Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Wholeness: selfless vs selfish

Let me tell you a story of two women. While I won’t share their names here for privacy's sake, I assure you, they are actual people that I know. One was very selfless, always giving of herself and helping others; a generous person for sure. The other was very selfish, always demanding more than offered. Never considering how her actions may affect others. Those actions often did have negative consequences on others, myself included.

Both women lost someone very close to them. The selfless person received an outpouring of support from everyone in her time of need. Most wanted to be there for her just as she had been there for them. Where the selfish person was abandoned in her time of need, at least that is the way she tells it. I'm sure most people around her were of the frame of mind that, she is difficult to deal with when her needs are small, so she will likely be impossible to deal with when her needs are big. Best to draw a line early so we don't get taken advantage of.

That sums up selfish versus selfless. Selfish actions may have benefits in the short-term, but have severe consequences in the long term. Where selfless behavior may not be as beneficial in the short-term, but in the long term it can have wonderful benefits. So the plight of the selfish all comes down to short-sightedness. They can't foresee how their actions may come back to haunt them.

With all that being said, this concept is not as straightforward a concept as it may seem. Our motivations can warp the results. Some people are so motivated by approval, that they will do everything they can buy people's acceptance. On the surface, their actions may seem selfless, but their true motives are for self-validation, not the benefit of others. Such people often end up getting emotionally drained and victimized by users.

Jesus himself admitted that our human flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41) While he wore a body of flesh, even he would take time out for himself. If Christ himself did that, shouldn't we also need to as well? We can't help and serve very efficiently if we allow ourselves to be completely used up after all. So why do we dismiss self-care so much?

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. -Luke 5:15-16

From a purely practical standpoint, we need to find a balance between these two extremes in our search for wholeness. Whether we are provoking payback and retaliation through our selfishness; or inviting parasites into our lives by being selfless to a fault. Such actions will only add to our brokenness. In a world so overrun by users, we must stop and consider if we are truly helping people find wholeness with our service to them, or only enabling them to stay broken.

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. -John 6:26

“Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it.” -John D. Rockefeller

"I have come to think that care of the soul requires a high degree of resistance to the culture around us, simply because that culture is dedicated to values that have no concern for the soul. To preserve our precious hearts, we may have to live economically against the grain, perhaps so as not to be forced into soul-maiming work just to place bread on the table or put our children through college." -Thomas Moore

a man praying in the middle of nowhere

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Wholeness: Conviction

Conviction and condemnation, two words with similar meanings in the church, a negative feeling over our sin. With the main distinction, being conviction leads to repentance, where condemnation leads to defeat. Granted, it can be a very fine line. So we need to do whatever we can, as far as it depends on us, to stay on the right side of it. Making sure our correction is always acted upon in love, not reactionary anger, even with ourselves. However, it is not always up to us, there are people who are so prideful, hypersensitive, or fragile in the ego that even the most gentle rebuke feels like condemnation.

But, what does this have to do with wholeness you may ask. One vital part of finding it is being teachable. If we don't possess a correctable attitude, then we will never even be able to let go of what we need to, to take hold of what's truly missing. Playing the victim card over constructive criticism would seem to indicate you believe that there is no room for change or growth. If that is the case, why are such people so defensive and emotionally fragile? A whole person should be a strong person.

As a Christian educator I do try to convict people, induce self-reflection, make people think, to question our own motives. Yet, when I do this with my online posts, I rarely get much of a response. As opposed to warn and fuzzy posts that garner lots of praise.

So naturally, I question the teachability of many people in the church. However, my skepticism of your teachability is unimportant. What really matters is, do you question it in yourself. You won't be able to take a positive step towards wholeness unless you shed off that inflexible and un-teachable attitude.

Every believer worth their salt will come face to face with an untruth in their thinking, or a crack in their heart that they just had no idea about at some point. This whole series spawned from the idea that we have such a one-dimensional notion of holiness after all. We should not count on convention or feelings to lead us on the right path. We must seek to understand it for ourselves. The true disciple who wants wholeness does not fear the inevitable changes required when conviction arises. The one still in love with the broken self will dismiss or make excuses for what they find. Which are you?

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. -Romans 12:3

As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. -Proverbs 27:19

A man cringing at the sight of a heart shaped mirror

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Wholeness: Fear

Once I heard someone equate selfishness with fear. Initially, that seemed like a stretch to me. However, after thinking about it, I started to see their point. For example, shopaholics are often trying to provoke the feeling of being loved. Underneath it all, they fear that nobody will love them so they are trying to love themselves by gifting to self. Narcissism often starts with a fear that nobody will respect and admire them the way they feel they deserve. So they embark on attempts to control and manipulate the people around them to create the illusion of superiority.

I once knew a very compulsive person, as opposed to an obsessive one, although we often lump them together, there are a few differences. Specifically, compulsive people are the ones constantly checking locks, double and triple-checking if they left the stove on, things like that. This person was so bad that she would take candles and their curling iron with them on trips to the store for assurance. The thing is compulsive people do the same thing with their relationships because they are needing continuous affirmation. So they are constantly fishing for signs that you still love them. If you overlook the bait or don't respond the way they think you should, you will encounter a very strong fear response. Being in a relationship with such a person was very overwhelming for an introvert like me. I often longed for another opportunity to tell her how wrong and selfish she was to treat me the way she did. Now, that I see her as a fearful person, and not so much as a self-centered one, her lack of wholeness is far more apparent. I understand that all her unkind behavior was a misguided attempt to create wholeness for herself in her own strength. So that, desire for retaliation has eased off.

Is there a self-centered person in your life that you judge very two-dimensionally? Maybe people accuse you of being selfish, but you just don't understand why. Consider the fact that all these seemingly selfish behaviors are attempts to alleviate fear. They really do go far deeper than we give them credit. Irrational fears in such cases are but a symptom of brokenness. Such people really need to seek the source of the fear, not just appease the negative feelings themselves. Otherwise, they will never find true wholeness.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” -Romans 8:15

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. -1st Peter 5:6-7

fear coming alive and exiting the heart to attack self

Friday, February 12, 2021

Wholeness: Valentine's Day edition

It occurred to me that Valentine's Day brings with it a unique opportunity in my series on Wholeness. I say this for the simple fact that humanity has this tendency to look to romantic relationships for wholeness. A more tangible thing than what we have and will be talking about in this series; hence, the appeal I'm sure. A trend we see in both the church and the secular world. That in itself makes this desire suspect. So I think it's time we take a long hard look at this notion.

I think the average Christian’s rationale in looking to marriage for completion all comes down to this passage.

And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no person is to separate.” -Matthew 19:4-6

In many ways, I think people tend to read way too much into this passage. It specifically says; two shall become one flesh. However, it does not say one soul, one spirit, one mind, one heart, or even one set of emotions, but one flesh. Of all the words, Jesus could have used, he said flesh. Yet, we often try to project these other ideas of one soul or heart into our relationships, and end up judging our parters by this ridiculously impossible standard. Looking to someone else to complete you is in reality a very burdensome expectation to heap upon another. If anything it will more likely break a person than make them whole. It's not something I think we should do to those we claim to love, but often do.

Granted, marriage is meant to be a holy sacrament. Yet, Jesus' choice of words doesn't necessarily imply anything supernatural about it. Considering what scripture says about the flesh in other parts of the Bible, which is seldom positive, tends to bring the notion out the clouds and back down to earth where it belongs. So let's not try to turn marriage into something mystical, simply because we wish it were so.

If anything I think Jesus was warning us to not take marriage lightly. To illustrate just how devastating separation can be to our wholeness, and overall well being.

If you find this post convicting at all, maybe you should apologize to your spouse for trying to expect them to be more God like than they are capable of being. That should be the best Valentine's Day gift ever.

‘’My orphan heart thought love was to complete someone else and to be completed by them. I didn’t understand that when two people who aren’t whole try to complete each other they both end up with less than when they started. I didn’t understand that the only one who can make a person whole is God.”
- Lacey Sturm, The Mystery

A couple pulling themselves apart at the flesh

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Wholeness part 3

In my 8/18/20 post, I made the rather bold statement of "Most Christians are too busy playing ring around the cross to embrace the resurrected life." As great as forgiveness is, it's meant to give us a chance to work out our salvation (Phil. 2:12) not as a license to sin. (Rom. 6:15) Weather we are consciously doing that, or just lack the persistence or know how to pursue greater glories. The result is the same, a plateau in our spirituality. We will never find wholeness while we are stagnating.

I don't want to over simplify this and make it seem easy, because it's not. Those that portray it as easy tend to be very prideful and arrogant, so it seems that they have merely traded one sin for another. The sinful nature of the flesh is indeed a powerful force, a force that cannot be overcome in the strength of the flesh. Yet so often that is just what we try. So in essence, we apply a fight fire with fire scenario, which creates an inferno. Believe me, trying to resist sin via the flesh can indeed turn into a virtual inferno of passions.

We truly need something more powerful than the flesh to be able overcome the flesh. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. We may hear this continually, but still, the Spirit can be a very abstract concept to wrap our mind around. He cannot be rendered down to a formula approach, or a systematic definition. Maybe this is why we tend to downplay him in our faith. Yet, we wonder why the church seems so powerless. See my previous post for more on the Holy Spirit. 

Keep in mind, the Spirit will not just give you the strength to overcome. He will reveal to you the truth behind your sin as well. Which in may ways can be the most daunting part of the process, but necessary for long term change. See my Enter the Wound Challenge post for more on this.

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. -Ephesians 4:22-24

It's not just a matter of putting on a new life, we must shed the old one as well. Anything old that we miss can soil the new. While this verse may make it seem easy, Jesus used more graphic imagery in Mark 9:43-47. While it may be off putting to some, I find it comforting that Jesus lets us know that he understands just how deeply attached our sinful nature is and recognizes that it's no easy task dealing with it.

Trying to drag too much of our old life into the new one can indeed impede our wholeness, but it is a process. A process I dare say we can be such procrastinators on. Like anything else, when we know we have a lot to do and not much time to do it in, we can be very deliberate with our time and get things done. Yet, when we have lots of time we can get very inefficient with our days, and leave much undone. A very dangerous game to play with our wholeness.

a man reclining on a cross rather than taking it up


Thursday, February 4, 2021

Wholeness part 2

God the father created us, the world broke us, and Jesus the son can recreate us. This is a significant statement in the creed of Christianity; one I don't think we take seriously enough. I say this because I don't think many people stop to consider the distinction between these three states.

The vast majority of men in prison have no relationship with their fathers at all. Most convicted serial killers were physically abused before the age of 5. Children of narcissists who don't become narcissists themselves will often have people pleasing tendencies as adults. Children of alcoholics can be such habitual liars that they will often lie, even when there is no need to. I could name a dozen other examples, but I think I've made my point. That point being, our brokenness can go to the very core of self, which can have a tremendous negative effect on our path in life. This world is so fallen, few escape childhood unscathed.

Despite this, the world still tells us to just follow our feelings blindly. Even when the world does acknowledge brokenness, it's often just as a rationale or excuse for destructive behavior. Yet, when we follow the wolds advice to embrace our brokenness, we will inevitably choose the quickest and easiest way to provoke the feelings we want or cover up the ones we don't. Which can lead to compulsive and self-destructive patterns as aforementioned. We may also transform ourselves into whatever validates us and grants us a feeling of acceptance and approval from the world. How can this lead to the true self, or healing?

If the church does not take this into consideration when dealing with the lost, their attempts to correct will only end up being critical, hurtful, and alienating. Which begs the question, would a truly holy new creation in Christ act this way? Well Matthew 7:1-6 would indicate no. (See my video Bad Judgment for more on this) Yet with this tactic being so common, it would seem to indicate that many in the church are not going far enough in their walk as disciples. They are stopping short of actual wholeness. Which is a huge obstacle in the growth of the church.

It's no wonder wholeness is such an alien concept to us, seeking it truly is the road less traveled. Where indulging your brokenness is a six lane highway. While God does indeed want you to embrace your true self, but you are probably will need to go through re-creation to get there. Where the world wants you to embrace your brokenness, so they have twisted and confused everything so much that many believe that it is the true self. The church isn't really helping by not leading by a good example, instead of a legalistic surface one. What state are you in?

The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse— who can understand it? I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings. -Jeremiah 17:9-10

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. -Ezekiel 36:26

Ezekiel 36:26