The Issue Of Identity


Setting aside the upheaval that the gender identity crisis has created, especially among the young, I realize we’ve been having an identity crisis of a different sort for years, even decades.

I don’t have the exact timeline, but at least for two decades according to one blog article I read, kids have been receiving participation trophies for involvement in youth sports. One article in the Baltimore Sun ties the proliferation of trophies to the push for self-esteem. “In the 1980s, self-esteem building became an educational priority really kicked off by the state of California.”

Apparently there is some debate about how healthy receiving these awards have been. I mean I read articles in the Washington Post and New York Times that discussed the subject, and the one above is reporting on a league that has decided not to give them out any more. Then there are bloggers defending Millennials who have been called The Participation Trophy Generation.

The argument seems to be entitlement and learning from not coming out on top versus low self-esteem.

All this has much more far-reaching affects than what anyone may have realized when they first came up with the idea that it would be cool to give all the kids a trophy—win or lose. For instance, some of this “everyone wins” thinking may explain why socialism seems appealing to a certain age demographic. But I have something even more serious in mind.

I wonder if there aren’t serious spiritual ramifications, not just from participation trophies, but from the entire self-esteem push. I wonder if we aren’t training kids to lie to themselves.

I’ve heard more than once, contestants on some “reality” TV game show, like Survivor—people who did something mean or really, really foolish that caused them to get kicked out of the game—say that no, they didn’t regret how they played; they were actually quite proud of themselves for their involvement. At the time, I was confused. I thought, You made such horrible mistakes and you don’t regret even one of them?

But now I’m thinking that’s what we are teaching our kids, and the adults who grew up with this self-esteem emphasis.

What’s also interesting is that teaching our kids to love themselves and that they all deserve a trophy for being on the team doesn’t seem to be producing happier people. Teen suicide hasn’t gone away. According to the CDC, teen suicide has increased in the US by 30% since the year 2000.

Mental Health America, in an undated article, reports,

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.

Science Daily reported a year ago that “More than 1 in 20 US children and teens have anxiety or depression.” We’re talking kids aged 6-17. Six!

Off hand, I’d say, the push for higher self-esteem isn’t working. I mean, what I see is closer to people feeling bad about themselves but unable to deal with the cause because they’re supposed to be winners.

I realize that’s an oversimplification. Like any problem, it undoubtedly has multiple contributing factors. But I don’t think we should ignore the fact that we are living in a culture that tells kids they aren’t sinners, that they do deserve . . . pretty much whatever they want. The word deserve continues to be advertisers’ favorite, I think.

But here’s the truth about each and every one of us. We are made in the image of God, though marred by sin. Not the individual acts of sin we do—those are results, not causes. The sin that we inherited from Adam makes us wonderful image bearers who walk away from the One who created us. We are, in essence, kind of schizophrenic.

But for the grace of God.

He was not content to let us turn our backs on Him without putting into motion a rescue plan. A plan that declares how loved we are, how forgiven, how washed, how renewed, made alive.

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col. 1:13-14)

We are the princess, saved by the knight in shining armor. We are the citizens of Metropolis rescued from destruction by the Superhero who saved the day. We are the servant girl pursued by Prince Charming.

The point is, our identity comes because of our relationship with God.

Some years ago I attended a Dodger baseball game with some friends, and our seats were one level up, right behind home plate. They were the very best seats. But I only sat there because my friends had company tickets. I was ushered into the primo section of the stadium, not because of my standing, not because I was someone special. I got there because of who I was with.

That’s an incomplete picture, to be sure, but spiritually speaking, I am not in relationship with God because of my merit. I’m in relationship with God because I am in Christ. I’m with Him.

And where is He? Seated “at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Heb. 1:3)” And I’m with Him.

That’s actually a transforming identity. No longer dead in my trespasses and sins, but alive, living in freedom from sin and guilt and the Law.

Funny how I could never enjoy this identity if I didn’t first admit that I can’t get there on my own.

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Faith And Hope In Christ


Today’s western culture believes humankind is good and advanced and capable. We can do whatever we put our minds to, be whoever we want to be. So much so, that there are countless preteens and teens becoming transgender individuals. They have decided, in the midst of the confusion of adolescence that they know what’s best for their lives, from that point on! As a result, they mutilate their bodies, condemn themselves to a lifetime of hormone treatment, walk away from the life they had and into the mindset of the opposite gender, as if it were their own. In other words, they are no longer from Venus. They are from Mars. Or vice versa.

The problem is, our thinking is not clear. When we are apart from Christ, we deceive ourselves. We say things like, Nobody’s perfect, though we also affirm, There is no sin nature.

Excuse me, but if there was no sin nature, wouldn’t at least one person down through history have managed to actually live without sin?

No, our muddled thinking says, because society messes us up. We’re good, but society isn’t. Which is just another one of those deceptions. I mean, how can people be good, but those same good people create a wicked society?

The problem today, first and foremost, is that we refuse to start where God starts: He is holy and we are not.

Well, we are not holy now. Before humankind fell by embracing this “We can be like God” approach, we were holy and pure and right before God. Now, not so much. One day, we who enjoy adoption as His children will again enjoy the sanctification God has in store for us.

But the “one day” all depends on whether or not we do an about-face. Essentially, we need to turn away from trusting our own understanding and turn to Jesus and the truth God has revealed about Himself and about salvation.

We need to resign as kings of the universe, which includes kings (or queens) of our own lives, and we need to enthrone God as the Lord of all.

Why would we do such a drastic transformation?

On an intellectual level, it makes sense:
God is all knowing; we are limited in what we know.
God is eternal; we are finite.
God is all powerful; we are weak.
God is good; we are largely out for ourselves.

There are many more, but the pattern should be clear.

On the practical level, we can see what trusting ourselves accomplishes. No, those who are separated from God are not miserable only and always. But even they can see that the not-holy state in which we live, has problems. There’s violence in the world and cruelty and greed and selfishness and pride and lying and sexual perversion and abuse. The world is not a place where anyone can find a “safe place” away from the offensive things that threaten us.

On the other hand, God promises His love and peace that extends beyond anything that we would normally expect. He gives hope and a place of refuge. He helps us make sense of the world; gives us a firm identity as His children, His heirs; gives us purpose. In other words, God answers the big philosophical questions of the human heart.

He fulfills instead of tearing down.

He is the hero we long for.

The answer to our, Why?

He is our hope made certain.

Our joy when all is lost.

He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His nature. The word of His power upholds all things.

He is the bridge between the Father and we flawed image-bearers.

By His grace we are saved.

I see a lot more reason in trusting God who is perfect, who is over all, above all, greater than all, instead of trusting in the cloudy thinking of flawed humanity. But even that comes from Him:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your body
And refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Photo by Nizam Abdul Latheef from Pexels

Published in: on February 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm  Comments Off on Faith And Hope In Christ  
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Who Needs A Savior?


John MacArthur, president of the Master’s Seminary here in SoCal, has begun airing a series of sermons on his radio program, Grace to You, about parenting. He’s said more than once in these early broadcasts that parents’ number one job is to help their children understand they are sinners. OK, that seems wrong.

Until I reflect on my own experience as a young child, trying to reason my way out of being part of the all in “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I didn’t want that to be descriptive of me! I figured, if I could just think of one person in the Bible who had not sinned (besides Jesus, because I understood He was God), then maybe I could be like that person. I hadn’t really dealt with what any sins I’d committed up to that point, made me.

So, yes, in my own experience, I needed convincing that I am indeed a sinner.

But why is that important?

Without an understanding of my situation—that I am a sinner, separated from God, destined for hell—I won’t comprehend my need for a Savior. Why would someone who is not drowning need to be pulled from the pool? Why would someone without a heart problem need a heart transplant? Why would someone not incapacitated by debt need debt relief?

Simply put, only those who recognize their problem will also recognize they need an answer to that problem.

To be honest, this great cultural shift we have experienced in the postmodern and post-truth era has harmed the gospel more than we may realize. People now a days have argued with me that no, we are not sinners. Never mind the clear evidence. Never mind that we have not stopped saying, “Nobody’s perfect.” Never mind that the logical deduction from the simple Biblical statement, “The wages of sin is death,” can only be that we are all sinners, because we all die.

But believing the lie that humankind is actually good, not sinful, not in need of a rescue plan, the idea of a Savior seems old-fashioned, out of date, unnecessary, quaint.

I’ll admit, I don’t like it, but I think MacArthur is right. Children, and adults, need to be convinced they are sinners.

Sadly, some people consider telling a child about hell to be a form of child abuse. After all, they might have nightmares, they might not be able to fall asleep at night, they might begin to worry and fear the future.

Well, children can also get nightmares, have a hard time falling asleep, and worry or fear the future, if we tell them they will be going to school when they turn six. In other words, just because something they must face may have unpleasant consequences, we should not pretend it doesn’t exist, that it won’t happen. School happens to kids in one form or another. We would not be helping a child by saying, don’t be anxious about school, don’t stay awake at night thinking about it, put it out of your mind because school is a non-issue—it’s somebody’s idea of a sick joke, and they should be prosecuted for child abuse if they told you anything else.

The good parent does not withhold information about hard things. They prepare their child for them instead. They pass along the secrets that will make their school experience a plesant and productive one. And they walk through the difficulties with them.

Why would a parent do less when it comes to their children’s eternal destiny? “Let’s not talk about it” is not an answer to the need of a child’s heart.

Am I a sinner? Do sinners suffer death as a result? Can I escape this fate?

I remember one night crying. I was sick and I had begun to think about death. My mom came to my bedside, wanting to comfort me. Why are you crying, she wanted to know. Because I don’t want to die. Oh, Becky, she said, you’re not going to die.How relieved I was! Until I realized she was referring to me dying from my present illness. But I meant, I don’t want to die, ever! The comfort I felt moments before was snatched from me. I didn’t have an answer to my problem.

Who needs a Savior? The better question is, who doesn’t? Who won’t face death? Who isn’t a slave to sin? Who has hope for eternal life without a Savior?

Nobody, no one, none of us.

So are we doing children any favors by withholding the truth and in the process withholding the hope that having a Savior brings?

I think not. The sooner we realize the situation of our eternal souls, the better, I think. Hard as it sounds, we simply cannot get to grace without first coming face to face with our need for grace. We cannot accpt God’s forgiveness until we realize we need to be forgiven.

We all need a Savior, and I think telling a child they are just like the rest of us, is a good thing.

Published in: on June 14, 2018 at 5:21 pm  Comments (6)  
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Is Sin Original? A look at history


It seems fitting that after writing about God’s judgment here and here, I look once more at why God needs to judge and discipline us human beings.

The general belief in Western culture today seems to tip toward the idea that man is fine, thank you very much. In fact we’re better than fine. We’re good. Or we will be as soon as we learn enough, as soon as we develop our empathy gene. Or have our selfishness instructed out of us.

The Bible gives us the accurate picture—of what we once were and what we’ve become.

– – –

This post subtitle probably chased away about half the regular visitors. 😉 Of course I could change it, but I like history and I think it’s important to learn from history. So today, a look at history.

The evangelical, Bible-believing Christians I know ascribe to the doctrine of original sin. The idea is that Humankind was created in God’s image, for communion with Him, but sin changed our condition permanently.

No longer does humans bear the untarnished image of God because we are now born in the likeness of Adam. Consequently, all our righteousness is like filthy rags. Our best effort at goodness falls far short of God’s holy standard. We are born in this condition, in need of a Savior, without the internal wherewithal to please God.

Not only does this doctrine square with Scripture, it squares with Humankind’s experience. There’s a reason we have as an idiom we all know to be true, Nobody’s perfect.

But even if that weren’t the case, the reliable, authoritative Word of God demonstrates the concept of original sin starting in the book of Genesis.

In chapter one:

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;

Then the command in chapter two:

The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.

Recorded in chapter 3 is Adam’s disobedience and the consequence he would face. But then this line:

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;

In other words, whatever else that line means, we see that there was a fundamental shift. Humanity was no longer the way God created us when He declared all He had made to be good. Genesis 4 records the first effects of this fundamental shift—Cain’s jealousy and ultimate murder of his brother, among other things.

But chapter 5 records perhaps the clearest declaration of this shift:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. (emphasis mine)

The clear implication is that Adam’s likeness and God’s likeness are no longer the same.

So what’s the point? Our culture does not believe in original sin. Ask the average man on the street and he’ll tell you Man is good, though he’ll just as likely turn right around and tell you nobody’s perfect.

Some time ago as I reread an old college textbook, Religion in America by Winthrop S. Hudson, I discovered that the roots of this cultural change (because the depravity of Man was universally understood and accepted in western civilization from some time during the 2nd century AD until the 19th century) stem from American Protestantism. Not exclusively, but in a large part.

America was a New World, with possibilities untold. Some years before independence, the colonial settlers experienced a Great Awakening that established Christianity as a way of life.

After independence the Second Great Awakening spurred believers on to hold camp revivals and send out missionaries and build more churches and colleges and schools all with the intent to bring the lost to salvation and teach the young to live godly lives.

But there began to be an added incentive. With all this hopefulness and push toward moral purity came a belief that God’s kingdom was being established physically right then and there.

And so, the shift began. Could it not be that Humanity, if given the right circumstances, could choose to live a holy and pure life in obedience to God? Could it not be that a community of such men and women would lead to a godly society? And wasn’t that the idea found in the Bible concerning God’s kingdom, when God’s law would be written on people’s hearts?

Consequently, what started as a work of God seems to have become a work of men, built upon their good works (which Scripture says are but filthy rags), to the point that men came to believe, not only in the goodness of their works but in the goodness of their being.

This is obviously a simplified, stripped down version of that period of history, but here’s the thing. Even when the two world wars in the 20th century shot to pieces the notion that the world was getting better and better, the idea that Humankind was good had become a best-loved belief. And humanism spread. Even into the church.

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in October 2010.

Published in: on March 23, 2017 at 4:06 pm  Comments Off on Is Sin Original? A look at history  
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The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2011.

Nobody’s Perfect


familynews_061514I don’t remember a time as a child when I didn’t go to church and Sunday School, unless I was sick. At some point the Sunday School teacher told the class that all people everywhere had sinned. How I resisted that idea! I related that story in an early post.

I remember distinctly that I wanted to believe I could live without sin. I didn’t have the habit of lying and I’d never stolen anything. I was young enough that most of my actions were monitored by my parents. I was also the youngest in the family, so if my parents weren’t watching, chances are my brother or my sister was. In short, I didn’t have a lot of opportunity to sin.

So maybe, I thought, with the way things were going, I could be the first person, besides Jesus of course, to not sin.

Well, I think it’s pretty clear that sin already had a stranglehold on my life. I mean, how much pride does a little person have to have to think she might alone resist all temptation and stand beside Jesus as a sinless person?

The problem was that I was blind to my pride and therefore blind to my sin. I set myself to studying the matter of sin. Everyone I knew had some sin I could identify, so I turned my attention to the Bible. Nope, all those people had sinned, too. I finally had to admit that I fell into the “all have sinned” camp, but I did so with great reluctance.

All that to say, I understand when people who are not Christians don’t want to think of themselves as sinners. Competitive people especially, who like to meet the standard set before them (and often want to do better than everyone else in the process), and people who want to be in control, don’t like to be told we can’t do something.

I can’t be sinless? What are you talking about? Just watch me!

And of course, by that time it’s already too late. The sin that was crouching at the door is now in full control.

Why?

Because sin is actually already in our hearts.

We have this basic fact recorded for us in the Bible. We know that sin took hold of Adam when he rebelled against God, and all of us since have been born in Adam’s image—in his likeness.

Most interestingly a group of Yale scientists have found a way to measure the moral values of infants too young to talk. Their findings are clear: babies aren’t blank slates at all. They prefer kindness and generosity, and yet they have prejudices. They are just and they are greedy. (See “Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature“).

In one discussion I had about sin with someone who thinks the idea is reprehensible, she explained bad behavior as immaturity. Just like newborns don’t know how to talk or walk or chew (mostly because they don’t have teeth!), they don’t know how to show empathy. They need to be taught. And if they keep learning, they will one day move away from things that create barriers between people.

Except the science shows that theory simply is not true. Infants do know which is the kind puppet and which is the selfish one or the mean one. And yet the babies themselves choose to do the selfish, the greedy when given the opportunity.

But, as my atheist friend suggested, good teaching can change this pattern of selfishness—up to a point. The scientist’s conclusion based on the study of the older children:

They’ve been educated, they’ve been inculturated, they have their heads stuffed full of the virtues that we might want to have their heads stuffed with.

So we can learn to temper some of those nasty tendencies we’re wired for—the selfishness, the bias—but he says the instinct is still there.

The instinct, the sin nature, is still there. We can mask it. We can pretend it’s not there. We can call it by another name, but the fact is, nobody’s perfect.

Nobody.

So if we’re all in the same boat, then what’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal: we’re in the boat, and God is not. And we need God. After all, we were made for relationship with Him. That’s how we received the inclination to value kindness and justice which the Yale scientists discovered in their tests of babies.

Sure the scientists chalk these traits up to evolution, but I’m not sure why they think that greed is a trait passed on from animals. From all I’ve seen, animals seem to use what they need and move on. Sure, squirrels might store up nuts for the winter, but it’s not like they’re storing up nuts for ten winters to come, particularly so they can have more nuts than any other squirrel in the tree, and more specifically so they can have more nuts when they die. In truth, they aren’t looking to win by on-upping their fellow squirrels.

In reality, prejudice, greed, hate, selfishness are human traits. Sinful traits. We have them because we’re made in the image of the sinful people who begot us.

The key point here is that sin is universal. It’s a problem we all relate to because we all have to deal with the imperfection of the people around us and the imperfection of our own hearts that lead us to do hurtful things to others in return.

Identifying sin is only a first step, however. Sort of like recognizing you’re lying in a patch of poison oak. Once you see the problem, you can take steps to deal with it. And that’s the good news of Christianity. God has dealt with this sin issue for us, and now He wants us to trust Him.

Cam Newton And Society’s Narcissistic Make-over


Tourist_taking_selfie_with_stickMillennials, those born between the 1980s and the early 2000s, have been accused of being narcissistic, but they’re just the latest—and perhaps greatest—version of the Me Generation.

The Baby Boomers once wore the Me Generation tag, and it was appropriate. We stood in sharp contrast to the Greatest Generation who scraped through during the Great Depression and sacrificed for their country in World War II. They literally carried the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Baby Boomers? We carried the weight of our own desires.

Millennials have just perfected what we started. But does that necessarily mean that group of adults is narcissistic? In fact, what is narcissism?

According to dictionary.com, narcissism is defined as “an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity; self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism” (as quoted in “Narcissism and Millennials in the Digital Age.”

Some scholars have postulated that millennials are in fact more self-absorbed than other generations, and the cause is social media. Others claim that teachers and parents are to blame because of an inordinate amount of praise lavished on ordinary children:

Throughout the last few decades, there has been an increase in parental coddling and the so-called “self-esteem” movement. Parents and teachers trying to instill a healthy sense of self-esteem in children by praising them lavishly often do more harm than good. In fact, studies show that children offered compliments for a skill they have not mastered or talents that they do not have are left feeling emptier and more insecure. (“Is Social Media to Blame for the Rise in Narcissism?” by Lisa Firestone)

Firestone goes on to build a case for parental causation, not social media, citing studies that indicate a person’s personality is generally in place by age 7—prior to involvement in social media. In addition, she points out what’s behind the scene in a narcissistic individual:

Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we’ve mastered, values we’ve adhered to, and care we’ve shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one’s self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy.

In essence, Firestone is saying that a child who has been told he is the greatest and can be the best at whatever he wants, develops anxiety about achieving those expectations.

The great concern, however, is that the narcissistic behavior of millennials is creating a make-over of our society.

Author and Time editor at large Jeffrey Kluger argues that the popularity of the “selfie” is just one way that our culture is becoming more narcissistic. In fact, he says, narcissistic behaviors today aren’t just more accepted; they’re celebrated. “We’ve become accustomed to preeners and posers who don’t have anything to offer except themselves and their need to be on the public stage,” he says. (“The Persistent Myth of the Narcissistic Millennial” by Brooke Lea Foster)

Of course there is debate that the Millennials are actually more narcissistic than their predecessors. In fact studies indicate only one percent of the group would fit the clinical definition of narcissistic. Society has co-opted the word to reflect “traits people deem unpleasant or unlikable in a person” (Foster).

Cam_NewtonUnfortunately, I think Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton might be one of the glaring examples of narcissistic behavior, celebrated. Newton led his team to an impressive 15-1 record in 2015, then swept through the playoffs and entered the Super Bowl with his team favored to win it all. Along the way, he picked up the league’s MVP award.

But Newton had his detractors because after every score he celebrated . . . well, himself. When asked by a reporter if he was the Lebron James of the NFL, he answered, Why isn’t Lebron James the Cam Newton of the NBA?

In fact, Newton does have some similarities with James who readily accepted the designation “King James.” Cam Newton went one better, embracing the title “Superman.”

The narcissistic traits reared their ugly heads after the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Newton pouted through a mandatory post-game press conference before prematurely walking out. If that weren’t bad enough, he followed up the next day by embracing his behavior. He wasn’t sorry. He was a sore loser, he said. And anyone who is a good loser is a loser.

His behavior was perfectly in keeping with narcissistic tendencies, but here is this role-model athlete telling his fans and followers that the new acceptable, and even preferred, behavior after losing is to pout, be rude, and show disrespect to whomever is in your way.

The thing is, such behavior is consistent with our sin nature. We all think more highly of ourselves than we ought because our sin nature has us believing that we can be like God, that if given half a chance, we might actually be better at His job than He is.

How in opposition is this position to Scripture:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and turn away from evil. (Pro. 3:5-7)

Rather than putting ourselves forward, we are to acknowledge God. Rather than following our own wisdom, we are to trust the LORD. Rather than depending on our own perspective, our own plans, our own desires, we are to reverence God.

The two worldviews couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.

Selfism or Narcissism is taking firm root in the hearts of people in our society, not as something we need to grow out of but as something acceptable and celebrated. Thank God that He still gives new life to those who turn to Him. That He still rescues us from the dominion of darkness. That He still makes it possible for us to lay aside the old self with its evil practices.

But I have to wonder if narcissism doesn’t make it harder for a person to see himself as a sinner in need of a Savior.

Reprise: What’s Offensive about Grace?


God's Great GraceWho would ever find grace offensive? We’re talking about God’s free gift. His favor—unsought, unearned, undeserved—yet something God chooses to give because of His great love. In what way is that an offense?

Yet people are offended by this good news. Why? I think there are several possibilities.

1) God’s gift of grace is a result of Man’s need for grace. And why does Man need God’s favor? Because not only are we sinners but our sin prevents us from coming to God on our own.

Some people, however, don’t want to hear about Man’s sin. They’ve bought into the worldly lie that humankind is good (it’s society that’s messed us up! 😮 ) So the idea that God extends His grace is offensive. Only a weak, wounded, incapable person needs a saving hand. Someone who views himself as strong, whole, and adequate might be offended at a person declaring the opposite.

2) God’s grace requires belief in God. Unfortunately, some people are offended by the idea that God exists. If they can’t see Him, then He isn’t, from their perspective. Their unwillingness to accept revelation, and their determination to rely on their own understanding make the idea of a Supreme Being detestable. Consequently, His offer of grace is offensive.

3) God offers grace uniquely through His Son. The idea that Jesus is the only means by which a person can receive God’s grace is offensive to some. Could it be these people don’t like being told what to do, that they don’t handle do-it-or-else very well? Apparently they are offended at the lack of options, at the requirement to proceed through the only open door.

4) God’s grace is a free gift. Some people are adamant that they don’t accept charity. They pay their own way, and they’re determined not to change for God. He offends them by offering to cover for them because in so doing, He’s implying that they can’t make it on their own. And they’re convinced they can.

It seems to me that all these reasons for people to view God’s grace as an offense have one thing in common: pride. Pride colors our view of humankind so that we don’t see our sin nature. Pride keeps humans from accepting revelation over against our own rational interpretation of the world. Pride keeps us from accepting God’s solution instead of the ones people have imagined. Pride keeps a person from realizing he can’t reach God through his own efforts.

So why is grace the offense? Seems to me, grace rubs our pride the wrong way.

This article first appeared here in Feb 2009.

Published in: on October 13, 2015 at 4:32 pm  Comments (3)  
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Reprise: My Deceitful Heart


CO_21_NB_reassurance_sign,_Colorado_SpringsBack when I was in college, I would spend the summers with my parents in Denver. One year we took a couple short road trips on consecutive weekends. One was an hour’s drive north, the other an hour’s drive south.

The next week a family we knew came to visit for several days. During that period, their two teens and I decided to go to a popular movie they hadn’t seen yet. I told them I knew this particular movie was playing locally because I’d seen it at a theater we’d passed the previous weekend.

My dad helpfully looked up the information and gave me the exact freeway off ramp exit number. I took the directions, though I didn’t think I’d need them. After all, I’d seen the theater clearly from the freeway, so I knew we couldn’t miss it.

Off we went. Before too long, however, I noticed that the exit sign numbers were not advancing toward the particular one I was looking for.

No problem, though, I thought. I knew I was going in the right direction because I’d seen the theater with my own eyes. Perhaps, I reasoned, the numbers would reverse their order once we left the city proper.

My guests were amazingly patient, even as time and miles piled up. Even as the exit numbers continued to flip past in the wrong order. Even when that pattern didn’t change once we left the city. And even when we didn’t see the theater from the freeway.

I couldn’t understand what was wrong. Perhaps the information my dad had found was wrong or maybe he copied it incorrectly or … and then it hit me. I had indeed seen the theater, but not the previous weekend when we had taken our trip north. I’d seen it two weeks ago when we headed out of town going south.

Here’s the point, I learned that day how unreliable I am as a determiner of truth. I had the information my dad gave me, the exit numbers on the freeway signs, and a missing theater, but I still trusted my own idea of what was true. I even rationalized the differences and persisted when every indicator said I was wrong.

I’ve had to re-learn that lesson multiple times, but that one incident stands out as an illustration of how easily fooled my hard, prideful heart can be, and conversely, how much I need the authoritative Word of God to serve as the sign posts of life.

Of course, I have to believe what the signs say rather than rationalizing away what I don’t like or don’t agree with.

    Love your neighbor? Sure, I can do that … except, not that family with the really loud, late Saturday night parties and the noisy motorcycles (besides, their kids are probably involved with gangs).
    Speak the truth in love? Sure, I can do that … except, I don’t want to offend the people in my office, so I’ll just let slide their Bible-bashing (they probably wouldn’t change their attitudes even if I stuck up for the Bible).

It is so easy to find excuses to trust my own foolish, willful, wayward heart rather than the sure, authoritative, unchanging Word of God.

But you know what God says about my heart?

The heart is more deceitful than all else/ And is desperately sick;/ Who can understand it?
– Jeremiah 17:9

God goes on to say that He knows the heart and He gives “to each man according to his ways.” But here is His assessment of our ways:

We have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
– Rom 3:9b-12 (the all caps are in the original and indicate quotations from the Old Testament)

Original sin? You bet. My heart so fools me, I’d believe in an instant that I’m good, if I could. In fact I tried. When I was very young, probably in first grade, the Sunday school teacher told us we were all sinners.

Not me, I thought. And I set about proving it. I figured if I could find one, even one person in the Bible who wasn’t a sinner, then I could be like that person. Jesus, I understood was perfect, but He was God, so I needed someone else.

I finally set on Moses and asked my mom if he wasn’t perfect. No, she said, he sinned. How? I asked. For starters, he committed murder.

Then how about David? No, he stole another man’s wife and had him killed. He wasn’t without sin either.

OK, I reasoned, if even the Bible people sinned, then it must be true. All sin, even me.

It wasn’t until years later I learned about my nature to sin, and I actually discovered that myself, when I was reading John 3:18. The problem isn’t sins I commit; the problem is my rejection of God. That’s the nature I have—one that wants to believe in myself, wants to choose my own way, wants to trust me despite the evidence and God’s witness that my heart is deceitful.

This post originally appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on October 2, 2015 at 6:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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Reprise: Was Christ A Right-wing Conservative?


Medieval_Week_2010_the-kingWhen I address a subject I suspect might be controversial, I find I want to qualify my position before I state it. So here’s the qualification: I believe the Bible addresses a number of sin issues that concern right-wing conservatives. Things like abortion and the definition of marriage.

What I don’t find in the Bible, though, is Christian political activism. Of course, that could be because of the different forms of government in Bible times. Perhaps, then, we should advocate for a monarchy. 😉

The truth is, no matter what form of government we design, man’s sin nature dooms it. Monarchies can be benevolent as long as the king is good, but watch out when an evil king takes power. See, for example, Judah’s evil king Manasseh who indulged in child sacrifice as part of his idol worship.

If we believe the Bible, a democracy ought to be a guarantee of a sinful government. Scripture says the road is narrow leading to life. By implication, we can conclude there are more people who are opposed to God than who follow Him. So in a democracy, believers will be out-voted.

But the founders of the present US government came up with what looked like a sure thing—a representative government littered with checks and balances. Surely not all branches of government could be simultaneously corrupted by the influences of the world, could they? In truth, they may have developed the best government on the planet — for about a day. Or maybe a little longer. But even then it wasn’t perfect.

You see, they couldn’t predict how powerful lobbyists would become, how democratic our representative process would become, how legislative our courts would become, how apathetic our voters would be come, how bureaucratic each part of government would become.

And yet, given the problems of all governments, there are still some Christians who think the answer is to create better government.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we need Christians in politics. More importantly, I think we need Christians in government. But I also think we need Christians in entertainment, in plumbing, in banks, in schools.

Yet I see professing Christians expending themselves on political causes, as if changing a law or a Congressman will somehow bring heaven on earth.

It won’t.

What’s more, in the political activism, many see vitriol — a win-at-all-costs attitude, a bullying, and yes, an intolerance.

I’ll tell you what I don’t see, or at least can’t imagine. I can’t imagine Jesus yelling invective at those on the opposite side of the street. Certainly He did not flinch when it came to spiritual matters. He showed zeal for His Father’s house when He fashioned a whip and went in after the cheats manning the money-changing tables. He showed intolerance toward those who pretended holiness.

But political change? It wasn’t what He was about.

He came to change people—to redeem us and make us new. And when He left earth, He gave us a charge to make disciples, not to make a godly government.

Of course I want a godly government. I pray for a godly government. I vote for those I believe will best lead us into a society that makes it possible for us to make disciples. I just don’t see Jesus leading us into political reform.

This post first appeared here in April 2011.