Wednesday, August 24, 2016

LEARNING TO LOVE YOURSELF?





There are numerous verses that seem to suggest that we should love ourselves:

·       “This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:38-39; ESV; also Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31, 33;  Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8; Leviticus 19:18)

Some see in these verses a mandate for us to love ourselves. But instead, the mandate of these verses is to love others, without any command to love ourselves. Well then, how can we love others if we don’t love ourselves?

Well first we have to understand what self-love entails and what it doesn’t. Loving ourselves certainly doesn’t mean to think more highly of ourselves than we have reason to think. Instead, there is nothing in Scripture that would have us to inflate our self-image contrary to the truth. Instead, we are told to think accurately about ourselves:

·       For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3)

James tell us that we are as substantial as a mere vapor:

·       Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

Living in the light requires that we think about ourselves according to that light. This means that we need to see ourselves in a biblical way:

·       For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:3)

Without Christ, we told that we must regard ourselves as “nothing.” Even if we have lived a life of perfect obedience to the Lord, we must regard ourselves as “undeserving” of anything good from the Lord:

·       “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

We cannot earn anything good from the Lord (Romans 11:350. The only thing we deserve is death (Romans 6:23). Everything else is a matter of grace. Jesus even taught that without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

How then can we love others if these are the ways we must think about ourselves? Instead of trying to establish our own worthiness or self-righteousness, we have to think in ways that have been prescribed for God’s children. Paul had prayed that we would:

·       Have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

He assured us that:

·       If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

·       For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

·       But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:8-10))

It is a rejection of these assurances to build up our self-esteem, worthiness, and self-righteousness before God. It would be equivalent to telling God, “What you are offering me in Christ is not sufficient for me.”

Clearly, when we are instructed to love our neighbor as ourselves, we are not being told to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Ironically, if we love our neighbors in the same sense, we should be building their self-esteem. However, this cannot be the biblical intent! Well then, of what does loving ourselves consist?

Loving ourselves is something that we do naturally. Even though I had struggled for decades with self-loathing and depression, I still loved myself. How? I took care of myself. When I was hungry I ate. When I was tired, I slept. When I was lonely, I called a friend. In order to feel better about myself, I would take a walk or ride my bike. I would also build my self-esteem to compensate for my self-loathing. I would read self-help books and go to see a psychologist in hope of feeling better about myself. In short, I loved myself.

Loving ourselves is not something that we are commanded to do. It is something that we do naturally. Even the masochist loves himself and causes harm to himself as a form of self-atonement to feel better about himself.

How then are we to love others? By addressing their needs as we do our own! If anything, we are to regard their needs before our own:


·       Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant. (Philippians 2:3-7)

We are called to model our lives after our Savior, the ultimate servant who died for our sins. Rather than loving ourselves by inflating our self-esteem, we need to clothe ourselves with Christ and abide in His word and assurances. This can be a very tiring and frustrating calling. Therefore, we are encouraged:

·       Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9-10)

What does love look like?

·       Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

Easy? No! It requires our daily divine bread.

HIGH SELF-ESTEEM vs. LOW SELF-ESTEEM



 


I met an experimental psychologist on the train to Princeton. We eventually touched on the question of what humans need to thrive.

Of course, everyone has a different take on the subject. Some propose that we need high self-esteem, while others propose the opposite – a low self-esteem. I know that this sounds strange, so let me try to explain the rationale of the latter group.

The proponents of a low self-esteem do not call it “low self-esteem,” but that’s what it is. It involves the denial of freewill and moral accountability. They believe that we are just a sophisticated biochemical machine. As such, all of our thinking and deciding is pre-determined by the laws of chemistry and biology. Consequently, everything that we think has already been determined by physical forces. Therefore, there exists absolutely no basis for free choice or even thinking.

How can such a view of humanity be desirable? Isn’t it demeaning to think that we are nothing more than a wet machine, a mere result of chemical-electrical reactions? Psychologist James Hillman warns against adopting a deterministic view of ourselves:

·       “We dull our lives by the way we conceive then…By accepting the idea that I am the effect of…hereditary and social forces, I reduce myself to a result. The more my life is accounted for by what already occurred in my chromosomes, by what my parents did or didn’t do, and by my early years now long past, the more my biography is the story of a victim. I am living a plot written by my genetic code, ancestral heredity, traumatic occasions, parental unconsciousness, societal accidents.” (“The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling,” Random House, 6)

Why then would some psychologists promote such a demeaning self-image? In the short run, it does relieve shame and guilt. How? Well, if the client is convinced that he couldn’t have acted in a way contrary to his biological programming, then there is no real basis for shame and guilt. These feelings are reduced to inappropriate reactions and can be ignored.

An atheist friend had confided that he adopted this self-identity at an early age, and this enabled him to reject these very bothersome feelings. Also, if we believe that we couldn’t have acted otherwise, this view enables us to dismiss feelings of regret and other burdensome feelings. It reduces life to this attitude, “I am just along for the ride. What will be, will be.”

Well, what’s the matter with this comfortable ride? Much! First of all, it contradicts our experience and perceptions that we do have freewill and could have behaved otherwise. To doubt something as basic as our experience of making free choices, is also to doubt all of our perceptions about self. It is also to fail to make sense of this world, where we see that freewill is a relative thing. Some have less freewill than others – the heroin addict and the comatose. However, from the perspective of the above materialistic denial of all freewill, there is no way that we can say that some are more free than others.

For another thing, if we cannot act otherwise, then punishment is no longer justified. Why not? There is no longer any basis for guilt and culpability.

Lastly, if we cannot make changes, why try? Why attempt to learn, improve our job performance, or confront relational problems? Why not take the easy way out – denial and avoidance of anything uncomfortable? In short, this self-concept represents a tragic denial of reality.

High Self-Esteem (HSE): Well, if this form of low self-esteem is a dead end, does this mean that we should aim towards inflating our self-esteem, believing, “I can do it.”

This is the “normal” and more common strategy. HSE gives us a confidence and enables us to get out of bed in the morning and to proactively face life. This strategy had enabled me to face threats. I told myself that nothing could stop me and that I could endure anything that life would throw at me, and it worked, at least until I faced some threats that were bigger than me.

Western society had made HSE into a cult, claiming that it could heal all of our hurts and failures. However, this faith hasn’t been able to withstand scrutiny.  Psychologist Roy Baumeister has extensively researched the relationship between high self-esteem and performance:

  • For three decades, I and many other psychologists viewed self-esteem as our profession’s Holy Grail: a psychological trait that would soothe most of individuals’ and society’s woes. We thought that high self-esteem would impart not only success, health, happiness, and prosperity to the people who possessed it, but also stronger marriages, higher employment, and greater educational attainment in the communities that supported it.
  • Recently, though, several close analyses of the accumulated research have shaken many psychologists’ faith in self-esteem. My colleagues and I were commissioned to conduct one of these studies by the American Psychological Society, an organization devoted to psychological research. These studies show not only that self-esteem fails to accomplish what we had hoped, but also that it can backfire and contribute to some of the very problems it was thought to thwart. Social sector organizations should therefore reconsider whether they want to dedicate their scarce resources to cultivating self-esteem. In my view, there are other traits, like self-control, that hold much more promise.
  • There are now ample data on our population showing that, if anything, Americans tend to overrate and overvalue ourselves. In plain terms, the average American thinks he’s above average. Even the categories of people about whom our society is most concerned do not show any broad deficiency in self esteem. African Americans, for example, routinely score higher on self-esteem measures than do European-Americans.
HSE also represents a flight from reality into what feels good for the time being. However, how can it be a source of problems? In order to manage our lives effectively, we must first understand our lives and their long-term needs. However, HSE represents a rejection of understanding and reality in favor of short-term comfortable feelings.

For one thing, building HSE is always comparative. It is not enough to improve our performance. Instead, HSE requires that we see ourselves as superior. I had taken a test that I feared I had bombed. However, I delighted to find out that I had been given an “A,” until I found that most of the class had received an “A+.” Consequently, this need for HSE brings us into harmful competition with others.

HSE is also a refusal to engage the truth about ourselves. It refuses to look at our painful aspects. As a result, HSE increasingly cannot take criticism and needful self-examination.

HSE spells death to relationships where humility and forgiveness are key. Those afflicted with HSE are increasingly unable to apologize, because they see no need to apologize. Why not? They are assured that it is the other person’s fault.

HSE is seldom grateful for their partner. Why not? They are convinced that they deserve better. As I have learned to confront some ugly truths about myself, the more grateful I became for my wife who would love and tolerate me. However, before I couldn’t and wouldn’t see this. It was just too demeaning.

Both of these options are reality denying. They serve as a comforting addiction, but we find that we need increasingly high doses of this HSE drug. The richest man in the world, John D. Rockefeller had been asked, “How much more money do you need to be happy?” His answer – “Always a little bit more.”

Is there a third reality-affirming alternative? As Jesus had taught, our normal response is denial:

·       And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

We avoid discomfort and run from the painful truths about ourselves. Is there anything that can break this cycle to enable us to live in the truth and yet not be crushed by it?
We need confidence and hope. However, I have found that Christ has provided for my needs. How? He has loved, assured, and forgiven me to the extent that I can now face my failings confidently and healingIy. Consequently, I no longer need to lie to myself and rely on HSE. I now have Him to rely upon.

And this self-image is ennobling. There is no greater privilege than to know that I am serving the source of all life, truth, and love.

My psychologist acquaintance was listening. I pray that this will become a seed that will germinate.

Taking this case a step further – If psychologists and other professionals are really concerned about human thriving, they have a responsibility to consider Christ, the ultimate among change-Agents.

TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE





I have been troubled to hear Christians saying:

·       “I’m sitting out these elections. It seems that God is bringing judgment on this country in light of the two candidates we have to choose from.”

I am troubled by this response for many reasons. While it might be true that God wants to judge this nation (and perhaps even the rest of this world), our responsibilities are clear. We have to seek the welcome of our communities and even our nations.

This was the message that God had given Jeremiah deliver to the Jews in their painful and humiliating exile in Babylon. They were instructed to seek the welcome of that unrighteous town.

Even when God told Moses that He would destroy the nation of Israel and create a new nation from Moses (Exodus 32:10), Moses didn’t say. “Well, if that’s your will, then do it. I won’t oppose that.” Instead, Moses understood the role to which he had been called and intervened in favor of Israel:

·       But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. (Exodus 32:11-14)

We too have a role to play – that of the light of the world. We have to, therefore, ask of ourselves, “Which candidate has the policies that will best protect the innocent and promote justice and welfare?”

Jesus told a revealing parable about a Good Samaritan. The religious leadership passed by a bleeding man lying in the side of the road without offering the slightest assistance. We would be tempted to think, “Evidently, this mugging had occurred because God had allowed it. Evidently, this man’s karma was bad and he received just what he deserved.”

However, such thinking didn’t enter into Jesus’ parable. Instead, this was a man who clearly needed help. That is what mattered, not his karma.

Let’s apply this to our own nation. Our nation is bleeding. Our job is not to consider its karma or what it might deserve in God’s eyes. Our job is to stem the bleeding.

Mordecai knew of Haman’s plans to exterminate the Jews, and he did something about it, even asking Esther to risk her life. He could have instead thought to himself,

·       “Evidently, the Jewish people deserve this. After all, we had been condemned into exile for our sins, and then we failed to return to Israel along with the other exiles. Instead, we became comfortable in the land of the Persians and didn’t want to give up our comforts to return as pioneers to the Promised Land. Perhaps we deserve the punishment that Haman wishes to bring upon us. So let’s just allow the chips to fall where they may.”

However, Mordecai knew his duty and intervened to save his people Israel. He would leave the rest up to God.

We Christians cannot abandon the political arena or any other arena. Instead, our duty is to shine the light of Christ in whatever arena God might have placed us. Voting is one arena that we should not ignore.

THE WORLD NEEDS EVANGELISM BUT SO DO WE





Jesus’ entire ministry was focused on evangelism. When He called His disciples, He promised to make them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Interestingly, He didn’t entice them with the promise of stature, respect, or power. He didn’t promise to make them healers, deliverance ministers, miracle workers, or prophets, although He did endow some of them with these gifts. Instead, His promise to make them fishers of men was to characterize their calling.

It also characterized Jesus’ ministry. Peter and the others had found Him praying on the mountain and wanted to know why He was up there instead of coming back down to the people waiting to be healed. Jesus’ answer revealed His priorities:

·       And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” (Mark 1:38; ESV)

It seems that preaching to save souls took precedence over all of His other ministries, even healing and delivering the evil spirits.

Jesus certainly taught His disciples to perform acts of mercy, but even these had a greater purpose:

·       “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Good deeds were to be performed for the glory of the Father to turn the hearts of the people to Him. Evangelism was also the prime focus of Jesus’ final instructions to His followers – the Great Commission given to spread the Gospel throughout the world:

·       “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

·       “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48)

Regarding evangelism, there is something that we often forget or, perhaps, overlook. We also need evangelistic for our spiritual health and the health of the Church. Towards the end of the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul had written instructions for the purpose of enabling us to stand against satanic attacks. He described these defensive measures as “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11, 13). This armor consisted of the “belt of truth” and the “breastplate of righteousness” (14) followed by a piece of unusual armor that doesn’t seem to be defensive at all but offensive:


·       As shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. Ephesians (15).

Our feet should always be ready to carry forth the Gospel. However, this is not defense but offense, right? I think that it is both. We have often heard it said, “A good defense is a good offense.” This would suggest that the Church best defends itself as it moves forward, rather than waiting defensively and fearfully for the next blow to fall.

This understanding made me think about Daniel’s description of the Church during the last days of this current era. The Church would not be cowering in the corner awaiting the next wave of persecution. Instead, the Church would be showing forth the glory and courage of her Savior:

·       He [the anti-Christ king] shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. And the wise among the people shall make many understand [evangelism], though for some days they shall stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder. (Daniel 11:32-33)

I rejoiced to read this! Although we might “stumble by sword and flame, by captivity and plunder,” we will not be cowered into submission. As He had promised, our Lord will be with us. We would endure the pain and threats by moving forward, by fulfilling our commission!

This also accords with Jesus’ teachings. After teaching how the Church would be torn by dissension and how we would be hated by the world (Matthew 24:9-12), Our Lord illustrated how that those who continue with Him will courageously carry out His evangelistic mission to the ends of the earth:

·       “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

If our Lord is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31-32)!