Tag Archives: Envy

Envy: The Pretty Sin

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When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I were having a conversation early in our relationship and she used a metaphor that I’d never heard before. She spoke to me of “ugly” sins and “pretty” sins. It gave language to something I’ve always inherently understood but never really knew how to simply express.

Ugly sins are those types of moral failures that, when brought to light, are typically accompanied by public shame and humiliation. Ugly sins generate scarlet letter status within a community. We not may make modern day Hesters stitch the letter on their clothing anymore, but it doesn’t mean others haven’t stitched it there with their hearts and minds. Ugly sins generate gossip, slander, and hushed whispers behind the sinner’s back long after the secretly committed sin was made public and created sensational community headlines.

Pretty sins, in contrast, are shortcomings we largely ignore because we all do it and so there is an unspoken social and spiritual covenant we have with one another to turn a blind eye. No need to notice the speck of it we might perceive in the eye of another so that no one will point out the log of it in my own. Pretty sins are typically overlooked, dismissed if noticed on occasion, and sometimes we even find ways to make them virtuous.

Envy is one such pretty sin, and it’s at the heart of the song lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 73.

With Psalm 73, we start Book III of the Psalms. What’s cool is that the editors who compiled the Psalms put three symmetrical groupings together: six songs, five songs, six songs, with the middle song as the “center” of Book III. It’s the same way an individual Hebrew song would be structured. So they made Book III one giant psalm with individual songs as the “verses” of the structure. Psalms within psalms.

Psalm 73 is an instructional psalm in which Asaph confesses to the sin of envy. He looks at the lives of the wickedly rich and famous living in their Beverly Hills mansions, driving their Maserati, and jetting off to their summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard or their yacht in the Caribbean. Life is so easy for them. They don’t know what it means to struggle. On top of that, they are so arrogant looking down their noses on the rest of us.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a week or two ago with a friend of mine who is a retired CEO. He lives near an elite golf club that caters to the jet-set and took a part-time job driving club members from their private jets to the luxurious private golf club. He told me how amazing it was to drive these billionaires around and routinely get treated like crap and stiffed for a tip. That’s the kind of people Asaph is singing about. Like Asaph, I confess that I’m envious to know what that kind of life must be like, even as I feel contempt for them.

As Asaph’s song continues, he goes into God’s Temple and it’s as if the Spirit of God gives him an attitude adjustment. He stops looking at the objects of his contemptuous envy with earthly eyes, and he opens the eyes of his heart to view them with an eternal, spiritual perspective.

Jesus taught that we who follow Him should maintain a similar spiritual perspective. On multiple occasions, he told parables warning about spending our lives “gaining the whole world” while we “lose our souls.”

Asaph ends his song of instruction understanding that it’s “good to be near God.” Along my journey I’ve discovered that contemptuous envy of others leads to destructive ends on many different levels. When I stick close to God, as Asaph instructs, it’s easier for me to keep both the eyes of my body and the eyes of my heart focused on things of eternal value. I can see my contemptuous envy for what it is, and can better perceive the spiritual price paid to gain this world and the things of this world.

In the quiet this morning I am looking forward to a simple feast with a few family members tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being home surrounded with love, joy, peace, and gratitude.

Wherever this finds you, I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m taking the next few days off. See you back on this chapter-a-day journey next week.

Cheers!

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Miraculous and the Mundane

“There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.”
Daniel 5:11 (NIV)

The book of Daniel is actually a literary compilation with two distinct sections. The first six chapters are selected stories from Daniel’s life in exile. The rest of the chapters are a journal of Daniel’s prophetic dreams, visions, and prayer.

In order to understand the context of the first section of the book and today’s chapter, I have to dig a little into the dates. Daniel, along with a host of other Hebrews, was taken into exile and captivity in 597 B.C. He was a young man. Today’s story takes place when Belshazzar lost the Babylonian throne to the Medes in 539 B.C. It’s now 58 years that Daniel has lived in captivity. Even if he was only 12 when taken captive, he’d be 70 years old in this story.

The six stories told in the first six chapters of Daniel are great stories. They are incredible, miraculous events both instructive and inspiring. But there are six of them in roughly 60 years. Across a lifetime of living captive in exile trying to be faithful to God in a foreign nation often hostile to foreigners, Daniel experienced six miraculous events. There are almost 22,000 days in a 60 year period. Daniel had six incredible days. So, what about the other 21,994?

Daniel served as an administrator for a foreign king. He went to work. He spent time in prayer. He sought God and did his best to be faithful to God’s commands. He did what all of us do as we walk this earthly journey. The mundane, everyday stuff of walking the journey for 21,994 days. And, he had six amazing experiences that were instructive and inspiring.

Along my own life journey, I’ve noticed that it’s easy for those of us fortunate enough to live in the luxury of the West to get addicted to experiences. We go to great lengths to have amazing experiences. For those of us who follow Jesus and regularly gather to worship, we desire to have amazing, miraculous experiences and events, even to the point of trying to conjure them and make them happen.

I’ve had a small handful of amazing spiritual experiences myself. I’m happy to say there were no fiery furnaces involved, and I am by no means saying they were on par with what I’ve read the past few days in Daniel. They were, however, pretty cool spiritual experiences that were unexpected. They were unlooked for. They came out of nowhere. I did nothing to conjure them. I was simply physically present, and spiritually open. Without wasting a lot of time recounting how many I’m talking about, let’s say there are five of them.

The rest of my 19,424 days on this Earthly journey have been spent doing what is the often mundane monotony of walking this life journey. I spend quiet time with God most mornings. I gather with other followers to worship once a week which is often spiritually filling and sometimes just feels routine. I work. I pay bills. I maintain stuff. I cultivate friendships. Wendy and I enjoy time together doing things we do.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the focus of my life. It’s so easy to slip into a mode where I’m chasing after experiences of all kinds. I’ve observed that social media isn’t helpful with this. I see everyone’s amazing experiences that make my mundane, routine existence today feel like I’m doing something wrong or that my life sucks compared to others.

I’ve come to the conclusion of late that if I seek after and find God in the everyday, mundane liturgies of my life then I find myself both more content and open to God doing the amazing and miraculous in His time, for His purpose, if and when He chooses.

And so, I enter day 19, 429.

Prejudice, Comparison, and That Which I Control

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
Numbers 12:1-2 (NIV)

Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has spent the past eight weeks in a series on “Kingdom Culture.” In the prayer Jesus taught His followers to pray it says, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We’ve been talking about what it means to live and relate with one another as a part of God’s kingdom on earth.

The sticky wicket, of course, is that any group of humans in an organization tend to have relational struggles and conflicts over time. Despite what Dr. Luke described in Acts 2: 42-47 as an idyllic beginning, even the early church began to struggle rather quickly. Most of the letters that make up what we call the New Testament address relational struggles within the local groups of Jesus’ followers. Paul himself had famous rows with Peter and Barnabas.

It was no different for Moses and the Hebrew tribes as they leave Egypt and begin to be make a nation of themselves. In the previous chapter the conflict was with the whines of the “rabble” within their midst. Today is is Moses very own siblings.

What’s fascinating to me is that Miriam and Aaron at first complain about Moses’ wife being a Cushite. There were multiple regions referenced as Cush in ancient times. It is not known for sure who they were referencing here. At least some scholars believe that they were referencing Moses’ wife Zippora who was from the land of Midian. Whatever the case, they complained about Moses’ wife being a foreigner, but then immediately discuss what appears to be envy and jealousy for their brother, Moses’, standing and position. How very human of us it is to complain about one thing on the surface (Moses being married to a Cushite) that masks a deeper resentment (sibling rivalry, envy, and jealousy about brother Moses’ standing with God as leader and prophet).

This morning I’m thinking about how common the human penchant is for prejudice, jealousy, and envy which leads to back-biting, quarrels, and conflicts both small and great. I’m reminded of Jesus’ conversation with Peter on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee when he prophetically reveals to Peter the violent end he will endure. Peter’s immediate response was to look at John and ask, “What about him?

Jesus answered, If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

I am so given to worrying about others, comparing myself to others, and seeking some sort of perceived personal equity with others. Jesus response to Peter tells me to stop concerning myself with useless and destructive comparisons. Each person is on his or her own respective journey, and their journey will not look like mine. My time, energy and resources are to be focused on my own journey, my own relationship with God, and the personal thoughts, words, and actions I control with my heart, mind, eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet.

Playing the Roles We are Given

English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vin...
English: A painting created by Leonardo Da Vinci depicting St John the baptist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Malachi 3:1 (NLT)

I am teaching a Wednesday night class on creativity. In the first week I made a case for the truth that every human being is made in the image of the Creator, therefore every human being is creative. How the creativity plays out from one person to the next is determined by a whole host of variables, but we are all creative.

Last night our class talked about the fact that some people are creatively gifted in unique ways. A few individuals are prodigies and artistic geniuses in a way that the majority of us will never know nor experience. This does not mean, however, that our creativity is not necessary nor important.

When I read about the messenger in Malachi’s prophesy, I thought about John the Baptist about whom Jesus said the prophecy pointed. John lived a life scratched out in the Judean desert. His role was to prepare the way for and hand the spotlight over to Jesus:

The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?” But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” Luke 3:15-17 (MSG) [emphasis added]

I love that John understood his role, and played it well. We so often and unwittingly commit the sin of envy. We compare ourselves to others who have gifts and abilities that we wish we had. We feel less than. We choose to believe that because we do not have the lead role, because we are not in the spotlight, or because our gifts and talents go unrecognized that our gifts and talents do not matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. We each have a role to play, and when we do not play our role the entire drama is diminished.

Chapter-a-Day 1 Peter 4

Called & Gifted Workshop
Called & Gifted Workshop (Photo credit: bobosh_t)

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11 (NLT)

Many years ago I was serving on staff at a local church. A couple in the church had an adult son and his family who had moved back in with them. The son had gone to seminary and had become a pastor. His first church experience was abysmal. The church released him from his service and he could not find another church who wanted to hire him. So, he and the family moved in with mom and dad.

I spent some time with the unemployed young pastor. The church, in an effort to be an encouragement to him, allowed him to fill the pulpit a few Sundays. It quickly became clear to everyone that there was a problem. The young man had an incredible gift for knowledge. He was a tremendous theologian and thinker. He was able to reason through and grasp some of the most complex theological concepts. The problem was, he was socially awkward around people and when he preached it was utterly painful to listen to him. He was convinced, however, that he was going to be a pastor whether he had the personal skill set to do it well or not.

Along the journey I’ve noticed a common trend in fellow believers: We desire to be (or believe we are) gifted in ways we are not. A administrative pastor with no gift for preaching insists on subjecting his flock to his poor communication skills. A gifted musician and worship leader insists on preaching an awkward, rambling mini-sermon between each song. While their music ushers in a movement of the Spirit, their attempts at teaching between songs brings the movement of the Spirit to a screeching halt. A person with all sorts of desire and musical ability still can’t sing on key and insists on subjecting the church’s ears to their pitch imperfect strains.

Perhaps it is because our areas of giftedness seem so, well, natural. “I’m not special. I’ve always been good at that. That’s boring. What I’d really like to be is….” I’ve come to recognize this as a subtle form of envy. I really want to preach like he does, sing like she does, have a position of leadership like him, or have her knack for hospitality. It begs the question: Do I really want to glorify God, or am I seeking after what I feel would glorify myself?

The organized church tends to be very focused at helping people discover their spiritual gifts. We have tests and workshops and study guides and books that cover the subject in every way imaginable. What we are not very good at is confronting people who are chasing after ways that they are not gifted and helping direct their focus within the boundaries of their giftedness.

Today, I’m thinking about the young man with the gift of knowledge and theology. I wonder if he continued to chase after what the ways he was not gifted, or if he ever found the path to utilize the gifts God gave him. I hope it is the latter. We are all on our own journey. I pray we each find the road to utilizing the spiritual gifts God gave us.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 3

Harry Belafonte 1954
Image via Wikipedia

At that same time, I begged God: “God, my Master, you let me in on the beginnings, you let me see your greatness, you let me see your might—what god in Heaven or Earth can do anything like what you’ve done! Please, let me in also on the endings, let me cross the river and see the good land over the Jordan, the lush hills, the Lebanon mountains.”  Deuteronomy 3:23-25 (MSG)

When I was young I was called to preach. I’ll spare you the details of how it happened. It’s a story for another day. Preaching and teaching was not an ability I developed or worked at. It was something that I just did and I was good at it. At the same time, I had several friends who were gifted singers and musicians. I loved the way music was so easy for them and I envied the way they could stand up and sing or play and move the audience with their music in powerful ways.

And so, because I envied my friends musical ability I would try hard to sing well and to play music. It was agonizing at first. With practice I became decent at singing and playing. I became competent at it, but I will never be a gifted vocalist or musician. I watched as some of my gifted musical friends tried desperately to communicate through the spoken word. In concerts they insisted on sharing long winded stories and talks between songs. It was agonizing. They weren’t gifted communicators. People wanted them to stop talking and play their music.

Along the journey I’ve noticed this pattern in people. We envy the gifts and abilities of others while failing to appreciate out own. God gives each of us our own gifts and abilities and calls us to serve in a unique way based on those gifts and abilities. We do the same thing with our callings. Moses wanted desperately to cross the Jordan and lead the people into the Promised Land, but that was Joshua’s job; It was what Joshua was called to do. Moses’ calling was to get the people out of Egypt, give them the law, and lead them to the river.

We too often treat our gifts and callings like we do our material possessions. We get bored with what we have and are enamored with what others have. Today I’m reminded that I’ve got to do what I’m gifted and called to do while celebrating what others are gifted and called to do.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 12

Spotlight
Image by Nathan Wells via Flickr

Miriam and Aaron talked against Moses behind his back
because of his Cushite wife (he had married a Cushite woman). They said, “Is it only through Moses that God speaks? Doesn’t he also speak through us?” Numbers 12:1-2 (MSG)

Any person who steps into leadership makes him/herself a good target. Leaders are usually standing up in front. They often find themselves standing alone, in the spotlight, addressing the crowd. No wonder it’s so easy to take a shot at them as they stand there alone. There is a reason that leaders get criticized no matter what they do.

The role of a leader is a difficult one and those who do it well make it look very easy. Like Aaron and Miriam, it’s easy to step back and think that we could do just as good a job, if not better. It’s easy for envy to set in.

“Why not me?”
“What does he/she have that I don’t?”
“It’s not fair that he/she gets all the attention and has it easy.”

There is a reason God tells us to honor and pray for our leaders. It’s easy to criticize and tear down, but it takes discipline to honor and humbly submit to God ordained authority.

Today, I’m watching my words as I speak about others, especially those in positions of leadership.

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Chapter-a-Day Numbers 11

no_whining

The riffraff among the people had a craving and soon they had the People of Israel whining, “Why can’t we have meat? We ate fish in Egypt—and got it free!—to say nothing of the cucumbers and melons, the leeks and onions and garlic. But nothing tastes good out here; all we get is manna, manna, manna.”  Numbers 11:4-6 (MSG)

A couple of weeks ago, Wendy and I spent the week with our friends at the lake. There were four children under the age of five. It has been a long time since I’ve spent such a long period of time with such a number of little ones. I’d forgotten how quickly a child could transform from precious angel to a tearful, whining lump of humanity on the floor. Oh my.

As the week went on and I observed more and more of these sudden Jekyll and Hyde transformations, I was struck again at how adults are just big children who put a more sociably acceptable face on the same flawed human behaviors. Adults whine too, but we usually cloak it in more deceptive communication devices such as passive agressiveness, gossip, sarcasm, and silence.

We are such silly human beings. Even as adults we are constantly discontent with what we have, and continually craving things we don’t have. God blesses us with what we need and in not time we’re bored and discontent, desiring something else. I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s not good for me to get what I crave. What I want isn’t always my Heavenly Father’s best plan for me. But God is a parent, too. Today’s chapter stands in evidence that sometimes He gives in and gives us what we’re whining about, knowing that getting what we crave will prove to be a long, painful life lesson.

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Chapter-a-Day Matthew 26

That is when one of the Twelve, the one named Judas Iscariot, went to the cabal of high priests and said, “What will you give me if I hand him over to you?” They settled on thirty silver pieces. He began looking for just the right moment to hand him over. Matthew 26:14-16 (MSG)

I saw an article last week asking whether Judas Iscariot was in heaven or hell. I didn’t read it. It’s the kind of article that whips up emotions, core beliefs and drives a heated arguments. The publisher loves this, of course, because the buzz gets people reading and responding to the article for which there is really no definitive answer (on this side of eternity) so the paper can’t be faulted for taking the wrong side. It’s a silly argument from my point of view as I’ve come to believe that God’s Judgment Seat is a huge chair, and my butt isn’t that big.

Nevertheless, the question of why Judas betrayed Jesus is one I’m p0ndering this morning as I read the chapter. There were spiritual forces at work. The evil one was certainly not absent. Still, my experience is that there are usually plenty of pre-existing circumstances that make room for the enemy’s presence in a person’s heart. So, this morning I’ve been sketching out a little character study of Judas.

As I journey through the accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching, I constantly run across examples of an ongoing argument among his disciples. Who was greatest? Who was least? Who was going to have a better reward and more honorable position in eternity? There was obviously an inner circle of followers in whom Jesus’ confided and Judas was definitely not one of the inner circle. How badly did this gnaw at Judas? Did the seeds of envy and jealousy help give rise to the fruit of betrayal?

Judas was in charge of the team’s finances. Pretty important position. It was also told that Judas used the position for his own personal gain. I find it interesting that Judas’ betrayal comes immediately after Mary anoints Jesus with an extravagantly expensive perfumed oil.  Had that oil been donated and sold, Judas would have stood to profit from the exchange. Was greed worming its way around his heart, as well? How much did that play a part in tipping the scales from follower to traitor?

Judas betrayal also came at the culmination of an intense amount of conflict. Jesus created a riot when he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the beginning of the week. There had been an escalating tone to the debate and war of words between the religious leaders and Jesus. Besides, the vision of the disciples riding the gravy train to some glorious take-over and world domination as Jesus ascended a throne in Jerusalem and kicked the Romans out was quickly getting dashed to pieces. The proverbial handwriting was on the wall. A shrewd man could see that the religious leaders would need to kill Jesus to calm the storm he was whipping up against them and to preserve their hold on political power.Besides, Jesus had increasingly been talking about the end of the world and filling his teaching with talk of his death. He was sounding like a mad man, not a king. The future for Jesus’ followers was quickly looking bleak. The pragmatic choice was to throw your lot in with the religious leaders and make enough money to get a new start when the dust settled. In retrospect, for the person concerned with self preservation, it was a simple choice.

Envy, jealousy, greed, and self-centered pragmatism. Those are the core character qualities that I see leading Judas to his decision to betray Jesus. It’s easy to roll my eyes in contempt and shake my head in disbelief at the mention of Judas’ name. However, each and every one of the character qualities which led to his actions are very present in my own heart and life. If you’d like a list of examples, I can give you an earful over coffee. The truth is, I’m not that different than Judas. This is why I’m increasingly reticent slide my rear end onto any kind of seat of judgment.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.

Lord, have mercy on me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and feargal

Chapter-a-Day Jeremiah 12

You are right, O God, and you set things right. I can’t argue with that. But I do have some questions:
Why do bad people have it so good?
   Why do con artists make it big?
You planted them and they put down roots.
   They flourished and produced fruit.
They talk as if they’re old friends with you,
   but they couldn’t care less about you.
Meanwhile, you know me inside and out.
   You don’t let me get by with a thing!
Jeremiah 12:1-4 (MSG)

One thing I have noticed a long the way; It is very difficult for us to stop comparing ourselves to others.

  • “Why won’t you buy me a car? Every one of my girlfriends’ parents bought them a car!”
  • “The only reason that guy got published was because he’s the son of someone famous. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Why don’t I have those connections?”
  • “I went to my friends house. It’s so big, and it’s so beautiful. Why can’t I have that?”
  • “That guy runs his business with less integrity than the mafia and he’s making money hand over fist. I try so hard to do the right thing and I can’t get a new client to save my life. What’s up with that?!”
  • “Why does that guy win the lottery and I’m still stuck with more bills than income this month? What gives, God? How about giving me a break for once!”
  • “At least I’m not THAT down-and-out guy. I must be doing something right.”
  • “Awwwww. Her husband gave her flowers. Why does she get him and I’m stuck being married to such an insensitive dork.” 

I am on my own personal journey. It is my journey and while there are certain things common to the human experience, it is still unique. God’s plan for someone else is different than His plan for me. Comparing their path and mine is apples and oranges. My job is to walk my own path well, and seek God’s will for me in each step. I will always be able to find others who appear to have it better, easier, and happier than I do despite the fact that they also appear to fall short of my own personal sense of self-righteousness.

“But Godliness with contentment is great gain.” I Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Helga Weber