“If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasure of power, and hatred….a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”
Here is a good word from the White Stone Journal:http://www.whitestonejournal.com/
In this form, earthly goods are chiefly a means to an end . . . to achieve personal power. These things can be used to intimidate or bribe others, reinforce one’s own illusions about what is important or to build up a feeling of success. The real problem here is a desire for power rather than actual greed.
To destroy our desire for power, we must be generous in granting power to others. When appropriate, be submissive to others. Avoid jobs that are a temptation for a “power grab.” Share credit for successes with others, and claim a fair share of responsibility for failures being blamed on others. The idea is to stop trying to control everything and everyone.
Every now and then I get into these moods that reveal deep fissures in my soul. These moods where I feel as if my life doesn’t much matter in the grand scheme of things, as if the little splash I’ve made into existence has gone unnoticed by all but a few.
Whose opinion am I expecting to give me meaning anyway? Whose applause when I have them will satisfy my need for acceptance and recognition? Who am I aiming to please and cavort around with and why? When is enough, enough?
Why do I dismiss the delight of those who adore me as I adore them? Why do I dismiss those few who know the God-made, Godward, me and who have glimpsed upon my vaporish glory in this life – a glory that comes from being in God and from God-delighting?
Are these moods evidence that I too want to be worshiped like God? I don’t think the sentiments wholly unnatural or completely evil. We all want to know that our existence matters, that our lives are meaningful. The problem comes when we use illegitimate means to try and obtain that recognition or when we are frenetic in trying to gain fame and recognition thus living like they are what matter most. If we’re not careful, the pursuit of fame and recognition can become our idol-gods. The temptation is always there.
We all want to be seen, to be recognized and appreciated in our existence and for our contributions. We grow bitter and depressed when we don’t receive the recognition we believe we deserve. These can ruin our lives and fool us into thinking that life is not worth living. Yet we have a God who sees and adores us (Gen. 16:13, Zeph. 3:17)
I think that Jesus shows us there is more to life than fame and recognition. For thirty years he lived in obscurity. His character was formed in his hidden life. The devil tempted him to make a public spectacle of himself by throwing himself off of the temple heights. Jesus wouldn’t do it; Jesus would not use illegitimate means to gain recognition. He would rather gain his soul and the “well-done” of his father than gain the whole world. He did not manipulate others or circumstances for his own glory. Neither should we.
Do we manipulate circumstances and others for our own advancement, for selfish gain? It is not the Jesus way. The kingdom of God operates so much more differently than we do. In the kingdom, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Nouwen speaks of downward mobility. Being the servant of all is the way of the kingdom – not demanding to be served and not manipulating others so that they will serve us. Servants are not always popular. As I’ve written before, servants are often unseen or behind the scenes.
When I get in these moods, I have to remind myself of these truths. I remind myself that Jesus is welcoming to all. He extends to all the invitation to be with him, not just to the cool cats. He recognizes me. He sees me. He loves me. And he sees you. He recognizes you. And he loves you.
Not everyone in the public eye will be first, not in God’s kingdom. We can faithlessly be in the Christian public eye, famous whitewashed tombs strutting about.
I’ve got to check my motivations and my priorities. The most important thing is to be faithful to God by loving him and loving others his way. Sometimes that means sacrificing the fame and recognition we desire. We must remember: we dare not use the church for our own glory. As we are faithful, God will recognize and reward us accordingly. We serve a God who sees everything. Everything-including that which is done in secret.
I am a writer. Of course, I am more than that. But, always I have words and ideas jockeying around in my head. I am continually thinking about sentence structure and about which words should be married to which ideas. Often, I fail in my match-making efforts. Even so, I figure that if I keep trying, maybe at some point, I will make the perfect match–at least from my vantage point.
Most of my ideas and words center around God and how he relates to all of us and how we relate, or should relate, to him. The problem with all of this is that I can easily mistake my writing about God and speaking about God for living like God. We all know it’s easier to say the right things than to live righteously.
And so I’ve found that sometimes we start feeling like a sage on a stage as we speak of the holy. We like the sound of our own voice and fail to listen to others. This is true whether we be a pastor or a lay person. But I wonder if God doesn’t care so much about our God talk. About my God talk.
I think he would much rather I speak less (or in my case, write less) and live more like Jesus.
It reminds me of those of us who have a bunch of books on our shelves that we’ve never read. The book shelves look impressive. But really, it’s all show. It’s the same with us. We can hold court, speaking of heaven and earth with all the theological precision of a trained theologian, the beauty of poet and sensitivities of the best pastor, but if we are not becoming incrementally that which we extol, we are of all people the most deceived.
We talk about God yet live like the devil. I’ve seen a lot of that lately. A lot. Non-Christians can spot a phony a mile away. Why can’t we? They can also spot someone who is genuine.
I realize that I am not immune to this most terrible of sins. I think it’s the worst kind of sin sickness to have: being full of God-talk but living a God-less life. Satan is good at this.
Maybe we should embrace silence. In embracing silence we will be better able to discern how much of all this is us actually living like Jesus and how much of all of this is us just talking a big game.
O Lord, have mercy on me!
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Isaiah 42:3a
You’re in a swirl of darkness, experiencing soul-searing pain. Open wounds. Not only from your own pain, but from the countless injustices and atrocities around you. Numb. Your soul is numb with a fragile faith. One wrong move and you’ll fall to pieces. You can’t see God through the fog of his people. Jesus said that people would spot Christians by their love. If that’s the case, then you couldn’t be surrounded by Christians because these people are selfish, stubborn, mean and angry. Vicious. Evil. Creative in their cruelty. And they’ve come to crucify you.
As my friend Michelle Van Loon says, there are Judas-like characters lurking in the most unexpected places.
And of course this disillusions you, maybe you’re to the point where you don’t know what to believe or if you believe or why you should believe. Is God who he says he is? Is what I’ve learned about him true? Or is this some big sham? Why attend church? you wonder. Moreover, if God is good and loving, why is there so much evil, pain, and suffering? Why are there so many professing Christians who are nothing like Jesus?
What can be done for you? Is this all there is? You fear falling into the bottomless abyss of unbelief. What you don’t want, what you don’t need, is someone to quote Bible verses to you. Offer pat answers. Tell you to be “warm and filled”. Share other vacuous expressions cloaked in piety. These make you bristle and for good reason.
You know what? Jesus isn’t that way. He doesn’t kick you when you’re down. But he asks, “What can I do for you?” (No empty niceties here.) Jesus came to reconcile you and all of creation to God. He wants to show you how to live, to make you whole–fully human. And he will walk with you as you heal. He knows the pace you can manage.
God is good; in him there is no evil, although in the world there is plenty of evil mixed in with the good. He sees your suffering and suffers with you as you lament the despicable behavior of some of his children. After all, he too was crucified by his own.
He will sharpen your perceptions of reality through his word, through Christians who behave(d) like him, and through creation’s graces. He’ll answer many questions, and make you okay with not knowing the answers to others. He’ll pour his life into you as you follow him. In turn, you’ll live to serve God and others. It’s not the end for you. Right now, the best thing you can do is trust him and relax in his arms even if you can’t pray or go to church or serve (he knows all this). He won’t prematurely force you into relationships with others. He’ll bring you around to truth and life and comfort.
One more thing. There are plenty of Christians who are like Jesus. If you know any, plant yourself in their presence, maybe let them know what you’re going through.