Tag Archives: Selfish

“Greener” Grass

"Greener" Grass (CaD Gen 13) Wayfarer

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom.
Genesis 13:10-13 (NIV)

Wendy and I were invited to join dear friends at the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary last night. They asked me to lead those gathered in a time of praying a blessing over them. It was so beautiful to lay hands on them, to hear the prayers of love, to hear their laughter, and to see their tears. It’s one of the coolest things about giving a blessing; I always end up being blessed in return.

As we socialized into the evening I was asked by one guest if I was a pastor. This is always an interesting question to answer because culture tends to be mired in the 1800 year old paradigm of the institutional church in which being a “minister” or “pastor” is defined as professional, institutional vocation tied to a specific denomination and/or local church. Technically, I am businessman leading the research and assessment firm I’ve been a part of for almost 30 years. God led me to this job and this role, and I consider it a ministry. That said, I am also blessed to enjoy the opportunity given me by my local gathering of Jesus followers to serve in a pastoral role though I am not a member of the staff. No one wants to hear this long answer, so when asked if I’m a pastor I usually simply answer “No.”

Today’s chapter is a study in contrast between ol’ Abram and his young nephew, Lot. They’ve both prospered and have vast flocks and herds, so many that it was causing conflict among their respective herdsmen who were fighting over provision for their herds. Seeing this, Abram makes the call to separate and settle in different areas. While Abram was the elder and could have demanded the right to choose the land he wanted, he generously relinquishes his rights and allows Lot to choose his land for himself.

Abram’s relinquishing of rights and generosity are quickly contrasted by the younger Lot who sees that the plains to the east of the Jordan River were lush, green, and well-watered. There are also cities nearby for provisions and supplies. He selfishly chooses the “best” land for himself and settles near the city of Sodom.

After Lot’s departure, God tells Abram to look at the land God “is giving you and your offspring forever.” This is yet another contrast. Lot looked himself and chose what appeared to be the best. Abram waited for God to tell him where this land was. Abram is still believing the promise God made at the very beginning of this story in yesterday’s chapter. Abram and his family end up back at Hebron where he had previously built an altar to God.

Their respective destinations are yet a third contrast. Lot, having made his own choice, ends up near Sodom which already has a reputation of being Sin City and dwells in proximity to its temptations. Abram ends up back at the altar he’d once made to God and returns to a monument of his persistent faith that the childless Abram and Sarah will, indeed, experience God’s promise of descendants who will fill the earth like stars fill the sky.

I find myself back at the theme of contrast between humanity’s ways, and God’s ways. Lot made a perfectly reasonable human choice: “Hey, the grass is greener over there!” Abram chose to trust and have faith that God was going to fulfill His promise to lead Abram to “a land that I will show you.”

This brings me back in the quiet this morning to my own vocational choices. Early in my life I struck out on the path toward professional, institutional “ministry.” Then God made clear to me (it’s a long story) that He had a different path for me to follow. It was a path that led me to a more expansive understanding of God’s definition of ministry, and abundant blessing I’m still experiencing. Like the blessing of last night.

Over the years, my mother occasionally would ask me, “Are you ever going to go back into the ministry?” God love her. Her eyes were fixed myopically on what she perceived to be the lush, green grass of the old institutional paradigm. I get it. Old habits die hard.

My answer to her was always roughly the same: “Mom, I never left the ministry. Its boundary markers simply got expanded to include a land to which God wanted to lead me.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Peeling the Onion

Peeling the Onion (CaD James 3) Wayfarer

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
James 3: 14 (NIV)

I have discovered along my spiritual journey that spiritual growth is a lot like peeling an onion. Every time I work to peel off a layer of pride and selfishness in my life, there’s always a deeper layer waiting underneath. Motives, thoughts, behaviors, and/or actions that I never even perceived or considered before. As the prophet, Jeremiah, stated, there is no end to our sinful human natures.

In my pursuit of spiritual progress, I’ve learned that self-awareness is an essential ingredient. I am consciously and consistently attempting to monitor my feelings, thoughts, desires, and appetites. As I do so, I begin to see patterns emerge, which typically lead me to important discoveries about myself.

Wendy is an audiobook and podcast junkie. Whenever she’s doing something by herself, her ear bud is in and she’s listening to something. We typically have conversations about things we’ve been reading, listening to, and thinking about. I began to notice an intense negative reaction in my spirit whenever Wendy would speak about certain authors and podcasters. It was like fingernails on a chalkboard style reaction. As I became aware of these feelings, it begged the question:

What is that about?

Time to start peeling back another layer of the onion.

I contemplated my intense negative feelings and I made two important connections. First, this person Wendy mentioned she was listening to was currently an “It” person in popular culture. It wasn’t just Wendy mentioning the name. It was a name I was hearing mentioned from multiple people in my circles of influence. Second, this was a person I’d never even heard of until recently and suddenly this person had what seemed a proportionately huge mindshare of people around me.

So, what? Why did this seem to irritate me so much? Next, I began to contemplate what I know about myself.

I’m an Enneagram Type Four, which means that my core motivation is to find purpose and/or significance.

Could it be that my reaction was nothing more than envy that this person has successfully achieved a level of significant influence that I never have and never will?

Is it possible that my self-awareness has observed a very human reaction rooted in jealousy?

Am I witnessing selfish-ambition at work in me, desiring the purpose and significance another person has found at the expense of contentment in the purpose and significance to which I am called?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Mea culpa.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

In today’s chapter, James urges Jesus’ followers not to “harbor” bitter envy and selfish ambition. (Note: the Greek word translated “harbor” is echo. There’s more to unpack there.) This is where self-awareness leads to growth. Ever since making this discovery about myself, I’ve begun to not just feel these emotions when they occur, but to actually process them. First, I confess to the emotion and it’s root cause in me. Second, I remind myself of the path and purpose to which I’ve been called and led in my own journey. Finally, I typically say a silent prayer of blessing and gratitude for this person and the good purposes God has for them, and then express gratitude for the person I am, and purposes God has for me. I then confirm my desire and commitment to fulfill those purposes, no matter what they may be, for God’s glory.

This process has helped me to stop harboring envy and selfish ambition, and to send them sailing off into the sea of forgetfulness.

Another layer peeled.

On to the next.

Pressing on.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Good Day

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
Mark 10:35 (NIV)

Every parent knows a set-up question when they hear it.

“Dad? I’m going to ask you something and you have to answer ‘yes.'”

“Mom? Haven’t I been really, really good this week?”

The set-up question is intended to get the desired answer from the real question. I remember being a young boy playing this game in my prayers with God. If I wanted the Vikings to win the game or my older brothers girlfriends to simply “stop by” our house (they always doted on me, and I loved it), then I would barter with the Almighty to get my wish. I might make the case for my good behavior to have been good enough to “earn” what it is I wanted. I might have promised all sorts of obedient services I could render on the back-end of my fulfilled wish should my Genie-God grant my self-centered request.

Obviously, as a young boy, I had a lot to learn about God, prayer, the Great Story, and my role in it. I’m grateful that God is eternally patient and faithful.

In today’s chapter, I found my lesson wrapped in the layout of events that Mark includes as Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem for the climactic week of His earthly sojourn.

First, Jesus sends a rich, young man away sad because the man was unwilling to do the one thing that stood between him and God: sell everything he owned and give it to the poor. In the post-event discussion with His followers, Jesus reminds them that in the economy of God’s Kingdom (the real one, not the false one that the institutional church created for 1700 years) “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

The very next thing, Jesus tells #TheTwelve for the third time exactly what’s going to happen:

“We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Sometimes I’ve noticed that the chapter breaks and headings that modern scholars have introduced into the text keep me from seeing the flow and connections between pieces of the story. Today was a great example. Jesus reminds the disciples that the first will be last, and then He gives them the ultimate example: I, the miracle-working Son of God who heals, frees, feeds, and raises people from the dead, am going to submit myself to suffer and die in order to redeem all things.

What happens next?

James and John come to Jesus with a “set-up question!”

“Um, Jesus? We want you to promise to do whatever it is we’re about to ask you.”

What was the question? They were looking out for numero uno. If Jesus was going to die, then the brothers Zebedee just wanted to tie up some loose ends. They wanted to make sure that their eternal future was secure. They wanted to ink the deal with Jesus, once and for all, to make sure they ended up “Top Dog” on the heavenly food chain.

I can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from what seems like every single chapter I’ve read the past two weeks: “Do you still not understand?”

For the record, James and John got about as far as I did with the Vikings winning the Super Bowl.

In the quiet, on this Good Friday morning, I am reminded of all the ways I have cast myself in the role of James and John. It might have been cloaked in religious set-up questions, bartered goodness, and the economics of a worldly institutional kingdom dressed in religious robes. The truth is what I’ve been quietly contemplating this week. In so many ways, I know that I still don’t completely get it.

Good Friday. The secret trials. The kangaroo court. The beatings. The mocking. The jeering. The crowd screaming for blood. The scourging. The nails driven into wrists and feet. The hanging naked on a cross as public spectacle; Naked, bleeding and losing control of his bodily functions in front of His own mother. And, as He hangs there between heaven and earth on the cusp of death…

Making sure his mother will be cared for.

Forgiving His executioners.

Extending grace to a confessed and convicted thief.

“The first shall be last. If you want to be the greatest, you must become the servant of all.”

A good day to open my head and heart to continue understanding, to continue getting it, and continuing to let it change me.

A Lesson in Abner

joab assassinates saulMay God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 2 Samuel 3:9-10 (NIV)

Abner is one of the most fascinating characters in the unfolding drama of the conflict between the houses of Saul and David. Abner was Saul’s general, and second in command. As such, Abner had amassed tremendous power and influence. With Saul’s well known mental health issues, it was likely Abner who provided stability, respect and fear in the chain of command. Upon Saul’s death, it was Abner who quickly propped up the weaker younger brother of Jonathan, Ish-bosheth as his puppet to maintain control of the northern tribes.

Abner served Saul and his family faithfully, but his ultimate service was always about himself.

It struck me as I read this morning that Abner was well aware God had anointed David king of Israel. The way he worded his threat to Ish-bosheth it would seem he even believed that David’s ascent to the throne was a divine oath. Yet, Abner spent two decades fighting faithfully for the house of Saul because that was where his bread was buttered.

Today’s chapter gives us a clear picture of Abner’s character. Abner seems to have enjoyed the fruits of his position. Now we see that he so disrespected his former master and the son of Saul made his political marionette, that he felt it his right to feast on the forbidden fruit of his Saul’s harem. After all, who was going to stop him? When Ish-bosheth finds the guts to stand up to Abner and call him to account, Abner does what all power brokers do: he makes a power play. He plays the powerful trump card he’s been holding and vows to deliver the northern tribes to David wrapped with a bow.

Abner is Judas. The inner-circle confidant who is secretly pilfering things for himself, and willing to betray his master if it suits his personal agenda. Abner is Iago, the 2nd in command whom the commander shouldn’t trust. Abner is the one who knows God’s truth, but never submits to it unless it happens to dovetail with his duplicitous purposes.

Today, I’m also recognizing the Abner in me. David wrote in the lyric of one of his songs: “search me God…and see if there is any offensive way in me.” I’m kind of feeling that same spirit this morning as I mull over the person of Abner. I can see in my own life the perpendicular lines of God’s way and my way. I am guilty of being duplicitous, too. It could be said that I have served God for personal ends.

On this my 48th birthday, I am reminded by today’s chapter of the difference between the man I desire to be, and the man I sometimes prove to be by my own words and actions. I’m reminded that after 48 years I have still not arrived. I am reminded that I’m still in process. God, examine my heart – and help me be less like Abner and more a man after your own heart.

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The Maturity Shift

elizabetht via Flickr
elizabetht via Flickr

Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Philippians 2:4 (NLT)

I find it fascinating to watch young people grow into young adults. Our children have been making that shift the past few years along with their friends and cousins. No longer completely self-absorbed teenagers, they have struck out on their own path and begin to display the maturity that accompanies it.

Interacting with our kids and their peers I have realized that there is a point at which I recognize a young person is growing up both socially and spiritually. It makes itself known in conversation when a young person turns the tables for the first time and actually shows conversational interest in me. Through the teen years you typically experience a unidirectional conversation. As an adult (whom you suspect a teenager does not even recognize as another viable human being) you are required to initiate the conversation. To keep the conversation going you ask more questions about them and listen as they tell you about themselves. When you run out of questions (or get tired of the teenager answering you while simultaneously looking at their cell phone as they text their friends) the conversation usually ends.

Then comes a day when the normally self-absorbed teenager sincerely asks you, “So how are you doing? What’s been going on with you?” As you answer, more questions come out. It’s possible that they’ve simply learned that social convention expects it, but I’m overjoyed when I detect sincere interest about who this old man is, what I do, and what I think. It’s a subtle shift, but when the two way conversation begins to flow I recognize that the young person with whom I’m talking has taken a huge step forward toward maturity.

Today I’m reminded that setting aside your personal agenda and taking a genuine interest in others is a conscious decision that must be made daily.

Playing Fast & Loose with the “God Told Me” Card

Playing Cards
(Photo credit: Eleaf)

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.” 1 John 4:1a (NLT)

When I was young, I confess to playing fast and loose with the “God told me…” card. It wasn’t a conscious deception but a sincere delusion in which I confused very strong thoughts, feelings, and selfish desires with God’s voice. I felt such strong infatuation for this girl that it must be God telling me we’re meant to be together. I really, really want to go on this trip so it must be God planting within me this intense desire. Thus, “God told me….”

I grew up and moved along in my journey. Some of those things I said “God told me” never came to pass, and I had to own up to the fact that if it really had been God telling me then it would have happened. So, maybe it was my will all along. I had other situations in which I had manipulated the “God told me” card to get my own desires only to find out that it wasn’t a good thing. Things didn’t work out so well. Was God leading me astray, or had I used God to put a spiritual rubber stamp on my own selfish desires? It didn’t take the wisdom of Solomon to know it was the latter. Ouch. Mea culpa.

I have learned over time to be careful, thoughtful and discerning with what God may be prompting within me. I test it against what I know God’s Message says on both macro and mirco levels. I test it with mature and wise companions who are walking the journey beside me and who know me well. I am quick to listen and slow to speak. I give things time.

I am also very wary of those who play fast and loose with the “God told me…” and the “I’m discerning…” cards the same way I used to do. Believe me, I can recognize it pretty quickly: “Wait a minute. I know this one….” When I encounter it in others I typically find it to be a sign of spiritual immaturity and self-delusion the same as I experienced in my youth. I do my best not to judge the individual but also to my best to proceed with caution in my relationship with such individuals. They can be crazymakers. If I don’t know them well I simply give them and their spiritual manipulation a wide berth. If I know them well, I may try to have a loving conversation to confront what I’ve observed.

Jesus’ encouragement to we who follow is an apt reminder when confronting those who actively gamble with a “God told me” deck of cards: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”

Chapter-a-Day John 13

 

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...
Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Simon Peter asked, “Lord, where are you going?”
And Jesus replied, “You can’t go with me now, but you will follow me later.”
“But why can’t I come now, Lord?” he asked. “I’m ready to die for you.”
Jesus answered, “Die for me? I tell you the truth, Peter—before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.
John 13:36-38 (NLT) 


It is Holy Week as I write this, the day before Maundy (Sorrowful) Thursday. How appropriate for our chapter-a-day journey to bring us to the events of that night as all who follow after Jesus remember them in our annual pilgrimage through the calendar year.

The truth is, as I sit in the darkness before dawn and read about Judas, and read about Peter, I want to distance myself from them.

“Who is it that will betray you? I would never. Not me. I would never deny you. I’d die for you!” I hear my own spirit in the words of Jesus closest friends. “Not me. I’d never…”

But, then I hear the rooster crowing in my own conscience. I do it every day. I betray Him with each willfully sinful thought, and word, and act. I deny Him with  each self-centered motive. That’s the point. Not that we would be just like Judas and Peter if we were there then, but that we are just like Judas and Peter here and now. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. Not just because of Judas’ kiss, but also because of mine.