Principles are Better than Laws Part 6

I’ve been discussing God’s laws as principles for how he would have us live on the earth.  I have posited that God designed us to have magnificent (abundant), eternal life that starts now, even here on earth.  I mean that even if we suffer, which we will, or even suffer a lot, we can still see it that way, because our experience of life in God is, in some ways, relative.  

By that I mean that you may be poor, or you may be rich. There are certain feelings associated with those two states, but joy is relative in that sometimes poor people have joy, and often, rich people are in misery. The same principle can be applied to sick versus healthy, romantically fulfilled versus being alone, autonomy at work versus micro managed. All of the standards people usually use to evaluate joy or suffering are less relevant to the follower of Jesus.

Even to the most committed Christian, I would assume that plenty is preferable to poverty, health is preferable to sickness, and loving relationships are preferable to loneliness. Still, the wonderful fact of the matter is, for eternal beings like us, circumstances and outcomes are only of secondary importance. If they become primary, you are in for some hurt. But if kept in their proper place as gifts from God, undeserved in an ultimate, cosmic way, but earned in a “God’s created laws of cause and effect” way, they are icing on the amazing cake of eternal, abundant life in Christ.

In this light, we are looking at the Ten Commandments and considering them as principles. I’ll say again that I don’t mean to reduce them from the important and serious laws of God that we should approach reverently and obediently. I only mean to point out that they also work well as principles for an incredible life, revealing the way God originally created his image bearers, you and me, to function in this world and the next.

All of this, of course, assumes that you have put your faith in Jesus’ death on the cross to forgive you for breaking these laws all along.

In part 5 we considered the first commandment, now let’s look at the second: Exodus 20:4-6 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love and keep my commandments.”

This commandment is not prohibiting the creation of a carved image, but it prohibits creating a carved image in order to bow down to it as your god. It is very similar to the first commandment to have no other gods. The principle is pretty much the same. Idolatry is an offense to God, and he created us to worship him. That is enough to know. But if we want to go further and consider it as a principle, idolatry is a competing principle that doesn’t work. Worshiping an idol or anything else as a god is an evasion of reality. Evading reality will always end in a bad outcome.

Much has been written about idols of the heart; money, sex, power, comfort, the approval of man. These are the false gods of our culture that do not deliver what they promise, leaving us anxious, ashamed, fearful, envious, and unbalanced. To obey the second commandment (along with the first) would be to avoid all these traps. If money is not an idol, it is a neutral tool that represents your labor. If sex is not an idol, then it is an amazing gift of God to share with your wife or husband for fun and connection, and to create new people. If power is not an idol, then it is power over earth and elements, NEVER men. If comfort is not an idol it is a Sabbath rest, or a reflection of it. If the approval of man is not an idol, then it will not rule you and drive your actions. It may or may not be a nice encouragement, but will never get in the way of truth and meaning in your life, and the pursuit of your purposes.

To break this commandment is to incur the wrath of God. Mans’ breaking this commandment is what caused Jesus to have to come and die for us. God is a jealous God, because he loves us and longs to see us do well. These verses indicate that our willingness to heed this law and principle will have an impact for good or ill on our children’s children for years to come (Ex 20:5-6).

Principles are Better Than Laws Part 4

In the first three posts in this series, I wrote that God has given us laws. He gives us laws so that we can obey them and live. Because God is not a tyrant, but a wise creator who wants to be our Father, we are at our best when we see his ways not just as laws, but as principles.

We considered the greatest commandment to love the Lord with all our heart…and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  As a principle this works very well, and not only will lead to good relationships, but will impact our own being.  When we follow this, we become like Jesus, more loving, more peaceful, and more gracious, and when we love God with our whole heart, we don’t have to think about all the little sins we don’t want to commit.  The whole law is summed up in this.  Live the great commandment on principle and your life will change.  

Then we began thinking about the ten commandments as ten principles (not discarding the fact that they are commands to follow). “You shall have no other Gods before me” is the first one, and perhaps the most important. But I said in part three that this is hard to understand. Many Christians enjoy something and then feel guilty about it. They’ve been taught that to really love something makes it an idol. They have been taught that they should only love God.

This is false.  

At times like this, I think about God as he has revealed himself to me, as my Father.  I have five children.  They all love me.  I can tell.  They also love other things and people.  Three of my children love to draw and are amazing at it.  One of them loves animals and spends every waking moment studying, training, and caring for animals.  Another loves to do gymnastics.  He doesn’t do it on a team.  He watches YouTube videos and learns how to do various flips in the backyard on a mat.  Of course, they also love video games, certain TV shows, and playing games with mom and dad.  They have sports they love, friends they love, all kinds of things they love.  

I have never gotten worried that they would love any of these things more than me. I have never seen them take some of their love from me to give it to their hobby or their mom, or gramma, who they also love a lot. Love doesn’t work that way. Have you ever seen a dad who would get made about their children loving someone or something with their whole heart? If you have, you have seen an insecure and sinful dad who is doing great harm to his kids. I know that this happens, but it is not right.

Do you think God is insecure? God is not insecure. When the Bible says he is a jealous God, it is not like when you and I get jealous. It does not mean that he doesn’t want us to enjoy any of the good gifts of creation that he has given us, or the skills and talents with which he has endowed us. It means that if we actually worship idols, he is jealous. If we do worship idols, it is because we believe a lie that the idol will do for us what our Father in heaven can do. And it cannot. Part of God’s displeasure is that we are making a first thing out of something that is not a first thing. God is the first thing, and if he is not put first in our hearts, things will fall apart. Idols don’t deliver.

Back to our fatherhood example:  If one of my kids came home with another man and said, “This guy is going to be my dad now.  Your services are no longer needed.  I’m going to listen to him and let him raise me.  You guys have different opinions, and I like his better.  He lets me do whatever I want.”  How I would feel is similar to how God feels about our idolatry.  It is just not right.  I would be “jealous” and do something about it.  

But on the other hand, if my son brought a man in who had been a positive influence on his life, saying, “I really love this guy.  He has taught me a lot, dad.  I want you to meet him.”  I’d be delighted.  I’d thank God for another good and godly influence on my son.  If he were not a godly influence, I would not be jealous, only concerned, and I would deal with it.  I would seek to correct the situation.  

But for my kids to love something, especially if it is something that I gave them, makes me extremely happy and does not diminish their love for me.  

What do you enjoy?  What activity causes you to thank God for it?  Consider it a gift that leads your heart to the giver.  

Now that we have considered what the first of the ten commandments is not saying, in part 5 will we consider it as a principle, and seek to discover what it is saying.

Principles are Better than Laws, Part 1

We’re Christians.  We have laws.  We have the Ten Commandments.  They are not called The Ten Principles.  Still…

Principles are better than laws, even when our principles happen to be laws.  

The nice thing about laws is that they don’t require thinking.  We just have to be afraid of the law giver, and voila, order.  But if you know anything about Christianity, then you know that laws don’t have power to save.  

3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Ro 8:3-4).

The law cannot save us because our “flesh is weak.” This means that we may know we are supposed to do something, or not do something, but when we try to obey that law, we fail time and again. We assume that we cannot help it. Isn’t that why Jesus had to die? Because we are so bad at not sinning?

Well, yes, it is. But there is more. Jesus fulfilled the “righteous requirement of the law,” for us who, “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Now what does that mean? I’d like to propose that one effect of walking according to the Spirit is that it makes all our laws into principles. In our sin, the “thou shalt nots, and thou shalts” seem like hard restrictions, keeping us from having any fun in life. But in the Spirit, sin having been “dealt with” by Christ, we are able to see the laws of God as a path to true personhood.

Our destiny is eternity with God that began at our salvation.  We will never lose our free will, but we will one day learn to always choose God of our own joyful volition.  We will always seek his kingdom and his righteousness, because we will have learned that it is the only way to be.  It is the only path to joy, and to pleasures evermore in and under Christ.  It is the only way to truly enjoy the good gifts of God without putting them above him.  

In my next posts, I’ll take the Great Commandment and the Ten Commandments and see if they also work as the Great Principle and the Ten Principles.

Brainstorming on Parenting (after five kids)

I have five children. Their current ages are nine to eighteen.  I love being a dad.  It is one of my very favorite things.  I think I have become a good one. How do I know? I really like all my kids, and they seem to like me too.  Of course, I also love them.  I would love them even if I didn’t like them, but I do like them.  

Here is some brainstorming on how this came about: 

  1. I see myself as an image bearer of God.  Furthermore, I am a redeemed image bearer because Jesus saved me and gave me his Spirit.  This has many implications, but importantly for this topic, it has caused me to like myself a lot.  Why wouldn’t I?  God does.  He has made me, and made me clean.  I am so thankful.  I’m not perfect, but I seek to grow, and will seek to grow until I’m out of time for growing—either dead, or with Jesus at the judgment.  
  1. I see everyone else around me as image bearers.  This impresses me to no end.  This means I will not be justified to dominate any of my fellow image bearers.  This means that all my relationships are horizontal, not vertical (except the one with God.  He is higher than us. He created us out of nothing). But other humans are my impressive equals.  If they are messed up, they could begin growing by the grace of God and by concrete biblical principles applied with power through the help of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God in Christ.  It also means, btw, that I would not allow a fellow image-bearer to assume any power over me personally.  If he or she is a vested authority from God, such as the cop who pulls me over for speeding (right?  —- because he represents the state, who in a sense represents the God who has empowered them to make and keep laws, and protect his people (Romans 13)) I will obey them because I obey God. So there is no one to fear, and there is no one to dominate us, or be dominated by us.  
  1. Therefore, I also see my kids as impressive fellow image bearers.  I am in awe of them because I am in awe of the God who created them.  And therefore, I will not dominate my kids.  I will, however, wield my vested authority as God’s servant (Ro 13:4-5).  I will make rules and enforce them as God’s agent.  But, that doesn’t leave room for anger or insecurity on my part to get in the way of my job.  It’s not personal.  
  1. This means that I can focus on what is most important and that is building our loving relationship. If I don’t have to personally dominate them, then they don’t have to feel that they were dominated, and they don’t have to rebel. Do you think your kids won’t rebel if they feel dominated by you? Think again. They will definitely rebel, and you will start to dislike them as much as they dislike you.
  1. Another way to say this is that I respect my kids, and I make sure they respect me and their mother. I don’t do this by dominating them, but by personally not putting up with any, at all, of any kind, words, tone, body language, disrespect. I say, “hey bud, I respect you, you need to respect me, especially because God says your life will be awful if you dishonor your parents. So, I love you, I’m not personally threatened (this is important, although I don’t actually say that part), but you are going to have a consequence for the disrespect (or disobedience). And then I give them one. It is how I can respect them, teaching them that consequences have actions, even for saved Christians.
  1. I spend an inordinate amount of time teaching them to think in principles, have courage, love the truth, and make their own choices whenever possible.  If I have to pull rank on them, I say, “I’m only going to tell you what to do until you are eighteen, so I’m going to take advantage of that while I can.”  
  1. I never ever take our disagreement personally, and I pastor them to do the same.  I have no problem with them disagreeing with me.  We’ll talk, and then if I have to pull rank, they understand that I would not do that if I didn’t have to, and if they don’t like it, just wait until they are grown and they will no longer have to deal with it. 
  1. It also means that I hold my kids with an open hand.  They don’t belong to me, but to God.  My job is to teach them the truth by instruction and example.  This means I am responsible TO them, but not FOR them.  I’m sure this is where most of us screw up in our responsibility of leadership in any sphere (I am also a pastor in a church).  I’ve heard it said it’s like that old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  I think it’s better said, “You can lead a horse to water but IF YOU MAKE HIM DRINK IT YOU ARE COMMITTING EVIL AGAINST HIM.”  When you force personal will and power on another human, you dehumanize them.  I’m not talking about the consequences from breaking rules.  I’m talking about any yelling, manipulating, rewarding behavior that makes a kid behave the way you want them to. Instead, teach them to make their own choice whether-or-not to obey and avoid the consequences or disobey and face them.  That preserves both their dignity and your relationship with them. Isn’t this the way God Fathers us? 

Bonus: Consider never saying, “Good job (or especially good boy or good girl)” to your kids. It sets you over them in a dominating way that makes you the judge of their personally. They will learn to love pleasing you, instead of loving to do a job well done for the sake of it. It also creates a fixed mindset. I want them to have growth mindset (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset).

If I can think of anything else to say, I’ll post a part 2. Feel free to comment if you disagree. We can sharpen each other.

Principles vs. Vision

What is your vision?  

What is your five year plan?

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What are your goals and how do you plan to reach them?

These are the questions that make the world go round. Everybody who is anybody knows that you have to have a vision. Nothing has ever been accomplished that wasn’t first a goal.  Don’t you have to see what is wrong and lacking in your life so you can develop an idea of how to change it?  Then you can set some big, hairy, audacious goals to go out and achieve for the glory of God! 

I would respectfully like to challenge that notion and say that I believe that is not God’s way, but it might be satan’s. That is not how the Kingdom of Heaven operates, but it is how the dominion of darkness runs. How can you possibly know what you are to be in five years? “God told me.” No (respectfully) He didn’t. James 4:13-17 says,

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 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. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. 17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin (ESV).

Unless, of course, God did tell you. But how would you know? There are several ways that a prophetic word of God could come, but none of them are “a sentence popped in my head while I was feeling: anxious, empty, insecure, fearful… just plain bad about myself and where I am right now.” 

An angel could show up (although you’d need to screen him based on Gal.1:8). There could be an audible voice, a burning bush, or an enormous hand writing on a wall.  There could be a dream, which would also need to be screened in some way. 

But for 99.99999999% of the time, God will not tell us the future. He will guide us and let us create it as we go. How will He guide us?  By His ways, His principles. His wisdom.

Biblical Principles

God’s ways are clearly communicated in Scripture by His commandments and the example set by His Son, Jesus. God tells us in the Bible how we are to live.  Jesus spent His entire ministry showing and telling about the Kingdom of God and how to live in it.

In addition, He fills us with His Holy Spirit when we are born again so that we can be guided by Him.  Every Christian has access to these two things: His Word, and His Spirit. So why do so many Christians have such a hard time getting by in life, and why do so many get obsessed with hearing God’s voice for their life? 

I think it is because following God, rather than satan is harder in many ways. Everything in our bodies and brain chemistry makes the way of the world more natural for us.  But the way of the Kingdom takes an ability to constantly push against that and trust God. 

Just like God, who identified Himself to Moses as I Am, we mostly are to exist in the present. James has it right. 

  • All such boasting about the future is evil.
  • The point is to know the right thing and do it. 

How then should we live?

God is I Am, not I hope to be.

Wake up in the morning, get into the presence of God and His Word, and then go throughout your day doing what’s right in your context as you continually practice His presence. He will present opportunities. He will provide. You cannot even imagine what He has in store for you, so you couldn’t possibly make it a goal to achieve. Just be and do, for the glory of God, by the power of God, thanking Him and trusting Him. 

Here are a few Biblical and practical principles that I follow. Feel free to add some of yours in the comments.  Also, I welcome conversation about my thoughts on vision vs. principles.  

My Principles:

  • Truth – The outcome of (telling, believing, accepting, insisting on) the truth is the right outcome.
  • Relationships – All relationships are to be horizontal, not vertical except the relationship with God. God is higher, everyone else is an intrinsic equal. It is never right to manipulate or coerce any fellow image-bearers, even your own children.
  • Recognition – Seeking recognition is always bad, always comes from insecurity and feelings of inferiority, and it will never deliver.
  • Stewardship – It is not about what we have, but how we use it. God will add to he or she who proves faithful.
  • Love – The absence of love is only hate (1 Jn 3:11-12). Love brother, neighbor, enemy, everyone.
  • Leadership – You can lead a horse (or people) to water but it is a sin to make them drink. Jesus said the gentiles lord it over and exercise authority over those they lead but it shall not be so with you. (Mk 10:42) Leadership is by example and reason.
  • Abide – The most important thing at any given time in any place is to abide in Christ (Jn 15).
  • Justice – God is totally just and to be like Him, so should we be just. This means trading value for value in the marketplace, the church, and the home. This is why Jesus had to die for us, to satisfy God’s justice because, being God it is not mathematically possible for Him to forgive sins without the cross.
  • I Am – God is a being that exists primarily in the present and so am I. In His image I am a little “i am,” meant to act like Him, and create, produce, bring order for my sake, for His sake.
  • Mercy – I am free in Christ to be merciful, as God is merciful.
  • Thankful – Thankfulness is part of stewardship. It is misery to sit around wishing we had something else, or some different situation. Instead, thank God for any little sign of God’s grace in your life, and you will experience more of it.

Pride: Two Kinds

There are two kinds of pride. A good kind and a bad kind.  

What is the difference?  Indeed, what is the difference?  

The Good Kind

God created man in his image.  He delegated him to rule the earth in his name, to subdue it. To make things of it. To steward it.  He gives him gifts and talents to steward for his glory. Man should delight to function in these, to push himself to the limits of these for their own sake, for the Lord’s sake, because of the joy it brings.  

Isn’t that the way we were made to function? Would there be an exaltation in being man that would not rob glory from the Creator?  Could we not exult and still honor the one who is greater still than we could ever be?  

Could we not glory in Being itself?  Could we not take great joy in breaking out, and out, and out still further?  Could we not glory in doing a job well done, in bringing order to chaos, or chaos to totalitarianism?  

Could we view other men as intrinsic equals who are free to pursue the end of their own merits and potential?  Could we judge them, but not impartially, and not from a desire to defeat them, or to dominate them, or to take pride over them?  Could we love them and love their achievements as much as our own? Could we not give glory to God who made them as well as us?  Could we not join together in a “wise crowd,” and pool our talents, and energy?  Could we not glorify God in this pursuit?  

Could we not speak the truth to one another unashamedly?  Fearlessly? Lovingly, without fear of rejection? Rejection is a sign that someone is unworthy of us because they are not bearing God’s image properly. We can love them and move on. 

The good kind of pride loves life, affirms it.  The good kind of pride loves the Great God who made us, and Jesus Christ, the best of us. The good kind of pride loves its fellow man and expects the best of them, won’t settle for less. Won’t settle for less than total truth, total effort, total godliness, total righteousness. 

The Bad Kind

The bad kind of pride is envious of others.  The bad kind of pride seeks the recognition of men and puffs up when it gets it. The bad kind of pride gets mad at God for not making me better that I am, which means better than the men around me.  The bad kind of pride seeks the worship of others. The bad kind of pride hates. Hating one is hating all. Hating anyone is hating myself. Hating myself is hating God. 

The bad pride is suspicious of everyone and keeps score of status.  The bad kind of pride revels in dominating others because of our deep fear that we are nothing.  There is no joy in the bad pride.  There’s only suffering, arrogance, depression, anger, and fear.  The bad pride is hell. 

Cultivating the Good Pride

  1. Know God.
  2. Abide in God.
  3. Do right.
  4. Abide in God.
  5. When you have a chance to be courageous or cowardly, be courageous.
  6. Abide in God.
  7. When you have the chance to lie or tell the truth, tell the truth.
  8. Abide in God.
  9. When you have the chance to be responsible, or irresponsible with what God has assigned you (brushing your teeth, starting a company, raising a child), be responsible.
  10. Abide in God.
  11. When you see that you are holding a contradiction that to let go of will cause pain, choose to let go and go through pain. Wholeness and integrity is worth it. 
  12. Abide in God.

The good pride comes from knowing who God is, who you are in light of that, and walking according to what that means. It feels like being solid, settled in soul, happy, strong in spirit, and loving towards all. It feels like perfect peace. Don’t settle for less, and don’t go for the satanic bad pride. It’s hell.

The Unworthy Servant and Non-Contradiction

Christians are not as happy as they should be, given reality.

For a while I wrestled with some nagging thoughts that were far enough in the back of my mind that I could not quite articulate them. They would wake me up in the middle of the night and rob me of rest, but they would never show themselves. What I know now is that I was living in some contradictions with which I had not come to terms. The reason Christians (and nonChristians) are not happy is that we have contradictions that must be worked out.

I believe that the vast majority, perhaps 98% of all people I have met, are living this way.  They just don’t realize it.  They know they have some problem, but to diagnose it would require some sacrifice. First of all, thinking is hard, so most people do not do it.  They medicate. They search for fulfillment. They envy. They boast. They yearn for “likes” on social media.  They worship all manner of idols in order to get around that feeling of nagging contradictions.  Or, they try to be religious and please God, which doesn’t work for reasons I’ll explain later. But one thing they will not do is truly think about the problem of life, and why, if they know what they say they know, are they so bleh about life, or even downright sad about it.

But that just isn’t me. I have to think. The less peace I have, the more I feel compelled to do it,

because the contradictions and the unrest that goes with those contradictions are unbearable for me.

They were unbearable for me before, but now that I understand what they mean, they are excruciating. I believe that a contradiction is some sort of lie, an evasion of the truth, that causes us to be fragmented, disintegrated, not whole, not confident, not peaceful. Christians live this way all the time.

And because Christians live this way all the time, they are not living the abundant life.

They know that Jesus said that he came that we would have life and have it abundantly, but they have no idea what it means, and they feel a nagging guilt about it, and a nagging fear that they might not be the real deal.

They gravitate to teaching from those who say life is awful, and the more awful it feels, the greater your chances of getting to heaven.  They gravitate to teaching that says life is only suffering.  To suffer is to be like Jesus. The more you suffer, the more you can hope that you might be saved.  This is nefarious, because it is a half truth, which is the hardest kind of lie, because it is so tempting to swallow whole. It feels good, because it validates your experience with a kernel of a true sounding explanation.  In this case the half truth it is that suffering is indeed a part of a good life.  Our hope is that even though we suffer, and sometimes even as a result of it, ultimately it is supposed to feel amazing to be alive.  Sometimes it is amazing because things are good. We are winning, happy, and blessed with abundant provision, health, and good relationships. God in fact gives us the tools to achieve those things. 

But at other inevitable times, we are not experiencing those things. Rather, we are experiencing the fact that the world is fallen. We might be sick, broken, broke, suffering loss, losing at the game we’re playing, a victim of some evil or disaster.  The secret is that even in those times we can feel that we are living the abundant life that Jesus promised. How?  By truly understanding how God has created the world and how he has created us to operate in it.  

We can actually be…happy. No matter what. If you are uncomfortable with that word, then use “Joy.” It’s more biblical sounding.  The secret lies in a parable that I’m sure is often misunderstood and applied in the opposite way from which it is supposed to be.  The Parable of the Unworthy Servant.

Jesus said, 

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 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’” (Lk 17:7-10).

You’re thinking, “I don’t get it. What is in that that would make me happy?”  I’m glad you asked. 

I have said already that Christians suffer because they have not realized that they are holding various contradictions as beliefs. One of those contradictions is that they think that life for the Christian is that we live our lives trying to please God, and then he will owe us some kind of thanks.  The unworthy servant in the parable needs to understand that nothing is owed him. He is just doing his duty.  

“OK,” you might be saying, “But so what? Why should that make me happy?”  I know it’s difficult, but for now, just imagine the unhappiness of someone who expects to be constantly rewarded, thanked, praised for his or her work for someone.  When they don’t get it, they will generally have to think one of two ways: 1) “How dare they not thank me, or reward me. Here I have been bending over backwards to serve them, and this is the thanks I get? Thanks for nothing!”

This is not a good way to think about God.  It is called self-righteousness, or pride (The bad kind of pride. There is a good kind, but it is tricky and we’ll talk about it another time). But self-righteous people are not the unhappiest Christians, if they are Christians at all. The unhappiest Christians are those that think in the second way: 2) “God says he’ll reward me if I live right, pray enough, give enough, help enough, worship enough, serve enough, and, most of all, love enough.  But since I don’t seem to be getting any reward or praise from God or even man, I must not be doing anything enough! Ugh! Life is so hard.  At least I can say that my life is hard. Maybe that will earn me something. At least if my life is hard enough, if I am sad enough, I can probably, maybe, get to heaven someday.”  

These people make up the majority of the church, especially pastors.  I know very few of us pastors that do not look at the paltry fruit of our ministry as a sign that we are not doing enough for God.  Well, at least we can be messed up and depressed about it. Maybe that will make up for the fact. This is all a contradiction because we never say these words consciously.  What we say is what the Bible says, Jesus came that we “would have life, abundantly” (Jn 10:10).  “Rejoice always” (1 Thes 5:16).  But we know deep down that we don’t believe this.  Our emotions betray us.  

But look again at the parable.  Why would Jesus tell us that it is good to say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done what is our duty”?  If I’m unworthy of reward, then I am less apt to be looking for one.  But there is another tricky spot. His words don’t sound very nice. We hear it as, “You despicable, unworthy, waste of space. How dare you think you deserve anything from God. You make me sick.” But that isn’t what he is saying. Try this instead:  “God has made you for a purpose. Following God and serving him is its own reward.  Stop looking for some other evidence that you’re ok. Stop listening to the evil one telling you you’re no good. Instead, do what you were put on this earth to do. Yes there is a heavenly reward, but worry about that later.” 

You might be thinking I’m stretching.  That’s because you are messed up.  I’ll prove it by showing you something from a much nicer parable, the Prodigal Son. Luke 15:11-32 says, 

11 And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’”

Now, look past the nice part about the younger son that goes out and has all his fun after telling his dad he wishes he would hurry up and die, then gets accepted back into the family by a super loving and gracious father who’s been watching for him the whole time.  Skip that part.  Look again at 25-32 at the part about the older brother.  

He comes in from the field and hears the music. He’s upset to find out that his younger brother came home, and his father had killed the fattened calf to throw a party in his honor because he is so glad that he is back. This really ticks off the older brother. Why? Because he struggles with the same contradictions as you and I do. Look at what his father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Read that again.

“Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”

What is the older brother missing?  He doesn’t realize several things. He always has the father. He is always with him.  He owns everything that the father has.  All the young goats belong to the older brother and if he wanted to, he could kill one at any time and have a party. Why doesn’t he?  

And what the father does not say, we can figure out if we think hard enough about it. It is no fun to be the prodigal. We mistakenly see this as: younger brother gets to go have fun while older brother stays home and works. But is it really fun to live a bankrupt life of following your bodily desires and impulses until you are destitute, far away from the Creator that made you and loves you? I have lived that way. It is not fun. It is scary. Sad. Bankrupt. I’d rather have the life of the older brother. That is the good life. The life of the older brother is its own reward.

Just like the unworthy servant, the problem is not that the older brother doesn’t have an awesome life. It is that he doesn’t know it. He does not see it that way. He is holding unbiblical contradictions in his mind and hasn’t worked them out. So he’s self-righteous, mad at his father, hates his brother, and unwilling to party. Grumpiness is a badge of honor to him.  Furthermore, the older brother suffers from a syndrome that most of us at some time or other, and in some form another, suffer from: a desire to feel important.  Just like the unworthy servant, the older brother has no actual need to be important, but since he doesn’t know that, he can only see the party thrown for his brother as proof of his own unimportance.  This is no way to live, and it is thoroughly unbliblical.

Let’s root out the contradictions keeping us up at night and figure out the joy of being an older brother, the unworthy servant, a joyful Christian.