Posts Tagged ‘Pride’

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” – Hebrews 11:4 (NIV)

I think it’s safe to say that our world is in turmoil. When “tolerance” seems to be a prevailing value at the same time we have a growing sense of “intolerance” on many levels of society.

Daily in international news we are beset with stories of racial tension and violence, hate crimes, terrorist attacks and the list goes on. I don’t have to cite the stories which are most likely very familiar to you.

In these times of turmoil, I see the same story repeated through history, but I also see the same resolution as well. I’ve been reflecting in these days on the first recorded murder. In the Bible, in Genesis chapter 4 we see that the first death among the children of Adam and Eve was the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. The story is well worth a review if you haven’t thought about it lately.

The conflict began when Abel brought an acceptable sacrifice before the LORD and was commended. Cain brought another sacrifice and was rejected because of his heart condition. The situation really got Cain fighting mad.

As the story goes,

“. . . but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favor. So, Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” – Genesis 4:5-7 (NIV)

When confronted with the condition of his heart Cain had some major decisions to make. Would he continue to bury his anger, brood and stew over his rejection, or would he take stock of his strong internal emotions, have his heart healed, and move on to a better place?

Unfortunately, we know the rest of the story. He misplaced his rejection, blamed his brother and violence and murder erupted.

Personally, I think this story is lived out again and again in our world today and we are seeing it played out on an international scale.

For each of us, when we begin to experience anger against an individual, a different racial, political, cultural or religious group, we are in danger of misdirecting our anger and letting it take us to places that are dangerous and destructive.

Anger led Cain to murder when internal reflection wasn’t the response of his heart. Unchecked anger can do the same for any of us.

I suppose that from here to eternity love and hate will both be opposing forces. The question for each of us, is what we will do and how we will react by hating the right things. We can choose to hate racism, for example, without hating racists. What we hate says a lot about us, just as who or what stirs our anger says a lot about us.

In the New Testament, the writer to the book of Hebrews, quoted above, says that Abel was a righteous man and was wrongly targeted for stirring up his brother’s anger. Even though dead, he still speaks. Abel was an innocent victim but was also the target of hostility. His example of godliness and suffering even in the face of violence and death is something that should speak strongly to us even today – especially today.

The ultimate expression of love in the face of hatred comes at the Cross of Jesus Christ. It was He who died in all His innocence and rose to life so that each of us could be set free from misdirected anger and hatred against anyone or anything.

Anger, along with love, is perhaps the strongest and most powerful of our emotions. When confronted with deep seated anger in our hearts, each of us can choose to step back, reflect and re-direct it toward something that is worth hating. It’s not a person or a race, a political party or country, but in reality a way of life that runs contrary to love which seeks the highest good of another fellow human being.

Abel lived a shorter life than Cain but there’s no question as to who serves as a better model for us today in these times of turmoil.

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Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:48 (NIV)

“This is the very perfection of a man, to find out his own imperfections.” – Saint Augustine

For most of my life I’ve had an ongoing battle with perfectionism but it took me over fifty years to see it as a hindrance rather than a help.

Daily we are bombarded with images of men and women who appear to be highly successful because they strive for perfection in their appearance and professional life. However, if you take a close look at anyone’s life, no matter how “together” they may appear, it won’t take long to discover that even among the best of us there is a much deeper longing for meaning in life and relationships.

Deep down I really know that I’m a deeply flawed individual but it would be nice to appear to “have my act together” to everyone around me so that my faults and failings don’t come out too often.

For those of us who have a personal faith in God it’s easy to quote chapter and verse either to justify our perfectionistic tendencies or excuse our shortcomings or both.

Jesus’ words above recorded by Matthew have often been quoted to me by some who say that God expects “perfection” from people, speaking mainly of the followers of Jesus. The implication is that perfection in this life is somehow attainable through whatever means are necessary to achieve it.

Honestly, that’s no way to live life with a heart for God and it’s not even realistic or even achievable if we stop to think about it.

What was Jesus saying here and does the Bible teach us that striving for perfection is a motivating factor in our lives? Before drawing any quick conclusions just take a closer look at the Biblical language, especially in the case of Jesus’ words.

The Bible speaks of God’s “perfection” as in Deuteronomy 32:4, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” (NIV)

The Hebrew word for “perfect” here carries the idea of “blameless” or “without fault.” I think most people with a faith in God and particularly Jesus-followers would have no problem with the concept that God is perfect and unblemished.

However, when it comes to the way the Bible speaks of humans in relation to “perfect” a different word is used. In Matthew 5:48 Jesus uses the Greek word “teleios” meaning “perfect” in the sense of “having reached its end,”  “complete” or even “mature.”  In other words God is perfect and can’t be “matured” any more than He already is but we humans are far from mature. The good news of the Gospel is that God is in the process of “growing” us up as we trust His perfect Son Jesus and live by faith.

In my battle with perfectionism I’ve found that there’s a world of difference between striving for excellence as opposed to perfectionism as a “soul-condition.”  Human perfectionism no matter how well-intentioned is rooted and grounded in pride while the Gospel message of Jesus is one of humility.

Striving for excellence can be very much about serving God and others if our motives are to glorify God in everything we do. Perfectionism on the other hand is a mindset that seeks to avoid being judged or criticized by others. The malady is one of obsession with what others think, or may think of us.

Researcher and author Brene Brown defines perfectionism as “a cognitive, behavioral process, a way of thinking and feeling that says this ‘If I look perfect, do it perfect, and live perfect I can avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgment.’”

The peril of perfectionism is that we can actually become callous to our own humanity so that we don’t have to face our failings and imperfections head on.

The alternative to prideful perfectionism is humility and vulnerability which breaks down pride in our lives and gives us a healthier appreciation of God and true freedom to trust Him with the reality of who we are – warts and all.

Ms. Brown expresses it well when she says, Why, when we know that there’s no such thing as perfect, do most of us spend an incredible amount of time and energy trying to be everything to everyone? Is it that we really admire perfection? No – the truth is that we are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth. We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.”

I think our Lord and Maker is more interested in enabling us to serve Him out of faith and love rather than approving of our efforts to create a false image of ourselves. He provided a very humble, gentle and vulnerable Savior to show us the way to do just that.

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“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

The contrast between pride and humility couldn’t be more distinct. We don’t often see our own pride until it’s exposed for what it is.

The word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humilis” which means lowly, insignificant, or “on the ground.” We think of a humble person as one who doesn’t have an exalted view of themselves in relation to others.

I think humility is easier observed than it is defined. Humility becomes a larger slice of our character when we see a picture of reality that shows us we aren’t the perfect people we hoped we would be.

It’s easy to be blind to our own pride and to observe humility in others. We would probably admit to being proud before we would consider ourselves “humble.”

If you’ve been following the professional golf news lately you will be aware that there’s been a changing of the guard at the number one position in the world rankings. In recent years we have witnessed the demotion of Tiger Woods and the rise of Rory McIlroy at the highest level of the sport.

Even though Tiger won five PGA tour events in 2013 this year has been one of injury, frustration and  disappointment while Rory, winner of several events and two majors this season, has recaptured the ranking of World Number one and is going from strength to strength.

The comparison and contrast between these two child prodigies turned professional have been noteworthy. Both have been in the media spotlight for some time now and observations and conclusions drawn concerning both of them are clear to see.

One of the most striking differences between these two men is how they conduct themselves with the media. When interviewed Tiger is cautious, mysterious and most often closed. He’s a classic example of pride and perfection. Rory is open, honest, unassuming, and vulnerable and dare I say, humble for a young man of such accomplishment at his young age. The broadcasters know this quite well. They love Rory – so do his many fans. Draw your own conclusions as to how they view Tiger Woods.

We live in a world where pride and “getting to the top” in one’s area of expertise is a highly valued. We love our sports stars but we seem to appreciate the ones like Rory who have a sense of humility about them despite their huge success.

The wisdom of the ancient Proverb quoted above teaches us that without a sense of brokenness in our lives we tend to become proud and think that we are above the faults and failings of others.

As Tiger Woods discovered almost five years ago now life’s catastrophes come along at various stages. The proud man or woman falls. Those who are humble are honored in success or failure.

Due to various humbling experiences over the past few years I’m realizing that in years past my own pride kept me from admitting failure and letting others close to me see who I really was. A lot of wasted energy went into hiding unsightly things about myself so that I could maintain an appearance of “having it all-together.” We are the last ones to see the evidence of pride in our lives.

Our pride leads us to believe that we’re strong and invincible. Humility tells us that it’s safe to be honest with who we are as fragile human beings because we’re made in the image of God who knows us intimately. It’s His opinion of us that holds the most weight.

One of the most profound examples of humility in history is that of Jesus Christ. Being equal with God the Father He humbled Himself in taking on humanity and subjecting Himself to death so that men and women might find forgiveness and connection with God (Philippians 2).

Not even the Son of God promoted Himself in the grand scheme of things so why should we?

Long term we may not see Rory McIlroy win as much in his prime as Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods did in theirs, but if his attitude doesn’t change and barring major meltdown he may be one of the most beloved stars in the history of golf.

We know a proud man or woman when we see one. We know a humble man or woman when we see one. We are fortunate when we are vulnerable enough to admit our weaknesses and failures as well as our strengths and to release any illusions of our own superiority over others.

In the end humility seems to carry its own rewards.


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September 1, 2009 marked a new chapter in my life. In the weeks leading up to September 2014 I want to share the top five lessons God has taught me during this season of my life. 

 Lesson One – What’s the Connection?

 “One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘Isn’t this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’”     2 Samuel 11:2-3 (NIV)

It can all happen in an instant. We can be going along very nicely then something captures our attention and starts us down a different road.

It tends to happen more frequently these days when we are subject to many interruptions every waking hour with computers, tablets, televisions and mobile devices which are constantly armed for action.

When new information comes crashing in we rarely stop to ask – “What’s happening right now and what connection does it have with the rest of my life – past and future?”

The incident quoted above – King David’s first encounter with Bathsheba – is a huge turning point in the book of 2 Samuel and in David’s life. Up to this moment in David’s life he’s been the golden boy – a true success story. All the way from a shepherd boy to the King of all Israel.

At this point in his life David had just about everything any man could ever want or hope for.  He had influence, friends, power, possessions, wives, concubines and most importantly a rich spiritual life. The Bible describes him as “a man after God’s own heart.”

After David’s encounter with Bathsheba, his life would never, ever be the same. He committed adultery with her, had her husband Uriah killed in battle and kept her for himself.  All of David’s life changes with what is described in these two short verses.  The rest of the story is described in the remainder of 2 Samuel and it’s not pretty – being confronted by Nathan the prophet, the death of his child born to Bathsheba, the breakup of his family and the fragmentation of his Kingdom.

Many wise sages throughout history have grappled with David’s actions. How and why would he sacrifice all he had and all he was for the woman he saw bathing?

Most men I know, including myself, see ourselves in David’s story. We seek to be admired, successful, influential, and even “a man after God’s own heart.” However, at some unsuspecting moment something or someone enters the picture and we lose track of everything, especially the bigger picture of who we are and where we are.

For David he lost it the moment he saw Bathsheba bathing. Even though he had multiple wives and concubines he might have called on at that moment – he lost the plot. The plot turned ugly from there, sparked by his view of someone beautiful.

In reflecting on my own faults and failures in the area of lust I think David lost one vital thing that I’ve learned to appreciate in a new way over the past five years.

It’s summarized in the word “connection.” David lost connection.

In September 2009 I began meeting regularly with a Christian counselor. One of the first comments that the counselor said to me was, “Jesse, everything in your life is connected!” I was age fifty-five at the time and the thought had never occurred to me!

As I learned more about this vital inter-connection I found that my life was far more compartmentalized than I had ever realized. I knew that men tended to compartmentalize their lives but never did I see it in myself until I experienced a personal crash.

It’s been a real education over the past five years looking at subtle ways I disconnect internally to keep from facing reality around me.  Although I’m far from an expert in connection, I can now spot disconnection more readily in my own experience and I see it here in David.

At the point of David’s greatest temptation he lost connection with who he was. He was David the man of God, he was David the husband and father and he was David the King, just to name a few.

David as man of God had a vital role of walking with God and living for God. He had an intimate relationship with his Father. At the moment of temptation, I think he began to think and feel that he could section off his life and operate a part of it independently of God – not the whole – but part of it. That was indeed part of the temptation. He momentarily lost connection with His God.

David was also a husband and father. Obviously he had several wives and concubines (cf. 2 Samuel 5:13-16) but none of them ever entered his thinking when he saw Bathsheba.  He didn’t connect with the reality that his actions were out of harmony with his family. When he least expected it he momentarily lost connection his family.

David was also King of Israel. It was a huge responsibility for anyone. David had been doing a wonderful job as King. He was good at it. It was God-ordained. But in an instant he momentarily lost connection with his vital role in the Kingdom of God’s chosen people.

Do we really ever live one day with the full realization that our lives are connected with those around us? Do we ever fully appreciate just how much the decisions we make really do matter to others?

It’s been a different path for me the past five years as I have been more aware of trying to see the vital connections between everything in my life. I think the life of faith is learning to live with a clear knowledge that the connection is there whether I see it outright or not. Our loving God and Creator is the One who connects everything in our lives.

The fallen world around us says that what we do our own personal business and no one else will be affected. That’s probably one reason why we see such turmoil today – people thinking they can be a law unto themselves and what they do really has no affect on the rest of us. It was clearly seen in the incident of the Malaysian airliner shot down over Ukraine last week.

We may not have the power and influence that David enjoyed, but if we look at the reality of God and the larger picture of our lives we’ll see that there’s much to enjoy with gratitude, even down to the fine details.

Next time something grabs your attention or when temptation comes calling, stop and think about the vital connections in your own life. You’ll find, as I have, that the bigger picture is a great picture and you and I are fortunate to be part of it.

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Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:18-20 (NLT)

I’m not really a perfectionist . . . I only think like one.

As I write this essay it’s only appropriate that the table I’m sitting at is wobbling because its legs don’t rest evenly on the floor. It’s a struggle to be thankful because I wish I could be perfectly happy and satisfied with myself and everyone and everything around me – all the time!

As the annual Thanksgiving Holiday in the USA rapidly approaches I have been reflecting on the subject of perfectionism and how it so often robs us of joy and thankfulness that God intended us to have. He knows that this is a broken and imperfect world that can never meet or measure up to His holy standards. That is critical to why He sent His Son Jesus to redeem a lost, broken and imperfect world. I am part of that world. You are too.

I honestly don’t remember when the perfectionism bug bit me. I was probably very young. I’m sure if I explored it long enough and talked to any number of my friends who are very competent counsellors they could help me identify the roots of patterns that have come to be lifelong habits.

I’m learning that perfectionism is tied in with pride and has nothing to do with love. When I’m focused on my own desire to achieve perfection in my life and surroundings I’m basically playing a game of one-up-man-ship. Trying to outdo others to meet my own ego issues is completely selfish and unloving. Those are harsh words for someone who’s trying to be perfect!

Pride is a violation of love and perfectionism is pride.

In the verses referenced above the apostle Paul speaks of a Spirit-filled way of living. As redeemed people we can rest in joyful communion with God – singing, praising, and making melody – when alone or with others. In the process he says “give thanks for everything.” 

I think Paul is very intentional in saying that we give thanks to God the Father for everything. We direct our thanks to our Father in the name of Jesus His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. The PERFECT triune God is involved in every aspect of our lives. For this we should be continually thankful – all the time.

I admit that I often have difficulty accepting the Sovereignty and goodness of God. Thanking he triune God for “everything” can only come from a heart that is grateful for His constant, redeeming, all-encompassing love.

Our pride and perfectionism does not produce fruit in the eternal scheme of things. Heaven is not impressed when we perform on our own stage. We may think that we’re putting on a fine show by our good works, but if motivated by anything other than love for God and His reputation all our best efforts come to naught.

Some have taken me to task on this. “Isn’t a Christian supposed to STRIVE for perfection?”

It all depends on who is doing the striving. When you examine it closely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are unable to bring ourselves to perfection with self-effort. It’s a faith journey that thrives on thanksgiving, joy and heaven-inspired music.

When I’m caught up in my own pride and perfectionism, I’m far from joyful and definitely not singing and making any music – with my voice or with my life.

Some years ago I was introduced to The Sonship Course. It was originally developed for burned out missionaries but was later adapted for a wider audience. One of the key questions it posed was, “If given the choice would you rather be right or would you rather be loving?” A perfectionist wants to be right. A devoted Jesus-follower wants to experience God’s love deeply and share it with others.

I must admit that most times I’d rather be right than loving when God desires my heart devotion to Him. Everything else, including a grateful heart, should flow from that. Our LORD Jesus is the only one who can be perfectly right and perfectly loving at the same time. Why compete with true perfection?

This year, as always, I’d like to enjoy the “perfect” Thanksgiving holiday – but I’ll settle for a grateful, joyful heart whatever the day might bring. Giving thanks is on God’s menu for us every day and perfectionism always leaves a bitter aftertaste.

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