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When Self-Pity Raids Fellowship

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Woe is me.

I don’t say it as I walk through the doors of our lovely church and greet our fellow saints every Sunday morning. But—if I got the kids out the door and the limping dog fed and the home group meal made while my husband was off at another drill weekend—it’s likely I’m thinking it. 

Woe is me. I am only trying to get to church.

For years, I thought the problem with this scenario was that the God of the universe didn’t swoop down to help everything go perfectly on Sunday morning. There was the morning I got entirely ready before fetching my toddler, thankful we might be on time—for once!—only to find she had discovered some paint supplies while wearing a soiled diaper and redecorated the nursery in a certain shade of brown.

Other mornings, it’s a 102-degree fever discovered when we’re already on our way or the car doors that seem to, almost providentially, auto-lock every time I’m headed toward them with my hands full of piping-hot casserole for a potluck lunch. Sometimes it doesn’t take much at all—a bad hair day, a botched breakfast—to send the woman who woke ready to praise the Lord careening down a cliff of “why me”s.

Rather than entering the house of the Lord with a smile befitting my salvation, I rush to my seat with clenched teeth. Tell the story of Jesus and his glory? I can’t wait to tell the tale of my terrible morning. I have more than a chip on my shoulder; I am bearing a silent grudge against a God who didn’t orchestrate my circumstances to my liking. Rather than a garment of praise, I walk in wearing something that feels more comfortable than putting on Christ: self-pity.

Woe is me.

Somewhere between the barking dog that woke the baby and the closet filled with “nothing to wear,” I bought in to the lie that the God who gave me his own Son didn’t give me enough this morning. I believed the whisper that, above all, the Savior who says he gives peace that surpasses understanding still owes me a peaceful Sunday morning.

But do you know what God says about my pity party? “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Oh, the slippery slope that hope becomes when we place it in lesser things than the one who promises to be “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:18–19). How quickly pity rises when I fixate my meager hopes on a tranquil morning rather than the lasting source that springs eternal. But how did I get here?

How is it that, even as I prepare to enter the sanctuary to celebrate this shared eternal hope, I find my own hope placed in so many trappings of the Sunday morning experience instead? Like a piece of driftwood, these hopes of on-time arrivals and family-feud-free drives are dashed to pieces on the rocky shores of circumstances that are out of my control.

But here’s the thing: I think that’s exactly what God wants.

When I place my hopes and mood and focus for a Sunday morning in things other than the only one who’s worthy of them—it is a mercy for them to be shattered.

In the early days of my first baby’s arrival, I told a friend that it often felt like God was opposing me when a series of these little things went wrong—especially if it was while I was on my way to do a good thing, such as get to church on time.

“Why would he do that?” I asked out loud.

“Well,” she said, wincing before delivering the blow, “God does oppose the proud.”

Sigh.

“But gives grace to the humble,” I said, remembering the rest of 1 Peter 5:5.

It took days for the truth of that phrase to settle in. This, too, is a mercy, I thought. It is a mercy that God allows blow after blow to my thoughts of self-sufficiency on a Sunday morning, that he delivers me utterly humbled and limping across the threshold.

“We’re here!” I should say, as I throw my children across the finish line into the church foyer. “By the grace of God, we’re here.”

And what if I did that? What if I did high-five the mother of five who makes it to church (with a smile!) without the help of her worship-leading husband? What if I silenced the voice of Self-Pity 2.0 that says when I see her, “Look, even she made it to church on time. You only have two kids. She has five!” and offered instead a knowing glance, a reassuring hug. You’ve arrived. We’ve arrived.

I shudder to think about the half-truths that marinate in my mind and keep me from doing just that, that keep me rooted in thoughts about myself rather than reaching out to others. Because, if there’s one thing self-pity does on a Sunday morning—with the help of its friends comparison and envy—it’s suffocate fellowship. It is the tip of an iceberg of ingratitude, looming large beneath the surface. It is a symptom of a heart that fails to receive what God has delivered to us that morning and, instead, looks longingly on the lots of others.

We can chip away at self-pity with a little self-talk, sure. But it can do very little to cure us of our condition. This iceberg must be swallowed up by something larger, melted by the glory of a God who is worthy of the hopes we have placed in lesser things, able to bear them fully, able to fulfill them fully. Worthy of our Sunday mornings.

When I meditate on the upside-down arch of Christ’s life and coming kingdom, I see that we should not be surprised by the “fiery trial” of another Sunday morning. I see that, in Christ, we have both the example and the ability to receive it humbly, even to fellowship in it.

Philippians 2:1–8 (NIV): “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

I see that Christ—the only one untainted by the sin that threatens to sink me every Sunday—did not shake his fist at a God who ordained circumstances he alone did not deserve. He asked for the cup to pass from him, yes, but then received it fully. “Not as I will,” he said, “but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Lord, let us remember that whatever passes into our Sunday mornings passed first through the fingers of a suffering Savior. Even the most unwelcome of circumstances—especially those—can be used to humble us, to sanctify us, to lift our eyes from the burning eggs to remember the Bread of Life. Let us fix our gaze on the object of Sunday morning worship and find self-pity—find our very selves—swallowed up by Him.

This post originally appeared at deeplyrootedmag.com.

in Life

4 Non-Negotiable Marks of a True Disciple of Jesus (Part 2)

In John 8:31-59, Jesus provides us with 4 non-negotiable marks of a true disciple of Jesus. In the last post we engaged with the first 2 and in this one we’ll look at the final 2 marks. Let me say again that these are things that should mark the life of every true believer. While our standing before God is always based on faith, not works; a true, living faith should produce certain fruit (like these marks), and when we come to passages like John 8:31-59, it is good to take the time to do some honest, self-examination to ensure we are walking worthy of the faith to which we’ve been called (Eph 4:1). With that, let’s look at the last 2 marks a true disciple of Jesus found in John 8:31-59.

3. A true disciple of Jesus sees Jesus as eternally God

The third non-negotiable mark of a true disciple of Jesus that we get from this text is: a true disciple of Jesus sees Jesus as eternally God.

The key text for this mark is found in verse 58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

This isn’t true of the Pharisees mentioned in this passage.Remember, the most important question they asked, (“Who do you make yourself out to be?”) revealed that they didn’t know who Jesus really was. At one point they thought he was a demon possessed Samaritan, but in the end, they thought he was a blasphemer.

We read in verse 24,“unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”Eternity hinges on who we believe Jesus to be. This was so important to John that his gospel starts with, “In the beginning was the Word…”. So, who do we believe Jesus is?

Is Jesus truly our Lord and Savior that we submit our whole lives to, or is He more like a genie who we expect to grant our wishes every time we rub our bibles? Maybe Jesus is just the guy we go to to make penance to but don’t really enjoy as eternally God and Redeemer. Maybe Jesus is the guy we blame when things aren’t going like we think they should, as if He owes us something and isn’t holding up His end of the deal.

John, again leaning on Jesus, says in 1 John 4:15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him, and he in God.”

Listen, if we see Jesus as anything other than eternally God, Jesus would confront us and ask, “are you really my disciple?” A true disciple of Jesus sees Jesus as eternally God and submits to His authority.

4. A true disciple of Jesus remains a disciple of Jesus to the end

The fourth non-negotiable mark of a true disciple of Jesus that we get from this text is: a true disciple of Jesus remains a disciple of Jesus to the end.

The key text for this mark is found in verse 35, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.”

Often, this mark is categorized under the heading of, “perseverance”; that is, all true disciples of Jesus will persevere to the end in saving faith.

John speaks of this truth from Jesus in 1 John 2:19, “They [speaking of those who left the church] went out from us [speaking of those who remained], but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

In other words, their lack of perseverance gave evidence that they were never genuine believers to begin with. Why do I say, “they were never genuine believers to begin with”? Because the Bible speaks clearly, “that God who began salvation in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”(Philippians 1:6). Or, Jesus says in John 10:28-29, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”

But this doesn’t mark the Pharisees in this passage either. At the beginning of our passage, they’re articulated as “believers”, but by the end of the passage they don’t believe in Jesus, they want to kill Jesus.

Now, let’s be clear, this is a mark that’s ultimately seen at the end of a life. But Jesus knows what’s in their hearts, so He doesn’t need a life to be lived out, and John’s words are inspired from this very Jesus.

That said, “perseverance” is a mark of a true disciple of Jesus, so if we see ourselves, or our brothers and sisters in Christ, straying away from the faith, we should be concerned; and in love we should pursue our brothers and sisters and care for them with grace and the gospel and call them to walk in the light of repentance.

A true disciple of Jesus remains a disciple of Jesus to the end.

CLOSING

As you’ve read through the last two posts, maybe you are experiencing the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction. Listen, if there is any sin that’s been exposed, I have good news for you, in love Jesus shown light into the darkness and now, in love ,Jesus is calling you to receive and obey his word; Jesus is calling you to love him and to truly see him as Lord and Savior; and Jesus is calling you to come to him and find forgiveness for your sins. If you feel the prick of conviction as you have read through these marks, don’t be discouraged but be encouraged. Feeling God’s conviction is also a mark of a true disciple of Jesus; and so is experiencing the gift of repentance. If you see areas that you need to grow in, rest in, or trust more, do not squash that prompting of the Holy Spirit with a quick “Well, nobody’s perfect”. Spend some time in confession and ask God (persistently) to help you grow in that area. God wants to give more grace for growth.

Lastly, and this is crucial, hear me now, do not look at these marks as a checklist to earn right standing before God. In other words, these marks do not make someone a disciple, these marks give evidence that God has already made a person a disciple…his child. A true disciple of Jesus will display these marks because they have already been united to the perfect disciple of God, Jesus. Jesus perfectly reflected these marks.

  • Jesus perfectly received and obeyed God’s word (I keep His word; John 8:55)
  • Jesus perfectly loved the Father (I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father; John 14:31)
  • Jesus perfectly saw God for who He is (I speak of what I have seen with my Father; John 8:38)
  • Jesus perfectly remained faithful to God to the end (I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do; John 17:4; “It is finished” Jesus cried on the cross)

Ultimately, a true disciple of Jesus is one who by faith is united to Jesus, the perfect disciple of God. But listen, Jesus has been telling us that “talk is cheap”. These marks we have talked about are absolutely non-negotiable marks that give evidence that a person is a true disciple of Jesus…a child of God.

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