Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Motives

The writer’s self-promotion dilemma

I have an ego problem. I think it’s getting better but I still have many times when thoughts come into my mind about people telling me what a great writer I am and that they want me to speak at their major church or stuff like that. I can’t stop the thoughts coming into my mind, but it’s what I do with them when they get there that is the problem. Some years ago I even took this blog offline for a while to figure out what I should do about this issue. A couple of people told me independently that it was fine to put my blog back online and deal with the issue as it comes up. I think that was good advice.

The purpose of this website is to show how Jesus is relevant to all of life and that he is the only one through whom we will ever find the peace we all want, both inside us and in the world around. I have been told by quite a few people that I have a gift in writing. I appreciate their sentiments. I used to think that saying I have a gift was arrogant and equivalent to telling people how good I was. But having a gift has nothing to do with anything I’ve done. If it was, it wouldn’t be a gift. John Smith said once that there is nothing in our lives which has not been given to us. So if God has given me a gift, he has given it for a purpose which is to do my part in bringing in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. And if it is a gift from God for this purpose, then I have a responsibility to use it to the best of my ability and for God’s glory. To use it for my own ends, to try to get people to think how wonderful I am, then I am abusing it.

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What if there were no consequences?

If there were no consequences whatsoever for any destructive behaviour you engaged in, would you want to engage in it? Someone asked me that question once, and its profundity has caused me to think long and hard. If there were no consequences for cheating on my wife, for stealing what wasn’t mine, for taking credit when I didn’t deserve it, would I do it?

The issue here is, where is my heart at? How captive am I to that which enslaves me? Many years ago Gil Cann said in a sermon that when we think of our inner life, the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. At the end of the day, what we all need is a heart transformation. As U2 sang even more years ago, “a new heart is what I need. Oh God, make it bleed!”

Where is my heart at? Do I want what is right simply because it is right? With God’s help, yes I do. But as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, there is a line that divides the good and evil in every human heart. In our heart of hearts there is a desire to do good which sits alongside a desire to get whatever we can for ourselves. A heart that is being redeemed by grace is one which wants to become more like Christ, that just wants to do the right thing. It is a heart that is sick of its own selfishness and deception, a heart that confesses it is in need of grace, a heart that cries out for renewal.

The human heart needs transformation, and it can only be done by the Holy Spirit. Social justice can’t do it, simply reading the Bible can’t do it, and listening to your favourite preacher or reading your favourite Christian books won’t do it. Only a heart open to the conviction of the Holy Spirit of God is one that will change.

Part of the way the world is set up is that there are consequences for our actions. There are good consequences or there are destructive consequences. We reap what we sow. It cannot be any other way. There are some things we just need to accept in life, and this is one of them.

But not only is this the way life works, it is the wonderful truth of the Christian message. There are consequences that go beyond what we experience in this life, but at the same time those consequences are utterly dependent on our actions in this life. The kingdom of God has broken into history and will one day be fully consummated. Things will one day be finally put to rights. There will be a day when the first will be last and the last will be first, when those who constantly suffer now because of injustice will at last get to see justice, when those who are downtrodden will be downtrodden no more. All the suffering that goes on in the world today is not meaningless; it is in fact redemptive. It will be used for good and it drives us toward hope, the sure hope that one day everything will be put to rights and suffering will be no more.

So, in one sense, the question of whether or not my behaviour would change if there were no consequences is a moot one. The fact is there are consequences and we can’t do anything to avoid the fact. It is a bit like asking what life would be like if there were no gravity on the earth. Our existence just isn’t like that.

Yet on the other hand the question is highly relevant, because it is a question that quite literally speaks to our ultimate motivations for doing the things we do in life. It is a question that asks where our hearts are at. Are we altruistic because it makes us look good and holy in front of our Christian brothers and sisters? Or are we altruistic because we really want to glorify God and see his kingdom of love and transformation come on earth as it is in heaven? Truth be told, we spend most of our lives hovering between both. I know I do. As I continue on this journey of life though, I am also more convinced that living a life daily surrendered to the God of Jesus Christ is the only way to find the sense of home that our restless hearts yearn for.

When we think of the secret thoughts that we have, or even the secret actions that we might engage in, what do we think of the consequences? What do you do with those secret thoughts you have that you are too ashamed to admit? For us men it is said that all of us are faced with the temptation at some point in our lives to run away from everything. Women may have similar dark thoughts. The problem is not so much that we have them, but how we deal with them. This is where it is crucial to have a person or people in our lives with whom we can share our darkest thoughts without shame, with the knowledge that we will still be accepted for who we are, and to know that such thoughts and desires can be redeemed.

My heart needs redeeming every day. It needs desperately to be brought in line with the heart of God. I am sometimes tempted to live like there are no consequences to my actions. But when I am deceived by such thoughts, it is then that I need to be reminded of the transforming love of God in Jesus to change me from the inside out, to create in me a clean heart and renew within me a right spirit. God help me to live such a surrendered life.

Gifts, motives & ego

A million young poets screaming out their words, to a world full of people just living to be heard…maybe some day those words will be heard.

These words of John Mellencamp from his classic Lonesome Jubilee album are the cry of a generation of bloggers, twitters and citizen journalists. Everyone wants everyone to read their piece, their opinion, their take on the world. And the best way to do this is to promote yourself to get the most readers possible. It’s a ‘look at me…pleeease!’ world, and we all fall for it. Insecurity abounds as we clamour over each other for the affection of the masses.

Mark Sayers has written a post about his self-promotion conundrum. I too struggle with this tempation. I struggle with the fantasy of having millions reading this website and marveling at what a brilliant writer I am. My ego gets in the way of a simple desire to communicate what I think is some life to a world that is dying.

But then I look at the Gospels, and I see that Jesus never promoted himself. He never said “I’m preaching at the temple tonight. Come along and hear me”. People came to him. The common people heard him gladly. As one of the characters in Ben Hur said, “He speaks words of life”.

Jesus’ motive was always to do what was right. My pastor has said that we have nothing we have not been given. Everyone has a gift. We are all equal. What we have are gifts that have been given to us. So no one is better than anyone else. That means my gift is not to be used for my ego, as if it is something I have developed from scratch all by myself. It is a gift. I have done nothing to earn it. It has been given to me by God to be used for God.

Therefore, if it is a gift, I need to use it, to consider it a ministry. In my case, I feel strongly that the world needs to know the true message of Jesus. This website is a humble attempt to do this. But I need to constantly examine my motives. If I am doing this for my own ego I may as well stop now, but if I am doing it for the kingdom, then it is life-giving.

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