Tag Archives: Selfishness

Inflow and Outflow

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 10:32-33 (NIV)

Regular readers of these chapter-a-day posts (I’m grateful for the few of you!) will have noticed that my posts have been a bit haphazard of late. Some of it has been a particularly hectic work and travel schedule, some of it has been transitions and added responsibilities, and this week Wendy and I have been host to our daughter, Taylor, and new grandson, Milo. So, the normal routine has been interrupted a bit.

I have observed that so much of my life journey has been about finding balance. If I don’t carve out some time and routine for “filling the well” then all of life’s outflows (family, work, friends, community) leave me depleted and useless to anyone. If I get too rigid and self-righteous about my personal space and time then I end up self-absorbed in filling the well like a hoarder and there’s no goodness flowing out. Even Jesus took time for personal space and rest. He went up the mountain by Himself. He slept in the boat. He sent the disciples off at times. In His humanity, the Incarnate Christ sought to find the same balance of personal energy inflow and outflow.

In today’s chapter Paul speaks to the believers in Corinth about a prevailing attitude that some in their midst maintained: “I have the right to do whatever I want.” Paul chooses not to argue the point, but to add a layer of understanding over the declaration: “Not everything is beneficial. Not everything is constructive.” He then goes on to point out that this line of thinking is extremely self-focused. It’s all about me, what I want, what I desire, what I have a right to do, and what is good for me from my perspective. It’s hoarding the inflow of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, and freedom while shutting off the outflow of love, honor, mercy, respect to those around.

Paul then goes on to explain that among the fractious and divided Corinthians he has sought to let his love and goodness flow out to all – both the stalwart Jewish believers and their conservative religiosity and the Greek believers and their liberal morality. “I’m not seeking my own good, but the good of many.”

This morning I sit in the quiet for the first time in a few days. I feel my soul soaking in the quiet and some one-on-one with Holy Spirit. I’m thinking about inflow and outflow. Since the first of the year it feels like the outflow valve on my personal energy has been cranked wide open. It’s not a bad thing. It’s awesome. My goodness how amazing it’s been this week as we love on our grandson and spend time with our daughter.  It’s fubar’d some of the normal routine. But, pouring out is the point, isn’t it?

I just have to be aware to maintain balance.

Some much-anticipated inflow is coming in 10 days.

For Your Consideration

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

It’s when I’m hungry and ready to eat that I seem to be most consistently inconsiderate. It’ usually about half-way into my sandwich or meal prep that Wendy looks across the island.

Wendy: “Did you get a plate out for me?”

Tom: Uh…[he stares blankly in shame at her]

It would be really easy for me to make some lame excuse about a man being driven by his stomach. The excuse conveniently pops to mind and sits waiting on my frontal lobe waiting for me make its argument. It would be inappropriate to do so. I was simply inconsiderate of what Wendy was doing in that moment, if Wendy was hungry, what Wendy planned to eat, and if Wendy might also need a plate.

Believe me, this example is just the convenient tip of the iceberg. I have plenty more patterns of inconsideration that I could reference. I am honestly ashamed at just how self-centered I am.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned being a work in progress, and I meant it. I am literally and actively working on my personal and interpersonal development on an on-going basis. One of my big goals of late has been to work on being more considerate of others, and I’ve been really focused on the word consider-ate. I’m finding that, with me, it takes discipline to proactively set aside my “want” of the moment to consider others persons, thinking about what they need, what they desire, what I can do to help them. It then takes initiative to act on it.

Today, I continue my desire to consider the needs of others ahead of my own silly whim or fleshly appetite of the moment. I’m once again taking a moment to consider the example of Jesus, who considered my spiritual need of salvation as more important than His comfortable position in heaven, and considerately came to die in my place. Please forgive my not being a better and more grateful, tangible reflection of that kind of consideration.

I’m working on it.

 

photo:  tjgehling via  Flickr

Prayer and the Christmas Catalog

Source: Todd Lappin via Flickr
Source: Todd Lappin via Flickr

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request. 1 Chronicles 4:10 (NIV)

When I was a child, the annual arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog was a big deal. The giant selection of toys at the back of the catalog was poured over countless times. By early December the catalog was looking worn and dog eared from the constant flipping of pages. Many items got circled so I would remember to transpose them to my letter to St. Nick. My list for Santa contained a long list of the coolest looking toys, sports equipment and gadgets that a little boy could ask for.

There is a certain brand of Christians to whom I refer as the “Name it and Claim it Crew.” Made up mostly of televangelists and their ilk, this brand of believers approach God much like the giant lottery in the sky. Their teaching is focused on getting in on all the material blessings that God is dishing out much like Santa Claus, or perhaps more like Drew Carey on The Price is Right. If you listen long enough, you’ll hear the message subtly shift at some point into a spiritual ponzi scheme with the preacher taking on the mantel God’s investment broker: “You sacrificially send me and my ministry $100 and God will bless you with $1000 or more.”

Many years ago, there was a book that came out about the prayer of Jabez. We read Jabez’s prayer in today’s chapter. I’ve pasted it above. It’s a small nugget slipped into the seemingly endless genealogical lists we’re wading through in the book of Chronicles. The Prayer of Jabez made the bestseller list and I remember a period of time when the prayer was all the rage. At the time, I remember a lot of people approaching the prayer like some sort of magic incantation that eerily reminded me of The Name it and Claim it Crew.

Just yesterday in worship Wendy and I heard a message about praying powerful prayers. It prompted a conversation between us on the way home and continued while we prepared lunch. The reality is that we don’t always get what we pray for any more than a child gets every item on his Christmas wish list. Faith is not a game show or a lottery. God is not Santa Claus. What we wish for, what we need, and God’s ultimate purposes and provision can become a confusing menagerie.

I don’t believe that asking God for safety, favor, and blessing is wrong. I do it all the time. I even admit to regularly offering a loose facsimile of Jabez’s prayer in my on-going conversations with God. I am constantly, however, checking the motives of my own heart. In my mind, approaching God like some sort of material vending machine is to reduce Him into a lucky charm or one of the pagan idols He gets so worked up about. Doing so ends with me feeling like a bitter child, angry at Santa for not contractually delivering everything on the list and wondering which of my behavioral infractions kept me from getting that cool chemistry set.

Prayers and God’s purposes are so much deeper than a childish give-and-take. Paul wrote that when he was a child he spoke and acted like a child, but when he became a man he gave up childish things. I’m thinking this morning about the ways I slip into a “child at Christmas” thinking in my prayers and expectations of God. I confess that I do it more than I care to admit. Today, God and I are going to have a chat about that.

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Whose Side Am I On?

English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincou...
English: King Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For he breaks the pride of princes, and the kings of the earth fear him.
Psalm 76:12 (NLT)

My personal favorite of Shakespeare’s plays is Henry V. It tells the story of a young man who had spent his early years acting much like the prodigal son. He squandered his youth partying it up with common people and a largely discredited nobleman who was given to indulging his appetites. When his father dies and Henry is suddenly placed on the throne, no one thinks the young prince is up to the task. In leading a war against France, he is underestimated by the enemy, betrayed by friends, and driven to do a lot of soul searching about himself and his role. The play ends with a retelling of the historic Battle of Agincourt. Henry and his Englishmen are outnumbered by the French 5 to 1, but Henry leads his band of brothers to an unlikely victory. In the glow of victory, Henry refuses to take credit for the win:

  • Henry: Come, go we in procession to the village.
    And be it death proclaimed through our host
    To boast of this or take the praise from God
    Which is his only.
  • Fluellen: Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
    how many is killed?
  • Henry: Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
    That God fought for us.

Today’s psalm was written in time of war. The lyrics reminded people of God’s sovereignty and judgment which the writer proclaimed would ultimately prevail over earthly kings and rulers. Ancient tradition holds that the song was written in response to another improbable victory over Sennacherib‘s army when they threatened Jerusalem.

Over the years I’ve grown increasingly suspicious of those who like to cloak human actions and activities with God’s will. Henry’s humility is noble, but the English motives for invading France were far from godly. God’s will is used to justify all sorts of human tragedies and terrors. Everyone claims God is on their side. God’s will is regularly cited by those who wish to cloak selfish and greedy motives. Shakespeare himself ends his play reminding the audience that while it appears God fought with Henry, He must have switched sides after Henry’s death because France reclaimed all that Henry had fought for. It gets muddy when you humanly start bestowing God’s favor on things that God hasn’t explicitly bestowed Himself.

This morning I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words when someone asked whether he, like King Henry, believed God was on his side. Lincoln replied: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.”

Chapter-a-Day Jonah 4

god
god (Photo credit: the|G|™)

Then the LORD said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. Jonah 4:10 (NLT)

When I was a kid, I remember that talking to God generally consisted of begging for things I desperately wanted and making all sorts of bargains with God about what I would do if he delivered on my selfish pleas. Some of my most fervent begging came when my Minnesota Vikings were playing in the Super Bowl. I retreated from the family room into the adjacent furance room during commercial breaks (not sure why I did that, but I always went into the furnace room to talk to God) to beg God on the purple people eaters‘ behalf.  We all know how that worked out.

Girls, sports, and toys I wanted; When I was a child I prayed like a child, and my heart and brain held self-centric focus on childish things. Jesus said that it is out of the overflow of our heart that our mouth speaks. Even my conversation with God reveals a lot about what is important to me. In today’s chapter, Jonah’s angry rant to God revealed that he was more concerned about his personal comfort and the silly plant which provided him shade than he was with the lives of the men, women, and children in Nineveh.

Today, I’m taking a little introspective inventory of my conversations with God. What do they reveal about what is important to me? When I was a child I thought, spoke and prayed like a child. I hope that at this point in my journey I’ve put away childish things.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 29

getting arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee
Image via Wikipedia

…lest some poisonous weed sprout and spread among you, a person who hears the words of the Covenant-oath but exempts himself, thinking, “I’ll live just the way I please, thank you,” and ends up ruining life for everybody. Deuteronomy 29:18 (MSG)

Much of the life-pain any of us experience can be traced back to the type of covenant breaking attitude expressed in this verse from today’s chapter. Moses was dealing specifically with the laws God gave him for the nation of Israel, but in any society the laws and social constructs are a covenant between the people and the community around them. I have both experienced this pain due to the wreckless attitude of others and have heedlessly broken covenant which has created considerable pain to others.

  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant with my community by getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel of a car to the endangerment of everyone in my path.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant with spouse by sleeping with another, thus wreaking havoc in expanding concentric circles of family, friends, community and society.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by ending another human life, thus denying the being and the community to benefit from the touch and limitless potential good of that life, permanently diminishing my own soul and respect for life on the whole of the community.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” by refusing to work and contribute to society when I am perfectly capable of doing so, choosing to drain the society of resources as I drain my own soul of purpose and dignity.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by turning a selfish eye away from the needs of others to focus on myself, thus expanding societal problems while reducing the health of my own soul.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by cheating on studies, taxes, time cards, and/or responsibilities, thus slowly eroding my own character and breaking covenant with the community as a whole.

Our penchant for breaking covenant, in small ways or large ways, hurts ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. And still, we choose to do so. God made a covenant with human beings who could not, would not keep covenant with Him. Covenant, and our breaking of it, reminds us all of our need for grace and forgiveness – and our need of a saviour who will save us from our own selfish attitudes, words, and actions.

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Chapter-a-day Amos 5

Son of Man (Magritte)
Image by Williamo! via Flickr

People hate this kind of talk. Raw truth is never popular. Amos 5:10 (MSG)

The truth is, Jesus was very popular when He was miraculously feeding thousands with a few fish sandwiches.

Let’s make Jesus king! Why not? He’s a one man welfare program! Let’s follow along. Sure, we’ll have to stand in line, and the crowds are annoying, but we’ll never have to work another day in our lives. Jesus will heal us when we get sick and feed us when we get hungry. What a king Jesus will be!

But then, Jesus simply stopped doing miracles and went up the mountain side by himself. He left a whole line of people standing there waiting to be healed. And, he never came back! What’s up with that?! He disappeared and left the whole crowd of us hungry for breakfast!

There must be some mistake. Rumor has it he’s on the other side of the lake. When did he leave? Why wasn’t there an announcement? They really should start handing out agendas with Jesus’ itinerary. It’s just rude to leave a whole crowd of followers standing around. I tell you, I’m definitely up for making him king and all, but he has got to get his administration organized. He takes off without healing all these sick and lame people who waited all day yesterday. It’s just not fair. And, he leaves without telling us what we’re having for lunch. I hope it’s lamb chops. Anyway, he’s not going to be a very popular king if he doesn’t get act together. I’m hungry, let’s go find him.

Master, what’s the deal? Why did you leave us hungry on the other side of the lake?

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill…stop grumbling among yourselves…Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. [from John 6]

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