Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Useless & Worthless People

Today ends our final segment of bouncing back from difficult times. Because they WILL come, and we don’t want to be people who break – we want to be people who bounce.

It’s about being spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Then we discussed embracing change instead of fearing it. Last time we talked about being intentional about living in community and allowing our connection to others to help us bounce back.

UselessWe wrap up today talking about recognizing the value that you have – about seeing the worth and meaning in your life. When it comes to our ability to bounce back or break in difficult times, less is more. What I mean is this: feeling useless, worthless, meaningless is a fast-track to breaking.

Useless — feeling that you contribute nothing to anyone and are only a burden (even if those people protest the opposite)

Worthless —  one of the key reasons for people to exist is have a deep sense of personal worth

Meaningless — when one has no purpose

  • The Imago Dei

Finding use, worth, and meaning begins with the proper theological understanding of the place of humanity. In theological circles we talk about the Imago Dei – the image of God imprinted on all humanity.

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

With the image of God on you, your value stems NOT from anything you bring to the table. It’s about God’s work in your life. This is your source of value. That means…

  • You’re a Corvette, Not a Pinto

The Apostle Paul talks about it in terms of purchase price.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. ~ 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

There is no higher price anyone can pay than life itself. And if this is the purchase price for you, you’ve got to ask yourself if you are living up to your purchase price! Are you living like a Corvette or do you look in the mirror and see a Pinto? This is the very message Jesus is trying to tell us.

  • Jesus Says, Human Life Has Intrinsic Value!

Matthew 6:26 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

While all life is important, there is no other creature that is made in the image of God (see point 1 above). The Imago Dei, God’s thumbprint on humanity, sets us apart from all other life on earth. We are special to God.

You are special to God.

God redeems people that the world spurns. A great example of this is Onesimus, a runaway slave who encountered the Apostle Paul and became a Christian. Paul wrote back to Onesimus’s owner and talked about the difference Christ makes in life.

It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. (Philemon 9-12)

Or how about Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment that God used to save a nation? Or how about Jesus, the bastard child of a teen mother who brought salvation to the world? A Christian singer/songwriter wrote years ago:

God uses improbable people for impossible tasks.

Because God doesn’t put value on us the way the world does. When the world looks down on people, God lifts us up. When the world says, “Useless,” God says, “Useful.” When people say, “Good for nothing,” God says, “I’ve got a purpose and meaning for you.”

When therapists and counselors worked on these underlying “less” issues, they saw a dramatic turnaround in suicidal ideations. Feeling useless, worthless, and meaningless leaves people with the belief that there’s nothing worth sticking around for. Helping them find use, worth, and meaning radically alters one’s outlook. Suffering they couldn’t deal with became pain they could.

Less might be more to the world, but our “less” has never mattered to God. He IS our more.

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

 

 

Bouncing Back From Difficulties: Struggling with Change

Welcome to our third installment of our “Bouncing Back” series. We’re talking about how we can be spiritually anchored so that we may weather any storm. We won’t break – we can bounce back. We’ve talked about refusing to see obstacles as unbeatable. We’ve talked about rejecting hopelessness and holding on to hope. Today we talk about facing down change.

Last week I read a quotation from writer H.P. Lovecraft:

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

Change-1080x675Those are some DEEP words. I’ll be totally upfront with you – I’m one of those people who fear the unknown. And nothing brings about the unknown faster than change. It can be change in your job, change in your family, change in your social status, change in the government, or ANYWHERE else in life.

Change brings the unknown.

The unknown brings fear.

People who are know more than I do about psychology note that humans LOVE certainty.

Uncertainty registers as an error, gap, or tension in the brain: something that must be corrected before one can feel comfortable again. That is why people crave certainty. Not knowing what will happen next can be profoundly debilitating because it requires extra neural energy. This can diminish memory, undermine performance, and disengage people from the present.

Humanity has been wrestling with change and uncertainty since the dawn of time. From ancient philosophers, to Kansas, to Bill and Ted, the reality of change and the transitory nature of life has overwhelmed us.

This is a prevalent theme of the biblical book Ecclesiastes:

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem: “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. 11 No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.

When we’re faced with change, many of us will freeze. Change becomes overwhelming and breaks us. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes felt overwhelmed by the permanence of change. That word “meaningless” in the King James English is “vanity.” It literally means “transitory” or “impermanent.”

Life. Is. Change.

But change doesn’t have to break us. How can we bounce back in the face of overwhelming change? Here are a couple tips:

  • Acknowledge the change. One of he most important thing to do when change is happening is to acknowledge it. Running and hiding from your problems never solves them. It may delay them for a bit, but acknowledging them is the best way to move towards overcoming the difficulty.
  • Face your fears. Go through each fear brought up by the oncoming (or already present) change and write down what you would do if that fear came to pass. It’s about shifting perspective. The Apostle Paul wrote about shifting perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ~ For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Instead of focusing on the seen here and now, shift your gaze to that which has REAL permanence – God! Scripture declares that He NEVER changes. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God who never changes is walking beside you through all of your changes. He is facing them with you, so focus on that instead of the change.

  • Seek support. Many of us don’t like asking for help. The Christian community was DESIGNED to be a source of support for the believer. We ought to be taking care of each other. You should know that I have your back, and I should know that you have mine. Change is less scary when you’re going through it with someone you know and trust!
  • Switch out fearful thoughts with positive ones. Getting back to hope, we can choose to focus on positive aspects of pending change. For example, one of the changes people fear the most is death. Paul takes the idea of passing into the next life and puts an incredibly positive spin on it:

1 Corinthians 15:50-52 ~ I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

Make it a habit to focus on the positive things that change can bring.

You’re not going to be able to escape change. But it doesn’t have to break you. Realize that change is a normal (albeit stressful) part of life. But it IS a normal of life. Back to Ecclesiastes, the writer says in a very famous passage:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Change is gonna come. But it won’t break you.

I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.

Bad Things Happen to Good People

Feeling Stronger Every Day
Feeling Stronger Every Day

Karma’s a joke. It’s a joke we love to believe in, isn’t it? The whole premise of the best-selling book “The Secret” is that good things will come to you if you put out good things into the world (vibes, energy, whatever you want to call it).

I call it hogwash.

It doesn’t take any adult very long in this world to see that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Conversely, sometimes good things happen to bad people. There’s no promise that putting put positivity will return positivity to you. In fact, one of the questions the Old Testament wrestles with is how bad people can lead horrible lives and still have everything they want and go to the grave having had a fantastic life. It just isn’t fair.

I was having a conversation with a woman today who told me that she still believes that being a good person will ultimately result in good things happening because people are more likely to want to help you, like when you’re stopped on the side of the road with a flat tire. “HOLD ON,” I told her.

I agree with you that our behavior has the ability to influence how others respond to us. If people know that I am a decent and caring human being then there is a good chance that people will be decent and caring towards me. If I’m a real jerk then people will probably not be as inclined to help me. But that’s not karma. That’s interpersonal relationships. The side of the road analogy IS karma, and that’s garbage.

My goodness (or badness) is not going to influence a driver who passes me in my distress. I personally have no impact over a stranger driving by. Karma doesn’t work. But here’s the thing – a lot of people base their own behavior on this idea that do good and good happens. Do bad and bad things happen. I find this to be a very flawed view of ethics. In essence it says, “I will only behave appropriately because I believe that I will personally benefit from it at some point in time.”

This is no standard for ethical behavior. It is inconsistent, and the definition of “good behavior” subjectively changes from one person to another. There must be something more – some greater force that drives human behavior. This is where Christian faith steps up and says, “There IS a standard – God’s standard.” And every human behavior does have a consequence. We might not see consequences in this lifetime. We might have the good people suffer and the bad people succeed, but no one escapes the final reckoning. The Bible is clear that there will be a time when we all stand before God and give account of our lives.

I know many people who are going through difficult times right now. Some have relationship problems. Some have financial problems. Some have other problems. Just because you are a good person doesn’t mean you will have a good and easy life. So then what drives us to be good people?

It should be our relationship with God. In the Bible he tells us that he wants us to imitate him: his character and behavior. If I live out what I say I believe then I will be trying to make God’s character my character. This is the only foundation of ethical behavior that will hold fast no matter what circumstances might come our way. In the good times I strive to act like him. In the bad times I strive to act like him. Those ethics are constant in an ever changing world.

No matter how good you are you are not promised good things. Jesus, the best human, still had bad things happen to him. It’s not about karma. It’s about living up to the character and calling God gives us. So kick karma goodbye. Say adios, sayonara, or use whatever language you like. But the secret to The Secret is that there is no secret. We are good because God asks us to be, not because we want good things to happen to us.

How about you? Do you struggle with letting go of the idea of karma?

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~ That Voodoo that You Do: Getting Control of Your World

That Voodoo that You Do: Getting Control of Your World

I had an interesting conversation today. Actually, it was a ministry first. Someone asked me if it was okay for Christians to engage in Voodoo if it was for good results. It was an ethics question: say a child is sick and medical avenues courses have been exhausted but a local voodoo practitioner claims he can heal the child. Can the Christian employ voodoo for the sake of healing (and thus doing good)?

I was taken aback by the questions because I simply assumed (naively?) that the answer to such a question was a no-brainer. Apparently it isn’t and still needs to be addressed in some areas, so here’s why I think the Christian should not use voodoo, magic, or any other type of art even for the sake of performing good.

First, the Bible flat out tells us to avoid pagan practices like sorcery, divination, etc. This isn’t even one of those passages that is open to the “context” debate, meant for one time and place but not meant for all time and all people. No – this seems to be one of those verses that God intended to hold for eternity.

Second, using sorcery and voodoo is an attempt to manipulate the world through supernatural means. It removes God from the driver’s seat and tries to force our will upon people, life, and circumstances. The Bible is clear that God is God and we are not. It is not our place to try to manipulate the supernatural for our own desires. It demonstrates an inability to trust God and yield to him. It says, “I’m in charge and this is what I want so I’m gonna do whatever it takes to make it happen.” Such an attitude is not the attitude of a believer.

Two examples come to mind. The first is Jesus. He knew the course that was set before him. He knew his path led to death. And in normal human fashion he was looking for a way out. He repeatedly prayed, asking God to change the path and find a different way so that he didn’t have to go to death. But his ultimate conclusion was this: Not my will but yours be done. It didn’t matter what Jesus wanted because his only aim was that the will of the Father was accomplished.

The second example is Paul. Paul had something he referred to as his “thorn in the flesh.” We’re not quite sure what that thorn was but people who are smarter than I am speculate that it could have been some sort of vision or eye problem (he references having to write in large letters in one of his letters). Paul tells that he repeatedly asked God to remove this problem from his life. God’s ultimate answer was, “No.” Actually – it wasn’t just no. It was, “You don’t need to worry about it because my grace is sufficient for you.”

If we take the object of our faith (Jesus) and the premier preacher of the faith (Paul) as examples, we should be content to pursue every natural means possible to alter health and wellness. We simultaneously pursue prayer until our knees ache and our hearts are ready to burst. But in the end it is God’s call, not ours. We should not attempt to circumvent God and wrest control into our own hands, and that’s all that voodoo and witchcraft do.

Third, the philosophical argument put to me today was essentially that “the ends justify the means.” I do not believe that to be a viable philosophy. While some ends are worthy, there are some means that are simply wrong – no question about it. This philosophy has been the excuse for many atrocities against people. It doesn’t matter who we hurt as long as we’re moving towards the desired goal. Bogus. People matter, and we cannot walk over people simply to achieve positive results. Now move that principle into this blog’s question. If the ends do NOT justify the means then, even if we have good intentions, we cannot act contrary to God – even if we believe we’re doing good.

In the end it comes down to faith that God is God and sees what we can’t. Are we willing to yield to him and to his will? Will we surrender control of our own lives or are we willing to do whatever it takes to force our own results?

What do you think? Do the ends justify the means? Where do we stop in our pursuit of “good”?