Monday, April 20, 2009

Am I Doing What I Should be Doing?


“Wise priorities, when they lift useful things over useless things, change your life. But when they lift better things over useful things, you change the world.” – Yours Truly

Seek first the Kingdom and everything else that matters will be given to you as well.” – Jesus Christ 


I want to cry tonight. I'm not sure why.

Usually, when I want to cry, it is because I'm wondering if I'm doing what I should be doing.

Am I? Am I doing what I should be doing?

These days, when I ask that question, it is at least four questions:

1. What is it that I am doing that is wrong?

2. What is it that I am doing that needs to stop because I could be doing something better?

3. What is it that I am not doing that I should be because it is right?

4. What is it that I am not doing that I should be doing because it is better?

As for the first question, my current thoughts go to my eating habits. I don't eat a lot, but I don't eat well. Burgers and fries are an almost daily occurance for me. And while I have cut way back from the case-a-day intake of Dr. Pepper from my twenties (not joking), I still have days when I drink more of it than I do water. This is wrong. Not black-and-white wrong, unfortunately. But I think I'm going to need to make it so for me to do anything about it. Additionally, I've lately been wondering about how much TV I watch. I use it to chill out, unwind, usually late at night to end my day. Again, nothing "wrong" with it, unless it's eating at you and possibly taking the place of things much more productive for the Kingdom I serve, and maybe more effective in chilling out and unwinding (vs. numbing out by losing myself in a fictional drama).

To answer the second question, I have to tell you my thoughts concerning the fourth question. Lately I've been prompted to think about my "ministry focus" in the world.

Some background: I have long been convinced to use Jesus Christ as my personal role model for how to do ministry on his behalf...and his ministry is explainable through the various relationships he maintained with actual people.

  • He preached to 1000s
  • He trained 72
  • He mentored 12
  • He poured himself into 3.

You might even say he had one "favorite" in Peter (unless you are John, then you'd say it was John - see Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20).

So Jesus had various levels of intimacy and relationships, and they each served different, and strategic, purposes:

  • Jesus spent time winning loads of people to be interested in the "life" he was offering.
  • From among them, he invested in building some of them up in the living and maintaining of that "life."
  • And fewer still, but from among those, he equipped some to deliver that "life" to others.

This resulted in the multiplication of leaders who were called and enabled by Christ (through his Spirit) to change the world by going around and creating relational environments (churches) that would result in the winning, building, and equipping of others in various places and contexts.

Okay, so all that to say this: I think I have let my equipping focus slip and go stagnant.

  • I have learned that if I invest in relationships with people who are "lost" and need the message of Christ, then I will have relationships with those who are lost and interested in the message of Christ, more than I could ever possibly handle, and they will bring their friends to me.
  • And if I invest in relationships with people who are "saved" and need to mature or maintain their faith in living the life of Christ in the storms of life, then I will have relationships with those who need to mature or maintain their faith in living the life of Christ...again, too many for any man to maintain.
  • Likewise, I have learned that if I invest in equipping workers for Christ, those ready to give their lives to the work of the Kingdom, ready and eager for training, coaching, and mentoring, then I will have relationships with workers, and I will train, coach, and mentor those who will win and build up others...and they will bring their friends to me.

With this observable life experience of mine, it sort of just becomes a matter of math (not really, of course, but he who has an ear, let him hear).

This gets hard, because then I have to face the second question. 'Cuz see, the good things that I am doing right now, that may be hindering my doing these better things, are just that...good things. In my ministry focus, do I have to give up my relationships with the Basement Boys (my men's small group...with is primarily "winning")? Or preaching and teaching to my church family (which is primarily "building")? Maybe (and hopefully) not. Perhaps I just need to take action on my answer to question #1, and then get busy on my answer to question #4. Perhaps. But honestly, I've done this kind of work many times, probably not. 

As for the third question, I am always thinking first in terms of my family. I have nice, leather bound journals that I have begun for each of my 3 kids...intended to be periodic letters from their dad...that sit mostly neglected. I feel like the demands of parenthood drive my decisions more than my values. I love giving my wife my full presence to her heart, her needs, her desires, her dreams...but we feel blessed when we successfully protect our weekly date night each Thursday to eat together and watch a movie. My mom and dad each live far away, aging, and I and my kids are missing it and all the value that entails. Secondly, I think about my opportunities to encourage and just "be there" more for my church family. I'm not the stereotypical preacher in many ways, not the least of which being that all my focus on natural relationships steals from my church family some of the good things that they may have the right to expect from thier "preacher". As it currently is, I only have 2 formal teaching outputs a week (Sun AM preaching, Wed PM teaching), I don't attend all the events held by our church, and I can't be counted on to make it by the hospitals for everyone on the prayer list. I don't spend as much creative energy on the preaching/teaching times as I could if I moved those tasks up on the priority list like most preachers I know do. I want to do my best work influencing the staff and elders in their conforming into the image of Christ, helping them express the values of Christ (above) in their personal and ministry lives, but even that gets swallowed up in the "it's always easier to do nothin' than somethin" category. I have the greatest family, and the greatest church family, that anyone on this earth has the right to ask for from God Almighty, and I just want to be dog-gone sure I'm fulfilling my duty to them all, you know?

And underneath all of these worthy questions is my one desire that permeates, defines, directs, and usurps them all. My desire to be one with God.

To have actual God-contact.

To engage with Him.

To hear from Him.

To be with Him.

To love Him.

To visit with Him.

To speak to Him.

To be heard by Him.

To live with Him.

To become like Him.

To be healed...

To be instructed...

To be disciplined...

To be Him.

Oneness with God. That's why I ask this question that becomes four that becomes one.

I want it. Above all else.

I would give up all things...the things I value most...just to have Him.

I need not even speak of my material possessions, my status socially or professionally, my accomplishments in this world, my gifts and talents and personality that I have come to depend on to make it in this life. These I value...but they don't hold a candle to what I value most.

I would give up all the worthy, God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Kingdom-advancing work in the world...that I have done, or will ever just have Him.

I would walk away from my wife, and each one of my just have Him.

Maybe there are nights when I wouldn't say this. For sure there are days when I don't live this.

But tonight, I feel like crying. And I don't know why. But I think it is my longing for Him. Just Him. Above all else.

I love you all.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Three Circles


"Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” – God, to Himself, in Genesis 1, speaking about mankind

 “When you eat of the forbidden tree, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.” – Satan, to mankind, in Genesis 3

“The freedom that Christ came to give comes to those who stop trying so hard to be what God already made them.” – Yours Truly

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Philippians 3:16

I sat with a wonderfully energetic, powerful, fully present, lover of people yesterday who was explaining to me how overwhelmed, tired, unsure, ashamed, doubtful and diminished she was.

The circumstances of her life humbled me. She is dealing with a lot. The spot she sits in is full of trouble. As with us all, they are partly the tragic result of some self-defeating decisions she has made, and partly the result of some injustices that people around her have inflicted.

She afforded me the pleasure of sifting through it all with her. And as we tried to isolate a few of the various tributaries that are feeding the furious waterfall that is beating down on her, we identified a few things:

1. She is struggling to trust God. – And it’s so understandable. Why is she trying so hard to be devoted to God and being “cursed” while others don’t seem to have a care in the world for God and are so “blessed” and carefree?

2. She is overwhelmed by guilt. – She humbly admits mistakes, one in particular screams loudly at her, and she is sure she deserves whatever consequences she gets.

3. She has spiritual questions that can’t be answered with certainty. – You know how frustrating this is. Why did God make us in the first place? Why did He give us the opportunity to choose badly? Why does,n’t He answer my believing prayers every time?

4. She is exhausted from her striving. – In her words, she’s trying to be “mom-of-the-year", “teacher-of-the-year”, “wife-of-the-year,” and “Christian of the year” all without letting anyone down, and all of it in the midst of impossible demands, emotional drains, unfair circumstances, fights to make amends, uncooperative people, and weighty decisions to make.

How many of us are or have been here? Finally admitting these heart-disturbing conditions is always the first step to overcoming them, and sharing them with another, and ultimately with God, is the next. And the healing that comes (not without a fight, of course) becomes the source of a very new peace, joy, and life to the full.

All of them, but number 4 in particular, reminded me of a concept that concerns her identity…her true one, her perceived true one, and finally the one that she was presenting to the world.

I called it “the three circles.”


The first, outer circle is the identity we work very hard to present to the world “out there” (and in a way, to ourselves in the mirror). It is how we wish to be viewed, but we know it’s not true. We present ourselves as smart, strong, competent, capable, secure, gifted, determined, loving, forgiving, happy, passionate, unstoppable, invulnerable, responsible, dependable, worthy, desirable human beings. Oh, we all do it differently through different means, but we do it. It is exhausting, spirit-killing work…but we must do it because we know just underneath it is the horrible truth of…

The second circle is what we perceive as our true identity. We are stupid, weak, incompetent, incapable, insecure, average, lazy, hateful, spiteful, judgmental, depressed, vulnerable, irresponsible, unworthy, undesirable wretches. We know it is true because we have the mistakes, cruelties, sins, and the opinions of a host of others to prove it. This “true me” is found just underneath the mask of the first circle, and it is so devastating to face up to or consider, that even though the upkeep of the total pretense is stealing our life, we keep doing it. Why? To admit it feels like relational, marital, personal, and/or professional  suicide. So we “kill ourselves” fighting for our lives.

A few people (more and more all the time, in my opinion) get so sick and tired of this game that they will finally hear, somewhere and in some form, the message of Christ. And suddenly, they dare to hope. Even though it is a dream beyond dreams, this fake life isn’t cutting it and they will either have “more” or they will die seeing if it exists.

Those are the people, once they are serious about having life to the full, once they are willing to put the claims of Jesus Christ to the test, those are the people who finally shed the first circle and face all of the consequences of the dreaded second one. They stop pretending. They risk it all, and they expose their (perceived, mind you) true self. The horrifying, ugly, unacceptable, dirty, and sin-scarred self.

And when they do, they will be shocked when they survive it. This would be enough, mind you, enough to go on having realized that their mistakes do not kill them…their hiding them, denying them, and masking them does! It is a liberating, life-giving truth.

But what’s more, they will also find out (by using the same newfound sense of honesty and integrity that dismantled the outer circle) that their perception of the second circle as their true identity is equally unfounded. With the help of a fellowship of people who have committed to the same dramatic opting-out of the life-as-usual-game, and with the enlightenment of God Himself, they will joyfully find out that there is a truer truth.

They will find, down there past the pain, the third circle. The final and immovable truth about their identity. And what they will find is that they are quite naturally everything good that they were striving so hard to be.

In the opening poem of the Bible…God explains that He made mankind like God…in His own image. It then goes on to explain that Satan told mankind that to be like God, they merely needed to reach out and get it themselves. Do you see it?  He promised something to man that man already was. Did man want to be “like God”? Absolutely! Did man need to strive in order to be so? Absolutely not! Brilliantly evil, this serpent was.

We’re still doing this today. We are all striving to be what it is that we already are. How silly would it be for my son Jakin to work really, really, really hard, for the rest of his life, to be a Mashburn? How insanely unproductive would it be for my daughter Callie to look at how much of a Mashburn her little brother Jakin is, and then work and wish to be half the Mashburn that he is. How needlessly tiring it would be for my son Shade to think he need to strive at all to find his identity as a Mashburn.

When I told her of her strength, her glow, her obvious love and powerful presence… she laughed, thinking she had me fooled. She thinks that the best my observation can be is an affirmation that she has done a good job keeping up the facade.

It is her that is fooled. I have been, too. You probably have too.

Another friend, one who was gracious enough to process this with me back in our twenties gave me a gift once, putting to words this concept of the Three Circles. It pretty much sums it up…and still sits framed on a shelf in my office.


So to my old friend Chris, and to my new friend yesterday, and to all of you my friends who are also gracious enough to process this life with me (and if you read all this, then you really are doing so!)…I want you all to know the truth. Read them slowly…maybe just one a day. Let their truth take over.

You are priceless. (Matt 10:31)

You are strong. (2 Cor 12:9-10)

You are forgiven. (Eph 1:7-8)

You are redeemed. (Gal 3:13-14)

You are worthy. (2 Thess 1:5)

You are  dearly loved. (Col 3:12)

You are God’s masterpiece. (Eph 2:10)

You are God’s dwelling place. (1 Cor 3:16)

You are God’s image. (Gen 1:26-27)

You are God’s child. (Rom 8:15)

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” – Philippians 3:16