How To Fight Self-Glory

I don't think I'm the only one.

The only one to cling to praise like it defines me. The only one to get a mental high from affirmation. The only one to feel like criticism is a physical blow. The only one to make encouragement an idol.

I don't think I'm the only one because the Bible tells me I'm not. Praise-addiction is a universal sin condition. Humans love to be exalted and hate to be humbled. Constructive criticism is poisonous to an inflated ego. No, the ego does not want your "suggestions." It wants to be fed to stuffing with its own self-importance.

This sounds harsh because it is. Self-idolatry, self-glory, is serious sin. It communicates destructive thinking and an attitude God hates (Prov. 6:16-17).

So then, affirmation is not the problem. Self-glory is.

Moving away from the addictive allure of this idolatry starts with repentance and contrition. Then it slides into practical living. I can think of no better antidote for self-glory than criticism.

These days I get a lot of criticism (as does anyone who's writing a book) and am sure to get a great deal more in the weeks and months and years to come. Criticism comes to us in all colors and flavors and shapes. Some is unfairly cruel and some is deeply valuable. All can be learned from.

Learning to accept criticism well is a powerful antidote to self-glory, because it forces us to accept that we are imperfect. We make mistakes. We fail. We are unworthy of glory. It reinforces experientially our profound littleness. We are not God. We do not deserve affirmation, praise, and worship. But God, He does. Everything good or successful that we do is because of His glory and not ours.

The next time you get affirmation, the next time you feel the high of praise, the rush of success, give God the glory. Deflate your growing ego and praise God for His work in your life.

It's not all about us. It's really not. It's about Him.

Forget About Yourself

I just finished one of the most comfort-shaking and paradigm-shifting books I've ever read. It's Tim Keller's 49-page, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

I read it in one sitting and when I reached the end, my heart just ached. The conviction and fresh clarity had kind of hit me over the head. One notable writer said that when she finished it, she could only sit there and weep.

The book is about humility, or "self-forgetfulness" as Keller memorably terms it. He writes:

"True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest only self-forgetfulness brings."

Providentially, Dad preached yesterday on 1 Peter 5:5-6. His sermon was titled, simply and appropriately, "Humility." Here's the passage:

"Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you."

One of the points Dad really pressed was that humility is fueled by God's grace. The only reason we can ever unfix our eyes from ourselves, the only reason we can be "self-forgetful" as Keller would say, even for a second, is because of God's glorious, free, undeserved favor. 

I want to be more humble. I really, really do. Tim Keller and my dad both recently reminded me of this. Humility is a key calling for God's children. 

So the task before me today is to stop thinking of myself. Just think of something else, someone else. Just stop thinking about me. Pride breeds an obsessive self focus that inevitably blinds me to empathy, compassion, and the people around me. It blinds me to good works. 

So I have to ask God for humility. Then I need to choose it. Choose it and, in so doing, forget about myself.

Christmas Is About Humility

If humility is about lowering ourselves into servants, Christmas is the prime example.

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45, ESV).

What is the humblest stage in humanity? Birth. Babies are dependent on their mothers for their daily needs. For Jesus to give up the heaps of glory as sovereign ruler of the universe and become a newborn is the most crystalline picture of humility.

Thus our response to Christmas should be an eagerness to follow this example of our Savior.

How can you be humble? Serve. Love. Stop comparing yourself to others. Do a random act of kindness. Bake some cookies for the single mom. Visit the shut-in. Stop an argument. Ask forgiveness from someone you wronged. 

Christmas is about love, yes. Christmas is about wrath, yes. Christmas is about war and peace and mercy and judgment but it is also about humility - because Christmas is about Jesus.

The Secret to Happiness

There is no magic potion or meditation or three keys or six tips to make you happy.

But the apostle Paul said there was a secret - and he knew it.

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13 ESV).

The secret to happiness is living in Christ today. We can be happy only in and through and for Jesus. 

It sounds simplistic and trite and as tried-and-true a Christian cliche as could be. But it's reality. Authentic happiness will come today through opening your eyes in awe at Jesus, worshiping Him, serving others out of passionate humility, repenting of your sin, trusting, obeying, singing, laughing, and enjoying God.

Will you do that today?

Will you be happy?

things I want

Once upon a time, yonder back in the ages, in 2010, a social media platform was created. It was called Pinterest. It was all about pictures. You created a board and then you searched and pinned pictures onto this board.

I occasionally poke my virtual head onto this platform and get to wear a variety of hats. I play novice wedding planner, interior decorator, chef, travel agent, fitness guru, and shopper. Picture boards have themes and there is pretty much a board for everything. It's fun to set a time limit and sift through interesting boards.

Once a week or so, Pinterest sends me an email. "Hi Jaquelle," they tell me. "Here are new boards to follow." This week took me to a board with a relatively simple title: things I want.

There were some pretty neat items - things ranging from pretzel-shaped earrings to funky blenders to popsicle-shaped phone cases to enamelware bowls to golden sneakers. But as I scrolled through the many pins, I began to think: is this godly?

To make a list of things that one wants - unrealistic, outrageous, expensive non-necessities - does that foster gratitude?

For me, it would not. I know my heart's proclivity to greed. I know how I can become obsessed with all the things I don't have instead of reflecting on all the things I do. Sure, the board was made in good fun, and it was a silly escape to scan through it.

But then it hit me: I do this too.

Not on Pinterest, but in my heart. I keep an internal list of things I want. And it distracts me from gratitude. Not all the things on my list are material but there are always things I want.

I want a great GPA.

I want to be done school.

I want more money.

I want to go on vacation.

I want satisfaction in all of these things. Satisfaction apart from God. I look to these things to make me happy, because I think that they will. things I want. They can become idols.

So the remedy to my greed, to my idolatry, to my ingratitude is to fix my eyes on God. Take all of my heart's wanting and let that swelling desire in my heart be swallowed up in gratitude to my Maker. Worship to my Life-Giver. Hope in my Saviour. Praise to my Lord. Humility to my King. Joy in my Redeemer.

And service to my God.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and John Bullas.

The Intangible Lure of the Forbidden

Ever since we were toddlers we have known the lure of the forbidden, that intangible enticement to a thing we are not supposed to have. It started with a cookie or your brother's blocks. But really, the lure of the forbidden started long before that.

It started with Eve and the twisted words of a snake. You know you want to eat from the tree; it's the one thing you can't have. God had given Adam and Eve freedom and domain over every other tree in the Garden of Eden. There was only one tree they were not allowed to eat from: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Immediately, this tree became desirable and Satan knew it, and he used that to tempt Eve to disobedience.

There is an intangible lure to the forbidden.

And this clicks lock and key into our sin natures. As human beings we are born with hearts intent on evil, natures fastidiously prideful. We are captains of our own destinies. Do not tell us what to do - or, more accurately, what not to do.

We are drawn to the forbidden because we don't think it should be forbidden. We don't like to think that someone else knows better than us. Something forbidden appeals to our vanity and arrogance.

Eve's obedience toppled under the pressure of the lure of the forbidden and the promise of fulfilled desire. It was a strong pull but she didn't have to give in.

As Christians we are daily tempted by the forbidden - the seemingly easy, cheap, pleasurable opportunities of cheating, fudging the truth, keeping the extra change, viewing pornography, wasting time, speeding, listening to that song with lyrics black and ugly but a tune overtly catchy, overeating, avoiding our devotions, pirating the movie everyone's talking about, sinning.

But Eve's story did not end well. She got what was forbidden all right, but then she realized why it was forbidden. Suddenly crushed under the weight of sin, perfect communion with God was shattered, healthy community with man was splintered, and she and Adam were banished from the garden. Tasting the forbidden has consequences. There's a reason that it's forbidden.

So when you feel the intangible lure, the enticing pull, think of the reality of the result. Think of the pain that sin causes and realize that what has been forbidden for Christians is for our good and for God's glory. And rejoice in that.

You Are Not Strong

There are many moments when we are weak and our stark inability drags us to humility. We feel that our only recourse is to rely on strength not our own. When we are weak, we have faith and we lean on God for repose. We enfold ourselves in the everlasting arms.

But then we have another moment. And we are strong - or at least we believe that we are strong. And suddenly, suddenly leaning doesn't seem so necessary any more. Humility becomes a degradation. If weakness drives us to our knees, strength drives us to our feet, our tiptoes, at our tallest, where we think nothing, no one, can touch us.

Meet Rehoboam, king of Judah.

"When the rule of Rehoboam was established and he was strong, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and all Israel with him" (2 Chronicles 12:1).

The pride swelled within him, his own desperate self-trust, his magnanimous self-esteem. And then his strength crumbled and he learned the hard way that in the face of a holy, righteous, wrathful God, we are not strong.

"In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, because they had been unfaithful to the Lord, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. ... And he took the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem. Then Shemaiah the prophet came to Rehoboam and to the princes of Judah, who had gathered at Jerusalem because of Shishak, and said to them, 'Thus says the Lord, ‘You abandoned me, so I have abandoned you to the hand of Shishak’'" (2 Chronicles 12:2; 4-5).

And then Rehoboam thought that he got it and he humbled himself (v. 6) and said, "The Lord is righteous" probably because he didn't know what else to say. That day, the Lord extended mercy and did not let Shishak destroy him. Nevertheless, for his pride, Judah was forced to go into service for Egypt - as a reminder: we are not strong, and pride goes before destruction.

I am just as wont as King Rehoboam to pridefully deceive myself into self-importance and strength. I am just as wont to slip into idolatry, to lead others into sin with me, to feel self-righteous, proud, and strong. To feel like humility is beneath me.

Rehoboam's story did not have a happy ending. Shishak razed Jerusalem and put the nation in bondage, and Rehoboam lived out the rest of his days in disobedience to God. Our stories need not end so unhappily. Humble yourself before God. It is not a degradation; it is a right response in worship. Lean on the everlasting arms. Trust and obey.

Rejoice in your weakness, for then, you are strong.

Reflections on a Year Gone By: 2014

Happy New Year. At twelve o'clock tomorrow morning, we'll ring in 2015. Where did the last year go? It was like blinking - first we were blow-horning goodbye to 2013 and wondering what 2014 would hold and now we're on the cusp of 2015 with a handful of memories leftover from the last year. And what a year it was. We saw so much ...

We saw the Seahawks wipe out the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. We saw Sochi host the Winter Olympics. We saw the multiple-million-times retweeted Oscar selfie. We saw a plea to #BringBackOurGirls. We saw disaster and death and prejudice in Ferguson. We saw the fear of Ebola. We saw celebrities dump ice buckets on themselves. We saw Derek Jeter retire. We saw the deaths of Robin Williams and Maya Angelou. We saw Malala Yousafzai co-win the Nobel Peace Price. We saw threats from North Korea over one raunchy movie. We saw madness and mayhem and kidnappings and murders and missing planes and famine and tragedy. We also saw beauty and life and forgiveness and victory and grace. It was a year of sorrow and joy. You have your own memories of this year. Perhaps for you it was marked with pain - or maybe pleasure. The one constant this year: God was faithful.

For me it was a year of blessing and growth. I got my full driver's license. I became a college junior. I started working at Reitmans. I went on a road trip. I read Les Miserables (and a whole lot of other good books). My family got two kittens. I started writing over at TheRebelution. And a host of other things - some nice, some not so nice. But I pray that, as we look back on this year, reliving memories, laughing over the joys, and still weeping over the sorrows, we ask ourselves some important questions.

How did I glorify God this year?

What were the sins I struggled with most?

Was I faithful to the gospel?

Did I become more holy?

Did my actions reflect my commitment to the King?

Did I choose joy?

How many people did I share the gospel with?

Did I pray often?

Was I relying on the Word of God?

As we enter upon this new year, the first in our years of eternity ahead, join with me in focusing our minds and hearts on the one truth that affects everything. Let us strive to know God more. Let us seek to sin less. Let us long to love better. Let us dedicate "another year for Thee," as Francis Havergal penned in "Another Year is Dawning":

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.
Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.
Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

Pain and Grace in the Doctor's Office

Some of us might roll our eyes at Jonathan Edwards' tenth resolution. Facetious, we might say. Hyper-spiritualized, or absurd. His tenth resolution (from his famous list of Seventy Resolutions) was:

Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

On Sunday afternoon I spent almost two hours in a doctor's waiting room, bored out of my mind with a bad cough, only to be diagnosed with asthmatic bronchitis. All around me were people with colds and coughs and high blood pressure and bad knees and bad backs and morning sickness and pain. Lots and lots of pain surrounded me. My own chest was starting to hurt.

And after I had been waiting for just about an hour and forty minutes or so and I had finished my book and my patience felt like a rubber band on the point of breaking, I thought of Edwards' tenth resolution. And I felt conviction. I started praying. I prayed for patience. I prayed for the people around me. I prayed for the persecuted church.

And then the doctor called me in.

I am not saying this to brag. Rather, I have more to be ashamed about than to brag about. I sat and stewed in that stuffy waiting room for two hours, frustrated and tired and hoping desperately that I could get into the doctor before the exhausted lady in sweats next to me. Prayer never crossed my mind once. I focused selfishly on me. I was my priority. I was uncomfortable. Everything was all about me.

Then suddenly, it wasn't. Edwards' tenth resolution didn't pop into my mind by chance. I am certain that the Holy Spirit brought it to memory for a specific reason. It convicted me of my selfishness, my impatience, my weak understanding of what real pain is. I have a cough. William Tyndale was burned at the stake.

Sometimes we need our priorities adjusted.

How blessed I am to be able to sit in a (mostly) clean medical clinic and receive care for a cough. How blessed I am to have a book to read, to have been able to drive to the clinic on my own in a functioning car, to be able to walk right in. And how blessed I am to go home to my dad's chili and have a mom who will pick up my prescription for me.

There is always a lesson to be found if we look for it. There are always opportunities for conviction and grace among the mundane. My question is: do we look for them?

What I Learned from Failure

You could call me a successful person. I'm a hard worker, I get good grades, and I don't fail tests. Actually, I don't really fail much.

So while failing your first driving test may not seem like a big deal to you, to me it was crushing. It was a week before my birthday, a month ago. Though I was nervous, I was desperately confident. When I backed into that spot at the DMV, clicked on the parking brake, and turned to my instructor with bright eyes and an expectant smile, I was ready for success. I was ready to hear, "You passed."

I didn't hear that. Instead I heard, "I can't pass you today." Failure. Instant and bitter and cold and unexpected. My stomach dropped and with a slightly trembling lower lip, I stepped back inside and told Mom. She could read it in my eyes before I said anything. I failed.

Since that test, I've learned a lot about failure. Both my parents and I refused to let this failure be wasted. It was a learning opportunity. Now as I look back, there was a lot I learned from failure. And here are a few things:

Failure is only failure if you don't learn from it. It sounds cliche and trite and perfect for a Pinterest inspirational quote board, but it's true. Everything God gives us is because He knows that it is best for us. Everything is for our good. And He expects us to give Him the glory and to become more sanctified through our experiences. Failure is a growing experience. Failure is a sanctifying experience. It should make us better Christians.

Failure exposes pride. Jon Bloom said that pride is the pathological core of all of our sin, and nothing reveals the crippling pride in my heart like failure. Why was I so disappointed that I failed my road test? It's just a road test. The answer is wrapped up within my own pride. I wanted to pass for my own glory and good. Coming away from that failure, I felt my sin exposed nakedly before me. I am proud. This truth was stapled to my failure. If I had passed, I would never have realized the depths of my sin. Failure, meanwhile, was used by the Spirit to expose my sin blackly before me and convict me and lead me to repentance.

Failure makes me a more realistic person. Being someone who's rather alien to the concept of failure, the "real world" is going to seem pretty bleak if I don't at least have some experience with failure. Success will not be guaranteed solely by hard work. More failure is going to come - worse failure than road tests. And if I don't know how to deal with it, it will destroy me.

Failure makes me work harder. My road test instructor gave me a checklist of reasons why I failed. I memorized that list and I learned from it. I worked harder. I pushed for success. Just because I know failure might come, it doesn't mean that I ever stop doing my best and trying my hardest. And failure just means I have to work harder than before.

Failure is not the end of the world as I know it. So I've been known to be a bit of a dramatic soul. I feel things very deeply and sometimes respond to disappointment irrationally. I felt devastated after my failure. It took some tough love from Mom to get me to look at things more objectively. Because no matter how I feel, failure is not the end of my world. Failure is only a negative experience if you let it be. If you let feelings dictate what you think, you'll find your failure wasted.

Failure makes success sweeter. And the happy ending to my failure story is that yesterday, success came. I passed my road test and my new license sleeps happily in my wallet. There is no way that I could have possibly felt this good about passing if I had not failed my first test. Failure makes victory so much richer and more meaningful. I can look back on my first failure and smile. Sure, it still stings, but its sting just reminds me that I have to learn from it and refuse to waste it.

Nobody wants failure. I don't. But regardless of what we'd like, it's going to come and we're going to have to deal with it. We can waste it. We can sin because of it. We can let it destroy us. Or we can use it for our good and the glory of God. We can learn from it. We can become better people because of it. We can let it teach us.

When the King Came to Tell Stories: Part 2

If you missed Part 1, check it out here.

“Once upon a time, a king came to earth to tell stories, and the stories contained the mystery of eternal life.” - Jared Wilson, in The Storytelling God

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)
The parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the most (if not the most) culturally well-known stories that Jesus told. Pretty much everyone today thinks they know this story and its beloved morals. You've got a stellar cast of characters: the Traveler who gets robbed and beaten on his journey; our antagonists, the Priest and the Levite who, despite their seeming righteousness, don't bother to help the Traveler; and then the hero, the oh-so-good Samaritan, lowly and looked down upon, who stops and does help.

Yet we have plucked this story and its characters from its context, slapped it in thank-you cards and on soup kitchen walls, and missed the whole point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning. A lawyer had just come up to Jesus and asked Him how he could have eternal life. The question at first seems beautiful. You've got a humble lawyer throwing himself at Jesus' feet and asking how to be saved.

But unfortunately, that's not how it went.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This lawyer had no intention of humility. He wanted to test Jesus. And that is about the worst motive in the world. Jesus responds to him with a question,

“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

To which the lawyer replies,

“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.”

Jesus, knowing the man's heart, tells him that he has answered correctly. "Do this and you will live." The lawyer knows he has not kept this command. Jesus knows that He has shown the man his sin. And so, "desiring to justify himself, [the lawyer] said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'" The ESV Student Study Bible said,

A deceitful question, because the lawyer was trying to eliminate responsibility for others by making some people "non-neighbors."

At this question, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So Jesus is responding to a question of deceit and selfish justification. This parable is in the direct context of the gospel. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the gospel informs our practice. The fact that we love God means we must love others.

When Jesus ends the parable and asks the lawyer which of the characters was the true neighbor to the Traveler - the Levite, the priest, or the Samaritan - the ESV Student Study Bible later says:

Jesus' question corrects the lawyer's deceitful question (v. 29). The question is not "who is my neighbor?" but "how can I be a neighbor?"

As Christians we have a responsibility to love, to care, to show kindness and compassion - even when we don't feel like it. And the reason we do that is not because we're just good people. It's not because we're nice. It's not because we're in the mood. It's not because we've done good works. It's because of the gospel. Faith and practice go together. Faith without works is dead.

The Good Samaritan was not good because he helped someone. Anyone could do that. The Good Samaritan was good because he understood the gospel and instead of asking "who is my neighbor?" he asked "how can I be a neighbor?" The centerpiece of this parable is not the Samaritan. It's the gospel.

Engaging in Conflict to the Glory of God

For the most part, I hate conflict. When someone disagrees with me (especially someone I don't know well), I withdraw and I don't respond. When someone is in error, often I don't correct them. For goodness' sake, if McDonald's gives me cold french fries, I won't even return them! Yet others swing too far on the other side of the conflict pendulum - instead of hating conflict, they love it. Instead of avoiding it, they will constantly pursue it, even to their detriment.

Both of these approaches are wrong. As Christians living in a hostile world, whether we like it or not, conflict is inevitable. And so as much as the phrase has been abused, I think "happy medium" applies here, or at least a healthy balance. Because for the Christian, there is a time and a place and a way for engaging in conflict to the glory of God. So as a Christian who admittedly has not dealt well with conflict in the past, here are a few reflections:

First, when shouldn't you engage in conflict?

1. When you will never win. We all know those people who you will never win against - even if you're not having an argument! These are the people who are sadly selfish and who are motivated by self-interest rather than God's glory. They purposely pursue conflict, or at least deal unhealthily with it. They have no intention of discussion or debate; they are always right, no matter what. And engaging in conflict with them is pointless and frustrating.

2. When it's not a cause worth fighting for. So if Dad mentions that he's sure that yesterday was a rainy day, but I know that yesterday was blue and sunny, I do not need to engage him in conflict. There is no point in starting a debate about something perfectly pointless.

3. When your purpose is unclear. Do not engage in conflict merely for the sake of engaging in conflict. When you are unsure whether your desire is to reflect God's glory or to satisfy your need to be right, it's better to avoid conflict.

So when should you engage in conflict?

1. When you are encouraged to. If you have a friend who's looking for healthy debate, join in! I was recently part of a book discussion where you were encouraged to comment on and engage with others' reflections on the book. As I read one person's reflection, I realized that I disagreed strongly with what he was saying. He was open to debate, though, and so I attempted to graciously engage him. What resulted was an amiable discussion where both of us came away in disagreement but with no bad feelings.

2. When someone you love is in serious error. Notice that I put "someone you love." Lots and lots of people out there are in error. Sift through the articles that Google finds for you and I assure you that you'll find much error. Our responsibility is not to correct every single person out there, but those that we know and care about. If one of my friends was going to do something that I knew would be horribly detrimental to her, I would have to engage her conflict, because I love her and I wouldn't want her to hurt.

3. When it's a cause worth fighting for. Yes, so this is the flip side of #2 of not engaging in conflict. Some things are worth engaging in conflict for, namely, the gospel. There are times when it will be uncomfortable and awkward, but the gospel is always, always worth conflict. This does not mean we pursue conflict under the guise of the gospel, but that we pursue Christ and if conflict arises, so be it. We do not hide ashamed of the gospel, but for the glory of God we deal with conflict because of it graciously, humbly, and firmly.

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The Happiness Myth

This world is teeming with people in unhappy relationships. Unhappy marriages, unhappy families, unhappy friendships, unhappy businesses surround us. The gift of community that God created to be so good has been abused and broken. And I think that the secular culture in this day and age has played a large part in that. What lies at the root of the deterioration of true community is the happiness myth.

I realized that the happiness myth was the problem when I was humming a song all about it. The song has been on countless commercials (and it really has quite a catchy tune). It was written by Kyle Andrews and Neil Mason, and it's called "You Always Make Me Smile."

Andrews sings in the chorus:

I don't know why I love you
I just know I can't stop thinking of you
Oh wait
It's cause you make me smile

The happiness myth says that our relationships are for our good, our benefit, and ultimately our happiness. Kyle Andrews and Neil Mason ask, "Why do I love you?" Their answer: Because you make me happy.

So we pick spouses like we pick cats - with a checklist. Healthy, cute, clean, well-behaved, obedient, affectionate, and a comfortable fit into my lifestyle. We pick friends like we pick food - what satisfies our wants and desires. How will this most benefit me? And we get angry when our relationships don't benefit us, when we have to sacrifice or serve.

You see, the happiness myth has spread even to Christian circles. We have come to view community and relationships in culture's unhealthy light. We have been struck with the "me" mentality, this pathological idea that our good is the goal of our relationships. And this needs to change.

Mark 10:45 says,

"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."  

If Jesus Christ is to be our guide and model for how we are to live, then our relationships ought to be marked by service instead of selfishness. Humility instead of pride. An earnest pursuit of others' good over our own. Our relationships are not meant to always make us happy; they are to foster a community of mutual service and love. 

The happiness myth is a lie. It is not the way a Christian is supposed to think. Instead, let us draw near to the cross and, in submission to God, serve others like Christ did. 

I'm Better than Jesus (I Think)

I usually consider myself a very spiritual Christian. You see, I have this invisible rule book in my head with lists of esteemed religious rules. I pretty much obsess over them - that's what we truly spiritual people do, right? And all of this is out of strict obedience to God. These rules cover many important topics, like:

- exactly what is acceptable behaviour during (and before and after) a worship service
- what people should say on Twitter
- what books people should read and what movies they should see
- how they should teach a Bible lesson
- what they should be praying for (specifically)
- what tone of voice they should use

You know, ridiculously important things like that. Recently I discovered that the Bible even has a name for really spiritual people like me, with my regiment of self-imposed, extrabiblical rules.

I'm a Pharisee.

In other words, I am like the hyper-religious leaders in Jesus' day. I have a strict moral code (made of dozens of rules that reflect mere personal opinion) that I judge others by. I can be hypocritical. I can be proud. And the worst of all, sometimes I think I'm better than Jesus.

What a horrible, horrible thing to think, is it not? But I do. And I wonder sometimes if you do too. I would never necessarily say that, but I act like it. I act like what Jesus did and said was not enough. I need more rules. More specific. Better. And sometimes Jesus got His hands dirty when I just washed mine, and He condescended to serve sinners when I think I'm too good for others, and He showed grace when I would have exacted vengeance. And He is holy, and I'm darkly sinful.

But there is good news for the sinful twenty-first century Pharisee today. That man who we judged has shown us grace at the cross. He died for our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, our false vanity. And so we can cling to the hope He gives, the mercy He extends. So let us not trust in ourselves, but rest solely in Him.

"Do not trust in yourself, lest sin thereby have much more power over you." - Augustine

"The place where God has supremely destroyed all human arrogance and pretension is the cross." - D.A. Carson

Confessions of a People Pleaser

So you didn't think being obsessed was the only confession I had to make, did you? Today I have another confession for you, one you may be able to relate to. I am ... duh-duh-duh ... a people pleaser. And I don't think I'm the only one.

From what I hear, most people like to be liked. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. But wanting to be liked is only one step away from being a people pleaser.

So what exactly is people pleasing, you might ask? Well for that definition I defer you to the Lies Young Women Believe blog. They wisely write,

"It's making choices based on either:
   a) impressing other people.
   b) avoiding disappointing other people."

The problem with being a people pleaser is that it's rooted in sin. People pleasing is driven by being more concerned about what people think than what God thinks. We fear man more than God. And that fear of man is born out of underlying pride. The reason I don't want to disappoint other people is because I want me to look good. I want people to always be happy with me, proud of me, impressed with me. We people pleasers are apt to think of ourselves as being humble because we're constantly concerned with everyone else. But what we really mean is that we're more concerned with making everyone else feed our ego. 

As BJ Stockman writes:
"To make your personal mission being liked by everyone in the world sets you up for a life of frustration and depression. You will end up living your life based upon others expectations and your discernment on what is right and wrong will fly out the window as the litmus test of everything becomes what will and will not make this or that person happy. The goal of life is not to be liked."
How true. And thank goodness our identity is not wrapped up in who does or doesn't like us. It's wrapped up not in the fickle pleasing of man. It's wrapped up in our Creator and Saviour, our Heavenly Father. And so we need to become God pleasers - people who obsess over what God thinks, insistent on obeying every one of His commands, grieving when we anger Him. And the wonderful thing about God is that even when we do fall short of pleasing Him (which we will), His opinion of us won't change. We are still sinners saved by grace, children of God adopted into His family, and He will forgive us and love us forever.

"God loves you with Jesus-sized love. Knowing and experiencing this love is human wholeness and brings radical freedom. It frees you from the desire to be liked, and imparts the experience of being loved by the Creator of the universe forever. It’s not that important to be well liked, but it is eternally important to be in the favor of God." ~ BJ Stockman

Juicy Fruit and Sin: My Lesson in Underestimation

So up until yesterday afternoon, I though Juicy Fruit chewing gum was pretty harmless. Then the incident happened, and my life changed forever ...

Here's how it went down: I wanted a piece of Juicy Fruit. So I grabbed the package and popped out a piece (now, note that this is not a stick of gum, it's just a normal piece, like the size of an average Trident or Dentyne). But as I was sliding the covering back over the gum, a scrap of that yellow tinfoil backing caught my index finger and tore right across. Then the pain came. And the blood. On went the Phineas and Ferb band-aid. Away went the devil Juicy Fruit package. I will never underestimate the power of the gum again.

Okay, so it wasn't quite as melodramatic as that - in fact, it was kind of funny. I mean, who cuts their finger on a pack of gum? Um ... yeah, just me. But that tinfoil backing on Juicy Fruit is actually quite dangerous! Well, sort of.

Anyway, as I was telling Dad this last night, he gave me a great idea (after he stopped laughing of course). "I feel a blog post coming on," he said. "About how you didn't think a harmless, little pack of gum could hurt you, and then you got hurt. Just like sin ..."

Yeah, I know, he's brilliant. So I'm taking his idea and applying it to my Juicy Fruit life lesson here. For fifteen years, I underestimated Juicy Fruit. Never took it seriously. Thought it harmless and unworthy of much caution or care. And then my ill-preparedness came back and bit me in the behind. Or the index finger. And this is just like what we deem "little sins." You know the ones I'm talking about - careless words, unkind thoughts, borrowing little things from work or school or siblings, telling "harmless" white lies, disobeying your parents, watching a show that, yeah, may not be the best for you, wasting time, skipping church every once in a while just cause you feel like it. All of these sins we think unimportant. We underestimate them, never take them seriously. But in God's eyes, a sin is a sin is a sin. Yes, different sins have different consequences, but all sin is equally odious in God's sight. And even though we may think them harmless and unworthy of much caution or care, they'll come back and bite us in the behind. Don't think that sin will give you something for nothing. There's always a price to pay. And that price is never a good deal. All sin has consequences, even the little ones.

So there's your lesson for the day - don't underestimate sin ... or Juicy Fruit.

Pride=Bad, Humility=Good-Part 2

Welcome to the second and final installment of my pride and humility two-part series. Let's have a quick review. Yesterday we focused on Proverbs 11:2. We found out that pride is bad and humility is good. Today we will look at an actual incident about someone that was proud. His future didn't end too well.

Our story is found in 2 Chronicles 26. The main part is 2 Chronicles 26:16-23. If you don't want to read the whole story, I'll give you the short version: There was this teenage king, named Uzziah. He followed God. In return, God gave Uzziah all sorts of victories and fame and fortune. But, uh-oh, Uzziah got proud. One day he went into the temple to burn incense on the altar (big no-no). Back then, only the priests could do that. Uzziah thought that he was so great, he could burn incense himself. The Lord got mad at Uzziah. Big surprise. He made leprosy break out on his forehead, of all places! Uzziah didn't die, but he did have leprosy for the rest of his life. Leprosy is not a fun, comfortable disease.

We can learn from Uzziah. He was proud; he was punished. Simple enough. What would have happened if Uzziah was humble? Maybe we will never know. Uzziah is known more for his pride then his victories. His one big sin covered most of the victories he achieved. I don't know about you, but I don't want that to happen to me.

Pride=Bad, Humility=Good-Part 1

Yes, that is a simple fact. Pride equals bad. Humility equals good. Not good pride, like being proud in the Lord or in your work, proud as in haughty. Humility as in putting others before yourself, not as in letting everyone pick on you.

How do I know this fact? Only because I read about it in a great book: the Bible. I'll show you where I find out that pride is bad: 2 Chronicles 26:16, Psalm 59:12, Proverbs 8:13, Proverbs 11:2, Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 29:23. These are just a few examples of pride. If you look at these, you will see why my conclusion is that pride is bad. We must look at humility, too. I learned that humility is good in: 2 Chronicles 12:7, 2 Chronicles 12:12, Psalm 25:9, Psalm 147:6, Proverbs 11:2, Matthew 18:4.

Did you notice any verses that were in both sets? Did you notice Proverbs 11:2?

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. -Prov. 11:2

If you are prideful, you will be disgraced, but if you're humble you will receive wisdom. Doesn't that make you want to be super humble? It does for me.