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Warning: Performance Standards Could be Destroying your Relationships

I was disturbed recently after hearing a fellow Christian share some less than favorable opinions about our ministry. The gist of the criticism was that we are not as concerned as we should be about “right living.” (An accusation I would wholeheartedly deny.)

It wasn’t just disturbing because we were on the receiving end of the accusation. I was disturbed in a good way, because it forced me to deal with my tendency to do the same thing.

An unfortunate reality of people is that we love to compare performance.

Why do we struggle with this so much?

It starts early in life. Study hard, get good grades. If you get good grades, you get promoted. Perform at the top level among your peers and be offered nice scholarships and get into the best schools. Get an impressive education… get an impressive job. Impressive jobs lead to an impressive resume which leads to even more advancement. And so the story continues.

What do all of these have in common? Performance and self-merit. “I worked for something, therefore I deserve something.”

While Scripture is completely in favor of hard work and doing your best, we should be careful not to allow the ethic of hard work and merit creep into our understanding of the gospel. We have to resist and destroy any notion of a performance based faith that says, “If I do the right things, I will be accepted.”

The beauty of the gospel tells us that even though we are still sinners, in Christ, we are perfectly accepted and righteous. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” On the cross, God treated our sin as if it belonged to Christ. Christ took our sin on himself, taking the punishment we deserve. Why? So we might become righteous, so the righteousness of Christ would be given to us.

So, the gospel doesn’t tell us how to live so we can deserve something. It’s just the opposite. It tells us that we could never perform well enough to ever deserve anything at all. As Tim Keller says, God’s grace is for people “who admit their failure to perform and who acknowledge their need for a Savior.”

The implications for our relationships are staggering.

A healthy understanding of the gospel prevents us from ever feeling “morally superior.” The more we become aware of our own sin and imperfections, the more we appreciate grace. The more we appreciate grace, the more we can chill out about other people’s imperfections. We will stop the spiritual comparisons. Our pride will decrease and our attitudes towards others become more gracious. Our tendency to look down on others will diminish. We will no longer think or act as though we are self-righteous (righteous because of my behavior/performance.) Most importantly, Christ will be exalted because we recognize that our righteousness comes through Him and Him alone.

How have you seen this in your own life? Either on the giving or receiving end or performance based religion?

Six Signs your Dating Relationship is Unhealthy

Who we date is extremely important. Few relationships have the same power to influence a person, shaping who they are and who they will become. There are always immediate and long-term consequences to who we date, so healthy dating relationships are vital.

Here are six signs your dating relationship might be unhealthy:

1. Other people say it is.

The saying “love is blind” is unfortunately true when it comes to people not being able to see that their own relationship is unhealthy. If people around you (friends, family, ministry leaders) are expressing concern… listen. And don’t think silence means everything is okay. If you’re not hearing anything, you need to ask. But, don’t just ask anyone. Ask people who have spiritual wisdom and a proven history of health in their own relationships.

2. You Disappeared.

People in unhealthy dating relationships often drop off the face of the planet. Their friends and family see so little of them, they consider making a missing persons report. If you find that you’re no longer associating with the same people you used to before the relationship, that should be of concern. Healthy couples have high levels of interaction with family and friends.

3. You’re Stuck (to each other.)

One of the best compliments I received while dating my wife is that we didn’t always have to be together. It’s not that we ignored each other, we just didn’t have to be attached at the hip. We had balance. We both had other friends (male and female) and spent time with them. If you have trouble spending time with people other than your boyfriend/girlfriend, your relationship has health issues.

4. Drama.

While every relationship (even healthy ones) will have occasional disagreements, some couples have an endless supply. It seems like they’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of strife. An argument or a fight is always simmering. Healthy relationships should have significant periods of peace and calm between occasional quarrels, not the other way around.

5. You’re Pretending.

The purpose of marriage is to bring two people into a permanent commitment to one another. Pretenders want the benefits or marriage without the commitment and that’s never healthy. It’s a shaky foundation for any relationship, even if it does eventually result in marriage. If the only thing that would change if you got married is a license, a ring and maybe a joint bank account, you have health issues. (Hebrews 13:4)

6. Spiritual Incompatibility.

I was surprised to hear a young Christian woman recently describe her boyfriend as being “a nice guy, just not a Christian.” In terms of a dating relationship, that’s like saying “I’m a vegetarian, but I love a good steak.” There is a serious incompatibility issue when a follower of Jesus enters into a close-intimate relationship with someone who is not a follower of Jesus. They just don’t go together. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

If any of these describe your own relationship, take whatever steps are necessary to correct them. Unhealthy dating issues never go away when people get more serious in the relationship, the “unhealth” just gets more serious.

How have you seen these affect relationships? What other things have you seen that might be a sign that someone’s dating relationship is unhealthy?

Rise and Go: How to get where God wants you to be.

Most people wrestle occasionally with knowing God’s will for their life. This often perplexing endeavor can become especially frustrating for people like myself who like to have a detailed plan before they take their first step. But, God doesn’t always give all the details, and waiting for them may actually keep us from experiencing what He wants for us.

The story of Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40 describes one such situation. Simply put, God wants one man (Philip) to meet another man (Ethiopian) so that Philip can tell him about Jesus. Through divine prompting, Philip is given a location and told to, “Rise and Go.”

Philip doesn’t know why he’s going or what he’s going to do when he gets there. He doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have all the details worked out. All he knows is that he is told to “rise and go” so he “rose and went.”

Even after getting where God told him to go, he still doesn’t know what he’s doing there. Only after taking that first step, does God tell him the next step to take.

The same is true in our own lives. Discovering God’s will is a faith process that requires continual steps of obedience. It is a series of “next step” moments we have to take until we finally find out, “This is why God led me here.”

And consider this, if Philip doesn’t go, the story never happens. The Ethiopian might have someone else guide him to Jesus, but Philip doesn’t get to be a part. Even if Philip hesitates for just an hour, the Ethiopian is down the road and Philip misses out on the opportunity. But, because he listened and obeyed, he’s at just the right place, to meet just the right person, at just the right moment.

Do you feel like God might be leading you somewhere to do something? Remember, you probably won’t know the entire plan. Don’t wait for all the details before you move. Don’t be the story that never happened. “Rise and go” and trust in God to guide you along the way.

What do you think it is about most people that makes us want to have all the details before we move? 

Advice for Graduates: Things you might not learn at college.

Graduation announcements have been streaming into my mailbox. Over the next several days, I will attend parties for many of these young men and women transitioning to the next stage of life. Here are a few things I would share with them (and the millions of other soon to be collegians), about what you might not learn at college.

Many of your peers are lost and confused.
These same lost and confused people will engage in behaviors for no good reason other than the fact that someone else is doing it. It is the “lost leading the lost” and it is never a good idea to follow people who don’t know where they’re going. Have a purpose and a reason (good ones) for the things you do.

You don’t have to figure it all out.
A lot of people head into their college years with a well-thought out plan about what they want to do with their life, others have no idea. Either way, remember that life and wisdom and maturity have a funny way of shaking things up and directing us into places we never imagined we would go. Even those with a plan often times end up changing it. Be okay with figuring it out as you go. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Wisdom is more important than knowledge.
Knowledge is good, but wisdom is better. The world is full of really smart people who do really dumb things and those dumb things have a way of negating all of their intellectual potential. Spend your college years working on your character as much as you do your studies and you will be wise instead of just intelligent. (Proverbs 4:6-7).

Decisions have consequences.
Many college students say, “This is college, This is the time of life you’re supposed to be wild.” That’s garbage. I’m all for having fun (and highly recommend it), but there is no such thing as a choice that doesn’t have consequences (emotional, physical, spiritual, legal, mental, etc.) College is not some kind of magical “no consequence” zone that erases all the stupid things people do when they graduate.

Seize the moment.
After college, most graduates start a job, get a mortgage/lease, get married, have kids, etc. The reality is, these well-worthy responsibilities severely limit your ability to “go.” So seize the moment. Do something epic. Go big. My specific advice… spend a summer, a semester or an entire year serving Christ somewhere. You will not regret it. (There are lots of great organizations that do this, here is one example: http://www.adventures.org/trips/?prg=passport.)

What additional advice would you offer college students?

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