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“Cheer up! You are worse than you think.”

The first time I heard that sentence I was 40 years old. It came from Jack Miller and I encountered it in a very helpful course named Sonship. That course started me on a journey. I sometimes tell people that the Aphesis Immersion Experience discipleship process was for me Sonship, part 2. Let me go back and tell you how my journey began.

At that point in my life, I had been a missionary working internationally for nearly 15 years. I was the country director for our mission agency in one of the “cutting edge” fields. I was known for innovative thinking and forward-looking strategy. My staff liked working under my leadership. Back in the U.S., we had over 100 people who were praying for our family on a daily basis—and there were several churches and nearly 150 people who donated regularly to financially support us. They all thought I was an exemplary Christian. To most people, my marriage and family appeared healthy. It looked like I was on the top of my game! And to make it worse, I believed their assessment. I liked being on the pedestal.

But, behind the mask things were not so ideal. My wife had been trying to get through to me for years about my out-of-balance life. I thought I was motivated to be highly productive because I was living on money that people had given to God—and that called for ultra-dedication to the ministry. In reality (though I never would have said it), I was driven to perform because I was hungry for the approval of our donors. Digging even deeper, I now recognize that back then I was unsure of the expression on God’s face when he looked at me. Performing well had secured affirmation from my parents, teachers, church leaders, and mission leaders. Surely that is how it worked with God, too! At least, I hoped it would.

I wish I could say that I listened to my wife and that led to a change, but the first crack I noticed in my mask was from observing my parents (from a distance) in a church conflict. While I thought they were “correct” in their position on the divisive issue, it seemed to me that they were “wrong” in their hearts in the midst of the conflict. Their hearts were harsh and their level of anger seemed inappropriate for the issue.

To make it worse, as I observed my parents from a distance, it was like looking in a mirror. I saw those same behaviors in me. I recognized that my responses in conflicts were all too often similar to theirs. I began to wonder what it must be like to live on the other side of me. It caused me to pause and begin to reflect on what might be the root of those harsh responses in my own heart.

That began a journey I’m still traveling today.

Around that time I also began noticing other indications that something wasn’t right inside my heart. I observed in myself that when reading powerful truths from Scripture or singing about those truths in worship, my level of passion seemed inappropriately low. It wasn’t engaging my heart. Here I was dedicating my whole vocational life to promoting this truth, but my heart was nearly flat-lined on the gospel. My head said it was life-transforming news, but my heart was hardly moved. God seemed distant and academic. My Christian walk was functionally about knowing the right answers and mastering the right ministry strategies.

Something was missing or wrong. I was sharp when it came to doctrine, but my heart was dull.

In my next post I’ll tell you what I discovered.

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