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Self-reliance and Giving

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     A comedian once said, “I have enough money to last me the rest of my life…unless I buy something.” That probably about sums up the level of financial security that most of us have. I have a friend who is a leader in an independent Christian ministry that seems to perpetually struggle to raise enough funds to operate. It seems that every time we discuss the struggles of that organization he ends up saying, “I just believe that it is God’s will that we always have to fight for every penny in order to survive in this ministry. I believe that this is God’s way of keeping us on our knees in dependence upon Him.” When he makes statements like that I’m always left a bit speechless. What he’s saying may very well be a true interpretation of God’s will, but it is always possible that the ministry is struggling due to unwise decisions, wrong priorities, or “sin in the camp”. I would never say that every church, family, or individual that is living in poverty is more spiritual than those who live in prosperity. I know of many individuals and Christian groups that live in both physical and spiritual prosperity. But I never argue with this brother, because he is more likely to be right than he is to be wrong.

      The key issue is dependence. Because of our sinful, self-reliant natures we are so quick to jump off of Christ as our Rock and Foundation onto the shifting sands of bank accounts, stock portfolios, material possessions, and career plans. From the Lord’s eternal perspective we look so foolish, and yet we do it over and over again. Every time the Lord puts some kind of blessing in our lap we grasp onto it for security instead of continuing to trust in the Giver. So, as an act of fatherly discipline, the Lord slows His flow of blessings to a trickle so that we will remain dependent upon Him.

      The sad part of all this is that our selfishness prevents the Lord from putting more resources in our hands for the good of His kingdom. 2 Corinthians 8:6-11 tells us that the Lord is looking for mature believers who will be open conduits for His blessings to reach others: “…God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” When we grasp onto the Lord’s resources for our own pleasure and security we clog the system of blessing distribution, to the detriment of both ourselves and the Kingdom of God.

     This world is a very insecure place. May we be a light to the world by the way in which we stand confidently upon the Rock and Cornerstone, Jesus Christ in this time of fear and uncertainty, and by the way that we generously give of the Lord’s resources.        

Self-esteem vs. Christ-esteem

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BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church

     One of the little responsibilities that goes along with being a pastor is that of occasionally giving a reference for someone who is applying for a job or a school.  I was filling out a reference form one day when I came across a question that asked me to assess the person’s “self-esteem”.  I found myself in a dilemma.  If I rated him low in self-esteem, the school would have interpreted it to mean that he was unconfident and self-pitying (which he isn’t).  But if I rated him high in self-esteem, I would have also been saying something untrue, since I associate self-esteem with pride, and I consider this person to be truly humble and Godly.  I eventually decided to just leave that line blank.

     I know that it is possible to define self-esteem in such a way that it fits Biblical teaching.  Our goal is to judge ourselves according to God’s view of us, not the world’s or our own.  Paul tells us, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3).  God sees believers as His dearly loved children, as those created in His image, bought with the blood of His Son, gifted by His Holy Spirit, and being re-created into His Son’s image.  We not only should but must “esteem” or honor the image and gifts of our Lord that are present in our lives.  But that honor is really directed towards the Lord, because “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  (Ephesians 2:10).  As a matter of fact, Paul tells us that we should become so focused upon Christ and upon being like Him, that we lose our old worldly identity – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). 

     The problem is that the world has set the definition for the term “self-esteem”, and to them it doesn’t have anything to do with honoring God’s work of redemption and re-creation in our lives.  What they really mean is “self-glorification”, or, in its worst forms, “self-deification”.  I have sat through anti-drug, self-esteem-based programs where kids are told to stay away from drugs because they are so special, too special to get involved with drugs.  This isn’t obedience to God; it’s obedience for self-interest.  When the child becomes convinced that disobedience (drugs, fornication, violence) is more to their advantage (and to their glorification in the eyes of their peers), they will chuck the “just say no” approach.  The Bible teaches that our lives are worthless without the work of God’s grace in us – “There is no one righteous, not even one…no one seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless.”  There is no real “esteem” to your life apart from Christ.  

     If self-esteem isn’t focused upon Christ, then it is a lie; it’s idolatry, the worship of self.  The Bible directs us away from the narcissistic tendencies of our sinful nature.  Paul says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3).  We should be focused upon the Lord and the needs of others, to the point where we begin to forget about ourselves.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis:  “The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.  It is better to forget about yourself altogether…”  He goes on later to say that a truly humble person isn’t one who is always thinking lowly thoughts about himself; it is the person who doesn’t think about himself at all.  Our goal in life isn’t self-esteem – it is Christ-esteem!

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