6.) Givers and Takers

Okay, I guess this is where I start offending people and losing friends! Last night I was feeling humbled and vulnerable; and, to a large extent, I still do. But, for some reason, I woke up this morning in a “fightin mood!” I guess all this pent up emotion needs to go somewhere. Fortunately, I’ve been alone all day with nobody to take it out on—no dog to kick, no cat to tromp, only four little guinea pigs; and who in their right, or wrong, mind could ever bring themselves to harm a sweet little guinea pig? (Except, I guess, those cold-blooded, laboratory scientists types; and we all know they’ve gotta be more than a little “cuckoo.”) So, with no punching bag to let loose on, I guess I’ll just write – huh!

No doubt about it, dark clouds are brewing on the horizon and the storm will soon be breaking upon me, so it’s time to batten down the hatches, get a good grip the wheel, set my jaw, grit my teeth, and brace for the coming storm—“dam the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

I think a big part of the preparedness necessary to weather potentially life-threatening situations lies in the realm of our emotions. There are a few things we can do on the physical front, but none of that it going to get us very far without the emotional stamina necessary to engage the battle with all the strength we can muster.

Some say anger, after denial, is a natural response when facing traumatic struggles; you know, that whole “fight or flight” scenario. Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely take the “flight” option if it was available. Trouble is, this cancer is one of those persistent enemies. It has put me on notice that it’s not going to just go away and leave me alone; not without a fight.

That does make me angry! But I’m not angry at God; and, oddly enough, I don’t even think I’m particularly angry at cancer. So, what am I angry about? Well, as I look toward the horizon and survey the coming storm, I find myself needing to gain some perspective on my life; to, somehow, get a handle on who I am, where I am now, and where my life seems to be heading—especially in view of the brevity of life. And, as I seek to gain that perspective, I’m finding that, number one, I’m angry at myself.

That’s right, contemplating the upcoming battles that lie before me, I’m angry at myself and how selfish I am, and always have been all my life. Looking back, it seems to me that I’ve done very little in life that was motivated simply by love and goodwill toward others. There has always been an ulterior motive lurking just beneath the surface. Most of what I’ve accomplished has been motivated by “self” in some form or fashion. My wants, my needs, my fears, my pleasures, my desires, my dreams, my goals, my feelings, my opinions, my education, my career, my ministry, my lifestyle, my religion, my image, my reputation, my relationships—my, my, my, I, I, I, me, me, me!!! And, today, I’m so sick of me that I really feel like kicking my butt!

I am amazed at all the people who have been putting up with me all these years; and who still say that they love me. Believe me, there have been moments when, due to my conduct and behavior, people could have, and maybe should have, “written me off.” They would have been fully justified in doing so; and maybe some have, but many, to my amazement, apparently haven’t—yet!

But now this! After all I’ve put my sweet wife, and other loved ones, through in life; now they have to deal with something like this; and focus on me and my needs to an even greater degree; on top of everything else on their busy plates. I’m like, “seriously?” And I know that, sometimes, sickness can make us so selfish, so needy. But what right do I have to impose like this upon any of my loved ones, or their time, or their energy, or their emotions? I feel like such a “taker.”

When will I ever get around to being the “giver” that I want to be? When will I ever really learn to love like Jesus calls me to love, the way He loves us? When will I start authentically living like Him and begin to really, from the heart out, put other people’s wants, desires, and needs ahead of my own? And when will simply serving God’s master plan, whatever that plan is, become more important to me than getting what I want?

Do I want this cancer to go away? I do! Do I want to heal and get better? Certainly! And not just for me, but for the people I love who have to put up with me, as well. But what if, in God’s divine wisdom, His plan for the redemption of humanity is better served by my being sick, or even dying long before I had intended? I mean, I would like to think that I do have more to offer by living and serving a few more years on this globe, than by dying. But, lets face it, I’m a little bias; and it’s not my call. Furthermore, whose story is this anyway, mine, or His? I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s admonition to the Romans when talking about God’s sovereignty as He works His will in our hearts and lives; he says, “…who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay…” (Romans 9:20-21, NASB).

I also remember how that the Apostle Paul, himself, had some kind of a debilitating disease. We’re not sure just what it was, but it was so bad that it was hard for people to be around him. He said to the church at Galatia:

…but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. (Galatians 4:13-14, NASB)

Paul must have felt a deep sense of love and gratitude toward these people who loved him and received him so warmly, even though his condition was an imposition upon them. And, you know, Paul really wanted to be rid of this sickness, illness, or disease—whatever it was—and he said to the church at Corinth:

…there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9, NASB)

Well, it’s about time I stop “exalting myself.” And if that requires a “thorn in the flesh”—cancer, or whatever—to help me overcome my pride, surrender my heart completely to my Lord Jesus, and learn to be a “giver” more than a “taker” before my life on earth is done, then I need to embrace that as a gift from God; and not fear it. God’s grace is sufficient!

The other thing I’m fighting mad about today, besides my own foolish pride, is the carnality—the fleshly, worldly, materialistic stranglehold—that this world seems to have on me; and virtually all of us it seems. I’m just so weary of me, and people dear to me, getting so wrapped up in this world, and the things of this world, that we lose sight of what is truly important. I remember the Apostle John telling us:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (I John 2:15-17, NASB)

The world seems so full of injustice. People die daily. Last I heard, every single day 29,000 children lay down in the dirt and die of malnutrition, starvation, and the pestilence associated with war and famine (Unicef, 2013). Yet, we in the Western world, so blessed, are so obsessed with our carefully manicured lawns, our beautifully decorated homes, our luxury automobiles—and they’re all “luxury” compared to getting around on a donkey—our financial investments and retirement plans, and our political platforms and social issues, that we seldom cast more than a token glance in the direction of the desperate.

They call it “compassion fatigue,” or “humanitarian burnout.” We’ve grow weary of seeing all the pictures of poverty ridden children on television. It is as though we no longer share the world with them; it just doesn’t bother us anymore.

While I’m all for having nice grass and clean homes, it’s amazing how far down the priority ladder all our worldly, materialistic concerns tumble when confronted by impending disaster or a potentially life-threatening illness. Yet, as soon as things are going half-way well again, we’re right back at it—indulging ourselves while the world goes wanting. I don’t know what I can do about it. I know I can’t solve the problem of 29,000 children a day dying of starvation. But maybe I can help one. Maybe we could all decide to make one less trip to Starbucks each week, if necessary, in order to reach out and help just one; and then, somewhere down the line, maybe, another one?

But an even more pressing concern on my heart today is the apparent apathy, sometimes even embarrassment, that people seem to feel toward spiritual matters; as though being a spiritual person, one who believes in God, or who openly follows Christ, is something to be ashamed of and kept secret. Why do even Christians find it easier to talk about everything in the world other than our Lord, our mission, our spiritual struggles, and the incredible spiritual gifts, joys, and victories that are ours in Christ? It is almost as if we don’t know how to talk, even to one another, about the things that matter most—so we talk about football. Meanwhile, family, friends, neighbors, and other people God brings into our lives, end up going their separate ways and eventually die; maybe knowing that we were different, that we had something they might have wanted or needed, but having never been made to feel comfortable in asking us about the beautiful love God has for us and the abundant life to which His love calls us.

To live and die without hope of eternal life with God has got to be the greatest tragedy I can imagine. As Jesus put it, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NASB). I’m disappointed in myself for not letting my colors fly more boldly; for not being more open and approachable with my faith on a personal level—and I’m not talking about grandstanding on some social media platform, or going out and getting in people’s faces, or whacking them up alongside the head with my Bible. I’m just talking about living my faith.

All-in-all, I really do think that I would rather someone feel a little uncomfortable around me because I was open with my faith, than for them to feel uncomfortable in approaching and asking me about spiritual things because I was so closed. I’m just talking about sharing my values and convictions as the Lord gives me opportunity, being approachable, and making it easy for people I care about to ask questions of me, or to share their feelings about those things that really matter most to them.

So today, yeah, I feel like I just want to rip to shreds those imaginary social ramparts that seem to have been erected all around us and to find a way to breach the silly social barriers that keep us from sharing intimately, heart-to-heart, one with another.

ripping through paper 2

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