Selfish…Who…ME?

Yes, I am selfish, and as hard as it is for me to admit it, I am. Admitting that I am selfish, or that you are selfish, is one of the hardest things a person will ever do, because it forces us to face the harsh reality of the root-cause of our selfishness, and how fully it permeates our whole life. In this segment, I am going to focus the mirror on me…my selfishness, the underlying causes, and the true root cause of all selfishness.

One reason we have so much difficulty with admitting our own selfishness is because we despise the selfishness in others. It is hard to humble ourselves into admitting that we are no better than they, that we have the same problem, and maybe even worse than they.

Sometimes God has to hit me up side the head with a four-by-four to get my attention, so that I finally admit, first to myself and to Him, and then to others, some character flaw that is not honoring to Him. An incident last night was one such revelation.

The incident:
Last evening, I was over visiting with my neighbor gal. She was on the phone trying to get a surgery she needs to have approved by her insurance company, and she needed a pen, so she could write down phone numbers that she needed to call. As I often do, I had a pen clipped in the neck of my T-shirt, so I handed it to her. She was still on the phone when I get ready to leave, and I started looking around for another pen, so I could get mine back. The irony of that situation is that the pen cost me nothing, and it was inscribed with the name of the church I attend. The church intends for those pens to be given out freely, as a means of advertising the church, and yet I was trying to be stingy. My selfishness could have circumvented the very reason those pens were distributed in the first place. She still has the pen… Now, I want her to keep it. That is a conscious decision.

The revelation:
Last night, as I was preparing for my devotional time, God confronted me with my selfishness. He brought back to mind what I did and what I said. I had to admit: “Yes Lord, I AM selfish.” I was also prompted to write this segment, so that I not only admitted my sin to God, but also to you, my beloved readers.

Problems, such as selfishness, are often rooted so deep within our psyche, that we may not really be aware of how they affect our every action and attitude. In my case, it goes back to my early childhood. I was “raised this way“… Unfortunately it has taken fifty-seven years for me to be brought to the realization of how deep selfishness is ingrained in me. As I look back over my life, it is now dawning on me just how many selfish things I have done that have deeply affect my life and relationships.

From “virtue” to “vice”:
While I was growing up, we were poor, often dirt-poor. We were, as it is now called, “trailer-trash“. Only the poorest lived in house-trailers…in trailer-parks. The name “mobile home” was not coined until much later, and has upped to acceptability of living in a less-than-permanent home. We even lived in the “projects“, government housing for the very poor, for a while. There were times when the only food we had to eat was what some “Good Samaritan” left on our doorstep. There was no such thing as “abundance“. We didn’t own our own “real” home until I was in eight grade. There was no such thing as “enough” or “more than enough“.

Because we didn’t have much, I didn’t get much, and I was expected to take good care of what I did have. Taking good care of what we have is great, until it fosters a spirit of stinginess and selfishness. I knew that I couldn’t TRUST my parents to give me more, or replace something, so I HAD to take care of it. I also knew that if I didn’t take good care of what I had, I would get seriously chastised. I was praised for how well I took care of my stuff… I was selfish, and that was “good“.

We SHOULD always take good care of the things we are entrusted with, because that is good stewardship. We change the oil in our car because we want it to last a long time. That is stewardship. There is a definite difference between being good stewards and being stingy and selfish, and the difference is our motivation.

I knew nothing about the concept of “stewardship“, so my motivation was selfish. The “virtue” of good stewardship became the “vice” of selfishness. That became the only semi-conscious way in which I have lived my life since. “Semi-conscious” because it has become automatic. I CAN be generous, but that is a CHOICE I have to make. Being generous is not instinctive. Being selfish is.

The “root-cause”:
I have already alluded to the root-cause of selfishness…trust. If we can’t trust our source of supply, we become selfish with what we have. Our first visible source of supply is our parents. If they are generous, we may develop an attitude of generosity. If they are overly-generous, we may develop an attitude of wastefulness. However, if they appear to be stingy, and the lack of resources is real, we may develop an attitude and habit of stingy-selfishness. We don’t want there to be a time when we are lacking. We also “waste-not, want-not“…

Waste-not, want-not” is a symptom of the uncertainty of our supply. It is also a symptom of the “clean-your-plate” mentality. I was at a restaurant with a buffet several months ago. They had two different prices for their buffet. If a person “cleaned their plate” each time they went to the buffet, the price was 25% lower, than if they wasted some of what they took, they paid the higher price. By doing so, the restaurant was encouraging their patrons to be wise stewards of the buffet, and not waste food. Our American culture has glorified over-eating. We are also the “king of the combo” and the “master of super-sizing“. I was at a fast-food restaurant a few nights ago, and even though I ordered a small sandwich, the order-taker punched in “combo” without asking me. I was surprised that there were fries on the tray, since I hadn’t ordered them, and my friend hadn’t either. I didn’t really WANT the fries, but I ate some so that I didn’t waste the whole order of fries. We also waste enough food each day to feed those who have none, but unfortunately it just goes to waste. I have a serious issue with anyone who routinely wastes food…

One more “waste-not, want-not” story… I am catheter-dependent, and so a steady supply of clean catheters is absolutely necessary for my daily functioning. Even though my source of supply has been dependable…so far, I have difficulty trusting that source that my supply will always be there. If I have no catheters, I can’t drain my bladder – period, so I have stockpiled both a several-month supply of fresh, new catheters, AND a supply of well-cleaned and reusable used catheters. One of my urologists would prefer that I use a NEW catheter every time. My other urologist is okay with me using a fresh one each day. After several years of cleaning EVERY catheter I use for reuse, I have had a hard time bringing myself to both use a new one every day, AND discarding my used one at the end of the day. While I do participate in two different medical care systems, one has not committed to supplying me with catheters, so if the one that has been supplying me were to quit, or start charging me retail price, I would be up a creek without a paddle without my fall-back supply. I certainly can’t afford to buy them on my own. One style costs about $65.00 per dozen, and the other style also costs about $65.00 per dozen. Am I being rightfully-cautious, or am I paranoid?

Where “trust” gets down to brass tacks, is the WHO or WHAT are we trusting to supply our needs. If all we have to trust for our needs is man or man’s organizations, we have the right to be distrustful. Perhaps if my parents had always kept our refrigerator and pantry well-stocked, so that there was ALWAYS food in the house and available, I would have grown up much differently. As it was, with money always in short supply, I grew up fearful about how my basic needs would be met. I doubt that I ever actually missed a meal, but knowing that possibility existed, I developed a very frugal mentality. My parents HAD to be frugal, and I learned early-on to be frugal also. We were also chronic pack-rats, which is still hard to get away from.

Liberation:

Would it liberate our thinking if instead of depending on fallible human-beings, we started depending on God? It is admittedly difficult getting our minds around the idea that Almighty God has an unlimited, infinite supply of everything we need, and as His children, He delights in providing for our needs. Jesus said “25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34) Furthermore, the Apostle Paul wrote “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus“. (Philippians 4:19) I believe our greatest difficulty is the “ALL“, because our experience has always been that there was something lacking. “ALL” requires trust…the faith to believe that He will do what He has said.

Have we forgotten that our Heavenly Father is the very same God who fed the children of Israel for forty years in the wilderness? That was no small task, because there were over a MILLION of them. Or perhaps we have forgotten that Jesus Christ fed large crowds TWICE with someone’s lunch, and there were more leftovers than what He started with. It seems that we are selling God short.

Another rub is “needs“, because we often confuse our “wants” with our “needs“. If we “want” something bad enough, we begin to think it is a “need“, and God doesn’t promise to supply our “wants“. We need to be diligent in keeping our “needs” and our “wants” in proper perspective.

I do NOT subscribe to the “name-it-and-claim-it” style of religion, because it reduces God to some kind of “heavenly-butler“. God is NOT at our beck and call, nor is He a vending-machine.

While I do NOT want to go off the deep end in the other direction…to wastefulness, I do need to relax and learn to trust God to supply my needs. God does expect us to be good stewards of His provisions, and that includes not being wasteful. I also want to be more generous with both my time and resources, because, as God has blessed me, I want to bless others as well.

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Values…

Our values are those personal characteristics that we believe are important in both ourselves and others. Values are closely-related to morals, and are the driving force behind our priorities. I am going to look at a set of values which I believe should be important to anyone who is a follower of Christ – a Christian. Unfortunately these are not as common in American society as they were even fifty years ago. Values and morals have taken a serious beating, just in my lifetime. These values are often described as “traditional values”, or “Judeo-Christian values”, and the new one is “traditional-family-values”.

* Marriage: Traditional, one man/one woman marriage is under fire like it has never been before. There are people and groups trying to redefine “marriage” to also mean man-man and woman-woman, so-called same-sex “marriage”. God is the originator of what we know as marriage. Picking up the creation account from Genesis 2:

18) “Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make a helper suitable for him.””, 20) “but for Adam these was not found a helper suitable for him. 21) So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. 22) And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23) And the man said, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; She shall ne call Woman, becaue she was taken out of Man.” 24) For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25) And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

We have allowed the State to become the “authority” for marriage, instead of God, which is what has allowed all these perversions of “marriage” to not only become possible, but are an increasing reality. Until God takes His rightful place as the Authority in marriage, we, as Christians, will continue to fight an uphill battle against Satan and his minions.

* Divorce: Divorce is rampant in American culture, to the point where we have a divorce-epidemic. Even though we may not be surprised that the divorce rate among non-christian couples is around 50%, the alarming part is that the divorce rate among Christian couples doesn’t lag very far behind.

The #1 cause of divorce is infidelity – adultery… The husband can’t keep his pants on around another woman, or the wife can’t keep her panties on around another man. Where has mutual-monogamy gone?

The #2 cause of divorce is poor communication… Lots of talk before the “I do’s” are said, but very little afterward. What happened to couples continuing to “date” after they get married?

The #4 cause of divorce is money… Not enough money? Can’t agree how to spend their money? Never together long enough to communicate?

The #5 cause of divorce is sexual incompatibility… WHAT??? He can’t? She won’t? While there may be valid reasons a couple isn’t “sexually-compatible”, if the reasons are medical, doctors can do a lot to help them along. Maybe the question should be: Are these perceived “sexual-incompatibility” issues the driving force behind infidelity being numero-uno (#1)? Sometimes “incompatibility” is the result of straight-out, unabashed SELF-CENTEREDNESS. I was in one of those nearly sex-less “marriages” for 8 1/2 years…I could and would – she wouldn’t.

Wrapping up my thoughts on divorce: What happened to “Til death do us part“? Has it instead become “Til death or dis-convenience do us part“? The Bible only recognizes two Scriptural grounds for divorce – adultery and desertion. With the advent of “no-fault” divorce, it seems that the impetus to stay together is gone. Any excuse will do… “Commitment” has gone down the tubes.

* Mutual-monogamy: There are a lot of excuses why couples are “swingers” or have an “open-marriage”, but none of them hold water when compared to the requirements of Scripture. While I might not be too surprised that un-believing couples swing or have an open-marriage, I was very surprised that there are Christians who are swingers and have an open-marriage. I was deeply-steeped in the Genesis 2:24 “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” way of thinking, so swinging doesn’t compute with me. If husband and wife become “one-flesh”, how can they even think about becoming “one-flesh” with another person or persons?

* Honesty: Honesty encompasses a host of other attributes, so I am only going to deal with it briefly here. An honest person will:
  1) Tell the truth, even if it may hurt them.
  2) File an accurate income-tax return.
  3) Not over-charge anyone for goods or services.
  4) Pay what they owe for goods and services.
  5) Be who and what they say they are.
These are just a few examples. Unfortunately there are many people who are one thing to one group of people, and something entirely different to others. They are two, three, or even four-faced. One never knows “who” or “what” they are going to be at any given moment.

* Truth: Truth is strongly-related to honesty. Even though we may make up excuses for not telling the truth, we are fooling ourselves. A person who consistently tells the truth need never worry that he/she said, to “keep the story straight”. There are times when it would be better if we said nothing, than to tell a lie. Have I ever told a lie? Of course I have, and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t. I prefer to say nothing rather than tell a lie.

* Sanctity of life: As one who believes that we are each God’s special creation, and individually an autographed-masterpiece, I believe that human life is to be protected from the moment of conception to natural death. A human fetus is NOT just a blob of tissue. From conception, it bears the blue-print for how God intends him or her to be. Why do I use the terms “him” and “her”? Under normal circumstances, all babies are conceived either male or female. We are not conceived “gender-neutral”, and become male or female later in gestation. Our genetic makeup is either male or female, and is not indeterminate. We do not “become” a boy or a girl at birth, because someone says “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl”. That newborn baby has been male or female since the moment of conception. Because it is a human being, nobody has any right to “terminate the pregnancy”, just because it wasn’t planned, or came at an inopportune time. There is the excuse of “aborting the fetus to save the mother”, but it is just an excuse. Dr. C. Everett Koop, the US Surgeon-General from 1982-1989, said “In my 36 years in pediatric surgery, I’ve never known of ONE INSTANCE where the child had to aborted to save the mother’s life“. Those are pretty strong words, coming from an experienced doctor, who as the Surgeon-General, swung a very big stick in the medical community. We are created in God’s image (Genesis 2:26-27), so to “abort” a baby is to kill a person made in His image. It is a CHILD, not a “choice”.

* Gender: Our “gender” is our genital sex…the sexual equipment we are born with, male or female. There are recognized variations to this two-sex norm. Some, as a result of a genetic anomaly, are born with both male and female genitals. Those are either true or pseudo hermaphrodites. On rare occasion, someone is born with no visible genitals. Only genetic testing can determine their true gender. There is a man in England who was born without visible genitals, but is genetically-male. There are also those who call themselves “trans-gender”, who believe that their brain “wiring” and their physical gender do not match. Even though most Christians deny that possibility, I understand that, as a result of the “fall”, there are things about our bodies that are much less than perfect. After reading and listening to their stories, I have become convinced that they may be correct in their assertions.

* Sexuality: Sexuality is a thorny topic, because it deals with how our physical gender plays out in our lives, and in many ways, determines the course of our lives. “Sexuality” is one of those “unmentionables” in most church circles, largely because it is highly-misunderstood and  has been badly-corrupted. Our sexuality is a God-given part of us since He is our Creator. Rather than bury or deny our sexuality, we need to embrace it and use it as God intended us to do. 

* Euthanasia and assisted suicide: Euthanasia is defined as “terminating someones life” (killing them) when they are no longer a “useful member if society”. “Useful member of society” is so broad, that it could encompass a significant fraction of our society. By that definition, I might be considered a candidate for “early-termination”, since I am disabled/retired, and no longer able to work. A huge issue, even for supporters of euthanasia, is WHO is going to be entrusted with the authority to make euthanasia decisions, and what are the guidelines going to be? The same God who created us in His image also said “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13), and was placing His value on human life. Assisted-suicide is giving a person, who perhaps has a terminal condition, or a condition that limits their “quality of life” below what they consider acceptable, a means of taking their own life by medical means. From my perspective, suicide is suicide, regardless of how one takes their own life. I have very strong feelings on any kind of suicide, because my first wife took her own life (committed suicide) in October 1997. I know first-hand the devastation that suicide wreaks on the person’s loved-ones. Why she did it is known only to God, but her suicide totally-destroyed our family. Suicide is the MOST SELF-CENTERED thing a person can ever do, because even though it ends their problems, it can cause immense problems for their family.

Conclusion: Our values are the many-pronged guide we use to make decisions every day of our lives. Making good, God-honoring decisions requires that we have good values which are consistent with the teachings in God’s Holy Word, the Bible.

God bless!

Priorities…

It is natural that we have priorities in our lives, because priorities bring order to our lives. Our priorities help direct our day-to-day lives, so we don’t lose focus on our goals. Unfortunately, priorities often get skewed, and things that are really NOT important are made into items of importance.

I want to look at some common “universal priorities”, and for each, ask the question “Do we rule this priority, or does it rule us?”. What I am calling “universal priorities” are things we, as Americans, take for granted as being “necessary”.

Money: We all have to live, and it takes money to live, so doing what it takes to gain our livelihood must be a fairly high priority. For those who are retired, earning a living isn’t even on the chart, provided they can live within their means. Our desired standard of living often determines how much money it takes to live. While many of us would consider ourselves “broke”, at whatever income level, those with a higher income are often just broke at a higher level. Is your income requirements a slave to your lifestyle, or is your lifestyle geared to your income level? The secret is living within your means.

Food: We must all eat to live, because if we quit eating, we will die eventually. As we look around us, it is obvious that some people don’t eat to live, they live to eat. Some of us are quite happy with a simple “home-cooked” meal, while others absolutely HAVE to eat out all the time. I know a couple that eats out, or eats take-out, seven days a week, because she is dangerous even trying to boil water. They have the income…he is a doctor, and she is a registered nurse, so they are able to satisfy their food needs in that way. They are not overweight, so they are obviously not chow-hounds. I have no desire, nor could I afford to eat out all the time. Do we eat to live, or do we live to eat?

Home: We all need a place to call “home, and for many of us, a place to live is a large part of our income expenditure. It is also a major part of our debt-load. Part of it has to do with our lifestyle…where we want to live and how we want to live. I want to mention briefly a couple of polar-opposite lifestyle/housing examples I was personally acquainted with. As the manager of a bicycle shop in a small community, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with some of the “homeless” veterans who called the woods not far from the shop “home”. By conventional standards, they were “homeless”, but they would have preferred to be called “address-less”, because they had no fixed address. Their needs were few, and simple, and a tent-camp in the woods was all the “home” they needed. There was a day-labor place nearby, so they could do a bit of work when they needed some money for food, cigarettes, liquor, etc. None of them would have bemoaned their lot in life, because they were quite content with the little they had. A the other end of the spectrum, there was an exclusive, gated, golf and country-club community just a few miles from there. This community had been founded by a retired top-executive of Digital Equipment Corporation, a manufacturer of scientific and business computers. He was down-to-earth and humble…a true gentleman. I was privileged to get to know him. One of the most “prominent” men in that exclusive community was a dermatologist, who I met as both a customer and as a patient. He owned and flew his own private plane, and drove expensive cars. He also had a large home built for himself and his family. It is several thousand square feet in size, and cost 6.5 million dollars. It took two years to build. He is a slave to his home, which is a slave to his dermatology practice. Were his dermatology practice to fold, he would not be able to continue to afford his home and lifestyle. He is a slave to his lifestyle. What a sad way to live, and he thinks he is really “living”. I am much closer to the poor end, lifestyle-wise, but I am quite happy with my home…a travel trailer in an RV park. Do we live within our means, or does our living stretch our means, and make us a slave to our lifestyle?

Clothing: Most people would agree that clothing counts as a “basic-necessity” of life. There are, however, tribes of indigenous peoples throughout the world for whom there is no need or desire for clothing. They are quite content living their lives au naturale. In between the two extremes is naturists, of which I am one, who believe that clothing serves some useful purpose…for comfort or protection from the elements, but have little or no use for it otherwise. A naturist dons clothing only when necessary, if it is cold or to go out in public. The real problem with clothing is not its basic use, but with an obsession with clothing. A person is deluged constantly with “new fashion choices”, and if they succumb to having to have the “latest and the greatest”, they are slaves to their clothing. I had a sister-in-law who was a slave to clothing. She lived in a four-bedroom home, which was essentially a four-bedroom closet. She shopped for new clothes compulsively. I have seen her queen-size bed piled so high with new clothes that she only had a small corner to sleep on. She was clothing-obsessed, although not fashion-obsessed. While clothing may be a “basic-necessity”, do we dress as necessary to live, or do we live to dress? Are we slaves to our clothing?

Transportation: Americans have a love-affair with wheels. We have wheels of all shapes and sizes, and it is a rare community that doesn’t have a car dealer, a motorcycle dealer and a bicycle shop. For some of us, our wheels are just basic transportation. For others, their wheels are a social-statement, and advertisement of their perceived place in society. People take out loans every day to buys cars, trucks and motorcycles that cost more than my first house did. We took out a 30-year mortgage to buy the house, but a person can’t get a 30-year loan on a vehicle, so I would hate to see their payments. Even some bicycle buyers sniff the rare-air of over-ten-grand bicycles. I assembled a new bicycle a few years ago that cost nearly as much as the vehicle I drive. It had a custom paint-job, and his name in script on the frame. The buyer was a well-healed lawyer whose social-statement was expensive cars, expensive motorcycles, and expensive bicycles. I used to work with a fellow who seemed to get an oil-change by trading vehicles, and after he finally bought a pickup he liked, he traded motorcycles almost as often as he changed his underwear. It was no wonder that he was also deeply in debt, because motor-vehicles lose a serious chunk of their “new-value” the moment they are driven off the lot. My basic question is “Are we buying transportation, or are we advertising our social status?”. There is a LOT of the latter going on, and those people are slaves to their status-symbols.

This list could go on, but these items are the basics. As believers, it is imperative that our priorities be molded by Scripture, not by society.

Jesus said “24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:24-34)

“Do not worry” means “do not be obsessed”. Are we obsessed with material things, so that we have become their slaves, or are we seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness? If the latter is true, God will provide for our true needs. I pray that the latter is true of you, and of me.

God bless!

Pride…

What images do the words “pride” and “proud” bring to mind? Images of victory-dances in the end-zone by some overpaid football player? Hollywood “stars” strutting their stuff, as they accept yet another award? Politicians bragging about how much “they” have done? Tabloids showing all the latest fashions, modeled by top super-models? Yes, these are the everyday images of PRIDE…the images of people who are obsessed with themselves. They are taking ALL the credit for their talents and abilities.

What is pride? From Websters dictionary;  Pride: a feeling that you respect yourself and deserve to be respected by other people, a feeling that you are more important or better than other people,  a feeling of happiness that you get when you or someone you know does something good, difficult, etc. A synonym of pride is conceit.

Some pride can be good, as long as it is not misplaced. A parent may be proud of the achievements of their children, and as long as that doesn’t turn into the parent redirecting the accolades to themselves, it is reasonable and appropriate. National pride can be good in small doses, but for a person to look down on another, because they aren’t of the same nationality is wrong. Americans swelled with pride every time Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless The USA/I’m Proud To Be An American” in the days and weeks following the 9-11 attacks. We had perhaps greater national unity in those times than we had experienced in many years.

What I want to focus on though is that inward-directed emotion, that says “I deserve respect”, or “Look how wonderful I am”, or the deepest, most narcissistic of all, “I am better that you”, or “I am more important than you”. That kind of pride is an obsession with self. Who is your god? Self-obsessed pride is in direct opposition to God.

Aren’t Christians immune to pride? Doesn’t the indwelling of the Holy Spirit make self-obsession impossible? I wish the answer was “YES”, but sadly the true answer is a resounding “NO”. We aren’t immune to pride. In a previous piece, “Who Is YOUR “god”?, I mentioned a couple of things from my own life…times when I was self-obsessed…times when I was PROUD. My life would have been so much easier if God had decisively struck pride from my life, but He hasn’t.

I remember an event from 1997, which shows just how deep my pride problem is. As I was leaving a 12-step meeting,  a friend, who had been in many meetings with me, turned to me and said “Steve, you are the proudest person I have ever met.” Had he not inserted the “Steve”, I might have been able to wonder who he was talking to, but he left no doubt. Why was I PROUD? What did I have to be PROUD of? I was in a 12-step group…for sexual addiction. I had fallen to the lowest of the low…sexual addiction, and I was a porn addict on top of it. That wasn’t anything to be PROUD of, but PRIDE had obviously come through loud and clear from what I said in those meetings. I was stunned. I was a PROUD sinner.

How did I do in church today with my singing? Before the service, I asked God to take over my singing, and make it to His glory, not mine. God succeeded! I still enjoyed singing, but God got all the glory, not me. With His enabling, I hope to continue to sing His praises, not my own.

I mentioned that pride is in direct opposition to God. Why? Because, when we are proud, we are telling God that we are more important than He is. If we are more important than God, we are placing ourselves in His place, and we are demoting the very God of the universe. We are making ourselves “god”. It is that plain and simple. God and pride don’t mix.

God bless!

Is There Any Hope?

We live in turbulent times. All one has to do is listen to the news for five minutes to realize that there is no peace in our world. Whether it is another corrupt politician caught in his self-centered agenda, a much-touted health-insurance program that doesn’t work, or fighting in some part of the world, the message is the same. Our world is falling apart. Mankind is busy doing all the evil their hearts can imagine. More unborn babies are killed every day by women exercising their “right to choose”, enabled by abortion-providers getting rich murdering babies. The “prince of this world” – Satan, is busy doing his dirty-work. This is, first and foremost, a spiritual battle…a battle for domination between Satan and God. Satan is the usurper, not God.

There is one organization which we should be able to count on to stand for truth – the church of Jesus Christ, but Satan has been having his way there also. We hear of another financial scandal, priests caught molesting kids, pastors having affairs, and the list goes on. In many churches, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has been replaced by a “social-gospel”, “feel-good-religion” or a “health, wealth and prosperity” message. “Pastors” are getting filthy-rich proclaiming a “name-it-and-claim-it” religion. We hear of yet another denomination that has started “ordaining” women as church officers, and ultimately, pastors. One such denomination has gone so far as to “consecrate” an openly-homo-sexual bishop. Perhaps many parts of the church are merely social-clubs. Will it ever end? Has God been reduced to our servant, obligated to give us what we want, or are we His servants, proclaiming the Kingdom of God? Lest we be surprised, Jesus Christ predicted these days.

As we descend deeper into this evil abyss, we may be tempted to despair. Is there any hope?

The great writers of the Heidelberg Catechism addressed this question in 1563. Things haven’t changed much. I believe their words bear repeating in our turbulent days also. Question one answers this most poignantly.

1. Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?                                                                  

A. That I am not my own,[1] but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death,[2] to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.[3] He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil.[5] He also preserves me in such a way[6] that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head;[7] indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.[8] Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life[9] and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.[10]

Scripture references:
[1] I Cor. 6:19, 20 [2] Rom. 14:7-9. [3] I Cor. 3:23; Tit. 2:14. [4] I Pet. 1:18, 19; I John 1:7; 2:2. [5] John 8:34-36; Heb. 2:14, 15; I John 3:8. [6] John 6:39, 40; 10:27-30; II Thess. 3:3; I Pet. 1:5. [7] Matt. 10:29-31; Luke 21:16-18. [8] Rom. 8:28. [9] Rom. 8:15, 16; II Cor. 1:21, 22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13, 14. [10] Rom. 8:14.

As we dissect this one phrase at a time, the answer should come more clearly in focus.

Q: That is your only comfort in life and in death?
The word “comfort” could easily be replaced with “hope” without altering the meaning.

* That I am not my own… All along we thought that we were what counted most in life.

* But belong with body and soul, both in life and in death… Body and soul encompasses our complete being. God hasn’t left any part of us out, or to chance.

* To my faithful Savior Jesus Christ… We shouldn’t have a nebulous sense of belonging to Him. Our belonging is real. He is perfectly faithful, so what He sets out to do, He does. Had God promised a Redeemer in Genesis 3:15, but not made good on His promise, we would have good reason to doubt His faithfulness, but He did make good on His promise, and in a grand way. God is ever-faithful.

* He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil... Jesus Christ didn’t just atone for part of our sins, and leave the rest to us. He did the WHOLE job, for ALL of our sins, so that nothing is dependent on us. He also freed us from the kingdom of Satan, so we are no longer his slaves.

* He also preserves me in such a way... God is the one actively preserving us, not us preserving ourselves. Even though we are called to “persevere”, “run”, “attain”, we don’t do those things in our own strength. We “persevere” because we are preserved. We can “run”, because Jesus Christ runs beside us, and carries us when necessary. We “attain”, because all that we need has already been purchased with His blood, and is given to us as a free gift.

* That without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head… God is Lord of all, and that includes even the minutest details of our lives and earthly, bodily existence. Not one hair will either turn gray or turn loose without the express consent of our Lord. Did your blood-pressure go up? He knew it would, and He allowed it to. Did your blood-pressure go back down to normal? He knew that too, and was actively-involved. We are His, in our entirety.

* Indeed, all things must work together for my salvation… Do you think it was an “accident” that you had an encounter with God? Did you “find Him” by accident? Not hardly! He planned it that way.

* Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life… Our assurance of salvation isn’t based or predicated on what we did. He did it ALL, and He guarantees our salvation, as surely as He is faithful.

* And makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him… Last, but not least, comes our response to what He has done for us. We should have an “attitude of gratitude“, because we have been given a priceless gift beyond all measure – salvation.

Even as our world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket, and true solutions seem few, our true and only hope MUST be in the Lord, because He alone is faithful. That doesn’t relieve us of our responsibility to pray that the Lord lifts up good leaders – in the church, in our land, and globally. We are His ambassadors, His agents for His kingdom in His world.

This world belongs to God, not Satan. There is hope, because we belong to God, and He IS our hope.

God bless!

Steve

Who Is YOUR “god”?

As believers, we should all be able to assert that the Lord God is truly our God, but in reality, He often only gets “honorable-mention”. Satan, the great deceiver and usurper, lured Adam and Eve into believing that they could be their own “gods”. In Genesis 3:4-5, we read “Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” We all know that the rest is history, because if we are honest with ourselves and with God, we have followed in Adam and Eve’s footsteps. In many ways, we are our own “gods”.

It should be no wonder that, when God gave His Ten Commandments, His first commandment was “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2) Even though He had in mind the pantheon of gods we read about in the Bible – Baal, Molech, Dagon, Diana, He also knew that the “god” we are most likely to worship is SELF. Our gods of success, fame and wealth are merely manifestations of our god of SELF. We really do want what we want, where we want it, how we want it, and when we want it.

Sadly, as much as I would like to delude myself, STEVE is my god far too often. As hard as I may try, sometimes I can’t even get through a worship service without STEVE rearing his ugly head. I have a pretty decent, deep bass voice, and a good repertoire of hymns memorized, and sometimes, if I am belting out a hymn, I become enamored with my own singing ability, not in worshiping God. When that happens, and it happens far too often, I am brought back to reality, and realize that God would be doing me a huge favor if He reduced my voice to a hoarse whisper. That, among other things, may be one of my “thorns in the flesh”, meant to remind me that I haven’t yet “arrived”. I don’t deliberately set out to deprive God of His glory by glorifying myself, but I do it nonetheless.

Last night, I went to one of our semi-monthly BnC’s, which our Assistant Pastor (Tom) hosts for the guys. It is a “guy’s night out”, with good food, good beer, cigars, and wonderful fellowship. It has been a wonderful avenue for me to get to know some of the other men in our church, particularly the  younger fellows. It is always a great time of fellowship. One of our regulars, Landon, is going in the Air Force in a few weeks. Pastor Tom mentioned that we need to have another BnC before Landon Leaves us, and since it would be in Landon’s honor, he could pick the date and the menu. Landon mentioned that it will have to be in February. Who has a birthday in February? STEVE! I pulled out my phone and brought up the calendar for February, and told the group that since my birthday is on the 23rd, if we had the BnC on either the 21st or the 28th, we could celebrate my birthday also. Self-centered STEVE wanted to turn our farewell party for Landon into STEVE’s birthday party. I own my brothers an apology, and soon.

I didn’t think much more about it last night, but just a bit ago, God hit me hard with my own self-centeredness, which was what prompted me to write this piece. As hard as I may try not to, I have an ego the size of Texas. God isn’t done with me yet.

Is God truly your God, or does God only get “honorable-mention” once in a while, and your SELF is really your god? Only you and God can really answer that question. What is your honest answer?

God bless!

Steve

He Raised The Bar…

Love: Perhaps the most frequent topic of discussion, but the least understood. We were created both to need love and to love, but what is all the fol-de-rol about it. Songs have been written about it, such as “All You Need Is Love”. Endless poems and stories have been written about love, and there is one 66-chapter book, whose primary theme is love, God’s love story, the Bible. Yet, for all that has been written, sung-about and talked-about, we are largely clueless about what true love is.

Before I get into what the Bible says about love, I want to quickly survey what we call “love”. There are actually four kinds/types of love, and which one we are either giving or experiencing depends on the “who” and the “where”. Ancient Greeks identified four forms of love: kinship or familiarity (in Greek, storge), friendship (philia), sexual and/or romantic desire (eros), and self-emptying or divine love (agape). We hope that the love our spouse or lover is a combination of eros and agape. Lets look briefly at each kind of love.

Storge: Parental love..the love that parents have for their children. Even though what parents may do is limited by either resources, or for the good of the child, it is a deep caring for their welfare.

Philia: This is family love, the love closely-related family members have for each other. We will go much farther in seeing to the needs of someone in our family. We have a much closer bond, because these are the people that we grew up with. Blood is thicker than almost anything else. Philia is often called “brotherly-love”.

Eros: Perhaps the most popular form of love, “Eros” is sexual or romantic love. “Erotic” is derived from “eros“. Within an appropriate, loving relationship, sexual love can result in a deeper “bonding” of the couple. Tim and Beverly LeHaye call sexual love “The Act of Marriage“, in a book by that same title. Unfortunately eros is also the most often misused, because we are, by nature, selfish people. “I want sex for what “I” get out of it”. Our partners pleasure is secondary to our own, not, giving our lover sexual pleasure, with our own being secondary…deriving our own sexual please from GIVING sexual pleasure.

Agape: Self-emptying, or divine love, is the pinnacle. The other person becomes the primary focus of agape love, and what we get in return, if anything, is not even in the equation. Agape, or self-giving love, is what I will focus the balance of this treatise on.

While many, even most, people think love is primarily an emotion…a warm, fuzzy feeling, the emotion is only the tip of the “love iceberg”. “Love” is a verb, an action-word. There is nothing passive about love. If we tell a person “I love you”, but don’t demonstrate by our actions that we love them, all we did was use words to give them an empty “warm, fuzzy feeling”. If a wife tells her husband that she loves him, but sits in front of the TV at supper-time, and never fixes supper, he has good reason to question her “love”. The warm, fuzzy feeling would come with a full stomach if she truly loves him.

Can we even love another person so completely that our whole focus is on them and their welfare? Only if we know the Source of all love, God Himself. Let’s look at the bar that God set in Deuteronomy 6: 4″Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5″You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Jesus Christ, in His commentary on the Law in Luke 10:26-28 “And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” 27 And he answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; DO THIS AND YOU WILL LIVE.”…”

That is a VERY HIGH BAR…loving God above ALL else, and our neighbor as ourself. None of us will attain to such a high mark in this life, in our own strength. One of our problems is that we “love” ourselves MORE than we love God, or anyone else. Our “self-love” has made us into our own “god”, rather than the true and living God being our God. Unfortunately that kind of “self-love” is really SELF-CENTEREDNESS. We have made ourselves into the center of our universe, not God. That affects all of our relationships, starting with our relationship with God.

While we acknowledge that the “love-bar” is impossibly-high for God, Jesus Christ, just hours before He went to the Cross, RAISED THE BAR ON OUR HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS ALSO. In John 13, we read 34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

His “new commandment” is the essence of Agape love…that self-giving, self-sacrificing love that Jesus demonstrated on the Cross. Could God have demonstrated His love for us in any more graphic way, than to send His only Son, to die on a cruel Cross, so that we might be forgiven and redeemed? I don’t think so.

My question, to myself, and you, my readers, is: Are we loving God above all else, and are we loving one another as He has loved us, and gave Himself for us? If we aren’t, and that means me too, then I/we have a mark to strive for. Actions speak louder than words.

Jesus Christ raised the bar…are we willing to follow in His footsteps? “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another“. Can those around us tell, by our love, that we are His disciples? I pray that is my/your aim in life.

Start by reading His Word, God’s love story…the Bible.

God bless!

Steve

This I Believe…

The Apostles Creed:

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen!

The Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Two creeds…similar, but different…with two differing and opposite reasons for being. The Apostles Creed was formulated to reject the heresy that Jesus Christ only “appeared” to be human, but was not really human. Thus the strong emphasis on His humanity. The Nicene creed was formulated to reject the heresy that Jesus Christ was less-than fully God – a created being, thus the strong emphasis on His deity. Scripture affirms that Jesus Christ IS both fully God AND fully man…the God-Man, one person with two natures, inextricably joined. 

There is one word in both creeds that throws some people – catholic, referring to the church. While I used “Christian” to replace “Catholic” in the Apostles creed, it is written and recited both ways. Many people are familiar only with the “Roman Catholic” church, and assume that is what is being referred to by “Catholic”, however both creeds were formulated long before the Roman Catholic church came into being. What is truly meant by “Catholic” in both creeds is “Christian”, and that is my preferred wording.

There is one word in the Nicene Creed that puzzles me – begotten. In Scripture, with the exception of where it refers to Jesus Christ, “begotten” or “begot” means “sired”, so there are two very different meanings. In typical English usage, I would say that I have “begotten” one son and three daughters, which means that I am the biological father of four kids. I suppose that is one of those questions that will have to wait til I get to heaven before I can get it explained to me. 

God bless!

My Purpose

My first and foremost purpose is to give glory and honor to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

My second purpose is to spread the Good News of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus to this sin-sick and dying world.

My third purpose is to tell my story, not for my own personal aggrandizement, but to call attention to God, who has led me along this almost fifty-eight year journey. This is a story of God’s grace, not my goodness.

As I write this segment, we have just celebrated the most important event in salvation history…the birth of Jesus Christ. The Incarnation is the hinge-pin of salvation history. Without His miraculous birth, there would have been no salvation. Had Jesus Christ not come to earth, taking on our humanity, His sinless life, His substitutionary attonement, His glorious resurrection, His glorious ascention, and His finished work would not have been possible. Our salvation – being made right with God – was only possible because God came near, and became our Emmanuel – God with us.

2013 was a year from hell, but that isn’t the whole story. I will tell you more about my “year from hell” in later segments. “The rest of the story” is what is important, because I was able to celebrate the birth of our Lord in a way I haven’t celebrated it in many years. This year’s celebration of Christmas WAS the year’s high-point. I was privileged to be part of a family of believers, as we celebrated the giving of God’s Son.

Now, as I sit at my keyboard, and put my thoughts “on paper”, if you will, it is New Year’s Day…a new year, and new opportunities to serve and glorify our great and glorious Lord. Do I know what this year holds? Of course not, except that, according to the calendar, there are 364 more days for God to reveal His purposes and grand design. Will this year be better? Only God knows, but one thing I do know, is that God reigns supreme, and He will not allow me to go through anything that His grace and power won’t see me through. I don’t even know what tomorrow may bring, but I know Who holds tomorrow.

I do want to share what I consider to be the MOST significant blessing of 2013. I had moved to a different part of Florida…the Orlando area, at the end of 2012, for reasons I will explain later on. That left me without a church home, since I couldn’t just “transplant” my old church to my new location. I consider finding a new “church-home” to be one of the most important parts of moving to a new area. When a person is “out in the county”, like I am, there isn’t a church on every corner, so I Googled “Presbyterian Church Davenport”, since I am close to Davenport, Florida. There was a long list of Presbyterian churches, some fairly close-by, but the one that caught my eye was Cypress Ridge Presbyterian, which is in Winter Haven. I went to their website, and I liked what I saw. It is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which is the denomination I have spent most of the last twenty years in. I got directions and a map from Google-maps.

On January 20, 2013, I drove to Cypress Ridge Pres, not having any real idea what to expect. The church I had been in for the previous two years was highly-geriatric. There was no “cradle-roll”, and the list of those who had passed on was as long as my arm. It was a largely-dying church. I was pleasantly-surprised when I walked in Cypress Ridge Pres, because what I found there is a growing, vibrant church community. I was warmly-welcomed, and made to feel at home there. The congregation has a zest for worshipping the Lord. Long-gone is the typical “three dry hymns and a sermon” model found in many churches. The Lord’s Supper is observed every Sunday, which took a bit of getting-used-to for me. I have come to realize that the Lord’s Supper is a vital part of our worship, and the more “unworthy” I feel, the more I need to partake. By the end of that first service, I knew that I had come HOME, that Cypress Ridge Pres was where I belong. I was there by no less than a divine-appointment, and the reason that church had caught my eye was because it was where God wanted me to be.

I pray, that as I write, and tell my story, that you will come away with the unmistakable conclusion that God is at work in His world, and that He is worthy of all honor, glory and praise.

That is my hope, and that is my purpose.