The Thief Named Selfishness

“Dying to self doesn’t mean giving up what’s good for us.  It means letting go of what’s not, so that we can accept what is.”

When talking about romantic relationships, especially marriage, how often have we heard or even found ourselves saying that it has to be a 50/50 deal?  With this mindset, we attribute the same equal value to what we “get” as to what we “give” (although the degree of giving is often based on how much we feel we’re getting…. here lies the problem).  The “issues” begin when our expectations about what we “give” and “get” differ from what our significant other may have in mind…. and so, the battles begin.  We start planting flags and claiming territory on the relationship “battleground”.  It’s often not even something we’re consciously aware of but it will go something like this…. “Well you didn’t do this for me so I am going to withhold “            ” from you (insert sex, intimacy, conversation, support, help, flexibility, etc.).  We stew in our anger and brick by brick, we start to construct our walls….

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John 3:30

Recently I was talking with a friend who is in the process of going through a divorce from an abusive spouse.  She was sharing about how when she was pregnant with their daughter, he refused to speak with her for three weeks because he had wanted a boy…. I was floored.  This man was blessed with a lovely family, with a new beautiful baby girl on the way.  Instead of celebrating that gift, he allowed the thief in the door.  Without him even recognizing it, he had been robbed of the joy and excitement of that season in his life.  In turn, it also robbed his wife of feeling cherished, loved and supported…. causing her to feel heartbroken, isolated and alone.

While I would consider the example above to be on the extreme side, in our natural “unchecked” state, we are all selfish…. and before we climb on our own high horse, we need to understand that the potential for this type of behavior lives in all of us.

How can we counteract this?  What does Jesus remind us of in Luke 9:23 and John 12:24.  Deny yourself….die to self.  Over and over again, Jesus reminds us that in order to walk the path of “life” as God intends us to, we must first die.  We see this exemplified in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus, soaked in blood and sweat asks His Father to “remove this cup from me”…. but He finishes His prayer by saying “not my will but YOUR will be done”.  (see Luke 22:42)  Right there, He buries any potential for selfishness.

In our relationship with our spouse, I believe that the root of many of these issues can often be traced back to the faulty foundation that is found in the 50/50 mindset.  At this point, I feel the need to share a disclaimer before we go any further.  What I am about to say is not a license for anyone to abuse you in any way.  You are not a doormat to be walked on.  Let me remind you that you are God’s creation, therefore you are His handiwork…. His masterpiece.  He made you with a purpose and has a plan for you in this time and in this place.  This is the foundation on which the next idea is built.

I believe that the 50/50 model, by its very nature, is broken.  Instead we need to focus on a “100/100” idea.  I need to be 100% about my spouse (as my friend and pastor says, “I am preaching to myself here.”)  It is on me to learn and understand what makes my spouse feel loved, cherished and appreciated and then implement those ideas in real world ways.  If it’s “physical touch” and you’re not a touchy/feely person, it may be unnatural at first but it is your responsibility to get over that hump.  If it’s “quality time” or “giving gifts” you need to make those things a priority (I recommend reading “The Five Love Languages” to learn more).  Remember that it’s not about what you “feel” like doing.  What it is about is “dying to self” and giving 100% to your spouse.

If you happen to be watching “Monday Night Football” and you notice that the kitchen is a mess….and you also see that your spouse has had a draining day with the kiddos, simply pause the game for 20 minutes and go in and clean it for them (without parading around looking for a pat on the back…. I’ve found that you’re more likely to receive a heartfelt thank you if you’re not actually asking for it  😉  ).  I need to remove the burdens and clear the obstacles that clutter my spouse’s path as best as I am able to.  We (husbands and wives) are the “safe harbor” for our spouse.  Yes, God is ultimately our refuge but we have an absolutely crucial role to play in reflecting Christ’s love, grace, understanding and compassion in our relationship.

As partners in a marriage (or those who are seriously dating/courting), this should be our mutual goal and if you haven’t taken the time yet, talk to them about this idea (and even more importantly, please listen).  Will things be perfect?  Not to burst your bubble but…. of course not.  We are still broken people being rebuilt by God.  There will be days when either partner (sometimes both at the same time) can be exhausted, sick, frustrated and impatient.  What should we do when this is the case?   We need to practice, give and receive grace.  Men, if we’ve “sinned” against our wife in those moments, we need to man up, recognize it, apologize (and give ourselves some grace…we’re not perfect) and take care of any fallout.

The world is a battleground and there is nothing that the enemy would rather see more than a family slowly being broken down and destroyed by selfishness.  When you arrive home, take a breath and before entering that threshold, remember to drop your weapons at the door.


The Courage of Compassion

“Sometimes you pray and sometimes you’re the answer to prayer.”  Erwin McManus

While on a flight earlier today, I was fortunate to share a very spirited conversation with a very enthusiastic toddler.  She caught my attention when her little face peaked over the seat in front of me.  She then started pointing out (and telling me about) all of the different lights that she could find in the cabin.  Reading lights, aisle lights, blue lights, red lights, yellow lights.  She wasn’t focused on the shadowy, boring, mundane places of the plane.  She was all about focusing on the bright and colorful spots….on those lights!  What a fantastic reminder about what to focus on in life.  I wonder if that’s how God sees us from His throne in Heaven.  After all, Jesus Himself said to his followers very clearly, “YOU are the light of the world….” (Matthew 5:14a)

And what are lights to do?  Shine!

As we go through our day, watch or read the news and observe interactions on social media, one of the things that becomes very apparent is that is world can be a very cold, bitter, ruthless place.  Negativity could swallow us up, if we were to permit it a foothold in our hearts and minds.  As we experience negative interactions over the course of our lives, we could allow those to pile up and harden our hearts to the needs of others both in a long term (family, friends) and in a short term sense (those that God brings across our path today).  In this soil the seeds of bitterness and anger take root and like quickly growing weeds, drown out the beauty that is found in compassion.  We can see the fruit of this so clearly in the story of the “Good Samaritan”……….

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” 

Luke 10:25-37

What made some pass (interesting how it was the “religious” ones who passed by the beaten man) while one man stopped to not only help but provide for the need of a stranger?  I believe the heart of the matter is rooted in fear.  Fear of what others who will see what we’re doing might think of us…. “Why is helping that loser?”  “Oh, look at that pious person showing off.”  “He’ll never get a job if people like him keep enabling their behavior.”   “He’s just going to take that money and buy drugs anyway.”  It could also be a fear of not having enough time (I’d help but I need to get to work….or home….or to church….).  Fear of not having the resources to help.  Fear and judgement (by others or by what we place on ourselves…humanity loves to judge).

What made the Samaritan different?  He was on his way somewhere as well.  He had places to be and people to see.  The difference is that when he saw the beaten man in need, he stopped what he was doing.  He invested his time and his resources (and potentially his safety) in stopping to help a stranger.  He took courage and didn’t make excuses.  When he saw a need, he acted on it.

My theme verse for 2018 is Matthew 6:33 which says, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all of this will be given unto you.”  Every morning, I wake up and almost like a mantra, I repeat to myself, “Seek first His kingdom….seek first His kingdom….”  As I move purposely into my day with this at the forefront of my mind, my focus is sharper and my awareness as to who or what God might bring across my path is heightened.  I am able to see the opportunities more clearly because I expect them.  It may simply be a kind word of encouragement or it may be something more but whatever it is, my goal is to stay faithful.

What needs will come across your path today?  What opportunities to help, or to be kind, or to offer a hug, or to buy someone a meal or a cup of coffee, present themselves to YOU today.  They may be obvious or they may be hidden (sometimes in plain sight).  Will you be the one to show courage and take the step of being compassionate?  Will you be the one to reflect His light into a dark world?  There are few who will take this beyond a conceptual musing but I hope that one of them that heeds the call to action….is you.

May He be your strength, hope, purpose and courage today.