Monday, July 29, 2013

Not the Greatest Love of All: Whitney Houston and the False Gospel of Self-Love

The greatest love of all
Gospel singer ... and false gospel singer
is easy to achievelearning to love yourselfis the greatest love of all.     -- Whitney Houston, 1986 
If you don’t love yourself in a healthy way, you will never be able to love others in the way that you should.     -- Joel Osteen, 2012 
For people will be lovers of self ... Avoid such people.
     -- The Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 3:2, 5)
Raise your hand if you've heard a preacher, conference speaker, author, blogger, etc. say that when the Bible tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, it implies we must first love ourselves.  I see that hand ... Amen, sir, thank you ... God bless you, ma'am ... I see that hand ...

Okay, now put your hands down and turn in your Bible to the place where we are actually commanded to love ourselves.

What, no hands?  I'll give you a hint ... it's not in there.

Now, if you're looking for the places where Christ tells us to deny ourselves or hate our own lives, you'll find those.  This is because our basic problem is not with low self-esteem, but rather that we esteem ourselves too much at the expense of our Lord and our neighbors.  And self-esteem is a pathway to nowhere.

Now, follow me here.  I'm NOT saying we need to be filled with self-loathing. What I am saying is that we need to get over ourselves!  As long as we are consumed with ourselves, we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, nor are we filled with love for God or compassion for our neighbors.  Self-love is Satan's favorite kind.

It is not learning to love or forgive or accept myself that leads to joy and peace, it is living in the light of God's amazing love and obeying Christ's great commandments:  love the Lord, love my neighbor. Scripture consistently presents self-regard as a primary obstacle to these supreme imperatives.

I remember when Whitney Houston re-released "The Greatest Love of All" in 1986.  The song was a huge hit and reached #1 on both the pop and adult contemporary charts.  More than that, it became something of an ode to self-esteem and self-actualization; an anthem justifying and celebrating our culture's obsession with the self.  Sadly, Ms. Houston's own short, spectacular and tragic life serves as a vivid testimony to the barrenness of self-love as a life-orienting force.

Earlier this month I engaged in a stimulating conversation with Dr. Deb about the topic of self-forgiveness.  My basic thesis was that self-forgiveness is an unbiblical concept having its roots in popular psychology rather than in Scripture. I put a rather sharp point on it:
The bottom line is this:  the concept of self-forgiveness is not Biblical, but secular-humanist at its core, because it idolizes the self.  If I have the power to condemn or forgive myself, then God is irrelevant to my salvation. Self-forgiveness is not merely unnecessary and redundant; it is foolish, delusional, and self-idolatry.
The errors of self-forgiveness and self-love are not merely misguided, they are cruel.  They obscure the truth that genuine, meaningful, powerful, life-changing love, forgiveness, acceptance, etc. are available to us when we follow Christ in the self-denying, self-sacrificial way He prescribes.  Self-love and self-forgiveness are the world's empty shadows of the true love and transformational forgiveness that come from the perfect Lover of my soul.

The world chases these shadows because they are cost-free.  They get what they pay for.

Of course, for the world to invent worldly doctrines is hardly newsworthy.  For the church to embrace these doctrines and cover them with a Christian veneer, however, is heretical and deeply corrosive. We rob the Gospel of Jesus Christ of its power when we slather it in trendy, worldly psychology.

When we attempt to synthesize the world's bankrupt philosophies with the richness of Christ's gospel, we may ask the memory of Whitney Houston--whose first #1 hit celebrated adultery, but who also styled herself a gospel singer--where that leads us.

This discussion is not merely semantic, it is basic.  The church needs to reclaim the Biblical language, so that we can start talking again about Biblical truth. This means rejecting the false gospel of self-love--which, thank God, is absolutely not "The Greatest Love of All"!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tebow's Philippine Hospital Update

I first wrote about the orthopedic children's hospital Tim Tebow is building with CURE International in Davao City, Philippines back in November 2011.  At the time the building was still in the planning stages.  Well, due to some intrepid reporting by our man-on-the-street (me) and his photographer (Mrs. Jailer), with an assist from the in-laws, I can confirm that the building is indeed taking shape.

Jailer-on-the-street, live from Davao City
(Photo credit - Mrs. Jailer)
The hospital is scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2014:
Construction of the Tebow Cure Hospital started in May of last year. It is scheduled for a soft opening in the first quarter of 2014, with 17 beds, eight in the charity ward ready for patients, says Leron Lehman who will serve as its executive director.
He said revenue from the private wards will bolster services for indigent children. At the start, the hospital will employ up to 45 local medical and support professionals trained in modern health-care techniques. 
Pennsylvania-based, Cure International focuses on providing medical care for the world’s children with orthopedic challenges, like cleft lip and palate, clubfoot and other crippling deformities. 
The Tebow Cure hospital will be its first in the Philippines and 11th worldwide. The top floor of the Davao facility will house a Timmy’s Playroom “to enable children to be children,” says Lehman. It will also provide the youngsters religious and spiritual nourishment before and after they go under the knife.
Well, that's some pretty good reporting by Percy D. Della of the Philippine Daily Inquirer from back in March. But who scooped you on the July update (*ahem* that is to say, who got his wife to take a picture on his Samsung Galaxy S4 standing on the side of the road)?  Two thumbs pointing at this guy, that's who!

Addendum: Here's the video to Timmy's Playroom. Forget Tebow for a second ... how well-spoken is the kid in this clip?

Note: For updates on Tim's gridiron accomplishments, we'll just have to await until he emerges from Bill Belichick's witness protection program. I suspect that may be a while ...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Trayvon Factor: Why the Church Divides over Race

It is not alarming or surprising that the various members of the Body of Christ can come to different conclusions about the what outcome of a criminal trial in Florida should have been. Trials are complicated things, and their outcomes are not necessarily determined by what we consider most important.

What is alarming and surprising is how deeply it divides Christians over what it all means.

If you're a white evangelical, there is a substantial probability that you spent the past several weeks listening to Fox News, Sean Hannity and the Wall Street Journal explain what a joke the criminal trial of George Zimmerman was. You know all about Trayvon Martin's checkered past and Facebook posts and Zimmerman's charity work and affinity for Barack Obama. You may even have just learned that Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea combine with Robitussin to make a codeine-based recreational drug. You've concluded the Zimmerman case was politically motivated and never should have been brought to trial. Oh, and when you go to church on Sunday most of your friends agree with you.

If you're an African American, on the other hand, you are far more likely to have followed the trial as explained to you by BET, Tavis Smiley and perhaps the Daily Kos.  You know that Trayvon was a racially profiled youth who was killed for walking home from a convenience store.  You know that none of this would have happened if a gun-toting vigilante would have listened to the 911 operator who told him that his public security services were not required. The trial in Florida was yet another example of racial injustice in America. And of course, when you go to church on Sunday most of your friends agree with you.


Let's start with a discussion of bias.  Almost all of us like to think that we're unbiased. This is a pipe dream, because nobody is unbiased. A bias is simply "an inclination of temperaments or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective at the expense of (possibly equally valid) alternatives in reference to objects, people, or groups."

Everyone has an assortment of these, just as everyone has an ideology--that is, a system by which we organize our thoughts and perceptions we use to interpret the world around us. Our particular ideologies are formed by our experiences, education, upbringing, social context, and yes ... our theology (more on this later).  They are then sharpened and reinforced by a variety of popular media sources, which we select specifically because we like to listen to those who agree with our respective ideologies.

So we select our information based on our biases, which in turn serves to reinforce those same biases ... all while we convince ourselves that we are the unbiased ones.

Now, having an ideology is not itself "bad" (although one can certainly have a bad ideology). Ideology is, in a sense, as inevitable as death and taxes. I would be paralyzed if I couldn't organize the overload of information I ingest daily within some sort of ideological framework. The danger is not so much in having an ideology, but in failing to own up to it, and then in refusing to subordinate it to sound Biblical theology.

Our ideological views threaten the church when they displace theology as its foundation. Proper theology (simply, the study of God) must be the rock on which any ideological house is built. In theory, if we all diligently studied God and His precepts based on the same revelation (the Bible), we would find ourselves on similar ideological footing. Instead, ideological elements inevitably seep into the theological foundation. Such corruption is devastating to the church, because once we no longer agree on God's person, priorities and precepts, we cannot hope to agree on much else.

For example, the theology which supported black slavery was corrupted by a pernicious ideological element: Southern whites firmly believed their lifestyle was legitimate. Their upbringing, social and economic structures, media sources and life experiences all reinforced that understanding.  Inevitably, therefore, their churches misinterpreted (or malinterpreted) God's Word so as to support and reflect that ideology.

We are obviously still living with the myriad consequences of that abomination today. Because of the tendency of each particular church to develop its theology gazing through the thick lens of the history, social context and common experiences of its membership, this tends to put a premium on racial or ethnic issues at the expense of unity within the Body of Christ.

Scripture teaches us how the Corinthian church allowed their biases to infect their theology, shipwrecking their gospel mission on the shoals of their factions, and driving the Apostle Paul to sternly admonish, "Is Christ divided?". His charge could not have been plainer:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 
In the same way, until glorifying and obeying Christ is the supreme purpose of all within His church, we simply will not find cause to do the hard work required to achieve this kind of unity. Only the supreme value of Jesus is sufficient to eclipse the temporal wounds of history and contemporary societal causes, and to unite us in our ultimate purpose. When Jesus is supreme, I cannot tolerate being divided from my brother over temporal matters. I cannot stand seeing Christ's name sullied by my refusal to obey His commands and love my brother.

The church's problem is not that we can't agree on whether George Zimmerman should have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury of his Sanford peers.  It is rather that we can't seem to agree on what place it should hold in our corporate understanding. It is, in other words, that so many of us see God through our ideology, rather than seeing the world through sound Biblical theology.

The bottom line is this:  The church divides over race because the world divides over race, and the church is still very worldly. It won't be until we are so in love with the same God that we will unite in commitment to His priorities and focus on His mission.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Does God Want Me to Forgive Myself?

So, then what?
Quick, how many books, sermons, Bible studies, blogs, and pithy social-network posts revolve around the concept of self-forgiveness?  Any guesses? A quick Google search revealed 13,400,000 hits.  Needless to say, it's a hot topic for the church as well as for popular culture.

Now ... how many verses in Scripture tell us to forgive ourselves?  I'll give you a hint:  the answer rhymes with "hero".  That's because self-forgiveness isn't a Scriptural concept; it's part of the Oprahization of modern Christianity.

Frankly, who really cares if I forgive myself?

Okay, now I've just offended (or terrified) several groups of people.  But hear me out:

1. For those true followers of Christ who struggle with guilt over past sins ... relax!  Stop worrying about forgiving yourself.  Instead, live in the joy of God's amazing, transforming grace!  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)  In other words, you've been forgiven by the Lord and King--the only being in the universe with the authority to truly and effectively forgive sins.  So follow Him joyfully and gratefully, like one who's redeemed from the grave!  Jesus paid your entire debt; stop wasting the life He redeemed trying to charge yourself a meaningless surtax.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death ... Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  (Romans 8:1-2, 33-34)
2. For the true followers of Christ who struggle with guilt over current sins ... er, don't relax. We call that "conviction".  You're supposed to feel guilty when you rebel against God.  The Holy Spirit is trying to get through to you.  Confess, repent, and seek the counsel and accountability of your fellow believers--the best of whom will not judge you, but will respect you more for the transparency and maturity you display by facing your sin directly and Scripturally.  As I've mentioned once before:
Guilt, like pain, is unpleasant.  If we are in great pain, we understandably want it to go away.  We want relief quick!  But pain also alerts us to some medical malady.  If by treating the pain we mask the malady and leave it untreated, the results can be catastrophic.  For this reason, those who suffer from leprosy and lose their nerve endings learn to very carefully monitor their extremities.  Because they may not feel the pain of a simple cut, infection can set in before they realize they've been injured.  
Guilt plays a similar role with respect to sin.  Its primary function is to alert us to a deeper problem.  David needed to feel the guilt of his sin with Bethsheba.  Denying it merely prolonged his rebellion.  In the end, God used Nathan to apply the scalpel to David's conscience, revealing David's guilt and enabling him to repent.
3. For those who are more interested in "living victoriously" than taking up the cross and following Christ, pay attention! Self-forgiveness is self-delusion; it may help deliver "Your Best Life Now", but it won't save you from the judgment to come!  This guilt of the unredeemed is not merely valid, but entirely necessary:
For him to feel no guilt is self-deception of the deadliest sort, since there is then nothing to chase him into the arms of Jesus.  "... to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted." (Titus 1:15) Guilt for the lost sinner is the smell of gangrene in the wound, warning the patient that his infection will claim his life if he does not seek aggressive treatment.  To provide him superficial "healing" in the form of soothing words and psychological comfort is not ultimately to love him, but to watch him die of negligence. 
The bottom line is this:  the concept of self-forgiveness is not Biblical, but secular-humanist at its core, because it idolizes the self.  If I have the power to condemn or forgive myself, then God is irrelevant to my salvation. Self-forgiveness is not merely unnecessary and redundant; it is foolish, delusional, and self-idolatry.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Here I Am (Again), Lord ... Now What?

Paying attention to where the circles intersect helps us understand how He is arranging the terms of our service. The dashed lines around the circles remind us that our understanding of our abilities and circumstances may be selling God short--like Moses or Gideon we need to exercise faith in what God can do beyond our apparent limits.
It's been nearly 5 years since I posted this little illustration, but its practical application for interpreting God's direction in life & ministry recently captured Ginger's attention.  It's now re-running as a guest-post over on her "Corner", under the title, "4 Questions to Discover your Calling".  Stop by and check it out.

While you're at it, leave a pithy (failing that, merely flattering will do) comment, and then browse around and see what else Ginger has to offer, "Where the Spiritual Meets the Practical."
"God provides us with gifts and talents with which to meet the needs and opportunities He’s placed before us.
He makes resources available to us but also places constraints on our service
to guide us to where and how He wants us to minister."