Performance.


Medals-with-red-ribbon-on-white-backgroundI think many of us males get lost in our need for significance and success. We measure our lives against the expectations of culture and our closest peer group. In doing so we forget the crucial identity piece: Who are we? My closest peer group has been leaders in Pentecostal circles. Our conversations so often centered around what we did and how well we did it. I’ve  most of my working life the pressure to perform well and be successful. The compulsion to impress any given audience was my only way to show how worthy I was of support. It came to a head while being a missionary in Thailand. I left for Thailand under a central funding model, but  years later it was transitioned to a shared funding model where every missionary was responsible to find his own support, every penny! That’s when I did myself an injustice and began to worry too much about my performance. That’s when competition crept in too.

The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Which is true. But so is the fear of not having enough, it can have detrimental effects on your life. I remember a seasoned Dollarsveteran teaching me how to raise money.  Since my wife at the time didn’t get a salary, but was very involved in what I did, he told me to tell congregations, “See, here you get two missionaries for the price of one!” And I would follow-up that statement with: “There’s no better deal than that, right?” Not only that, I would add that I was no newbie, and had sacrificed a lot to learn languages, cultures, and live in extreme weather! That’s how I presented. I actually don’t know if my new kind of talk helped or hindered the raising of funds. I think now it sounded ‘entitled.’ But in the moment I tried to impress.  I became reduced to how one dictionary described performance:  “the continual performance of a single task reduces a man to the level of a machine.” I felt machine-like wherever I went to ask, ask and ask again for support.

Now performance in itself is not evil and we all should do our very best with the hand God has given to us. However I had to come to my own conclusion as a ‘preacher’ and spiritual catalyst of sorts that I am not my performance on Sunday (or any other day when I am in front of some group speaking for that matter.) If you are a spiritual leader reading this, I encourage you to get this right; you and I are not ‘the great holy man of God’ that some want to label us with. We are not Moses, Billy G, or John Maxwell! And most of us are glad that we aren’t Bill Hybels right about now. But oh how we wanted, at one time or another, to be known as a successful world-shaker, right? But better watch out if you make that your identity! Here is a better more accurate picture of our identity, we are servants, we are lovers, and we are God’s children. That takes off some of the silly pressure that we put on ourselves to be something. Our roles and gifts are not our identity. They are simply the way we express our love to God and His world.

Since my brain surgery in 2012 I’ve tried to be more me, more authentic. Well, ‘try’ is maybe the wrong word, I’ve determined to be more me. That means not worrying so much about the expectations of others. It also has led me to being more open to the struggles of others. I’ve become more sensitive to the pain of others, more forgiving, more inclusive and hopefully more like Jesus. I now am also less afraid, too, of who I hang out with. I like people of all kinds from those who like to eat non-fat yogurt to those who smoke a pipe! And I’ve noticed people like to be around that kind of me, too.  It is kindness, not judgement, that slowly changes people’s attitudes and lives.

But it is not easy walking this path. Many people in church leadership structures want performance reports with numbers about all aspects of ministry. The stress on uniformity and speaking the same language (doctrine) and the need to be successful and more successful than the guy down the street is real. In many circles uniformity is next TheSoldierPeteto godliness. And this is where I return to my main point, if you don’t know your identity, you’ll confuse your self-worth with what you do and how well you do it. Performance.  Yes, it is a good feeling to be able to show big numbers. However I believe the epiphany we need in life happens when we realize I am not my big numbered performance. There’s more to me than that.  I am loved for who I am. And my life is about being true and faithful and generous and caring and not caring who sees me.

So stand up confidently and be different. Be quirky if it is you. Be engagingly outgoing if it is you. But please be unabashedly you.

 

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Be the Change You want to See


It’s not enough to know what you don’t want to be. You must decide also what you want to be. This is not just a writer’s fancy twist of a phrase. As a youth I knew I did not want to be a playboy or the guy that parties all night. I eschewed the image of the cool guy too. I was far from popular in my high school. It didn’t bother me. Though I knew I wanted to be different from the in-crowd or the party crowd I still had a hard time defining what I wanted to be.

Most kids hear lots of voices telling them, yelling at or whispering to them, “Be this!” or “Be that!” Maybe like me  you tried some of their suggestions before discovering they really didn’t fit! The danger to listening to the voices  is accepting the limiting narrative that says you are how others see you or say you are! Any identity or label that fits you poorly will only bring confusion if you wear it too long.

Knowing and deciding on what you want to be is essential to living with purpose and on purpose. Recently I was told that my life was so meaningful and I humbly said, “But yours is too!” He replied, “But not like yours!” What does one say after that? I’m blessed I know! But I also have tried my best to live ‘on purpose.’

I was just 14 years old when I cast my lot in with Christianity. Can 14 year olds make decisions like that? Of course they can. For me it began with an experience of being overwhelmed with love, wave after wave of it! I never experienced this feeling before, like God was enveloping me and saying, “Peter, I’m right here, and I love you!” I’ve stuck with it now for all of my life even though my understandings of God may have changed, or shall i say deepened. Today I recognize that much of who I am and still am becoming is a result of the many choices made over the years, including today’s choices.

Let me also add that I’ve made some poor choices in my life too. Who hasn’t? Those choices have always led to regret. Though regret doesn’t change people much, recognizing those moments when we are untrue to ourselves can. It’s like salt that has lost its savour, it’s identity has been compromised. Compromise leads to self-doubt, questioning and a lack of confidence. That’s when you must again shake yourself and ask, “Is this who I want to be?”

Lately I’ve fallen in love with the phrase, “Be the change you want to see in the world!” I think it was Gandhi who coined that phrase. It begs the question,”Do I want to live in a world where people are treated fairly, the weak are helped, respect is given, and gentleness is dominant?” Then be that! Be generous. Be involved. Be creative. Be joyful. Be there for others. Sometimes you can choose to be these good things.

Choose to be the one you know you want to be, your authentic self. It will lead you to a new freedom and that freedom will give you an ease. It brings you confidence and best of all it gives you the capacity to love. Get quiet enough and often enough to listen to the inner voice. Stay deaf to the voices vying for your attention trying to take you down the wrong identity path. It takes some aging and experience to learn how to reject the labels others stick on us and it requires some good timing to know when to play deaf to alternate voices. So know who you want to be my friends… Be! Be the man or woman who stands up with dignity, lives out life with gentleness, passion and confidence, uniqueness and love.

Family Means…


It had been years since I saw him last. As I passed through customs to retrieve my luggage, I knew he would be waiting for me in the welcome hall. This trip was because of him. I would preach and teach as usual, but this time God wanted me to be a friend to a big-hearted individual. Anton and I go back a long ways. The first time I met him was in 2000 at a church dedication and conference I was speaking at. We were sitting at the same table. He let others do most of the talking. My impression was that he was shy. I had no idea then that this man with a fun loving smile would one day be part of my own destiny.Anton&me

Honestly, Sri Lanka was never a place I thought about visiting. When Ray Faulkner, the Regional Coordinator at the time, asked me to come and speak, I was surprised, but pleased. It was the first of many trips, often with teams from Canada and Thailand. When Pastor Anton became the Superintendent years later he was keen on developing the young people in both the Tamil and Singhalese churches. I wanted to be a part of this embryonic vision! That’s how Sri Lanka became one of my passions.

It has been my honour to speak in many camps and church meetings. I have spent countless hours with this man weaving in and out of Sri Lanka’s notorious traffic. I became familiar with Colombo’s dichotomy of a colonial past and its continued struggle to become an independent nation. I’ve seen the outcome of a civil war and learned about the persecution by a controlling Buddhist population on minority religions. Anton’s own church was hit twice, once with a grenade in 2002 and then with a petrol bomb in 2003, causing damage to the building and vehicles. I visited after the Tsunami destroyed homes and lives. From the beautiful southern City of Galle to the breathtaking tea estates in the highlands of Candy and Nuwara Eliya Anton and I have laughed generously, cried some, prayed and told each other God-story after God-story.

A lot had changed since I last saw Anton in 2013. I knew he had been through some deep waters. Being a pastor and leader carries a heavy price. While he groaned many prayers, shed many tears, and lost weight, I was going through my own transition. Brain surgery changed drastically the direction of my life and our family transitioned in 2013, first to Germany for a year and then to France. But we kept in touch, as best as one could, considering the distances and circumstances. This year he reached out to me and yearned to lead his church for a time of retreat. I wanted to bring a team from Canada and speak too. Unfortunately the expenses were far too great for the abilities of the congregation to organise a camp on their own. I could neither find a team, nor funds for a camp. My first thought was, “Should I just forget about it and cancel?”  It made sense to say, “Next year, Anton!”

My heart was heavy as I prayed and I knew I was giving up too easily on Anton and his family. I let the Lord know about my desire and my personal financial situation. I felt led to I reach out to an individual, asking humbly if there was any way he could help me with travel. When he agreed, I reached out to another friend for help with some of the logistical expenses. The trip began to take shape. I was pumped. I would spend a week with Anton and his church and a day at a youth camp as well.

Leaving the airport we made our way into crowded Colombo. The traffic was as bad as I had ever seen. Everyone was shopping before the New Year celebrations would close shop. We spent the next three hours chatting away and missing where we were supposed to turn. I reminisced how the last time I visited we were slated to do a Youth Conference but only a few kids showed up. I found out in our car ride that many pastors had boycotted the camp. I never knew how much Anton felt betrayed and deflated. We did a shortened version of the camp there anyway. On our way to the hotel Anton shared how that over the years he was looking for a father figure; his own dad left with another woman when he was 12 years old. At first he wanted a kind of fatherly relationship from me, but as we spent time together he realised we could become real friends.

I prepared well for this trip while in France and was ready for our church meetings on Sunday and Monday. My theme was ‘Transformation’ and emphasised how God does His best work in our lives  when we go through difficult situations. Our teachers are darkness, wounds and pain. If we avoid the blame game we gain insight into our own blind spots and ego. It leads to finding our true identity in Christ. The second day I was blessed by an even larger group and continued to speak on how a changed identity provides security, transparency and a willingness to be vulnerable in family. When Jesus was told that his

Anton &I preaching

Sharing in the church.

brothers and mothers were outside wanting to speak to him, he asked those sitting inside, “Who are my brothers and mother?” No one was prepared for that shocking answer as Jesus realigned what true family would look like in his kingdom. “Anyone who does the will of my Father are my brothers and mother,” he answered!

 

Even as I was speaking my revelation of family was growing clearer. I had always loved travel and meeting people of different cultures. Now I was beginning to see how brothers in Christ should view and treat each other. We say no to slander, divisiveness and stumble together towards grace. It is the only way. We refuse to allow opinions, skin colour, racial or economic biases or jealousy to wreak havoc on the family. The world has been waiting a long time to see such a family. Unfortunately we have showed them a lot less of that. The response to these messages was encouraging.

After four nights in a hotel Anton announced to me his home was ready to receive me. An air conditioner was installed, rented by the day! His three kids painted the walls, moved in Anton’s and Silverine’s own mattress, bought new pillows and sheets and welcomed me home proudly. I saw his family up close. I heard Anton address his wife and children with unfamiliar words. I wanted to know why? He taught me the meaning of these Singhalese words. I asked him how do friends address each other. You see, from my first visit to Sri Lanka I’ve been addressed as Pastor Peter every day, every time, by every single person, including Anton. I wanted to drop the formalities. After thinking a bit he found the word, “machang.” “This,” he said, “is what good friends call each other.” And of course I decided to use that word at the dinner table. “Machang, can you pass the curry?” I waited to see the reaction. It was laughter, appreciation and it was appropriate.

Anton Murphy and I

Anton and I for the evening ritual of sitting outside to relax.

This tall thin white visitor and this short chubby dark-skinned local were now friends and we were a microcosm of the true family of God.

 

I left a bit of my heart in Colombo on this trip. My hope for the church in Sri Lanka has been renewed. The church carries a great responsibility to show its population what our true identity is. It has nothing to do with buildings and rituals. It is above all a receiving of Christ’s identity, participating in His very life and grace.  It took a long trip to a tear-shaped island in the Indian Ocean for me to rediscover a life hid in Christ in God looks like love.