I WANT TO BE LIKE THAT!

The closing paragraphs of an online Christianity Today article this week left me unsettled as we go to the polls to vote next week. The first three pages of the four page article were somewhat interesting, but when author Daniel Block turned on page 4 to “Moses’ Charter for Kingship in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, I starting thinking about our political leaders and candidates.

Block suggested from Moses’ instructions that “rulers [politicians] were to function as servants of their people.” “Moses,” he noted, “focused on the personal character of the king.” Not only that, “they were not to use their position of authority in self-interest.” As most of us would expect, Moses expected the leaders to believe in God and walk in his ways.

Looking at the broader record of the Old Testament and leaders, Block reminds us “God has never demanded moral perfection of those he thrusts into leadership roles.” Commenting specifically on the judges (leaders before there were kings), he notes “most were not models of political leadership upon which to lavish praise as much as an honest look at deeply flawed men [sic] whom God used in spite of themselves.”

As important as all these points are, Block’s summary seems most important to me: “the Israelite king’s primary function was to be a model citizen, so that people could look to him and declare, ‘I want to be like that person!’”

I certainly don’t think we can expect those we vote for to be perfect, but I do think we have every right to have high expectations of them. I believe they should be servants of the people and that they should not use their positions for self-interest. I think they should be good examples for us.  I wish they would people we think highly of as well as people we wish we could be like.

Unfortunately, and sadly, I have not seen a lot of these qualities in very many of our political candidates and leaders recently in either party. Have you?

I think we all should vote. I also think we should follow the instruction of I Timothy 2:1-3, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior.”

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THEN WHY READ IT?

One of the reasons I like to read articles and books by good Christian writers is because they teach, challenge, warn, convict, encourage, and affirm me.

The last few days I have been reading a book by Timothy Keller entitled The Prodigal Prophet. If you are somewhat familiar with the Bible, and think about that title, you will eventually correctly guess that it is about Jonah.

What sparked my attention today was Keller’s observation that Jonah was “misusing the Bible” when he refers to God’s revelation to Moses’ that God is “compassionate and gracious” (Exodus 34:6). That was apparently one of the reasons Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. But Jonah did not continue and refer to what Exodus 34:7 says about God. Keller notes Jonah “reads the Bible selectively, ignoring” parts of it (p. 106).  I don’t think Jonah was the first or last to do that, do you?

On the next page Keller writes about Christians reading the Bible today and really got my attention by suggesting “if we feel more righteous as we read the Bible, we are misreading it; we are missing its central message. We are reading and using the Bible rightly only when it humbles us, critiques us, and encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws” (p. 107).

In all honesty I must say I very rarely feel more righteous after reading the Bible. Do you? (Please note I did intimate that every once and awhile I do feel more righteous.)

But what about Keller’s suggestion that we’re correctly reading the Bible only when it humbles us and critiques us. Who wants to be critiqued and humbled? I certainly don’t. As I suggest in the title of this post, if we’re reading the Bible to be humbled and critiqued, then why read it? I can think of two reasons.

One is that most of us need to be humbled and critiqued. I know I do. And who better to do that than the Holy Spirit through the reading of God’s Word? The prerequisite, of course, is that in coming to the Bible we have to be open to and willing to accept God’s humbling and critiquing of us.

The other reason we should read the Bible is the rest of what Keller says: reading the Bible “encourages us with God’s love and grace despite our flaws.” Who doesn’t want to be encouraged by God’s love and grace? And don’t overlook Keller’s added truth that God does this even with our shortcomings and failures.

Because of my “job” as a pastor, I have had much opportunity to read and study the Bible the last 46 years. Even though I am still reading it in order to teach others, these days I find myself getting a lot more out of it for myself. Perhaps you would like to join me in praying that as we read his word God will continue to humble us, critique us, and encourage us with his love and grace even with our flaws. Need a suggestion where to start? How about Jonah?

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ME, YOU, AND EVERYONE ELSE

I don’t think I’ve ever used the word narcissism, but I’ve heard it used and have had a sense of what it means. In a book I’m reading (entitled Honest Worship) author Manuel Luz talks about “cultural narcissism” and “narcissism in our worship.”

My understanding of narcissism was enhanced and expanded by Luz’s reference to a book entitled The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America written by Drew Pinsky and S. Mark Young. Luz relays what Pinsky and Young note are “the seven traits classically associated with clinical narcissism” – authority, entitlement, exhibitionism, exploitativeness, self-sufficiency, superiority, and vanity.

Just reading that list of traits gives us insight into both the book by Pinsky and Young How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America as well Luz’s observation about “narcissism in our worship.” Simply stated, narcissism is about focusing on oneself and putting self first before anyone else. I’ve tried to capture the idea with the title of this post giving the narcissistic priority: me, you, and everyone else.

I don’t plan to get and read The Mirror Effect, but I think the seven traits of narcissism the authors list make sense. Other descriptions that come to my mind in reading their list include egotistical, judgmental, self-centered, user of others, show-off, deserving, and demanding.

Not to be guilty of being judgmental myself, but I think all of us are aware of some celebrities (certainly not all) who exhibit these traits to some degree. And hopefully as Christians, even though we don’t always act like it, we know that worship is not about us, but God.

The issue of narcissism, however, is not just about worship and celebrities. The traits listed by Pinsky and Young show up in the lives of those who are not celebrities and in lots of places beyond worship. You and I may even exhibit these traits ourselves at times. I know I do.

Narcissism is the opposite of one of Jesus’ best known and oft quoted list of qualifications to be one of his followers: “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me’.” (Luke 9:23). Being a disciple of Jesus is about getting oneself out of the center, being willing to make sacrifices, and imitating Jesus.

The Apostle Paul presents a similar challenge in his letter to the Philippians:Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests (only) but each of you to the interests of others (2:3 and 4). Sounds like the opposite of the seven traits of narcissism, doesn’t it?

Perhaps I should reverse the order in the title of this blog from me, you, and everyone else to everyone else, you, and me? What do you think?

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TOO OFTEN?

After my wife Jan and I concluded a phone conversation recently I realized that I close almost every conversation with her by saying “I love you.” As I thought about that it also occurred to me that every time I leave my daughter’s house and say good night to my two grandsons I tell them “I love you.”  A few weeks earlier I had noticed that almost all of my phone calls with both my son and my daughter also end with “I love you.”

Primarily thinking about Jan, but also the others as well, I asked myself the question, “Can you say I love you too often to your family?” I didn’t answer myself out loud, but my initial thought was – probably not.

I continued my conversation with myself by adding to probably not “as long as you mean it.” Then I also added to my probably not “as long as it doesn’t become an automatic and thoughtless good-by.”

Moving forward with my one on one conversation with myself I then asked myself, “Do you ever get tired of hearing one of them say I love you?” My answer was an emphatic “no.” As a matter of fact I thought, I wish my grandsons would say it more often.

I can’t imagine that too many people would get tired of being told they are loved by someone, unless they thought the person who said it did not mean it or they thought the words were thoughtless.

Getting deeper into my back and forth with myself I had another thought. Telling someone you love them is certainly important – but equally important, if not more important, is showing them you love them.

One of the ways we show someone we love them is through and by our words – like telling them “I love you” – but there are other words and ways as well. Among other ways we let them know with words we love them is when we thank them and affirm them.

Another way of showing them we love them is by listening to them. Sometimes what those we love need to feel loved is to be listened to – our spouse, our children, and our grandchildren. One the best ways I have learned to hear from my wife, daughter, son, and grandsons is to ask them about their day, their schedule, and their plans. When things are not too chaotic, especially with a four year old and an eight year old, I ask follow up questions to hear more.

I don’t think I say “I love you” too often. But to be candid, I think too often I am better at saying “I love you” than I am in showing my loved ones I love them. Having had this conversation with myself, I hope to do better.

How about you? Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.