better than these to help a man be a biblical husband and man:

  • Every Man’s Marriage:  As biblical a book on what headship really is as exists.  Not for the faint of heart, but a great read about biblical leadership in the home.
  • Every Man’s Battle: If you’re a man you receive sexual gratification through your eyes.  That’s just a fact.  This book will help you do so and still keep your heart right with your wife and God.
  • The Five Love Languages:  This will show you how she receives love in the most significant ways and help you find ways to express your commitment to her.
  • Love and Respect: This is the cornerstone of my pre-marital and marital mentorship.  The heart of this book is about how to stop cutting each other to ribbons and start building one another up.
  • Wild At Heart: All about being a godly, yet manly man.  Every man has a damsel to rescue, an adventure to have, and a battle to fight! 

Being a husband ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure.  But guys, let’s remember that we chose to be in this position, and chose to honor God.  So let’s stuff the whining and complaining and get after being obedient.  Let’s turn to God with our marriages and ask Him to change us from the inside out and make us into the men that He wants us to be.

Rant…over.

Doing Friendship God’s Way

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. (Colossians 1:28)

I have been studying Colossians with some men I know, and God has been using it to work me over the past couple of weeks!  Reading it through every day has been a real blessing; there is a treasure trove of truth in that short book that has really been changing me and making me reassess my commitment to being the man that God wants me to be.  He has led me as a husband and father, and shown me recently about my need to be grateful.  Lesson #1: reading a single book of Scripture many times in a month pays significant dividends in my heart and in my understanding of Scripture.

Case in point is the quote above of Colossians 1:28.  Paul tells us that his ministry is focused not just on teaching, but on “admonishing” every man.  This term (in Greek it’s the word noutheteo for you Bible scholars out there) refers “to counsel about avoidance or cessation of an improper course of conduct.” (BDAG)  Paul doesn’t just show people the truth found in God’s Word; he is perfectly willing and ready to warn them when their course of action is headed toward disaster!  He is willing to tell guys where they are headed and also to tell them to knock it off.

I think of this like having a friend who is about to walk off a cliff.  If you saw a friend blithely heading toward a cliff, would you launch into a lesson on physics and the surety of their fall?  I sure hope not!  Hopefully you’d warn them strongly and even grab them if need be to stop them from heading to their doom.  That is, in my mind, the heart of the word “admonish.”  We do everything in our power to help our friend keep from going off the deep end.

These words were ringing in my ears the past week or two, as I had to have a couple of significant conversations with friends.  I have a good friend who was having a really hard time in his marriage, and as I was riding to see him for a get-together the Lord kept bringing Colossians 1:28 to mind.  I HATE confrontation and conflict, so much so that I get physically ill before I have to have a conflict.  But these words kept ringing in my ears, so I knew what I needed to do.  I couldn’t get away from them, so to be an obedient disciple I needed to listen and trust that God’s way was best.

Then I thought some more about this verse and the intent of the teaching and admonishing.  Paul wants to “present every man complete in Christ.”  The idea here is that Paul wants the people in his life to be mature; he wants them not only to know Christ, but to be mature in Him and committed to Him.  That really struck me because of my mission statement.  I have said for the past 4 or 5 years that my purpose in life is “to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same.”  Well, that means helping them be the people that God wants them to be!  It means more than teaching; it means admonishing when I have to and being willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of my friend and for what Christ wants with my life and theirs.

I am a teacher and a preacher by calling and skill, so I have no problem there.  If living as a Christ follower for me was just teaching I would be all for it!  I am not, though.  I pastor a smaller church, which means that I can’t be the “preaching pastor” or whatever who buries himself in his study and comes out of hiding for 30 minutes on Sunday morning.  No, shepherding involves getting involved in people’s lives and being willing to get in the mix with them.

So I had that difficult conversation, and God blessed it.  I have had two since as well, one with a man I am mentoring and another with a lady who needed to be warned as much as taught about where her actions were taking her.  And even though I hate confrontation, God kept bringing this verse to mind over and over.  Teach and admonish, teach and admonish.  Don’t settle for the surface relationships, whether with God or with people.  It seems like He brought that verse into my life for this season to remind me to be willing to go the extra mile with people, helping them be who they should be in Christ.

Want to grow in Christ?  Surround yourself with people who are willing to admonish you when you need it.  I am so grateful for the couple of men I know who, when I am being an idiot, are perfectly willing to tell me I am being an idiot and that I need to stop being an idiot.  They help me see the truth of God by teaching me (usually by example) what godliness is and admonishing me when I ignore Him.  So get some friends like that; they are worth their weight in gold.  And be a friend like that too, who is willing to help others see the biblical issues in their life and love them enough to nudge them to choose to serve God.

That’s the way to be “complete in Christ.”  And from my perspective, that’s everything.