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Crippled Lambs

Self-pity may seem to be a very natural and non-threatening emotion, but the spiritual effects can be dramatic.  Indeed, there is perhaps no state of mind more debilitating for a believer.  A love for the Lord certainly doesn’t make us immune to this; as a matter of fact it, is probably one of the most effective tools of the enemy against those who count themselves followers of Christ.

The problem with self-pity is that it keeps us focused on ourselves and bound to our circumstance, which countermands the scriptures exhortation to fix our eyes on Jesus (i.e. the author and finisher of our faith) and to focus on things eternal (2Cor. 4:18).  As we fixate on our condition, it opens the door for both our flesh and the “accuser of the brethren” to assert themselves.  In the spiritual battle that rages for control of our soul, this is no small matter.

Within the scripture we see some examples of how destructive this emotion can be.  As the nation of Israel was liberated from Egypt, the people witnessed a spectacular display of Gods sovereignty, as they were not only freed from, but literally plundered their oppressors.  Yet, a short time later, we hear them wishing for a return to their chains, all because the food and accommodations didn’t meet their expectations.

On a more personal level we see some of the prophets fall prey to this emotion, as Jonah bemoans his situation after finally delivering the message to Nineveh, and with Elijah as he hides from Jezebel.  In both of these cases, they had heard God clearly speak to them, had won great spiritual battles, had witnessed firsthand His miraculous power, and yet their self-pity effectively neutralized their faith, leaving them without hope.

As we focus on our difficulties, the enemy of our souls is quick to exploit those emotions, giving us an exaggerated sense of how bad things are.  When the vine that was providing Jonah shade withered, he said that he would be “better off dead”.  As the Lord queried him as to his anger at this, Jonah said that he was angry enough to die.  As Elijah was hiding from Jezebel, we hear him tell the Lord that he had been rejected and that he was the only one left.  Later, we learn that there were seven thousand who hadn’t forsaken the Lord.

This is the effect that self-pity has on us as well.  It magnifies our struggles beyond reality, and eclipses our view of God’s provision.  The spiritual principle is similar to that of praising the Lord.  As we are praising Him, we are acknowledging what He has done in the past, what He’s doing today, what He’s going to do in the future, acknowledging His influence on our lives, bowing to His will, and submitting to His authority.  As we know, there is great power in those times, and a tangible connection between the spiritual and the natural realm.  Unfortunately, we are doing the exact same thing for our adversary when we indulge in self-pity.

In other portions of scripture we see examples of those who refuse to indulge in self-pity, even when our natural minds tell us that they’d be justified to do so.  It was Job, who in the midst of his miserable situation, uttered one of the most hopeful phrases in all of scripture, “I know my Redeemer lives”.  There was Paul & Silas, unjustly imprisoned, and in chains, praising the Lord in the middle of the night.  And even more powerful is the picture of Jesus; beaten, bloodied, nailed to a cross, and praying that His Father would forgive them, because they didn’t understand what they were doing.  We later see Stephen do the same as he is stoned to death.

These men were being treated unjustly, but they wouldn’t allow themselves to focus on that.  Instead they focused on the Lord, and accomplishing His will in their lives.  We like to justify that we have a right to be offended, sad, angry, bitter…, but the cost of indulging those emotions is ultimately our ability to do the will of the Father.

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There is a world of difference between wanting to live righteously before God, and simply wanting to be right.  One is about Him and the other is about self.

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There is an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I knew back then what I know now”. And as I look back to my own graduation, here are some of those things I wish I had understood.

  1. Life is not a ride, it’s a journey.  A ride is simply being carried along to wherever the vehicle happens to be going, while a journey has an ultimate destination, which requires some navigation and effort to complete.  Unless we purpose in our heart to be someone, or to do something, we are likely to live life like a pinball; propelled by gravity and bouncing from one obstacle to another.  Anything worthwhile in life will require some investment on our part. Those who are unwilling to make such an investment will generally be pushed along by the winds of circumstance to some uncertain end.
  2. Not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you.  In this era of political correctness openly disagreeing with someone is often viewed as being “intolerant” of their beliefs (i.e. a hater). But there are times when caring for a person dictates that we confront and contradict them.  Conversely, there are those who are perfectly willing to allow you to drive headlong into disaster, as long as it serves their own selfish agenda.
  3. Misery not only loves company, it wants to settle down and have children too.  I’ve noticed that miserable people not only seek out other miserable people to bond with, but that they’ll often unconsciously sabotage anything that has the potential to pull them from their misery.  There are few emotions that are as debilitating and self-sustaining as self-pity. Generally, the only way to remain free of such feelings is through a dogged determination not to live that way.  As long as we are willing to blame other people, and circumstances, for our condition, we will remain powerless to change it.
  4. What other people believe about you isn’t as important as what you believe about yourself.  Only the things which we genuinely believe have the ability to impact how we live.  Therefore, the only words (positive or negative) that have the power to move us are those which we accept as truth.  If a man concludes that he is a failure, no amount of praise or encouragement can bring him to victory; and if a man concludes that he is an over-comer, no amount of criticism can hold him back.  While we are generally powerless to keep others from speaking about us, we possess the ultimate responsibility for what we are willing to accept as truth.
  5. Planting apple seeds won’t get you an orange tree.  Just as dependable as the law of gravity is the concept that we will reap (i.e. harvest) what we sow (i.e. plant).  Though this phrase is immediately recognizable to most people, there are few who actually live as though it were true.  Our human nature will often cause us to be unforgiving with other people, while expecting generosity in return; to be deceptive about our motivations, while expecting others to deal with us honestly; and to be selfish about our desires, while expecting others to be considerate of us.  We must always remain conscious of the fact that the cup we use to dispense blessing is the cup that we will eventually drink our blessings from.
  6. For everything there is a season and it’s important not to despise the season that you’re in.  If you live long enough you notice that there is a sort of pattern that life follows and that things come and go in seasons.  While we have a natural tendency to like some seasons better than others, I’ve found that every season comes with both challenges and blessings.  If we focus on the challenges of the season we’re in, we’ll often miss the blessings, and spend our time pining away for the season to change.  Conversely, if we focus on the blessings of each season, it makes the challenges easier to endure, and brings a sense of variety to the journey.
  7. It’s doubtful that anyone is really “out to get you”.  Generally, a person has to be of significant consequence before someone is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to conspire against them.  I would suggest that we are more often damaged because people aren’t considerate of our position than we are because people have made a conscious effort to hurt us.  Though this knowledge doesn’t necessarily dampen the pain, it should aid in our endeavor to forgive.
  8. When you keep your own score, you always feel as though you’re losing.  The problem with keeping score is that we naturally tend to under-appreciate our blessings, and to have an exaggerated sense of our hardships.  Because of that, people who keep score in life generally feel as though they’re never quite being given their due.  Ultimately, it’s better to just give our best in any given situation and to let someone else maintain the scorecard.
  9. The path of least resistance is rarely a road worth taking.  Often what causes something to be valuable is that it cannot be easily attained.  It follows then that the most valuable things in life normally require some perseverance to apprehend.  While everyone may sincerely want these kinds of things for their life (e.g. a healthy body, a strong marriage, a successful career…), few are willing to endure the process it takes to secure them.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture that increasingly values convenience above quality, and in which many of our children have grown up with an expectation of the instant gratification of their desires. Many a parent has worked hard to ensure that their kids get a great education, so that these children won’t have to struggle like they did.  But this ignores the fact that it is in the midst of the struggle that we tend to develop our character and work ethic; and that without this development we are generally ill equipped to handle adversity.  I’ve found that you can teach someone with character and work ethic just about anything, but without those qualities, an education becomes of little value.  I’ve also come to believe that giving my children everything that I didn’t have when I grew up will likely handicap them for life.
  10. There are few jobs easier than being a critic and few that are more taxing than being a builder.  I’m ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom, ridiculing the person who’s teaching the class. Playing the role of critic, while someone sincerely tries to have a positive influence on the people around them.  While I might try to rationalize that their efforts were less than perfect, or maybe even in vain, life has taught me how little that criticism helps anyone.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience to bring unity where there has only been division, or to stir a group to battle, when they’ve only known defeat, or to restore a sense of hope to a place of desolation…  The builder must make a concerted effort to create, while the critic can bring destruction with little effort.  As a witness to, and a participant in, both of these processes, I’ve committed myself to spending the rest of my days being engaged in the building up and not the tearing down.
  11. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  Experience teaches us that the road to victory is generally paved with some amount of defeat; and that how we respond to those defeats will generally determine whether or not we ever come to the place of victory.   While victory tends to be the goal of every player, I’ve found that what we remember is how they played the game.  It is not necessarily the player with the highest winning percentage that captures our imagination, it is the player who played unselfishly, or with integrity, or who overcame the biggest odds…  Even for those who taste great victory, it is always in a moment that quickly passes into a lifetime of other moments.  At the moment we pass from this life, it won’t be that moment of glory that matters most; it will be how we lived all the other moments that ultimately defines us.
  12. It’s hard to be Clint Eastwood if you’re really Mr. Rogers.  As I was growing up my conception of what a man was came largely from my father, who was a big fan of men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.   Throughout my adolescence there were other icons (e.g. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever, Sly Stallone – Rambo, Don Johnson – Miami Vice…) who seemed to collectively shape the culture’s conception of manhood, and who I unconsciously graded myself against.  Since I was nothing like these men I assumed that I just wasn’t much of a man, and in subtle ways I let their image affect how I walked, talked, dressed… But as I got older I began to notice that there weren’t many things less attractive than someone trying to be something that they’re not (e.g. a middle aged woman dressed like teenager; a suburban white kid acting as though he grew up in the ghetto; a man with a bad toupee, acting as though it is his natural hair…).  I eventually came to peace with the understanding that regardless of the fact that I bear little or no resemblance to the trendy cultural images of manhood, the best thing I could do was to be myself.  That catharsis has  allowed me to do things like wear the clothes that I feel comfortable in; to act silly in public, just to make my kids laugh; to say “I love you too honey” when I hang up the phone in front of someone; to cry at sad movies…, all without feeling self-conscious.  I highly recommend it.
  13. Love grows over time. We live in a society that seems affixed on the idea of trading in and up, on an almost constant basis (e.g. cellphones, computers, cars, houses…); and that basic philosophy carries into our relationships as well. Most of our cultural allusions toward love seem centered on initial attraction and the titillation of something new; but that is ultimately the shallow end of the relationship pool. It isn’t until you’ve experienced a love that lasts for years that you come to understand the depth and profound fulfillment that accompanies it. This same aesthetic applies to friendships as well (i.e. I wouldn’t trade a few old friends for 500 “friends” on Facebook).
  14. No person or thing can “make you happy”.  People can support us, love us, inspire us, and even enhance the quality of our life. But unless we determine within ourselves to find the joy, the beauty and the hope within our given circumstance, we will never be “happy”. The idea that it is someone else’s role to bring happiness into our life places tremendous pressure on our relationships, often causing them to fail (e.g. they just don’t make me happy anymore…).  Similarly, material things do not have the ability to bring satisfaction to our souls.  I’ve noticed that people, who can be grateful for what they have today, will generally be that way regardless of what they have. And that people, who crave something more, will normally continue to crave regardless of what they get.
  15. The best things in life cannot be held in our hands or necessarily even be seen.  A young person’s dreams are often rooted in tangible gains, like a mate, income, a career, a family, a home…  But as a person attains those kinds of things, values seem to shift from the tangible to the transcendent.  At the end of a long life, it is things like friendship, faith, love and hope that are ultimately treasured. 
  16. No regrets. I’ve often heard people speak of having “no regrets”, both when looking back on their lives, or in the context of their hopes for the future.  I’ve even heard some say things like, “if I could live my life over again, I wouldn’t change a thing”.  And while those sorts of bold proclamations may sound good as T-shirt slogans or on sports drink ads, they don’t actually play out well in real life.  The truth is that we all make mistakes, and if we have any conscience at all, that is bound to stir up some feelings of regret.  Though unpleasant, it is often those feelings that provide the incentive to grow and change.  A wise man doesn’t pretend that he’s never done things that he wishes he hadn’t; he simply owns up to his failures, learns from those mistakes, changes his mind/direction and leaves those regrets on the side of the road (where they belong).
  17. True strength. The strength that actually matters in this life cannot be forged in the gym. Though we should endeavor to maintain some level of reasonable health, we are rarely called to bring substantial physical power into a situation. On the other hand, we are challenged intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, on an almost daily basis. Thus, qualities like the ability to think clearly when chaos reigns around us, or to put others needs above our own, or to continue to love when our heart has been crushed, or to hold onto our values in the face of rampant compromise, or to have faith in the midst of the storm… prove to be of far greater worth. Yet, as a society we seem to be much more focused on our physical state, while these other aspects of our being remain weak and under-developed. One day, our bodies will be buried in the dirt, and it will be what we did with the rest of us that ultimately determines how we are remembered.
  18. Look out for that curve dead ahead. Growing up can often be a disappointing process. When you’re 10, you imagine that becoming a “teenager” will change everything. But a few days after your 13th birthday, you realize that things are pretty much the same. Then you start dreaming about turning 16, and getting your license, which is cool; but again, you quickly recognize that it doesn’t make as much difference as you thought. Even 18 is that way. Yeah, you’re legally an adult now, yet you still have to turn in your homework and get up for school the next day. But finishing High School is different. Though you may not sense it immediately, the rules change dramatically. Up to this point, there was a system specifically designed to carry you along. There was a whole panel of adults (e.g. parents, grandparents, pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors…) assigned to provide guidance, boundaries, bedtimes, wake-ups, rides, resources, and incentives to stay on the right track. There were organized activities intended specifically for you, like sports teams, school plays, dances, and 4H club. And there was an education system built to pretty much ensure your success. As long as you cooperated (i.e. showed up with a decent attitude) with these processes, you were almost guaranteed to make it through. But now, that all changes. Adulthood is very much a give and take proposition. Generally, you get out of it what you put into it. Even staying in school changes. Colleges and Universities are businesses. You pay to take their classes. If you don’t show up, the teacher isn’t going to come looking for you. If you don’t turn in your work, they will not scold you, or even ask about it. If you fail the class, they will happily allow you to pay them to take the course over again next semester. The workplace, and relationships, and almost every other facet of life works similarly. If you want to have a great marriage, a successful career, or even to live in an exceptional community, you need to invest yourself (i.e. time, energy, passion…) in it. Simply showing up, empty handed, will no longer get it done. Ultimately, life was never meant to be a spectator sport – so I’d highly recommend that you dive in.    

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I recently used the phrase “Yellow Journalism” in front of a young person, and they asked me what it meant. I explained that it was a term used to describe reporting that had little or no legitimate research behind it, which featured eye-catching headlines, exaggerations, scandal-mongering, sensationalism, and at times, pure fabrications.  I added that instead of simply reporting the facts in an unbiased fashion, and allowing people to draw their own conclusions, it was when the story was written with a pre-determined end in mind, and only the facts that supported that conclusion were presented.  The young person then asked, “why have I never heard of this?”  To which I replied, “because we don’t call it Yellow Journalism anymore”.  “What do they call it now” he asked.  I couldn’t help but smile as I replied, “journalism”.

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There is only One who gives life; only One who can truly show us who we were created to be; only One who is worthy of our hope. All other roads are detours.

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  1. Turn the Page (Bob Seger) – Metallica.  This remarkably straight up remake retains all the road weariness of the original, while replacing the iconic saxophone arrangement with a surprisingly effective guitar line.
  2. Sounds of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel) – Disturbed.  The mix of Paul Simon’s epic lyrics, a sweeping orchestral arrangement, and David Draiman’s powerful vocals makes for compelling musical theater.
  3. Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana) – Tori Amos  Somehow Amos’ striped down, piano arrangement manages to build its own strange sort of tension.
  4. Solitary Man (Neil Diamond) – The Sidewinders  A slightly grittier, more muscular version of a Neil Diamond classic.
  5. Hurt (Nine Inch Nails) – Johnny Cash  Cash’s take on this Trent Reznor lamentation is as emotionally raw as anything you’ll ever hear on the radio.
  6. Sweet Jane (The Velvet Underground) – The Cowboy Junkies  The Junkies seem to transport the urban cool of this Lou Reed tune to a roadhouse somewhere in the Midwest.
  7. Bad Company (Bad Company) – Five Finger Death Punch  The ultra-cool original gets a dose of steroids from this Vegas hard-rock outfit.
  8. Higher Ground (Stevie Wonder) – Red Hot Chili Peppers  Though not a radical departure from the original, the Peppers still manage to leave their distinctive fingerprints on it.
  9. Little Wing (Jimi Hendrix) – Sting  The jazzy recasting of this Hendrix classic makes it almost unrecognizable when compared to the original.
  10. Careless Whisper (Wham) – Seether.  Even those of us who loathed the frothy pop of Wham can appreciate Seether’s roughed up arrangement of this chart topper.

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A lousy attitude is like a twenty pound sack that we can’t put down. Not so heavy that we can’t lift it, but cumbersome enough to quickly wear us out, and interfere with everything we’re trying to do.  A positive attitude can be like a new set of shock absorbers, stifling the impact of life’s many pot holes.

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