My Worst Enemy


I won’t waste your time:  My worst enemy is my own sin.  

I am always tempted to look at what others have done to me, or are currently doing to me, or how I’m being shortchanged in a certain way as my biggest problem.  It makes sense to a shortsighted, self-centered mind.  

“The thing that’s really screwing up my life is that I’m not getting __________.”  

“Man, if I didn’t have to deal with _________ anymore…”

But the reality that my own sin is far more deadly, and robs me of far more joy and peace, than any other single thing.  My own sin kills far more of my peace, my friendships, my ministry than any single other person or circumstance.  
My idolatry is deadly, as I value pleasure and creature comforts more than communion with God.  “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

My anger and unforgiveness are deadly, as I hold a grudge in my heart against someone rather than trusting the Lord to deal with it.  “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:18-21)

My pride is deadly, as I think that such and such a thing would never happen to me, because I don’t make bad choices like so and so.  “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:  God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner!  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14)

These things are far more toxic to me than any gosippy coworker, any politician, any cultural trend, any career threat, any backbiting relative.  The sin in my heart poses a far greater threat to my joy than any external force that might come against me. 

But thankfully my worst enemy is the very thing my Savior and His Spirit offer, day by day, to free me from.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Romans 8:13

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Don’t Take This Personally


No one’s life has ever been made better by taking more things personally. 

With each gesture, each word or tone of voice that I choose to take as an affront to my worth or goodness I make myself a little more miserable and a little more insufferable.  That child who just rolled his eyes at me?  That behavior must be assaulted!  Because, after all, I don’t deserve such attitude (my thought is not that the child must be disciplined because his soul is in danger; I don’t care so much about that right now).  My spouse didn’t respond the way I’d hoped?  I can’t just overlook that!  Are you kidding me?  That’s an attack on my value and seriousness and weight as a person.  

Each and every little slight or difficulty that I opt to take personally is another handful of seeds that I’m sowing that yield awful, deadly weeds as time goes on.  Weeds that choke out contentment and gladness and good humor.  The more I take personally, the more I can expect to see personal bitterness and strained relationships in my life.  

Word to the unwise:  Take yourself a little less seriously.  Choose to overlook even real and intended insults.  And remember that according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, you don’t deserve anyone’s respect.  Remember these things.  You’ll be happier and more pleasant to be around.  

Trust me.  I’m writing from less than 24 hours’ distance from doing this in the wrong direction.  Pride and self-importance made me a mean and hardened man for a few hours last night.  It was unpleasant.  

Take yourself less seriously.  Have less grievances.  Your blood pressure and your closest relationships will reflect the change sooner than you might think.  

A humble heart is more than ready to bear good fruit in place of bad weeds.  

How to Kill a Church

  
I love the church. Christ’s bride.  The ekklesia, God’s called out people.  He died to save her and I want to live to serve her.  And in my couple of trips around the block as a church member, church planter, church elder, there are a few poisons I’d love to see get big, skull-and-crossbones warning labels so local churches don’t accidentally ingest them.  The most beautiful, God-honoring of churches can be disintegrated if you introduce the right toxin (see Revelation 2-3).*

*Note:  Some churches also just die a natural death, by God’s good will, having done nothing obviously, overtly sinful or wrong.  No single local church lasts forever.   Churches have God-ordained lifespans.  What I’m warning against is “churchicide,” or, if you prefer, church suicide.  

Some ways to kill a church:

  • Get each person in the church to have his main concern be his role or reputation.  The church will either disband within 6 months or stay together out of spite and be insufferable for 20 years.  Each of the people who leave this church or who stays in her just to grumble will be perpetually disgruntled that they didn’t get to do or be what they wanted to do or be.  And whatever you do, don’t let any of the people’s attitude be like this:  

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Philippians 2:3-7

  • Get them away from the question “Is this true?”  Make them instead always, always, always ask “Will this work?”  And then get them to think it “worked” if their unbelieving friends and neighbors liked it.  Before you know it, they’ll go from trying to bless people because they want them to know their Maker (Christlike) to trying to get people to like them because that means whatever the church did must have “worked” (retail-like).  If you can get the church to make her decisions based solely on the world’s reactions to those decisions, you’re one or two steps away from turning the church’s leaders into a roomful of TV executives trying to figure out which type of new fall show will draw in their key demographic.  
  • Get the church to look in all the time.  Make them thoroughly and completely overwhelmed with the church structure and the internal systems and programs.  Get them to think only about the people already in the body.  No church can outlive its current members if no new members are made.  It’s simple math.  So you can kill a church by attrition if you get it to stop obeying Jesus’ commands to preach to the unbelieving and make disciples.  This method takes a little patience of course, unlike introducing outright heresy or getting a leader to fall into a massive scandal, but it’ll get you to the same end.  A church who doesn’t care about making new Christians won’t outlive her current Christians.  

Let me pull my tongue back out of my cheek, now:  Don’t let any of these things begin in your church.  And if they’ve already begun, pray and work like crazy for their removal.  

The church is a blessed thing.  And the cities and countries of our world desperately need local churches to minister to Gospel-believers and send them back out into the darkness, as well as to preach Christ’s Good News from the pulpit and the pew loud enough for all to hear.    

I’m short, love and protect the church.  

Jesus died to do the same. 

2 Thoughts On Herods

 

 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled.

Matthew 2:1-3

In a day of bombast and one-upsmanship among many at the forefront of the American vessel, I thought two things when I read this this morning.  And I think both things are supported by what the Spirit and Apostles tell us about Herod the Great and the Herodian sons who reigned after from this chapter in your New Testament all the way to Acts 12.  

Ready?

  1. A man who does not like being upstaged is a man who wants to be worshiped.  
  2. Fragile and tyrannical kings will, in the end, be threatened when their subjects worship the true God, because the true God is something they can’t mold to their own liking. 

All Herods want to be gods, and so all Herods are troubled by the real God.  No matter what lip-service they might pay to Him.  Remember, Herod Antipas liked listening to John the Baptist, but when the choice was between the prophet’s head and his own pride, the decision was made before the party wound down.  

Food for thought(s).   

Let Us Go First

  
It’s a Christian thing to listen.  It’s a Christian thing to allow someone to give his perspective, finish his sentence, share his experience while not judging him or getting overly defensive.  It’s the flesh that belittles and dismisses and refuses to ever give the person on the other side the benefit of the doubt.  It’s carnality that imputes the worst possible motives to a person you disagree with.  Where Christianity would have us speak the truth in love, pride wants a quick one-liner to shut the other guy up. 

There’s a church here in Cincinnati who is holding a prayer service in response to what happened Thursday night in Dallas.  I can’t go because I’m preaching for another pastor here locally, but if you’re in the Cincinnati area, please consider going.  It’s an ethnically diverse church devoted to the Good News of the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, and that’s about as beautiful a thing as you can find under this temporary sun in my book.  

I want to be humble about these racial matters, because I know that’s what my Savior would have me be.  We are called to have a posture of humility.  And I believe a part of humility is to allow the other person to have his say, whether you end up agreeing with all or part of what he says or not.  And so we should be the kings and queens of dialogue, us Jesus-lovers, because we of all folks have been shown that loving people and loving truth are branches on the same tree.  So let us be the first to listen, the most gracious in speech, and the least afraid of honesty and truth.  

If America is looking for a way to have a true and honest dialogue about something hard to talk about, let’s show her a way.

After all, God left us in a dark world for a reason.   

Just Be It

  
There is nothing ignoble in simply being what God has called you to be, however small or large, plain or beautiful it may seem to human sight.  “Use me as an instrument for Your salvation, Lord, however you will” is a good prayer.  It’s a freeing prayer, too. 

Spurgeon said that at the Last Supper there was a chalice for drinking wine and a basin for washing feet, and maybe you’re the chalice and he’s the basin.  But, he said, let the basin be the basin, and let the chalice be the chalice.  

You and I don’t have to sweat it out trying to earn our identity.  The blood will rinse off our pride if you and I will let it; we are free to humble ourselves and just enjoy Jesus, His church, and serving His people.  Whatever service for the Kingdom you’ve been truly called to, find a way to do it and do it.  

The Kingdom of God is an ego graveyard. 

There are no alpha males here.  After all, it’s wolves that have alphas and betas, and we’re all sheep in this economy; different heights and colors, maybe, but sheep all.  Or, to paint with a different metaphoric brush, none of us have to be the head of this body; she already has One.  

This ain’t Hollywood, brother.  Nobody has personal assistants and nobody’ll be comparing accolades.  Here, we’re all slaves and all sons, and we work from acceptance, not for it.   

You and I have been adopted to be things, all for love and for the glory of Another.  

So let’s be them. 

The Last Set of Jitters

  
Two things happened.  One was fun and good, the other personally devastating.  

The bad one first.  

Instead of finding my identity in Christ’s forgiveness of me, His giving me new life and a spiritual home and family, I often cling to and locate my worth in being respected and admired by others.  My family, my peers, even strangers.  It’s sin, it’s harmful, and I’m in a long process of repentance over it.  God has showed it to me time and again, but I’m stubborn and stupid, and so I continue to go after this thing as though it’ll make me truly happy.  
So, three times in the last two weeks He’s let me get humiliated.  Or at least each one felt like humiliation.  The nature of the breakdowns doesn’t matter, but they were painful.  Embarrassment, shame, and self-loathing crushed me for hours and hours after each one.  When you were in school, did you ever have a project to present and thought that you had one more day to go home and knock the thing out but then, as the class started, heard the teacher say, “All right let’s start the presentations with _______,” and look at you?  They were like that.  

So, after at least one of these rough moments I felt crippling shame.  I felt lifeless.  I wanted to crawl into a hole.  

What you worship is the thing that, if taken from you, you’d fee like you couldn’t go on.  

Okay, so now the good thing that happened.  

We moved.  We bought our first house.  I’ve never lived in one place more than three years, and now I have a real “permanent address” to put on all those forms for the very first time.  So I sat on the front porch of our rented house in the morning sun last Saturday, waiting on the U-Haul and my friends and family, and I thought about how my kids probably won’t ever have the moving day jitters.  When I was growing up, we moved every couple of years, and I remember that nervous happiness of getting to start over somewhere.   There was a fun, hopeful anticipation of a new neighborhood, and a new home.

So as I waited for the moving day help, that good thing helped to drown the bad one.  I started to feel my shame and self-loathing get a little duller, like when a toothache or a pinched nerve or a migraine starts to slip after you’ve taken a painkiller.  And thankfully I was either too tired or too blessed to fight it.  The moving jitters, maybe the last set I’d ever have, reminded me of something good and true:  Those of us who love Christ are going home.  For real home.  

There will be a day of great anticipation and seriousness and excitement and goodness that will be much brighter and better than that sunlit morning when I was waiting to show my kids their new crib.  A day is approaching where the King will remake the earth and her stars, and then put His people in her brightest city, lit to the high heavens by Him.  We’ll love each other and be loved by each other, love Jesus and be loved by Jesus.  We’ll sing and we’ll pray and we’ll serve and we’ll be served, and every last cause for shame and guilt and fear will be thrown out into the darkness.  

That home is coming.  

Where there is no sin, there is no shame. Where there are no false gods, there is no fear.  

Our Jesus is coming to give us and be for us all we could ever possibly need, and everything we should want.  

I’ll wrestle with my embarrassment tonight, but I wanted to remind myself of that, and remind you, too.  

For those of us who have trusted in Jesus, home is around the corner.