The “Perfect” Christian

“Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

 

Perfectionism is the preferred disease of the twenty-first century and it’s killing us.  Ever said or heard one of these?

“I want my wedding day to be perfect.”

“This proposal has to be perfect – dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

“Get this mess cleaned up! Our guests will be here in an hour and this place has to be perfect.”

“I stayed up all night to work on my paper – it has to be perfect if I’m going to get an “A” in this class.” (That would be me.)

Or maybe this one sounds most familiar to you:

“Why did I do that/say that/think that?  I’m a Christian – I’m supposed to be perfect!”

I thought you would recognize the last one – I know I’ve heard it in my own head countless times.  And we have the mandate of Jesus in our key verse to back up that relentless voice.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) “Be perfect – be perfect – be perfect.”   Yet we know that only One was perfect – the speaker Himself.  Does that mean He was setting up an unrealistic standard for us?  Not exactly.  When Jesus used the word “perfect” He was not saying be flawless – He was speaking of maturity – the word (in Greek) teleioo and its root telos mean “to reach a goal, to finish or complete.”   Jesus was saying we need to continually strive for maturity as the goal of our faith.

What’s interesting is that while the Bible uses the word “perfect” just forty-two times,  the word “good” appears more than six hundred times.[1]  Like in the creation account when, after completing each day’s creative work, God examined what He had done and “saw that it was good.”  In the original Hebrew this means that God found His work “pleasing, favorable and satisfactory.”  Think about it – if God, at the zenith of His creative work, was content with “good” shouldn’t “good” be good enough for us?

There’s more:  He promised a good land to the Israelites when they escaped Egyptian bondage (Exodus 3:8), Jeremiah told the people to “ask where the good way is and walk in it” (6:16).  Jesus said the Father gives “good gifts” (Matthew 7:11), He proclaimed the soil with the greatest harvest good ((Luke 8:8) and Paul tells us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21) – not perfection.[2]  Even the Gospel that saves us is called “the Good News” (Acts 5:42).  Why then, are we trying so hard to be perfect?

God didn’t saddle us with this obsession for perfection – it was the enemy who planted that impossible seed.  But we have watered and nurtured it until it has become a weed of gigantic proportions and, as weeds so often do, it has choked the life out of us and the “good works” we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10).  It’s his way of keeping you distracted, dissatisfied, frustrated – and fruitless.  Perfectionism will drive us to the point of exhaustion as we push ourselves to reach for an unreachable standard.  Or, on the flip side, it will leave us in a state of paralysis, fearful of even attempting anything because we know we’ll never measure up.  I’ve been both – and it’s no way to live.  You and I will never pull off perfection this side of heaven.  And that’s okay.

My friend, only God is perfect and making you perfect is His work alone, through the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit.  But you won’t see the perfectly finished product until you stand before Him in heaven.  So hang all your perfectionist tendencies on Him and be free from that burden you were never meant to carry.  Being good is good enough.

Holy Father, You didn’t ask me to measure up to some perfect standard, but it’s what often demand of myself.  Please help me to rest in the knowledge that good is good enough for You.  Amen.

[1] I am using the NIV – New International Version, other translations may have a different word count.

[2] All Scripture emphases were added by me.

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The Man in the Middle

“Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left” (Matthew 27:38)

It was just like Jesus, who was born in poverty in a filthy stable, who hung out with fishermen, tax collectors and women of ill repute, to die in the company of the lowest of the low – common thieves.  Surely a king should be born in a palace and die on a royal bed.  But He was not that sort of king – He was a ruler from another Place, and He chose to denigrate Himself that He might raise up the lowly.

There is a beautiful picture of that very act recorded in Luke’s gospel, in the account of the crucifixion.  All four of the gospel writers note the presence of two others with Jesus when He was crucified.  They were thieves – most likely “career criminals” to be put to death for their crimes.  Jesus was the “Man in the middle.” Matthew tells us that these thieves joined in the crowd’s mocking and jeering against Jesus; they “heaped insults on him” (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point, something changed for one of the men.

Luke reports that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!’” (23:39). But we see that the other criminal had a change of heart saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong” (23:40-41).  This enlightened criminal realized that Jesus was an innocent man, falsely accused and wrongly crucified.  That in itself would be an amazing turn around, but he understood even greater things than that.

He tells the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).  There is so much revelation packed into that sentence, and none of it came from this man’s own understanding.  He recognized, by a divine knowledge, that Jesus was, in fact, a King and he knew – only through the Spirit – that there was life – eternal life – after death through Jesus.  What an amazing revelation!  And it wasn’t given to the wise and learned religious leaders – it was bestowed on a lowly, wretched thief!

He also knew that he had nothing to offer Jesus in return for this gift of eternal life – but he asked anyway.  Perhaps he had heard of Jesus’ teaching on the mountainside where the Lord had said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).  If anyone was “poor in spirit” it was a dying thief.  And Jesus made good on His promise.

“Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43).  All that was required was understanding who Jesus was and believing on Him for eternal life.

We don’t know what was happening in the mind and heart of this man, but I believe, as he turned his head to gaze upon Jesus, his eyes were opened to the Truth.   I believe he witnessed the intensity of Jesus suffering under the weight of mankind’s condemnation – including his own.  I believe he heard Jesus’ plea to His Father for forgiveness for the ones who nailed Him to the cross.  I believe he saw past the blood-matted hair and bruises and looked beyond the skin shredded to ribbons and saw a glimpse of who this Man in the middle truly was.  And a divine glimpse is all he needed.

On this “Good Friday” may I encourage you to put yourself on the thief’s cross?  As you envision yourself hanging there, will you turn your head and look at the Man in the middle?  Witness the bloody, battered figure beside you and see Him suffering under the weight of all your sin.  Now, look closer – do you see the King who rules over an eternal kingdom?  Look at His hand, held fast to the cross by a nail, as it reaches out to you, offering you what you cannot earn for yourself – forgiveness, redemption, salvation, eternal life.  Beloved one – He died for you.  He suffered for your freedom.  He was forsaken by His Father so you would not be.

The thief on the cross went from sinner to saint because of the Man in the middle.  He can do the same for you.  Will you let Him today?

Lord Jesus, when I think of what you endured for me, I am awed and grateful.  I am no less of a sinner than the thief on the cross, and You offer me the same eternal life you promised to him.  I can never thank you enough, but I’ll spend the rest of my earthly days trying.  I love You – my Savior and my King.

Missing Out

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).

I was cleaning out my purse last week and found something I had forgotten I had – and I missed out on a special treat.  I presently work at Publix and every month our corporate bosses give us a coupon for a free something in the store.  Last month is was for a delectable new dessert item that I was looking forward to trying.  But I got busy with other things and the offer expired while the coupon was folded up in my purse.  I missed out on a sweet treat because I was distracted and not paying attention to what I had been given.

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this.  God gives us so many blessings, so many wonderful treats and delightful surprises, but we are often fail to notice.  We miss out on so much He wants to give us because we are too busy and distracted by life and the world.  We run in frantic circles trying to accomplish all we think we must while the Lord invites us to sit at His feet and hear His heart (Luke 10:38-42).  We have peace summits, peace talks, and peace marches that offer little to no peace; Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give you” (John 14:27).  We give our hearts and bodies to others in search of love – all the while God is proclaiming, “I have loved you with an everlasting love,” (Jeremiah 31:3).  We search for something solid and sure in this unstable world, failing to recognize that “there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).   And when we get lost in this world filled with fake news and “alternative truths,” Jesus is “The Way, The Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

What’s the key to not missing out on God’s good blessings?  James said it best, “Come near to God and He will come near to you, (James 4:8).  Draw near to God through time in His Word and through prayer every day. That is undistracted time (I’m preaching to myself here).  Time solely and intentionally devoted to God.  You may have to turn off your phone, shut down FaceBook, close out your emails – even (shudder) get up a little earlier.  “But I’m so busy, I don’t have time to give, and I’m too tired every day to give up sleep!”  I get it – I’m busy too, working full time, going to school, taking care of my home and family (including a husband recovering from shoulder surgery), teaching Bible Study, and serving in Women’s ministry at my church and I’m lucky if I get 6 hours of sleep a night.  But drawing near to God isn’t something we should try to “fit in” – it is a necessity, something we must consider a priority.  Dear friend, imagine how much time and trouble you and I would save if we approached our day with a peaceful, calm, assured spirit.  Wouldn’t you like to face your workplace filled with the peace of Christ?  How might it change your relationships if you knew God loved you with an everlasting, sacrificial love?  Might your day go a little smoother with a rock-solid foundation under your feet?  How comforting would it be to be able to sort out the truth amid the lies and deception of the world?

God is offering you all these blessings and so much more.  Don’t miss them.  Don’t get so busy and frantic that you forget what God has already promised to you.  Draw near.  Breath deep.  Listen.  Meditate.  Soak.  Then go out and face your day with the peace, love, assurance and wisdom that comes from God alone.  Don’t hide His promises out of sight and mind.  Claim what is yours today.

Holy Father, I know Your blessings never expire like my coupon, but I give up so much when I fail to “cash in.” I miss out on so much – especially Your sweet presence – when I get frantic and over-busy.  Call me to sit at Your feet.  Remind me every morning to draw near so that I can face my day filled with Christ.  Amen.