Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jesus: Profile of a Man

The more I look at Jesus the man, as depicted for us in the New Testament, the more I see a man that I want to be like.  Sure, He did miracles and is the Son of God.  But I'm talking about His character and, for lack of better terms, His psychological and emotional makeup.

He was not a people-pleaser.  He did not subject Himself to the opinions of others.  He did not fret and torture Himself to be liked or to cling on to particular individuals.

He was did not play the victim.  He was victimized, more unjustly than any man who ever lived, and yet He did not take the posture of a victim -inferior, victimized, self-pitying, and self-absorbed with is own troubles.  He did not whine or complain.  He did not curse the day He was born or become bitter with God or others for His lot in life.

But Jesus was not emotionally numb of callous.  Lots of people don't let people's opinions get to them, and lots of people do not play the victim when tragedy or betrayal strikes, but it is usually because they are somewhat arrogant, narcissistic, or emotionally numb.  Jesus was none of these.  Jesus was humble and fully in touch with who He was and what He felt -becoming indiginant enough to drive the money-changers out of the temple and sorrowful enough to weep with his friends by the grave of His friend, Lazarus.  He felt the joy of fellowship, the peace of intimacy with His Father, and the sting of betrayal from close friends.  And He did not stand above others.  Jesus cared about and connected with people.  He did not stride through with an air of arrogance, dismissing the opinions of those "lesser people" as we might be tempted to do.  He was able to simultaneously deeply care about people, immersing Himself into their world, and yet not be ruled by their opinions.

Jesus was free.  He was freely Himself, freely in touch with Himself, free from the need to please others, and free from the need to be deterred from who He is to take the posture of a victim.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Professional Victims

I'm reading the book, Life Without Limits, by Nick Vujicic.  You may have heard of him or seen the videos of him on Youtube.  He is a man born without arms or legs, yet he now tours the world speaking to people, especially youth, with a message of hope and purpose.

In one of the chapters, he recounts meeting Joni Eareckson Tada.  If you aren't familiar with her (which would be shocking if you are a Christian), she is a woman who became paralyzed decades ago from a diving accident.  Her whole future was swallowed up in one event, so she thought at the time.  But now her ministry provides hope and encouragement to multitudes around the world.

Anyway, here is a snippet that jumped out at me.

"It was hard for Joni to buy into that concept.  At that point she felt like a victim, and that's what she called herself, 'a victim of a terrible diving accident.'  At first she blamed everyone but herself for her quadriplegia, and she wanted everyone to pay.  She sued.  She demanded.  She even blamed her parents for bringing her into a world in which she could become paralyzed.

Joni felt the world owed her something because she'd lost the use of her arms and legs.  She eventually came to realize that victimhood is an easy place to hide.  We can all blaim to be victims of one misfortune or another.  Some people feel like victims because they were born into poverty.  Others claim to be victims because their parents are divorced, or they have poor health, or bad jobs, or they aren't as thin or as tall or as beautiful as they want to be.

When we feel entitled to the good in life, we feel robbed and outraged when something happens to make us uncomfortable.  We then look to blame others and demand that they pay for our discomfort, whatever it might be.  In a self-centered state of mine, we become professional victims.  Yet pity parties are the most tedious, unproductive, and unrewarding events you could ever attend.  You can only listen to "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" so many times before you want to tear your hair out and run for cover." (p. 99)

Victimhood is an easy place to hide.  I know this from personal experience.  There is almost always someone who screwed you over.  You will find that there are real limitations that you just cannot overcome.  Things just aren't the way you wished they were.  There is always the lingering, "If I just had... " or "If life was just this way..."  There is always some missing ingredient.  We feel short-changed.  We blame other people and become bitter at them.  We blame God for our rotten lot in life, as we watch everything we love crumble away just because God didn't fix this one thing.  And sometimes we don't stop there.  We blame and punish ourselves.  If you just didn't have this limitation, she would still love you.  If you just weren't like this, everything would be different.

But does it do any good?  The thing is, we live in a fallen world (something I get sick of hearing, but it is true).  Things happen that are misfortunes, that are wrong, that do involve sin and negligence from others or from ourselves.  But making victimhood our home is more than self-defeating.  It defeats the purpose of our lives and alienates us from everyone around us.  Our purpose is to give, to give of ourselves to benefit of the lives of others.  That doesn't happen when you are all about you, stuck on yourself for all the bad things in your life.  You just turn inward and shrivel up.

Thankfully, Jesus did not choose victimhood.  He came to earth, to humanity, fully aware of the suffering He would face.  He -though He had more reason to than anyone- did not play the victim.  He endured, taking responsibility for His life, and pouring it out for us.

Legacy

All of us will leave a legacy of some kind.  It will either be a legacy that made a difference, that left a positive impact in the lives of those around us, or it will be a legacy that blows away in the wind, like chaff.

Teens, you are young, but you are building a legacy right now.  If you were to be blown off the face of this earth right at this moment, what would your legacy be?  That even though you claimed to be a Christian you did nothing but complain about church and other people, had no interest in reading God's Word, had lots of sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, got drunk a lot, played a lot of video games, fought with your parents, fought with your siblings, fed on the drama of others, and whined about your problems in life?  Who would remember you for how you sacrificed to make a difference in their lives?  Anyone?  Have you made a sacrifice to make a difference in anyone's life, or is it all about your life and how hard your life is and how this or that person pisses you off?

Adults and parents, what about you?  Are you too stuck on the failing economy or your crumbling marriage or the pain of your emotional instabilities to look at those around you and how they need you to contribute to their lives?  Are you so stuck on wanting to be liked that you don't simply tell the truth to your children or your children's friends when they are walking in danger?  Would you rather they think you are cool than hear you tell them, "Why are you doing that!?"  Would you rather your kids like you rather than hear you tell them, "No, you need to come to church with me on Sunday -it is important?"  What other things are you not saying?  What other ways are you shrinking back from making a difference, from investing your time and care into them, from being there for them, guiding them, telling them what is important, and making sure they know it?  And what about the other adults around you?  Are you leaving a legacy with them?  Are you giving yourself to them, making a positive contribution to their lives, or are you too stuck in victim-mode about your own life?

Jesus left a legacy.  He lived a life characterized by pouring Himself out for others, culminating in His bloody death.  Not once did Jesus make Himself the victim, even though He was the only truly innocent man to ever walk the earth.  He left a legacy by thinking of those around Him.  As His discipline, as sinful and doubtful as I am, I want to walk in those steps.  I want to stop being the victim and falling back into passivity with those around me, especially my children.  They need me to at least try, to show that I care, to be involved, and to tell them the truth.  Maybe I won't be so popular.  Jesus wasn't.  But maybe, Lord willing, I will have left a legacy with them when all of superficial "fun" of others dies away.

It is easy, way too easy, to be all about you.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Humility as a Goal

Mark Driscoll noted something very striking to me in a recent sermon clip he posted on Facebook.  To paraphrase, he said that the remedy for pride is not humility.  When you realize you are proud, you do not say, "Well, I will become more humble, then.  So, let's try to be humble, shall we?"  The reason is because, although the goal seems worthy, in reality you are still all about you.  You are obsessed with yourself, now in regards to how "humble" you are.  Real humility is lack of self-obsession.  It is knowing our place in this universe and preferring God and others over ourselves.  To gain humility, Driscoll argues, we look at Jesus and get to know Jesus.  True humility is a byproduct of that.

Again, why?  Because of human nature.  A proud man would seek humility, and then become obsessed with his own humble-ness.  He would either stroke himself, believing he had reached greater humility than before (and greater than others). Or he would disdain himself, disappointed with his own poor performance.  In either case, he grows no more concerned with others and less mindful of self, not really.

I see that, for example, with the current pain and suffering in my life, humility makes a great goal because it yields more peace in my life.  A lot of my internal torture and pain is pride-related: rivalry, me not being able to handle rejection, me being obsessed with being the best and winning.  So, naturally, humility is attractive.  The moments, lately, when I have been humbled have yielded the fruit of peace and freedom.

But then something amazing happens.  Humility becomes the new goal -not for humility's sake or even God's sake, but because it gives me something for me.  I pursue it for it's pragmatic, even therapeutic value.  That isn't all bad.  It is not wrong to see that virtue yields freedom from the chains of sin in your own life.  But in very subtle ways, my pursuit shifts right back to me.

Failing

Failing is uncomfortable, but it is humbling.  Sometimes, you fail on such a massive scale, radically affecting your life and the lives of those closest to you, that there is really nothing you can do about it.  It feels like a form of paralysis.  You can blame other people for their contributions to the overall chaos and destruction, which is undoubtedly true, but the truth inevitably nails you.  Sometimes it hits you squarely between the eyes, knocking you off your feet.  And sometimes it stalks you silently and patiently, through layers of anger and denial and blame-shifting.

When failure involves relationships of any kind, the other humbling thing is the realization that there are other people out there who have not and do not fail in the same ways and with the same things you do.  They have their own flaws, for sure, but they are better than you are in these ways -ways that others may appreciate and be attracted to.  You may experience deep rejection.  And while their rejection of you may be their sin, depending on the case, you know in your heart that the person they replaced you with has strengths that you don't have. 

That is horribly painful.  We can rage against it, hating the other person, burning bitterly within at both of them.  We can rightly point out their flaws and faults.  But at the end of the day, when we truly accept that we aren't "all that" and that someone out there (yes, even more than one) is better than us, it is deeply humbling.  When we realize that there is nothing we can do about it, that we cannot "redeem" ourselves and the situation, it is beyond hard to accept.  There is a sorrow mixed with grief and a somber peace.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Can I Handle Not Being a Big Deal?

Can I really just admit and accept, "I'm not that big a deal -Jesus is a big deal?"  Or do I have to be a big deal, have to be the most desirable, have to be the best, have to be the hottest, the best in bed, the most knowledgeable, the most theological, the best at everything I do? 

These represent two utterly separate paths.  With one, I am content with being no bigger than an ant, because what matters is the greatness of Jesus, who died for my many sins and gave me life.  With the other, I am never content until I have beaten all the competition, won the glory and approval from everyone around me, and crowned myself with my own performance -being worthy, I imagine, of really being someone, really being loved, and practically being right to demand it because I am such a big deal.

What would life be like if I could accept being not-so-big-a-deal and really be at peace with just being me... mediocre at many things, good at some things, not so good at others, but still uniquely me with my own unique past and background, my own unique context for my life, my own strengths and weaknesses, and my own flaws, sins, and regrets, and my own specific callings in which God wants me to live and love and display Himself in my life?

I imagine it would be wonderful.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14)

Take a look at the Pharisee. He is completely out of touch with what he really is. He frantically avoids the haunting conclusion of being flawed and sinful and not-so-great by employing three ways to dodge the bullet and exalt himself: seeking glory and attention by making a spectacle of himself in front of others, pointing to his performance, and comparing himself to others. He is inwardly and upwardly dull but hopelessly focused on externals.  Do you do these things?


These are all the things that I do. And because of it, I am up-tight, I can't take criticism, I have thin-skin, I am moved to aggress against myself when I fail or compare poorly to others, and I get easily angered when someone else compares me to others or puts me down.  And what happens when I actually think I'm pulling it off?  What happens when I compare well to others and get the recognition I think I deserve?  I treat others who do not do so well with contempt.  Isn't it funny how insecurity and arrogant self-righteousness are often two points on the same continuum?  What an exhausting way to live.  Trying to prove that you are pretty good by your own efforts and in relation to other people is a full-time job.

Now, look at the tax collector. He is completely in-touch with what he really is. He is inwardly and upwardly focused and externals aren't even important enough to him to come into the picture. What owns him is his sinfulness and need for God’s mercy, and Jesus tells us that he goes home having it. He goes home justified, right, righteous.  He knows he is a sinner -not merely as a religious concept but as a personal reality.  And he therefore experiences God's mercy in the same way.

Every Christian "knows" he is a sinner.  Some of us have truly sordid pasts.  But do you know you are a sinner?  Do you know you are still a sinner?  Do you know it like the tax collector?  Do you really get that you can contribute nothing to your righteousness?  Has it humbled you?  You will know you are truly humbled, you will know you really know you are sinner, when you no longer rage against that haunting conclusion about yourself and no longer try to defend yourself from it or distract yourself, God, and others away from it. As it says in Romans 3, your mouth is "stopped," inside and out.

Notice the result of having a stopped-mouth.  He comes knowing he needs mercy, and he goes home having it.  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

"For there is no middle ground between Christian righteousness and works-righteousness. There is no alternative to Christian righteousness but works-righteousness. If you do not build your confidence on the work of Christ you must build your confidence on your own work." ~Martin Luther

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Gospel and Betrayal

Have you ever been betrayed?  If you live long enough, you will be.  But some of us experience horrible betrayal -things that nobody would dare to make up, things that human creativity wouldn't dream up for fiction.  Not only was the act severe, but the pain of betrayal is fueled also by the identity of the betrayer: the more the attachment to them, the closer they are to your heart, the greater the wound.

It is easy in those times to become bitter.  There is almost a sense in which bitterness serves as a temporary bandaid to cover the wound which is so deep and so exposed that it simply gushes and throbs too much to deal with.  Self-righteousness abounds, and we call it "righteous anger."  It is easy to turn to other things such as self-aggression, as well.  Psychologists, counselors, and pastors who have been doing their job long enough are well acquainted with the various ways we choose to deal with the severe pain and anger of betrayal without actually facing it and dealing with it.

But what if you could turn to that person and say to them, "You are not the 'bad guy' and I'm the 'good guy.'  I'm angry with you for what you did.  You betrayed me, and it is evil -I hate it, and God hates it.  But every time I raise a fist against you in my mind, there is a bruised and broken man hanging on a plank of wood standing in my way.  No matter how many times I try to avoid the spectacle in front of me, it stares me in the face.  The Man says to me, 'This is my blood, which was poured out for the remission of sins... yours as well as theirs.'  Punishing you will not take back what you did, and this bloody Man will not release me from what He did for us.  I cannot do anything but forgive you, though I cannot bear to even see you right now.  I pray that this Man, Jesus, would be as real to you in what you have done as He is to me in my desire to make you pay for it."

Gospel Humility

"Gospel humility" is the humble attitude that results when an individual personally encounters Jesus Christ and the reality of the Gospel: the good news that Jesus came, suffered, and died a horrible death for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, as a free gift to undeserving sinners.

The thing about Gospel humility, however, is that the more you talk about it the more it becomes an idea, a concept, or a "religious goal," rather than a symptom of my personal realization that I am just as much as part of the sinful, broken mess that Jesus came to redeem as anyone else.  Tim Keller, in an article in Christianity Today, wrote, “Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves” (Dec. 2008, p. 51).  So true.

It is a symptom, like a runny nose to someone who is infected with a cold virus; or, using a more positive image, it is like warmth on you skin after you have sat in front of a cozy fireplace for an evening.  It is like the wetness of water or the brightness of light.  You can't cultivate it by reading about it or talking about it.  You don't get it by becoming an armchair theologian and knowing all the answers.  It comes as you walk through life and, with each fallen step, become increasingly stunned by the sorrow of your own failures and unbelief and hardness and selfishness, how you have deeply failed people you love, and how you have therefore failed all the more the One who loves you most, combined with the reality of the bleeding, broken Lamb who whispers into the pain of you inner world, "This is why I came."