Pursuing Excellence

I’ve read that leaders pursue excellence. They lead their organizations, their families, their businesses, and their lives striving for their best. No one wants to settle for second best. Check out what was said about Jesus…

They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything He does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” — Mark 7:37

I sense that Jesus was committed to excellence. We read in John 3:16 that God gave his very best–his Son. Likewise, as Mark reminds us, God’s Son gave his very best–his life (Mark 10:45). He prepared the best food (Matthew 13:19-20), made the best wine (John 2:9, 10), and the arms He healed were completely restored (see Mark 3:1, 5). Since we are to be in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) we should do no less. Less than our best is inadequate, considering the fact that God gave us His very best.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Whatever our role, our position, our organization, or our lot in life, we must strive for our best. The measure of our success is not attached to our career or what we earn but to our character and what we give back.

From my days as a basketball player in school, excellence does not mean you’ll always win, or being the best, but it means being your best. Just as sanctification is becoming more like Jesus every day, excellence is being better today than you were yesterday.

I’ve heard it said that some people have fame thrust upon them. Think about it, very few men have excellence thrust upon them. Excellence is achieved and earned. So, what changes do you need to make so that people may say of you, “Everything He does is wonderful” (Mark 7:37)?

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What Defines You as a Believer?

Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church to help instruct the new church on what it means to be a follower of Jesus. One topic he addressed is the problem of division among the Christians in Corinth. For whatever reason, these believers were not getting along, and were dividing up into little cliques rather than living as the unified church of Jesus Christ. Take a look at this passage:

I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12)

One of the central factors for their disunity in Corinth was the tendency of these new and therefore immature believers to bring into the church elements of their culture that were inconsistent with the Christian life. For instance, in their previous “pagan” experience they were led into “religious mysteries” by a special person designated as a spiritual guide. They strongly identified with this mentor as their doorway into “the divine.” For others, certain Corinthian converts may have studied with a certain philosopher whose teaching and personality defined their intellectual and moral lives. So it felt natural for the Corinthian Christians to identify themselves according to the one who introduced them to Christ, perhaps Paul, Apollos, or Peter. But they must have been extremists because they seemed to define themselves in terms of the old human mentoring relationship, which was threatening the unity of the Christian community in Corinth.

Are we so much unlike them? For some people, denominational identity (or nondenominational identity) says who we really are as Christians. For others, it is our theological position or perhaps the teaching of our favorite theologian. Denominational or theological distinctions aren’t necessarily wrong, but they are harmful when they threaten our unity in Christ. If I let my identity as a Baptist become so elevated that it threatens my relationship with Methodists or Presbyterians, then I am falling into the same Corinthian trap. We have our theological differences based on interpretation of Scripture, but our identity in Christ brings unity. My identity as a Christian is my relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else pales in comparison to this essential fellowship, through which we are bound to others who have put their trust in Christ.

On Facebook, they give the opportunity to display one’s religious preference. On questionnaires there may be a question asking the same. How often do people use the word “Christian” when asked their religious preference, rather than Catholic, Baptist, or nondenominational?

How do you define yourself as a Christian? How important to you are denominational labels? Have you ever identified so thoroughly with some Christian leader that it threatened your relationship with other believers? How can we be unified in Christ when we who have put our faith in Jesus differ theologically?

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How Do You Spell Love?

How’s your summer going? Bethany is on the MFuge trip to Phillly this week and I stopped to think about how fast the summer is passing by. There are only a few weeks left until she heads back to school.

That got me thinking…

Now would be a good time for the Men of Steel to consider how much time we’ve spent with our kids this summer, and how important it is to them that we do. I’m talking about personal, individual time.

Has it been minimal, or have you intentionally put your work and personal interests on hold so that you can invade your child’s world?

Have you spent time reading together? Talking together? Gone on walks, hikes, bike rides? Taken a family vacation together? Gone swimming together? Taken your daughter out on dates? Gone fishing, canoeing, or a ton of other fun outdoor activities with your son?

I read a great quote this week: “The thing our children need most is often in the shortest supply — our time.”

They don’t care or need the “stuff” that a good paying job with long hours can provide. Children of all ages spell love T-I-M-E.

So, before you begin this mental review of your summer schedule, watch this brief video. Hold on to the very end, it’s powerful.

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Be Imitators of Me?

Did you know that in the original language of the Bible, there is no punctuation? No capitalization, no periods, no paragraphs… not even any chapter and verse numbers. My Bible passage today reflects how those items were later arranged, and sometimes not very well. But the statement is as true today as it was for the original readers in the first century.

To put this into context. I want you to think about your family and raising your kids. Take a look at 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. – (1 Corinthians 11:1)

In his final word on the whole issue of eating meat offered to idols, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Notice how 1 Corinthians 11:1 really goes at the end of 1 Corinthians 10:33. Historically, this statement reflects a classic view of education and discipleship. The teacher instructs, not just through words, but also through his actions. Jesus, for example, chose his closest disciples to be with him (Mark 3:13-14) so that they might hear his teaching and so that they might observe his behavior in order to imitate it.

But Paul tells these Corinthians, not just to model themselves after Jesus, but he challenges them to also imitate him (as he imitates Christ). When I first read this, I felt it might seem a little arrogant. Why not just say “Be imitators of Christ”? Who does Paul think he is?

Well, he thinks he is one who has been sent by God to bring the Gentiles into relationship with Jesus Christ and to help them to grow in that relationship with Christ. In this role, Paul is not just the deliverer of the message, but also the living example of the message. We see this clearly in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: “Our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6)

How would you respond if Skip or I stood up on Sunday and said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ?” Would that seem arrogant? Out of place? Or would that be exactly the kind of pastoral leader you need, and that God will bless?

How about in your family? Can you stand before your wife and children and say, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ?” It’s not to say that you are perfect, but that you are a man seeking God and following Christ, learning of Christ and actively embracing the “with Him” principle (Mark 3:13-14).

The fact that we fail at times (to be the example of Christ) does not invalidate the effort. Those who lead do so, not only through words, but also through actions.

So ask yourself:

  1. How would you respond if one of your leaders actually said, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ?”
  2. Why would you respond this way?
  3. Have you ever said anything like this? Why or why not?
  4. Where in life has God called you to be an example of the truth, someone who imitates Christ so that others might be more Christ-like by imitating you?

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As Christ Loves the Church

I’ve been leading a study through the book of First Peter, and we recently took a look at 1 Peter 3:1-7, some pretty interesting words for wives and husbands. Paul sums up pretty well in his letter to the Christians at Ephesus:

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her. — Ephesians 5:25

Men, it looks like we have it easy. After all, our wives have to “submit” (Ephesians 5:22), whatever that means, but we just have to “love” them. What could be simpler? Flowers from time to time. Chocolates on special occasions. Perhaps even a power tool or two she can claim as her own even though we store it on our work bench. We might even manage to mumble “I love you” just to make it clear. Submission sounds hard. It involves yielding to someone else. That someone would be the husband. Does that mean what it seems like it means? We’re in charge? We call all the shots? We give the orders? Let me know how that goes for you.

The movie, My Big fat Greek Wedding, had an interesting analogy about who’s the head in the marriage or family. The bride’s mother says that the husband is the head, but the wife is the neck who is able to turn the head in any direction she chooses. I thought that was too funny.

Let’s go back to Ephesians 5:21. Wait a minute, there’s something here about “submit to one another.” Seems like that could be a problem. Ephesians 5:22 tells her to submit, and Ephesians 5:25 tells me to love.

Take a look at that little phrase “just as Christ loved the church.” It tells us that my examples of loving (in my paragraph above) don’t really apply. Jesus never sent flowers to the church. He never picked up a box of chocolates on the way home from the carpentry shop as a peace offering. He never mumbled “I love you” through a mouthful of hamburger. Jesus loved by dying. He loved by suffering, hurting, and sacrificing. His kind of love sounds hard–almost as hard as submitting. Maybe even harder.

Loving that way might just take everything we’ve got, but here’s the deal. I believe that one of the primary reasons our wives struggle with submission is that they often have little real confidence in our love. Genuine love paves the way for submission (not the other way around). Jesus died for the church before the church was around to submit.

Real dying love doesn’t come naturally for men, face it, we’re selfish. If you figure out how to love your wife, you probably won’t have to bring up the issue of submission.