11 March 2010

Self-Esteem & Alternative Lifestyles

In America today, self esteem is not only touted as perhaps the root to progress in every area of your life, it is a staple doctrine for teachers, counselors, psychologists and 'BFF's' everywhere you go.

Wikipedia defines Self-esteem as: "… a term used in psychology to reflect a person's overall evaluation or appraisal of his or her own worth. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs (for example, "I am competent-incompetent") and emotions (for example, triumph-despair, pride-shame). Behavior may reflect self-esteem (for example, assertiveness-shyness, confidence-caution)." One social commentator wrote, "Self-esteem is a core identity issue, essential to personal validation and our ability to experience joy. Once achieved, it comes from the inside out. But it is assaulted or stunted from the outside in. A woman with low self-esteem does not feel good about herself because she has absorbed negative messages about women from the culture and/or relationships."

Interestingly, Webster's Dictionary defines self-esteem this way: "–noun 1. a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself; self-respect. 2. an inordinately or exaggeratedly favorable impression of oneself. Origin: 1650–60. —Synonyms See pride.

I found this to be quite revealing. As scripture reflects on self-esteem, we are most often pointed away from one's self, and towards others. Our lives, we are told, are to be Christ centered, or 'others centered' (see the awesome book, The Jesus Style, by Gale Erwin), and not self-centered. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not about going through life in a state of self-loathing and walking about with your head hung thinking that this is somehow the secret to a happy life; not at all. I, like God, want all people to live a fulfilled and joyful life, a life abundant. But I want that joy to be real, not mustered-up enthusiasm based on false hopes, unreal expectations and lies about the human 'condition' or false, unbiblical 'name-it-and-claim-it' charismania.
When we look into God's word He seems to be clear on this. Self-esteem defined by the world's standards is not the direction we need to be going. When you read the dictionary definition of self-esteem, it not only implies pride, but names it a synonym and includes as the secondary definition for the word; pride. While having pride in and of itself is not sinful if it is based on just biblical cause (proud to be a Christian, proud to be a lover of Jesus, proud to have read through my bible in a year for the third year in a row…), pride as in worldly a state of 'inordinately or exaggeratedly favorable impression of oneself' is not only unhealthy, it is unbiblical.

The gospel of Mark records these words spoken by Jesus: "34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Not only are we called to deny ourselves (ourselves meaning our fleshly and worldly desires) the way we want to do things, but we are to bear with Christian humility the things that the world throws at us as we devote our live to following Jesus. Our high school counselors will look at our emotionally and hormonally charged teens questioning an 'alternative' lifestyle and encourage them to do what you 'feel is right', and 'whatever your heart is telling you to do, stand proud of who you are, and fight against those who do not support you'. The reality is, that an alternative lifestyle is one that Jesus spoke of above, and Paul writes of in Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us "3Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind; let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." Compared to the way the world handles things, that is truly an alternative lifestyle.

Living in such a way that we long to serve others, thinking purposefully to esteem yourself lower than others, considering the interests, thoughts, pains, past and spiritual condition of others before you act, speak or make any decision is a lifestyle that all Christians should seek to live in, and is obviously in opposition to the world. I know, I know… this is not how we are taught to think. Freud and his cronies have been trying to tell us the opposite; that deep down man is good and that all we need to do is simply 'tap into' that good and learn how to express it. But to properly express it, we have to believe it, and to believe it we have to convince ourselves that our lifestyle choice of sin is really the best for us, as long as we believe it to be true. Yet at the same time, psychologist will agree that one of the best ways to feel better about yourself is to do kind things for other people. Random acts of kindness and all that.

Here is where God and the world depart. God tells us to live for others. Man tells us to live for ourselves. Man tells us we need to lift ourselves up and empower ourselves to overcome our adversities, or simply to accept ourselves for who we are and live with it. God tells us that the only power we have comes from Him, and that our works are like filthy rags. Ultimately the world leads us to a sense of self-pride that in the end forces the hair on the back of the neck and stand up in defiance while screaming, 'we will do this MY way and if you don't like it you are a hypocritical bigot!' Every reference to pride in the New Testament is in a negative way. God tells us to kneel in repentance, humble before Him, so that He can heal us.

Self-esteem the world's way leads to tragic ends that force us into a worldview in opposition of God. Biblical pride, is pride placed in one who we choose to Lord over us. Biblical self-esteem is esteeming ourselves as lowly sinners in desperate need of salvation, and living in the joy of the Spirit. As I Thessalonians 2:20 says of Jesus: "You are our glory and our joy!"

08 March 2010

When Loss of Life is a Just Price to be Paid

Colossians 3:3"For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Have you ever seen a set of hideous sideburns? I have. I've been a fan of the "king", Elvis, but with the older (and larger) he got, the more ridiculous I thought those sideburns looked. If anyone made them cool it was James Dean, Arthur Fonzarelli, or to today's generation the comic book character "Wolverine". But one thing we know for sure is that the name sake for the term 'sideburns', Civil War General Ambrose Burnsides, made a mockery of the male human face with the fuzzy architecture he carried about with him connecting his mustache with his hairline. Call them what you like, but those things could have been home to six breeding pairs of English Sparrows!

Not that it is any consolation, but Burnside's leadership was at times equally as poor as his choice of facial hair in the eyes of most historians. Starting off his military career with victorious campaigns in North Carolina and East Tennessee, he ended his career with disastrous defeats in Fredericksburg and the Battle of Crater. Later on Burnside better served his country in numerous elected offices, perhaps most notably as a Senator representing the good people of the State Rhode Island. But before he moved on to public service, he retired from military service best known for his actions in a portion of the famous battle of Antietam, at a place now and forever more known as "Burnside's Bridge".

In war, the question posed in the title of this devotional is a question that must be answered daily. As a former infantry soldier myself, I know that from time to time this price must be paid in human blood. Sacrifices must be made in order to gain or retain many God given freedoms. Some will argue this point of view and today's look into this topic (as you shall see shortly) is not meant to delve into that arena and so we will not spent much time there. I recently heard a 1996 sermon by none other than Jon Courson where he so aptly repeated, "Sacrifice releases much reward. Great sacrifice releases GREAT reward", and how true that is. But the bottom line is that sometimes loss of life is required in order that some be saved. This is as necessary to secure a human future free of the entrapments of physical slavery, as it is to secure a spiritual future free from the bondage to sin.

In our church yesterday, we started going through the book of Exodus. As an introduction it was easy to draw parallels between the Hebrews and their plight to escape the slavery of man, and the God designed picture of the same troubles man has in needing to escape the snare of a slavery to sin. I used other parallels in the life of David, the nation of Israel as a whole, and others to help focus the point. While the nation of the Hebrews, there referred to as the 'sons of Abraham' were no doubt enslaved by the Egyptian King who did not know Joseph. But God's point was that their slavery was far deeper than just the physical.
Paul put it best in Romans chapter 6: "4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin."

By Paul's point in human history the comparison, the 'picture' if you will was not no longer needed. In Moses time as God raised him up to be their deliverer from the bondage of slavery, the symbolism of the true coming Savior was needed. The Hebrews needed the symbolism of the death of the innocent lamb. They needed the symbolism of the doorframe and lintels baptized in the blood of that lamb. They needed the symbolism of the eating of the bitter herbs. They needed the symbolism of leaving their old home, and to leave for their new home with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and what they could carry in their arms. But now we no longer need the symbolism, as we now have the example in Christ.

Having given our lives over to Jesus to be our Lord and savior, bringing His gift of the Holy Spirit into our own hearts to lead us, it is easy to see that we need a Savior. It is time that we let Jesus be our Lord. The old man is dead and buried, and we must leave him there. It we are with Jesus in the death of our sin, we are with Jesus in the life of our spirit, and therefore this life needs to reflect the source. Dying to one's self is important. Dying to one's self so that Christ might live in me is the justifiable loss of life required so that we might live. The loss of our life is not only justifiable, it is necessary that the new man, renewed in Christ might live. Letting the old man die, is the just price to be paid for life eternal.

No one said this would be easy. Jesus prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane proved that. Even for Jesus, He had to commit to sacrificial and costly prayer sapping the energy out of him, and draining Him physically and spiritually to align His will with that of the Father in Heaven. We must be willing to do the same. Dying to self, and making sure that the old man stays dead sometimes requires hard work, and dancing on the grave of things of the past in the joy of our future. When it seems too hard, we must remember the sacrifice paid. Romans 5:6 tells us, "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." A sacrifice was made for us, it is high time we sacrifice for Him. The only sacrifice we can give to God that will have any affect is to make ourselves a living sacrifice; Holy and acceptable to God which is our reasonable service.

This type of sacrifice may not be the same as those paid men under command of Generals like Burnside. But if we, through patriotism, honor and duty are willing to do so for our nation created by God, why not for God Himself?