Self-Piggy

When you think of addictions, what do you think of?

Alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, video games, sugar, food, social power come to my mind.

But what about addiction to self?

We all have it.  All of us want to be #1.  We are infatuated with ourselves.

Watch an NFL player score the winning touchdown.  Or listen in on a phone conversation. Or babysit a toddler.

Most of the time, what we do is totally for us.  The other part of the time, we’re able to convince people it isn’t about us when it really is.

For years, I thought the answer to my problems was through a study of myself.

That’s a good way to go crazy.

I filled out personality tests, visited with counselors, talked for hours and hours about myself to anyone who would tolerate it, and even took the Rorschach inkblot test.  What I learned the hard way was there wasn’t anything hidden about myself that I wanted revealed.  There wasn’t anything secretive that I wanted published.  It was all a deep, dark hole of sin.

Miss Piggy is definitely my least favorite Muppet, but she does make a great illustration of who we ourselves are.

Miss Piggy is this overly makeuped pig who’s spent all this money on fancy clothes for herself.  Everything is about her, and if it’s not, there’s wrath to come.  What she wants to say, she says.  What she wants to do, she does.  She’s this clunky, obnoxious, self-engrossed pestilence that the other Muppets have to put up with.

She can get away with it because she’s a puppet, and we can turn the program off of our TV anytime we want.  We don’t have to watch Miss Piggy 24/7.  So we can kinda laugh about it (some of us anyway, she mostly annoys me).

But we cannot get away from ourselves.  And in all of us lives all manner of ungodly affection towards ourselves.  It’s as if all the glory we were supposed to give God, when we broke alliance with Him, has been turned inward.  We worship ourselves.  All of us do it.  We just don’t usually recognize the self-piggy that lives inside us, because we’re used to him or her.  We’ve lived with that self-piggy as long as we’ve been a self, and we don’t know any different.

And the self-piggy can be very, very crafty.  I used to watch reality TV a lot.  There would always be at least somebody who could have competed with Miss Piggy for the most obnoxious, self-absorbed megalomaniac alive.

But . . why did I watch that?

Wasn’t it so that I could feel better about myself, by picking apart the personality flaws of someone else?  Wasn’t I, actually, being a worse self-piggy, because I was watching someone else’s pig out of infatuation with myself (in other words, to make myself look and feel better)?

Pigs are incredibly tactless in what they will eat.  Give them something, and they will eat it.  Slop, garbage, even other pigs.  They will eat anything and absolutely everything without reverence.  In the same way, our self-piggy will gobble anything and everything that stands in its path to self-fame, self-abundance, self-promotion, and self-worth.  And in our society, there are plenty of highly educated doctors who say that we’re not at fault for this; and they treat it by giving us more of ourselves.

Jesus astonishes (and often) offends us in what He said one day,

As they were traveling on the road someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go! ”

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62, HCSB)

Jesus gets a lot of flack for what He said here, because we revolt against anyone who would slay the idolatrous pig of self inside us for the cause of the real worship of God.

Jesus was walking to Jerusalem (see verse 51).  He knew these were the last days His sandaled feet would walk the dusty villages of Israel and Samaria before He walked the road to Golgotha with a cross on His back.  In the greatest moment of self-sacrifice ever in the history of mankind, Jesus was walking towards His cross.

Along the way, followers, maybe flirting with holiness, or thinking it might improve their image, or wanting to make themselves look good before God, or wishing for fire insurance for the life to come, or for whatever other self-duplicitous reason, approach Him.  They probably think they are about to look really good.  They might even think they have all the self-sacrifice they need.  After all, aren’t they offering to follow Jesus?

The first one comes out with a wow statement, perhaps to make himself look like the most devoted follower Jesus has ever had?  Maybe he can’t wait for the prize.  What will Jesus say when this man spiels his mighty ditty?  Maybe he thinks that Jesus will nearly worship him out of admiration for his devotion.

“I will follow You wherever You go! ”

Had he practiced this, rehearsed it along the way?  Or did he shout it in a sudden adrenaline-boosting feeling of posturing?  Did he think he meant it?  Probably.  That’s the way it is with self-piggy.  We think we mean things because we ourselves are fooled into believing what the puppet inside us says to us.  We hear our own words and we think they are true.

Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”

Jesus showed the man exactly where his allegiance lie.  Maybe the self-pig inside this man was hungry for comfort or security or assurance; whatever it was, I think Jesus took it away.

The second man wasn’t actually wanting to join Jesus, or at least he didn’t say he was.  He was busy doing something we’d nearly all of us respect.  He was preparing funeral arrangement for his father.  We maybe want to say (in the blasphemous god of our self-pig), “Don’t interrupt him, Jesus!”  We want to offer this man the best psychology can offer, and maybe an anti-depressant to help.  We certainly want to hear Jesus say things like, “I’m here for you” or “Don’t worry about following me now–come when you’re ready.”

Jesus interrupts this man’s plans and speaks directly to him.  Jesus didn’t call just everyone.  Some He called and some He drew and some He let find Him.  But this man, Jesus specifically talked to, and at such a ‘bad time’.

Then He said to another, “Follow Me.”

“Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.”

But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

What?  Jesus says what? 

Where is the sympathy our self-pity is so fond of hearing?  Where is the sympathy that draws the eye of everyone to feed our self-hunger?  Where is the sympathy that plays the violin of self-entitlement before us?  It isn’t here.

Jesus was choosing to die for the news of the kingdom of God.  The least this man could do was leave a dead man behind.  Jesus revealed this man’s self-pig.  Maybe it was worship for his family, or maybe in being the important, in-charge one who made the funeral arrangements, or maybe in being the one who always did what was right in society’s eyes, or maybe he had cold feet about helping Jesus and he was more comfortable staying at home.  We don’t know.  But whatever his self-pig was, I think Jesus exposed it.  And the man had only two options: face his ugly pig and give up what he thought he should do, or do what he wanted and squeal in anger & disappointment at Jesus.

The third man sounds like a great guy.  Maybe he thought he was, too.  Maybe he was a real family man, true-blue to those he loved.  Maybe he thought he couldn’t, of course, leave his family without a proper goodbye.  Maybe he thought he couldn’t just vanish on them one day (as if they wouldn’t hear about where he’d gone).  Maybe he thought he had to do things the proper way, the appropriate way.  Maybe he was willing to follow Jesus, but first he needed or he craved for his goodbye.  Maybe he was hoping all his friends and family would admire him for his ‘brave obedience to God’.  Or maybe he was just using the goodbye excuse as a cop-out to not really follow at all.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”

But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

It didn’t work the way the man had planned.  Whatever his self-piggy was, whether it was family, or looking important in relationships, or popularity, or looking brave, or affirmation, Jesus confronted his self-piggy and he was left without an excuse.

All of these men were left to face their self-piggies or throw their anger for the exposure back at Jesus.  We don’t know what they chose.

But we do know what Jesus chose.  He chose to keep walking.  With every footprint His sandals left in the dust, He was one step closer to the footprints that would leave behind a trail of blood.  Earlier, verse 51 of the same chapter tells us,

When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem.

Verse 53b restates,

He determined to journey to Jerusalem.

And this after a self-pig squabble among His disciples about who mattered most among them, who was the coolest, who was the supreme follower, who was getting the biggest reward, who would have the best future.  Verse 46 of the same chapter tells us,

Then an argument started among them about who would be the greatest of them.

Please read Luke 9 for yourself.  There is a very real theme of the self-pig of the disciples, followers of Jesus, and others . . contrasted with the total unselfishness of Jesus, time and time again.

We, like the disciples and followers and everyone who has ever lived on this earth except Jesus have a self-pig inside us.  A pig that will consume every good thing in our lives if we let it go unmuzzled.  A pig that will destroy us.  A pig that we cannot control.

But we can surrender our pig to God to slay.  Only Jesus can destroy the selfishness within us.  He can do this because He lived without selfishness and yet He took on every consequence for our selfishness on that walk to Golgotha.  Golgotha means Skull Place (see Mark 15:22), and there, as He was being put to death by our sin, He was putting to death our sin.

If we want to live with the skeleton of self-pig left inside us, we can.  But we can leave it right there in Golgotha, at the foot of the cross, if we choose.  Christ has slain our sin nature; the decision in ours as to whether we’ll pick it up again.

He gives us this decision because He is totally unselfish.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21, HCSB)

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Unlikely Debtor

Both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise and to thoughtless, I am a debtor . . (Romans 1:14, YLT)

Paul, one of the greatest missionaries of all time, saw himself as a debtor to the people he was serving . . and not just to Presidents and kings, morally upstanding people and law-abiding citizens . .

but also to Greeks and to foreigners, which can be compared as to the civilized and to the savage (GWT of this phrase).  The two groups would probably have been viewed in that day as just that: civilized and savaged.  In other words, Paul felt a debt to preach to people who both did and who didn’t know much of anything about God’s ways.  A lot of us seem to be one or the other: we either want to witness to those who have a foundation of morality and poise that resembles what we like, or we want to witness to those who are totally different from us.  Paul wanted to reach both.

Would Paul have felt himself a debtor to the women who work in the strip bars in my town?  How about to the men who, through their money, put them there?

Would he have gone door-to-door to the poorest of the poor in my town, and searched the streets for the lonely homeless he could help?  How about to the welfare-fleecers in my town?  Would he have shared the Good News with them?

Would he have visited the VA clinic?  How about the anti-war society?  Would he have even gone to the houses of those who, in the 70’s, spit on the soldiers coming back from the Vietnam war?

Would he have stopped by as many nursing homes as he could?  What about the elderly who, in their youth, beat their wives and children?  Would we have preached to them, too?

Would he would have made a special stop at the local jail?  Would he have witnessed to the drunk driver?  What about our local Federal prison?  Would his sandaled feet have stopped even in front of the cells of rapists and demented serial killers?

Would he have visited our mayor and prayed for him?  What about the politician accused or convicted of embezzlement.  Would he have paid even him a visit?

Would he have knocked on the doors of the local millionaires?  What about the doors of those who have never shared a penny with the poor, who would rather have every luxury in the world than give a crust of bread to a starving child?  Would he even have shared the Gospel with them?

Paul saw himself as a debtor.

No one was beneath him.  (See Colossians 3:11)

And no one was above him.  (See Galatians 2:6)

He would preach to the rich and poor, heroes and villains alike.  He would be gracious and respectful if he got a hearing with the President, but he would not regard him as a more precious human life or more worthy of a hearing of the Gospel than James Holmes.

Am I saying that to be sensational?  Is that really true?  Could anyone really see themselves as a debtor to share the Gospel with a man like James Holmes?

I think we forget, all too often, that Paul really was a murderer before his conversion.  In one portrayal I saw, it was suggested that he tortured Christians in the synagogue when he caught them.  While we don’t know this to be true, it is likely that he flogged Christians–the graphicness of which is lost many times to our modern day ears.

The prisons he was throwing Christians into were not like U.S. prisons.  They were terrible, awful places where you might not be fed, there was no legal restraint against your mistreatment (unless you were a Roman citizen, which few Christians in Israel would have been), and you could be freezing cold at night with not so much as a cloak provided.  If Christian brothers and sisters came to help you, they might have been thrown in prison, too.

Paul had, in his old life, believed he was better than almost everyone (see Philippians 3:6).  In his new life, he believed he was better than absolutely no one.  He wanted everyone to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  As he was thrown in prisons throughout his ministry, I don’t believe he used his time there only to write letters to the churches.  I believe he was also witnessing to all prisoners within earshot, if he was allowed to talk to them.

As modern day Christians, we devalue the debt Jesus paid for us, and thus we skimp on our allegiance to Him.  While most of us readily embrace analogies of Jesus as our Father and Brother and even King, few of us actually want to identify as His servant, bond-servant, or slave.  But all these metaphors hold true.  I think when we think “king” we have a picture of Him sitting on the throne blessing us and judging nonbelievers.  I think we miss the picture of a king that would have been readily seen in Jesus’ day: that of someone with total power, pledged total allegiance and given total obedience.

We are not only free.  As believers, we are free from the power of sin.  There’s no doubt about that.  But we are also captured by the grace of God.

We are slaves to the mercy of God, debtors to His love.  This slavery is nothing like the unjust slavery of U.S. 18th and 19th century history.  And this debt is nothing like the debt owed a loan shark.

Instead, we are in debt to the most gracious God of all, forever enslaved to be servants of His mercy.

“I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.” (God, quoted in Hosea 11:4, NIV)

Our debt is no longer one of sin, but of worship.  We owe a debt of worship to Him that we cannot pay.

Worship of God is not only singing to Him or listening to sermons, though it is that.  Worship of God is also looking at the world–His world, ruined by sin–and reaching every soul we can for Him.  We should long for more worshipers in Heaven, and more vacancies in Hell.  We should long to bring anyone and everyone to Him, and since He longs for this more than we can imagine; we are debtors to the people around us.

To those who are wise and those who are fools.  To those who are humble & broken and those who are arrogant & loud-mouthed.  To those with etiquette and popularity and those with annoying habits and isolation.  To those with public approval and those who are social pariahs.  To those who live seemingly morally inspiring lives and those who live lives worthy of the darkest human pits in Hell.

We are debtors to them, all of them, because this is how God wants it.

As believers, our role in this life is, absolutely, How can I serve _____?

Fill in the name of anyone you have ever met.

This doesn’t mean serving them in an enabling sense, but serving them in the sense God desires, that is debtors to bring the Good News of Christ Jesus to the world.

Both to Greeks and to foreigners, both to wise and to thoughtless, I am a debtor . . (Romans 1:14, YLT)

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This blog owes a debt of love to all Christians who have helped my thinking in this area, especially the short movie Unbreakable, the influence of Christian missionaries, and, personally, my Sunday school teacher Kevin, Pastor Tommy, and Pastor John, whose thinking and ideas shaped much of this.  Most of all, my debt of love is to Jesus Christ, who is the Person who paid my eternal debt of sin . . who is the Person who gave me understanding of what Love really is.

Something I realized about grace one day . .

When I try to “punish” myself by refusing God’s grace, I punish everyone around me.

Here’s a little story to explain what I mean . . . . . . . .

Suppose I live in a time of great famine.  One day, a big ole semi-truck comes right up to my house and parks halfway in my driveway and halfway in the street.  The driver hops out and knocks on my door.

“Hey, are you Teej?” the driver asks.

“Uh . . yes,” I say.

“I’ve got a flatbed delivery for you.  Truckload of food.  All you have to do is sign here.”

“Sign . . here?” I ask, pulling my hand back when he offers me the pen.

“Yeah.  Right here on the line,” he says.

“I . . can’t do that,” I say.

“Why not?” he asks in surprise.

“Well this . . I mean . . this is too much!  I don’t deserve it!  I mean, you don’t even know me!  I’m not good enough for this.  I haven’t even done anything great today.  In fact, I had a lousy day and most of it was my fault.”

“Well, there’s no requirements,” he explains.  “Just sign here.”

“No way,” I say.  “I can’t.”

“But . . aren’t you hungry?” he asks.

“Starving.”

“And what about your neighbors?  Your friends?  Your family?”

“Yeah, we all are, but I can’t accept this.  Maybe you should deliver it to one of them.”

“But it’s for you.  And you’ll have more than enough to give to everybody you know.  You’ll have enough to offer dinners to total strangers!”

“Well, that’s all fine and good,” I say stiffly.  “But I’m not taking a gift for nothing.”

He looks at me long and hard.  “Ok,” he says finally.  “But if you change your mind, here’s a number you can call.”  He hands me a business card, as if he’s been expecting my reaction might be something like this.  He turns around and heads back to his truck.

I watch him drive away, and all the food goes with him.

. . . . . . . When I try to “punish” myself by refusing God’s grace, I punish everyone around me.

The grace God gives me isn’t just for me.  When I play the self-righteous game of waiting for grace until I “earn” it, I deprive not only myself, but everyone around me.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NLT)