Thinking Highly of Ourselves

I have just come to realize this morning that there is an additional way that the religious spirit has affected our thinking – how we think about ourselves.  The religious spirit pounds into us that it is wrong for us to think highly of ourselves for that is pride and pride is wrong.  And those who support this view, use passages from the Bible to show this is true.

But what if it’s not the thinking-highly-of-ourselves that is the issue but, rather, how that affects our behavior and actions toward those around us?  Did Jesus think lowly of himself?  Or was he so secure in his divinity, as Paul says in Philippians 2, that he didn’t need nor had any desire to chase after being equal with God because he was already equal with God, being a member of the God-head?  And if the religious spirit is correct in telling us that is wrong for us to think highly of ourselves, how will we ever be truly able to carry out what Jesus says is the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself?”  If I don’t think highly of myself, the love I give to my neighbor won’t be love but, rather, self-loathing and pity.

Before writing what I quoted above, Paul wrote, “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus…”  Christ was secure in his nature as God.  Taking on the likeness of humanity and the form of a slave and becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross, (all who died on a tree were cursed of God.  Wrap your brain around that one, but I digress) was possible because he was secure in his divinity and becoming human was not going to eliminate that nature.  So thinking highly of himself and his standing was what actually gave him the ability to do what he did.

On the other hand, the religious spirit says you must consider yourself worthless, or nearly so (anything more would be pride and therefore sin), before you can truly carry out the command to be a servant and consider others better than yourself.  Is that how Christ thought of himself?  And I consider myself worthless, or nearly so, how well will I be able to love my neighbor?

But what of Paul’s exhortation of “…in lowliness of mind consider one another more excellent than yourselves?”  Doesn’t that seem to say the opposite of what I’m asserting?

Actually?  It doesn’t.

The word that is translated as “lowliness of mind,” speaks to impiously exalting one’s self.  It must be seen in connection with the “selfish ambition” and “vain glory” Paul mentions earlier in that same sentence.  It is the expression about which Paul is speaking.  When a person does things out of selfish ambition and vain glory, that person is actually revealing the fact that s/he thinks very lowly of him/herself and, therefore, has to grasp at things in view of people that will somehow prop up his/her intrinsic value and worth.  And that’s exactly what Paul says Christ did not do.  So, Paul isn’t saying we must think of ourselves as worthless or nearly so, though that’s the way this verse is commonly interpreted.  He’s saying that there isn’t any need to do things how the world and the religious spirit says to do them.  The attitude of Christ was that he knew who he was and is and his position in the God-head.  He didn’t have to demonstrate selfish ambition so that people would be quite aware of his identity and, through that awareness, help solidify and confirm his identity and nature.

It is appropriate and good for the adopted sons and daughters of God to think highly of themselves because that’s how God thinks of us.  As Paul says in Ephesians 1:18, the saints (all who have believed the message of Christ) of God are God’s inheritance and I’m pretty sure God thinks quite highly of His inheritance.  Also, Christ is in us and we are in Christ.  And I’m pretty sure God thinks quite highly of Christ and, therefore, He thinks quite highly of us.  Therefore, that same type of thinking should also be ours.

It is from this place of knowing who and whose we are, that which causes us to think highly of ourselves, that releases us for and launches us into ministry and mission in our communities.  Thinking of ourselves as God thinks of us allows us to proclaim to people, “This is who God sees you to be.”  As was written by Allison Brown, this “empowers people to leave a low place of discouragement or limitation and rise to be able to see the passion God has for them.  It can root them deeply into the high places of His affection and allow them to believe what He believes about them.”

And it’s our mission to proclaim it.

A very powerful thing

Having someone believe in you is quite a powerful thing.

Through my wife, Mary Jo, I have witnessed this power firsthand.  She is the one of two directors for our high school’s spring musical.  I, and others in the community, are continually amazed at the level she, along with the other director, are able to get the students to perform.  It is often commented that the level of their performances are of college-level quality.  The bar of expectation and performance is set high, but not because she wants to be mean.  She sets the bar at the appropriate height for that particular cast because she knows they can achieve that level of performance.  They possess the ability.  Many times, though, it is not enough for the students themselves to believe it; it also takes a director who also believes in them, a director who will not let them settle for a lower level of achievement because she knows they are better than that.  Because of that, she drives them, and drives them hard, but they respond because they know she wouldn’t be doing that if she didn’t believe in them, if she didn’t believe they were capable of more.  And her belief drives them forward and upward.

If you are an adopted son or daughter of God, did you realize that God believes in you?  I mean, really believes in you?  This is one of the awesome direct implications of the new relationship with God in the New Covenant in Jesus.  God believes in you, because, in truth, if He didn’t believe in you, He wouldn’t believe in Himself.  The reality of that last statement is found in one of the fundamental differences between the Old Covenant and the New.  In the Old, God’s Spirit would come upon people and then lift off after a while.  It was called “visitational” in nature.  But in the New, God’s Spirit comes to live within the believer, never to leave.  This is called “habitational.”  So with the believer’s new, true, and only nature being Christ, if God didn’t believe in us, He would not believe in Himself.  And that just isn’t how God does things.

And as awesome and powerful and effective as the belief my wife has in her actors is, how much more so when it is God who is believing in us?  Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6 are on point: “…being confident of this thing, He who inaugurated in you a good work will carry it on toward completion until the day of Christ.”  How is it possible to have any higher level of confidence then when God is the one working?  And He continues to work because He knows with what He has already filled His adopted sons and daughters.  And He believes in that.  Therefore, He believes in you and He believes in me.

How awesome is that?  How powerful is that level of belief when we truly realize it?  Imagine what can be accomplished for His glory and praise and kingdom.  All because the Almighty God believes in us.

Believe it.  Live it.

A Religious War Waging in America?

I believe there is a religious war being waged in America, a war that has been ongoing for many years.  No, it’s not Christianity versus Islam.  Nor is it Christianity versus atheism.

It’s Christianity versus the religion of consumerism.

Consumption of goods and services becomes consumerism when an individual purchases and displays these signs to others with the subconscious intent of procuring social recognition that grounds his or her personal significance in a community. Purchasing the latest and greatest in a car for status in the community would be an example of this.  Whatever that consumer product or service is, a status level is connected to it, a level that helps a person’s overall status within the community.

What has happened in this war is that many families are just one emergency away from extreme financial difficulty.  According to a report by the Federal Reserve Board, 24% of households in the United States experienced some type of financial hardship in 2014, but 45% reported that they didn’t have an emergency fund to cover up to 3 months worth of expenses.  Additionally, 47% reported that an unexpected expense of $400 would create a significant challenge. (source: http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/2014-report-economic-well-being-us-households-201505.pdf)

According to a report from the J.P. Morgan Chase Institute, except for top earners, U.S. households across the income spectrum lacked the liquid assets they would need to weather adverse shocks in income and consumption.  (source: http://www.jpmorganchase.com/content/dam/jpmorganchase/en/legacy/corporate/institute/document/54918-jpmc-institute-report-2015-aw5.pdf)

I’m reasonably positive that many Christians find themselves in the 45%, the 47%, or those lacking the necessary liquid assets.  And that’s a problem.

Why?

Because in order to be able to demonstrate the generosity God has placed within the believer through His nature being the believer’s new nature, that believer must position him/herself to be able to do so.

What I mean by positioning is not consuming all income for one’s own living and pleasure.  It means living in such a way that an amount of money can be given to those who are in need.  It means living below one’s level of income.  It means not getting a new vehicle when the old one is still serviceable.  It means not taking out a loan and paying interest on something that decreases in value, like a car.  Here’s how I hear a person requesting a loan to buy a car – “I want you to give me money to buy something that goes down in value, and since I’ll be losing money in the depreciation, let me throw some additional money down that black hole to show my gratitude for the opportunity.”

Another example would be buying as big a house as possible in order to get the maximum tax credit from mortgage interest, when a smaller, less expensive house would be more than sufficient.  Here’s how that math works – “Let me send an extra $10,000 to the bank so I can get $3,000 from the government.”  Whoever said that spending an extra $10,000 in order to get $3,000 in return was good math was an idiot.

I’m not saying that a Christian shouldn’t have nice things.  What I am saying is that the Christian must analyze his/her consumption in light of two things.  First, does his/her consumption allow for the ability to handle an unexpected expense, one that would cause a financial hardship if unprepared?  Second, does his/her level of consumption allow him/her to be generous when genuine needs are brought to his/her attention.  If the Christian cannot answer in the positive in both cases, s/he needs to seriously consider his/her level of consumption.

Over the past 18 months, Mary Jo and I have had opportunities to be generous to those in need (a couple being significant), beyond what we give to our church.  These are needs that are brought to our attention and we are in a position to meet those needs.  And as we have met those needs, I have told the ones on the receiving end that the reason we are giving them the money is because God has been generous to us and we are demonstrating that generosity to them.  I directly connect it to God’s goodness, because that’s what I truly want people to see as the reason behind the giving.

And, frankly, churches are not immune to the effects of consumerism either.  All one needs to do is look at a church’s budget or how much money it spends on a new facility versus how much it spends on ministry and outreach in order to determine the level of the effect.  I know of one church that about 3 years ago spent $130 million on a new facility, one that was needed because the old building wasn’t large enough.  Much pride in the new facility was reported in news articles.  I realize that my dad was right when he once told me, “It’s more fun (easier) to spend someone else’s money,” but what about, instead of spending $130 million on a new facility, planting a daughter church in another area of town and using that $130 million for outreach and ministry?

In waging this war, the Christian must evaluate on what s/he is basing his/her significance and worth.  Is it in the possession of stuff and status in the eyes of the community?  Or is it found in the relationship s/he has with God through Christ as an adopted son or daughter?  And if the second one is the answer, remember this: there will be evidence to support this claim, evidence that reveals one to be in a position to be generous and does so.

Mind-blowing

“And we have known and have believed the love which God has in us.  God is love, and the one abiding in the love abides in God and God abides in him.  In this the love has been perfected among us, that we should have boldness in the day of judgment, because just as He is, we also are in this world.” 1 John 4:16-17 (JHLT)

“…because just as He is, we also are in this world.”

Have you ever stopped and truly considered this statement?  I mean really stopped?  It’s mind-blowing.

If you are an adopted son or daughter of God, meaning a follower of Jesus, I would encourage you to take some time today and consider the incredible implications of this very simple statement.

Ask yourself this question: “What image of God am I showing to the world?”

Hope they enjoyed those 2 minutes of chocolate “bliss”

(Please watch the video first before reading the rest of this blog post.)

Mark Dice could not get one person to choose a 10 oz. bar of silver over a king-sized Hershey’s candy bar.  The candy bar sells for about $1.50-$2 depending on where you live and if it’s on sale.  The silver bar, according to today’s price of silver per ounce, is worth $152.80.

What does this reveal about people?

First, people are only interested in immediate gratification.  What I mean by that is that they judge the value of something based upon how quickly the gratification received from the item can be experienced.  In choosing the candy bar, they can immediately, for a couple of minutes, enjoy chocolate “bliss.”  All it takes to receive the gratification is to tear off the wrapper and begin eating.  In order to receive gratification from the silver bar, it will entail taking it to a place that buys silver.  That means taking the time to find the place and then go and complete the transaction.

So what is immediate gratification worth?  Well, most businesses that buy silver will only give you, at most, 50% of the actual market value.  So, let’s go with that percent.  So, that 10 oz. bar of silver will get you up to $76.40.  So, the potential value of that immediate gratification is $74.40.  It probably would take about 2 minutes to eat that candy bar.  So, the hourly value of that immediacy is $2,232.

I would think that 3 hours of research and traveling to a place to sell the silver would be more than sufficient to complete the transaction.  That means an hourly return of almost $25.  How many people, if offered an opportunity to make $25/hour for a few hours would jump at the opportunity?  Many I believe.

Second, people cannot see anything that is not right in front of them.  They cannot see beyond their nose.  They struggle thinking creatively.  They struggle to consider or see possibilities not readily apparent.

Third, this reveals that people are shackled to the adage, “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”  I understand skepticism when offered a deal that seems too good to be true, but what would you be out if you chose the silver bar and it turned out to be worthless?  A $2 candy bar, that’s what.  These people were unwilling to take a chance over a $2 candy bar.  People are adverse to risk, even a good risk.  These people revealed that they are unable to weigh potential risk against the potential reward.

Hope they enjoyed those 2 minutes of chocolate “bliss.”

Do Christians deny a part of God’s nature by saying this?

Growing up, I often heard a particular saying within the church.  During those years, I only heard it applied to Baptists, but as I have talked with people from other parts of the faith family, this same phrase has also been commonplace with Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Pentacostals, etc, etc.  I came to realize that there probably wasn’t one part of the family in which this phrase was not applied.  Baptists certainly had no monopoly on this phrase.

Since I am a Baptist, I have often said that this phrase is the antithesis of what it means to truly be Baptist in the historic sense.  That may also be true of other parts of the faith family, but I just haven’t done the historical research to determine that.  But I do know that it is the opposite of what it truly means to be Baptist, but many people who claim the name of Baptist just don’t realize this fact.

As I have meditated about the topic God wants unfolded this coming Sunday, He also made me aware that uttering this phrase and connecting it to His adopted sons and daughters actually denies a part of His nature.  This is true because His nature, through Christ, has become our nature.  Therefore, as John the Apostle says, “Just as He is, also are we in this world,” (1 John 4:17b).

What is this phrase?  “We’ve never done it that way before.”

An important aspect of God’s nature is creativity.  The account of creation in Genesis reveals this.  God uses His creativity in how He approaches different situations and how He responds to them.  Taking Gideon from thousands in his fighting force down to 300 is certainly a creative way of fighting the battle.  Both testaments are full of accounts of God creatively addressing a situation.

He often did things in new ways, ways that were different, ways that were creative.

What must be remembered is that, since through Jesus’ nature now being our nature, we are also creative as God is creative.  That means being willing to try new things.  That means creatively forming new ways to do things as new opportunities present themselves through situations encountered.

But when a new way or new thing is automatically rejected because it is new and/or creative because, “We’ve never done it that way before,” that is an implicit rejection of the creative aspect of God’s nature which rests within each believer because rejection on this basis actually finds its origin in the religious spirit, and God doesn’t have one ounce of “religiosity” in His Spirit.

The religious spirit is all about maintaining the status quo.  That means new things cannot be allowed.  God isn’t about the status quo.  If He was, there would be no New Covenant.

So, as the adopted sons and daughters of God through Christ, let’s allow that creative part of our new God-given “DNA” flow through imagination, not closing our minds off to possibilities, but be open to the wonders of imagination and creativity.  Instead of automatically shutting down a new and creative way of doing something because it hasn’t been done that way before, let’s explore the exciting possibilities.  Instead of being beholden to doing things in a certain way, let’s unshackle ourselves and walk forward in creativity.

It’s exciting!

Was this country founded on religious liberty?

http://bpnews.net/bpnews?id=45068

In the linked article from the Baptist Press, the opening line reads, “In a nation founded on religious liberty.”  Is this an accurate statement?  There are many who hold that it is truthful, but does this match up with history?

Here is what history shows. The US Constitution, as ratified in June 1788, gave no right of religious liberty to any citizen.  The only reference to religion in the document was only to say that, on the federal level, there would be no religious test to hold office.  This did not apply to states and, thus, states were free to continue having these religious tests for office, such as in Pennsylvania where officeholders had to swear that they believed in God and a future state of rewards and punishment.

The framers punted the issue of religion to the states, only promising that the power of the federal government would not be used to advance one wing of Christianity, say Congregationalist (New England region), over another, such as Anglicanism (middle and southern states).  This still allowed states to declare official state churches and grant privileges to specific denominations.  States, such as Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and South Carolina continued to support a particular church out of the public treasury.  Blasphemy was forbidden in Delaware until 1826.  The last state constitution to have an official state church removed from it was Massachusetts in 1833.

Even the First Amendment, when ratified in 1791, only applied to the federal government.  It would not be applied to the states until into the 20th century.

So, as can be seen, this country was not founded on true religious liberty for states were still allowed to have an official state church and have religious requirements of its citizens.

Now, while not requiring a religious test for holding office was radical for its time, the reason why it was included rests in the opening words of this new constitution – “In order to form a more perfect union…”  The framers were aware that choosing one brand of religion over another would quickly lead to this proposed new constitution to be defeated.  So they needed to assure states that the federal government would stay out of religion and leave it as a matter for the states to do as they pleased.

In order to understand why the framers of the constitution felt it necessary that there be a new way of organizing this young nation, it is necessary to understand what had happened under the Articles of Confederation, the original organization of this new nation.

Under the original organization of this nation, there was economic chaos.  Congress could not regulate trade and the states were involved in severe competition with each other.  There was no uniform currency for Congress could print money, but so also could each state.  And each state could decide what currency it would even accept.  Only the state had the right to impose taxes and raise revenue.

A lack of central leadership under the Articles of Confederation led to no independent judiciary.  This allowed state courts to overturn national decisions they found objectionable.  And Congress had no means to oppose them.  There was no foreign affairs head.  And there was no ability to deal with internal or external threats.

There were legislative inefficiencies under the Articles of Confederation.  Each state had one vote, no matter the size of its populace.  Because of this, there was a difficulty in passing laws.  It took 9 of 13 states to vote yes to pass a law.  Therefore, if the five smallest states united against any legislation, they could defeat anything.  The amendment process was so difficult, it was virtually impossible.  Congress and every state had to agree to the change.

So, the text of, purpose for, and rationale for the new constitution must be examined against this backdrop.  When one reads the Constitution in light of the issues expressed under the Articles of Confederation and that opening phrase of “In order to form a more perfect union…,” it is readily apparent that the framers were not concerned at all with religious liberty.  Religion was a matter for each state, and if a state decided to continue to have an official state church, as many did, that was its right.  They were motivated by fixing the problems experienced under the Articles of Confederation.

Therefore, because of this reality, religious liberty, as we know it today, was not present at the founding of this nation.  However, it did grow out of the First Amendment to the Constitution as the concept of religious liberty as a civil right that transcended all levels of government evolved as individuals such as Baptist cleric John Leland pushed for true religious liberty for all in this country, no matter their religion or lack thereof.