pity party

The Cosmic Pity Party Pooper

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Every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you. Party pooper. Party pooper. – Franck Eggelhoffer

It is common in our world to think of God as a Cosmic Party Pooper. Man just wants to have fun and here comes God ruining it. The unbelieving world has looked at God and come to the conclusion He exists to kill joy. Or rather, he is a construct of those who wish to kill their joy. It’s understandable. God has said “Do not” to many of the things they wish to do. Now, this view of God is wildly inaccurate (Ps. 16:11). However, there is one type of party we Christians like to throw that God is in the business of pooping.

I just sold my townhouse (Praise God!). Literally. I signed the contract yesterday. And it only took over a year of being on the market with multiple price drops and much anxiety. When my family and I set out on this adventure, I expected it to take maybe six months. Townhouses sell slower than your typical home. But as month six came and went, I started planning a little party. A Pity Party. As we waited, we saw many friends put their houses on the market and sell them (sometimes within days). Suddenly, the date for the party got pushed up and it became a multi-night event. Invitations, however, were limited. I generally only invited my wife and God (It’s funny how we reserve our best for the ones we really love. *end sarcasm*). God never RSVP’d. But He sure did show up.

Among the prophets, Elijah stands above them all. I feel confident in saying so for this reason alone. When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain, two other people showed up. Moses and Elijah. Moses, representing the Law. Elijah, the prophets. So, as the kids might say, Elijah is kind of big deal. And if we know our Bible, this is not surprising. And despite his status, he remained a man with a nature just like me (James 5:17). And there is an episode from his life, recorded in 1 Kings 19, that I deeply resonate with and that is also highly instructive for us.

In the previous chapter, we find Elijah having a literal mountaintop experience. He soundly defeats the prophets of Baal and exposed Baal as a false god. The people of Israel turn from Baal back to the Lord. Elijah and the people then slaughter all the prophets of Baal. It was a good day for Elijah. I can imagine he was feeling pretty good. Chapter 19 begins with Elijah’s arch nemesis, Jezebel, hearing that her prophets of Baal suffered total defeat. And she responds rather curiously. Obviously, she heard fire fell out of heaven at the request of Elijah and that Elijah then systematically slaughtered all her buddies. But instead of cowering in fear of the power of Elijah’s God, she starts breathing out threats. And when Elijah hears the threats, he becomes “afraid.” Which is bizarre considering what had just happened on Mt. Carmel. Not only does he become afraid, he promptly flees for his life.  It is at this point in the story we know Elijah began planning a pity party. The Bible doesn’t tell us all the plans, but we do get a description of what happened there.

The party was held in a damp cave on Mt. Horeb. And it started off with a bang. Fire. Thunder. Earthquake. And then silence. But not just any silence. This silence had a voice. And it had a question. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” YHWH was here and He was speaking. He was here to ruin Elijah’s pity party. Elijah responds to the question the same way we all do when in the throes of self-pity. “I’m here because despite all I’ve done for you, God, my enemies are about to kill me! What gives?” We believe that our works merit the sort of favor that should shield us from any and all difficulty. And when the difficulty does set it, our ability to pity ourselves knows no limit. Our eyes burn with tears, because, after all, this is our pity party and we can cry if we want to. And while we feel justified in throwing this pity party, we harm ourselves in two ways.

Self-Pity Forgets the Sovereignty of God

Throughout this process of selling my townhouse, if you had asked me if I believed that God was sovereign over all things, I would have said yes without hesitating. And although I checked the right box on the theological checklist, my growing self-pity revealed an inconsistency in what I said I believed and how I lived.

Self-pity always blames God for suffering. The self-pitying man knows he has done many things for the Lord. He serves him and sacrifices for him. And he believes that service merits reward. However, when we engage in self-pity, it reveals a poverty in our theology. We have begun to approach God, not as a person, but as a machine. God has become our ATM. We have made deposits into our account. So we expect to make withdrawals. And we expect to make those withdrawals on our terms and on our schedule. Now, we might check the right theological box (just like I did) when it comes to the sovereignty of God, but in the moment of our self-pity, we deny it. Self-pity forgets that we cannot control God. Self-pity forgets that we do not control to universe. God does.

My wife and I watched “Man of Steel” for the first time last weekend. One thing that surprised me about the movie was how many Christological themes that were present in the movie (there were so many, in fact, that I am surprised some enterprising Christian publisher has not created a study guide for the movie). One of my favorite lines was when Superman tells the General “You fear me because you cannot control me…but I am not your enemy.” It took a little time to convince the General that Superman was for them and not against them. The man mired in self-pity has forgotten that God is for him and not against him. He has forgotten that he cannot control God. And in response, he has forged a new god in his own image. One who is both safe and powerless. One that looks a lot like the image he sees in the mirror.

Self-Pity Forgets the Mission of God

Self-pity always distracts us from the mission. Always. The mission we have been given is outside of ourselves and for others. But when we start throwing pity parties all over the place, we lose focus on the mission God has given us. We become too self-absorbed to think about others. Who has time to care about the unreached peoples of the world and of my neighborhood when I have a townhouse to sell? Self-pity also lies to us by telling us that no one else is facing a greater difficulty. This is why the local church is such a gift to us. By being in relationship with one another, difficulties greater than our own confront us. Sacrifices greater than our own confront us. And the Word of God confronts us. And our self-pity is held in check and we are kept on mission.

For a good chunk of the time I have tried to sell the townhouse, friends of mine in my small group at church have suffered greatly. They are in the process of adopting from the Congo. And in October of last year, they traveled to go pick up their daughter and bring her home. Due to unforeseen circumstances and broken promises, 7 months later, my friends’ little girl is still not home. And the mother has been in country with their daughter almost the whole time. The father came back home after a few months to work. So for about 5 months, they have been split apart. They helped temper my self-pity. And then there was the preaching. Gathering each Lord’s Day with my brothers and sisters and sitting under the teaching of the Word, I was weekly convicted of the sin of self-pity. God kept showing up at my pity parties, even after I stopped inviting him. He was intent on helping me see. For the man looking only at himself is blind.

Did you notice how God responds to Elijah’s self-pity? First He asks Elijah what he’s doing in the cave. When Elijah responds by throwing a pity party, God responds simply by saying, “Go!” Go do this and this. Get back on mission, Elijah! Quit worrying about your enemies, the people who can only kill you (hum, that sounds familiar), and get back on mission. This is God’s response to all of us. If you invite God to your pity party, all He will do is remind you of the mission. He is the Cosmic Pity Party Pooper. And this is good news for us.

A Better Elijah

Jesus is the better and truer Elijah. When he was faced with the greatest difficulty, bearing the wrath of God for sinners, he did not throw a pity party. He did not think that God was against him. And rather than shrinking back and forgetting the mission, he set his face like flint to do it. He suffered and died. For us. And he was raised on the third day. For us. And He has commissioned us for service in his Kingdom. We have a mission that lies before us. And the choice we all face is this: will we put our eyes on our self or on Jesus? Will we get on with the mission or throw a pity party?

The Remedy for Self-Pity

The only remedy for self-pity is service. The only weapon that can slay the dragon of self is the mission. Self-pity is a cruel master that is intent on destroying you. Denying yourself and picking up your cross to follow Jesus is how rebel against that master. We will either pick up our cross and die to ourselves and live or we will turn further and further in and destroy ourselves and die.

Surrendering our lives to Jesus will not make them easier. There will be difficulty, pain and even death. But there is no defeat. Only resurrection. Only glory. The sufferings of this present age are not worth comparing to the eternal glory that we will share in the Kingdom of our Lord and His Christ. So we go. We cancel our pity parties and we pick up our crosses and follow Jesus on mission, all the while inviting others to do the same.

~sdg

 

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The Gravity of Sin

Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross. For ultimately what sent Christ there was neither the greed of Judas, nor the envy of the priests, not the vacillating cowardice of Pilate, but our own greed, envy, cowardice and other sins, and Christ’s resolve in love and mercy to bear their judgment and so put them away. It is impossible for us to face Christ’s cross with integrity and not to feel ashamed of ourselves. Apathy, selfishness, and complacency blossom everywhere in the world except at the cross. There these noxious weeds shrivel and die. They are seen for the tatty, poisonous things they are. For if there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our unrighteousness, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed. It is only when we see this that, stripped of our self-righteousness and self-satisfaction, we are ready to put our trust in Jesus Christ as the Savior we urgently need.

John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 85.

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Praying Prayers We Don’t Mean

We all do it. Most of us do it daily. We come before the throne of God Almighty and offer up prayers we really don’t want Him to answer. We know we are supposed to pray for these things. We’ve been around enough to know that these are the things Christians pray for. And yet, in the depths of our hearts, we hope they won’t get answered.

This disbelief is not something we would admit. We think we want all our prayers to be answered. But the truth always comes out. When God starts answering those prayers, our reactions to His methods betray what we really want. We want the ends, but we do not want His means. And this is the rub.

My wife knows her way around the kitchen. The girl can flat-out cook. And I can flat-out eat. We are a good match. Something I have learned while watching my wife in the kitchen is that if you want cookies, then follow the cookie recipe. Do not stray from it. Do not forget an ingredient or step. Otherwise the result will be sadness and a growling stomach. This is the nature of cooking and baking. The means matter when the goal is a particular end.

A land flowing with milk and honey. That was the promise. When God appeared to Moses and chose him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, God tells Moses that He is giving them a land flowing with milk and honey. I’m sure that sounded like paradise to the people. They had only know oppression and poverty. And here was God promising wealth and freedom. Finally, after years of crying out to God to rescue them, to remember them, God answered their prayers. As God rescued them from the hand of Pharaoh, the people rejoiced and responded with praise. Whatever God commanded of them, they did. But something happened. Something changed. The path to the Promised Land led through the wilderness. There was difficulty and suffering in their path. And the people grumbled. Manna? In the wilderness? Where’s the water? Did God bring us out here to kill us? Is God a liar? They questioned the means by which God was bringing about the promised end. And their faithless grumbling was their undoing. Rather than receive the blessing promised, they were cursed and fell in the wilderness. For their grumbling revealed that the rescue they prayed for they never really wanted.

Right now, I sit in a townhouse that I want to sell. I have two bedrooms that are both occupied and a new son due to be born in February. We feel cramped. We knew this time would come, so we put our house on the market 10 months ago. And we prayed that God would sell it. But this is not all we have prayed for. I asked God to make us more like Jesus through this process. And of all the prayers Christians are supposed to pray, this is the one I think too many of us pray without thinking about it. I know I did.

Why is this? We like the ends. To be like Jesus, full of love, mercy, kindness, and joy, sounds wonderful. But we often do not consider the means by which God will make us like Jesus. Jesus walked the path of suffering and humility. Today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Eternal Son of God enfleshed to live, die and rise again so that we might be saved from our sins. Where was he born? Most likely, a drafty cave. Who visited him? Mangy shepherds. He had no convenience. He had no comforts. Even in his birth, Jesus lived a life marked by humility, suffering and difficulty.

Yet, somehow we think we should not have to suffer. But much to our consternation, there are no shortcuts to imaging Jesus. If we would be like him, we must walk His path. Humility comes before honor. Suffering comes before glory. It is the way of the Father.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17, ESV)

We want the Promised Land without the wilderness. We want the milk and honey without first tasting the manna. We want Jesus without the cross because we would rather not bear our own. It is why we pray prayers we do not mean. Thankfully, even though God sees through our half-hearted prayers, He still answers them as if we meant it. Affliction shows up at our door and does his work (1). Sin bubbles to the surface. Sin we had no idea was there. What will we do with it? Will we bring our sin to Jesus so He can kill it? Or will we respond like the wilderness generation and be killed by our sin? Will we grumble as Affliction begins his rehab project or with our eyes firmly fixed on the end, rejoice in the means? The early church rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Why? Because they knew that suffering leads to glory. Too often, I forget that. It is why I end up praying prayers I do not mean. But there is hope for me. He still came. Today is still Christmas. Praise God for His grace.

~sdg

1 – I owe this concept of affliction to Doug Wilson’s tweet.

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Book Review: “Death By Living”

An unconventional book deserves an unconventional review. So, here. we. go.

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This book almost got me in trouble. Scratch that. This book did get me into trouble, although the trouble was short-lived and easily explained away. It was the Saturday morning of my son’s first birthday party. And I was sitting in my in-law’s new living room enjoying a cup of coffee and reading about a hand-basket headed to hell. Despite what you may think, the story is quite humorous. And so I did what people do when their humor bone is struck. I laughed. Out loud. A true LOL moment (true, because most times people say “LOL” they didn’t really). The problem was that while my lovely wife and her mother were in the same room, they were in another world, one involving Google, Peter Pan and my son’s future Halloween costume and they had no idea about the humorous hand-basket. You can see where there is going. My LOL happened only moments after my wife had pondered aloud if she could make the costume. *Head snap in my direction* “Are you laughing at me? You don’t think I can do it??” “No, No,” I stammered. “It’s the book. It’s funny. There’s a jetway and an airport and a two-year old and he’s puking and the older brother is puking. And there are no trash cans. And the dad…I’m…I’m not laughing at you. I promise.” *Raised eyebrow. Back to Googling and plotting first-born Halloween cuteness*

The range of emotions Wilson evokes are pretty much of all them. Laughter. Fear (the good kind). Sadness. Remorse. Hope. Warmth. Confusion (there was one section toward the end where I had no idea what was happening. There was a sea and a storm and a sign and fishermen and darkness. But, I blame my incoherence on the midnight reading, not the author). Gratitude. Regret. Anger. Awe. Wonder. But what else would you expect from a book about living. Everyone who dies, lived. And while death is prominent in the title, and present throughout the book, the main thrust of the book is an invitation to life. And not just life. But life lived well. A life lived not for self, but for others.

Tortilla chips. All I needed was tortilla chips. Mexican food is at a premium in this house. The fine lady who is my wife and who plans the menus in our house is not fond of it. This is especially true when she is with child, as she is now. I, however, could eat it every day. But, now and then, Mexican food appears on the menu (I am well-loved). And when it does, I rejoice with great rejoicing. This was one of those days. And there was guacamole to boot. But we had no chips. So off to the store I go, for I would not be denied my joy.  As I enter the first set of Star Trek doors (they open without us touching them?! This should amaze us more than it does) an elderly gentleman is about to go through the second set of doors. I catch up to him because he is slow. The weight of his story is heavy and it has taken it’s toll. Instantly I find within myself patience, which surprises me. Eventually the old character makes it through and I followed suite, heading for my chips and my Mexican delight. As I drove home, I couldn’t help but think of that old man and how dreadfully slow he was. I wondered what his story was like. What had he seen? Who had he known? Who did he love? Was he alone? What did he fear? Perhaps he was shopping for an impending visit from family. Why were they visiting? A funeral? The questions kept coming. I blame Mr. Wilson for this. You will look at people different after reading this book. If you embrace the vision that is being cast, and I hope you do, life gets upgraded to HD. If your life is a story, one being written by the very One who spoke the galaxies into existence (and it is), then that means the people you encounter at the grocery store are living stories authored by that same One who is authoring yours. How will you treat them? What role will you play in their story? What role will you play in your own? You have a say in how this will go.

In The Weight of Glory C.S. Lewis wrote:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.

Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.

This book is an ode to that very sentiment. We are mortal, so we will die. But we are also immortal, so we will live forever. Life is a story, but as Wilson writes, it’s one “played for keeps.” There are consequences for dying poorly. And there are rewards for dying well. So, what’ll it be? If you’re reading this now, there is breath in your lungs. There is life still left. There is time yet to choose a new path. Will you continue living as if the Author does not exist? Or will you embrace your story and your Author and try to live to the fullest? I’m shooting for option two. How about you?

I heartedly recommend this book to you (five stars!! Two thumbs up!!). You can buy it here.

~sdg

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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Fear Boldly, Son

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. (Proverbs 14:26-27, ESV)

It took me a year. But I finally found the verses I will pray over my son. I have thought a lot about his life and all that may lay before him. Today is his birthday. And my mind has been flooded with all the memories of this past year. But, I also realize that now is the time to start teaching him and shaping him for the roads ahead. But where to start? Solomon gives me a good place to start. Fear.

If I do not shape the contours of his fear, the world will do it for me. The question when it comes to fear is not should our kids have fears, but what kinds of fear. The world will tell us to have no fear (remember all those “No Fear” t-shirts?). The world calls fear unnecessary. So they create conferences and write books and produce podcasts all about conquering your fears. But this is all posturing and lies. Man was made for fear. But the problem for most is not that they fear too much, but that they fear too little. Their lives are marked by constant fear of a thousand petty things. And they are immobilized and fretful. They are weak, cowardly and foolish. And the solution is not less fear but greater fear.

I think some people get this. They look around and understand they should be more scared than they are on a daily basis. So they create stories meant to scare. Vampires, werewolves, aliens, serial killers and the boogeyman, oh my! The horror genre exists to scare us, to help us feel fear. They seem to intuitively know that their daily fears are too small, too insignificant.

God is the greatest reality in the universe. He is the greatest power. He spoke and stuff appeared, ex nihilo. Our hearts beat and our lungs fill with air because He is speaking. And since He is the greatest power, He deserves our greatest fear. And as counter-intuitive as it may sound, if we would only fear a bigger fear, we would find freedom from the petty fears that plague our lives. We would be transformed from cowardly to bold. We would leave the path of folly and walk in wisdom.

How does this work? Why does the fear of the LORD lead to wisdom? Because the fear of the LORD puts us on the path to embracing the Gospel. When we see God in all His glory, we see our sin. We realize that we cannot stand before pure holiness. We need a mediator or we risk drinking the wrath of God to the dregs. We find that mediator in Jesus of Nazareth. When we trust in Jesus and are united by faith to Him, we have then been united to the Father. The greatest power in the universe now holds us in His hands. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, ESV) Paul asks rhetorically. Do you see the freedom in this? Nothing can touch you when God is in your corner. This does not mean that you will not experience pain or difficulty in life. But it does mean that the end of the story is good for you. It means life and not death. But first we must lay aside our petty fears.

So fear boldly. Fear the One who speaks dragons into existence and fear not the dragons. For the dragons can only kill you. This is what I will teach my son. It’s the only wise thing I can do.

~sdg

Gospel Substance for the Wilderness Life