Tag Archives: Selfishness

An Uncomfortable Realization

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:17-18 (NIV)

Very early in my spiritual journey, I was given the task by my mentor of choosing a couple of verses that would be my “Life Verse.” In other words, they were verses from God’s Message that I wanted to shape and inform the rest of my life. I was a young teenager at the time.

One of the verses I chose in that exercise still hangs on the wall in my office, written in calligraphy by one my brothers. It was a gift to me many years ago. That verse is from today’s chapter, which I originally memorized from the Living Bible paraphrase:

Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions.

That verse understandably leapt off the page at me this morning, but the thing I really noticed was the verse before my life verse:

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

I have to confess this morning that generosity was not something that came naturally for me. Growing up, I had everything that I needed, but definitely not all that I wanted. Being the youngest of four, I grew up used to receiving the things handed down to me. Somewhere early in life, I developed a gross measure of selfishness. Any money I was given or earned flowed quickly and freely through my fingers. I would quickly spend everything I had to get something, anything that was new and shiny, and all mine even if it was something I quickly consumed.

Along my spiritual journey, I eventually had to own up to the fact that I had a massive blind spot. I was deep in debt, had very little to show for it, and a look at my finances would reveal that my behavior pattern hadn’t changed since I was a young boy. I continued to quickly spend everything I had (even money I didn’t have) to get something, anything that was new and shiny, and all mine even if it was something I quickly consumed.

The harsh truth of the matter was that I had memorized words that said I wanted to love people and show it by my actions. Ask me and I could rattle it off by heart at the drop of a hat complete with the reference. If you asked me to recite the verse before it, I would have looked at you with a blank stare. I had completely ignored the description of what that love by action really meant. How can I say that the love of God is in me and that I am following Jesus when everything in my life revealed a total lack of generosity fueled by endless and out-of-control consumption?

I am glad that this life is a spiritual journey. It allows time and opportunity for old things to pass away, and new things to come. Just as John had to be transformed by love to address his anger, rage, and lust for prominence (which I wrote about in yesterday’s post), I needed to be transformed by love to address my selfish consumption, fiscal irresponsibility, and lack of generosity.

I confess that writing this post is a little uncomfortable for me this morning. However, that’s another lesson I’ve learned along my journey: If I’m not at least a little uncomfortable then I’m not making progress.

Before me lies another day. In fact, it’s day 19,723 for me (FYI: You can quickly calculate your days at this website). It’s time to press on.

Thanks for reading, my friend.

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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

Plans and Purposes

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:3 (NIV)

I just finished up an “over the coffee” conversation with Wendy this morning. We talked about race and culture. One of the observations we mulled over was that it’s very easy for things to be perceived as simple, binary, either-or issues when it’s just not. There are so many layers.

I find that the same can be true when reading through Proverbs. It’s really been hitting me as I journey through them this time around. The attraction of ancient sage wisdom is that they are simple. They are binary couplets. It’s wisdom or foolishness, hard work or sloth, honesty or lies, pride or humility. They are easily absorbed and understood. It’s easy to take them at face value and that typically works.

Sometimes, however, it’s not that simple. There are more layers. Context is needed. Take the verse from today’s chapter. At face value, it’s an easy concept. Commit your plans to God and He will establish them. Done. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Rub the lamp and the Genie will appear. This is the kind of verse that can easily get misunderstood:

“I prayed and committed my plans for going to Harvard to the Lord, and I got a rejection letter. God didn’t establish my plans. I guess the whole thing is a lie.”

It’s a bit of synchronicity that this came up in the chapter today because I talked a lot about this in my podcast that was published yesterday. The mysterious, divine dance between my plans and God’s purposes is complex choreography that I never perfect. Just when I think I’ve got it down the steps, Holy Spirit (who is leading the dance) suddenly goes where I didn’t expect or the music changes.

I bring my plans to the dance, but Jesus also talked about asking, seeking, and knocking. My “plans” could be coming from a place of pride, or selfishness, or vain ambition, and what God is ultimately trying to establish for me and where God is leading me is something I can’t see from my current waypoint on Life’s road. In my podcast, I shared the story of my “plans” to have a career in pastoral ministry. Actually, before that, I planned to be an astronaut, a naval aviator, a lawyer, POTUS, a private detective, a professional actor, and one day while drawing on the back of my mom’s old recipe cards, I remember planning to be a cartoonist. What was eventually established was that I would spend my career in the one place I never planned to be: the corporate world. Even though I had been given a foreshadowing of this, I couldn’t see it. I refused to see it.

So, does the fact that my “plans” didn’t come to fruition mean that today’s proverb is a lie?

Not from my perspective. It’s not that simple.

When I chose to become a follower of Christ it was the first step in a never-ending process of surrender. The “plan” that I committed to at that moment was to follow where God led, do what God called me to do, and strive to become more like Jesus each step of the way. The becoming like Jesus part starts with not living for myself, but to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love others as I love myself. If I do that, it changes my plans, which ultimately results in this journey being all about the things that God is establishing as He leads me. God’s purposes will always take precedent over my plans. When you follow Jesus, it’s part of the gig.

I look back now and am overjoyed that my career did not end up in pastoral ministry (sorry, mom), or in law, or in politics, or in space. What God established out my plans to follow where I was led turned into a job that I love and a job that has blessed me in so many amazing ways.

[The cartoonist thing might have been pretty cool, though. I’m just sayin’.]

In the quiet this morning I am thankful for being led down this path on my journey, despite the struggles, heartache, confusion, anxieties, stress, and pains I’ve encountered along the way. The reality is that those are all part of the journey no matter where we’re led or choose to go. And, who knows but that God might lead me into a completely different career at some point. After all, I’m letting Him lead the dance.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

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

It’s Not About Me

When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered Judah and Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam.
2 Chronicles 11:1 (NIV)

As a follower of Jesus, I am aware that God is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. “You are not your own,” Paul wrote to the Jesus followers in Corinth, “Therefore honor God.” The practical application of this is that I think about the life decisions Wendy and I make. I not only concern myself with what we want, but also with what we sense God doing in our lives and the lives of others.

I found it fascinating this morning that King Rehoboam of Judah, having experienced the humility of having ten of the tribes of Israel rebel against him, immediately musters is fighting men for war. This is such a classic male reaction. This is the stuff of boys on a playground. “You wanna fight about it?” 

In describing Rehoboam’s reaction, the Chronicler is careful to also share with us Rehoboam’s motivation. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for whom? God? The legacy of his father and grandfather? Nope. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for himself.

What a contrast Rehoboam is to his grandfather David who, having been anointed King as a boy, refused to claim the throne for himself. David waited for God to arrange the circumstances and make it happen. David was all about honoring what God was doing and waiting for God to raise him up. Rehoboam was all about acting out of his momentary rage and humiliation to get what he himself wanted.

Do I want to be a Rehoboam, or do I want to be a David?

That’s the question I find myself asking in the quiet this morning. Of course, I choose the latter. I want what God wants for my life and the lives of my loved ones. It means that it’s not all about me and what I want, and that’s exactly what Jesus taught, to love others as I love myself and to treat others as I would want to be treated.

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.”