May 2010

Let me just start by saying that the issue I’m about to bring up won’t be resolved by the time you reach the end of this post. It’s something I’ve wrestled with my entire reborn life. You may not be able to relate. You definitely won’t be wiser when you’re done reading. But maybe you’ll have some insight to share.

If you have even one perfectionist bone in your body, then I guarantee you also have self-worth issues. Why? Because you’re passionately compelled toward a goal that is unreachable. Missed goal = disappointment / guilt / self-blame / you fill in the blank. So what happens when, in a particular endeavor, a perfectionist falls short? Some wallow in their perceived failure. Some abandon the project. I become legalistic.

That’s right.

My walk with God has not been spared of this (let’s just call it what it is) LIE that I can be perfect. I keep thinking that if I attend more classes at church I can master sin in my life. If I just remove myself a little bit more from worldly things and people, I will be able to claim for myself Matthew 5:48 which commands me to be perfect as God is. All it would take is reading the Bible more, tithing more, praying more, more, more, more

You may be thinking, oh, what a noble endeavor. And at a surface level, you’d be right. Christians are commanded to clothe ourselves in Jesus, and to think on things that are true and right and praiseworthy, and to do everything for God’s glory.

But my journey to be like Jesus has become poisoned. I’ve been at it so long there are days I can’t tell whether I’m trying to be perfect so I can glorify God or so I can satisfy my intense need to excel.

And that’s not all.

In my quest to impress God with my Christlikeness, I have set for myself tight restrictions regarding what radio stations I can listen to, what jokes I can laugh at, what TV shows and movies I can watch, and opposite to Christ’s actions when He walked the earth, what kinds of people I can hang out with. Yep, I’ve become a Pharisee.

It’s tricky because all those boundaries have the potential to be good things. But they cease to be good when they cause me to resent / judge / lose compassion for / avoid people who aren’t as anxious to honor God with their lives; or cause me to depend on myself rather than on Christ for righteousness; or cause me to become so arrogant in my faith I can neither love others nor glorify God.

Not so honorable, is it?

So here’s my question to you: How can Christians pursue Matthew 5:48 without incurring these detrimental side effects of perfectionism?

I’ve been having fun viewing some of the video parodies that are being produced by churches nowadays. I guess everyone has seen “Sunday’s Coming” from the folks at North Point by now so I’ll let chatter on other blogs answer the questions raised there.

I recently had to answer some questions about a product when using “Christian” and “Christ Follower” interchangeably so this video series from Community Christian Church is even more applicable to where I am now. For me the terms are more a matter of nuance or flavor and I think I understand why some groups feel more comfortable using one term over the other in certain settings.

As a former missionary to Communists and to Muslims, I often substituted terms that were less familiar but more clearly communicated our message. There was sometimes some pushback from those who preferred more traditional language but missionaries in pioneer areas are a bit more experiential by nature.

What I didn’t realize in this modern/postmodern struggle in the US is that there are groups on both sides that feel so strongly about some terminology and what it represents that there is some defensiveness associated with it…even with what we call ourselves. While this video is clearly slanted toward one side, it does provoke some interesting thought and questions.

So what do you think…Christian or Christ Follower? Why? Does it really matter?

I’ve always been close to the guys I grew up with in a small Western Kentucky town. I realize that more of us develop their most cherished relationships with people they met in college as opposed to high school. But that’s not the case with me. Maybe it was the rural, agrarian lifestyle that makes my hometown friends and I so kindred. Maybe it’s the fact that, typical of a small town, the lack of new additions made us more like brothers than friends. That is, we were stuck with each other and had to learn how to love one another because of our flaws, not despite them.

Just last week the mother of one of these “brothers” passed away. She had struggled with cancer for the better part of a year. She refused all but the most basic treatments; instead choosing to pass this life on her own terms. It’s no surprise that as gracefully as she died, she also lived. For my own part, I just remember how welcome she made me feel any time my life took me through their living room—a welcome respite for a child of divorce. There was an overwhelming sense of warmth associated with the home she built as well as the family that lived in it.

So another friend and I drove to the service from Nashville. It was nice. We sang hymns and listened to several people pay tribute to her. When the service was over we filed out into a receiving line to meet the family. I knew the step-father but that was about it. My friend was one of the last people in line—a wait that must have taken more than an hour.

When my part of the line finally got to him, although I had prepared in my mind what I thought were wonderful words about his mother’s legacy and what she meant to me and how sorry I was to see her go, I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t muster a word. Which is ridiculous since words are pretty much my business. But in that moment I realized that, really, I had nothing but my presence to offer; that whatever words I might conjure would diminish the sentiment I wished to impart; that ultimately I actually contributed more to the moment through the things left un-said.

There will be times during our small-group meetings and in the lives of our small groups when silence happens. Speaking from experience, there is the strong inclination to fill those moments with … something. Anything. Like I said, words are my business. And sometimes that’s appropriate. But there are also times of silence when the silence speaks more plainly and with more weight than any and all of our words. Of course we won’t always know which is which. But I think the point here is that when true redemptive community is at work, the perceived need for words should come under greatest scrutiny. And it’s more than OK to let the moment speak for itself.

Small Group Life Episode 4 — Barbarians: A Call to Uncharted Faith is headed to the printer this week! Check out this short intro of what the study is all about from the pen of Brian Daniel, our editorial project leader.

Episode 4 of Small Group Life is a bit of a departure for us. This issue will take you down a path that leads to the deepest places of who you are. We believe that there’s at least a small bit of a barbarian—though probably more—in all of us. But through various degrees of adversity and circumstance we’ve allowed this part of us to become tame and atrophied. This study will challenge you to wake thebarbarian inside and come alive.”

We finished taping the video segments for this episode on Thursday and managed to grab a little behind-the-scenes footage I’m sharing with you here. Maybe next time we’ll let you in on our hair, wardrobe, and makeup secrets!

For more information about all the Small Group Life studies, check out

Until next time,