Warning: Don’t RSVP to This Invitation

Self-pity sends out invitations to its party every time good things happen to others but not us. Invitations tend to arrive around weddings, baby showers and the holidays when we are struggling with singleness or infertility or the loss of a loved one. More invitations arrive when we have lost financial security, or good health and we notice nearly everyone else living carefree.

At the worst moments, self-pity appears like a stalker that refuses to take no for an answer — showing up unannounced with yet another invitation to its lame party. When we are forgotten by friends, passed over at work or under appreciated at home; this persistent wooer offers the hand of friendship. But, self-pity is not a friend worth having.

No one recognized this more than Helen Keller, who became deaf, blind and mute before turning two years old. Pity seemed Helen’s only friend. Yet she discovered Self-Pity’s defiling and unappeasable character only after a real friend, named Anne Sullivan, entered in with a truer compassion — one tough as nails and reliable as the North Star. Keller concluded, “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it we can never do anything wise in this world.”

Jesus never offered his hand in friendship to self-pity. He told a story, in Matthew 20:1-16, about a wealthy landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After the laborers agree to work for a denarius a day he sends them into his vineyard. Three hours later he finds people standing idle in the marketplace and says, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” He repeats the same thing at the sixth hour, and ninth hour. At the eleventh hour he finds people standing about and asks, “Why do you stand here idle all day?…You go into the vineyard too!” When evening arrives, he gathers all the laborers together to pay them their wages beginning with those hired last. When he pays them a denarius, those hired first believe they will receive more, but each also receives a denarius. On receiving their pay they grumble, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!” But the landowner replies, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I chose to give to the last workers as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

This story irritated me for a long time. First, the story seems to reward laziness and irresponsibility. Second, Jesus appears unsympathetic toward the the community of laborers provoked to jealous strife by the landowner. Third, the behavior of the landowner seems really unfair! But as much as I hated to admit it — the landowner did nothing unjust in the story. Those who labored the longest were still given a fair wage for their day’s work — even one they had agreed to. Rather than praise the landowner for his abundant generosity toward the least deserving, I was inclined to criticize him for his merely legitimate treatment toward the most deserving.

I knew I shouldn’t continue to feel irritated after logically working it out, but I was and I didn’t understand why exactly. The only answer I could come up with was not flattering. I realized that I considered myself a first hour worker, not an eleventh hour worker. Thinking otherwise I would not feel irritated but grateful. Self pity can only grow in the soil of self righteousness but gratitude grows in the soil of humility.

Jesus is no fan of self-pity. First, as a teacher, he tells parables like this one that leave no room for it. Second, as an example, he refuses Self-Pity’s invitation at every turn. Even on the night Jesus was betrayed, He never once felt sorry for himself. He knew Judas would betray him. Instead of having a pity party, he hosted a foot washing party to show his disciples how they ought to love one another. Jesus even washed Judas’ feet at the last supper. Third, as a redeemer, Jesus was really the only first hour worker…ever. John said, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” Jesus has been working faithfully from the dawn of eternity. Unlike the first hour workers in the parable Jesus rejoices that we, who are much less deserving, get the same eternal inheritance as he does. Forth, as abiding savior, Jesus offers us His Holy Spirit, the truest comforter who pursues us at all hours of the night even after we’ve foolishly entered the deadly party of self-pity and can’t find our way home.

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Sing About Your Unsung Heroes!

Who would you rather be — king David or his friend Jonathan, the natural heir to the throne? Both were blessed as chosen members of God’s royal family. But David received more — much more!

Everyone knows about king David. Few know about Jonathan. David left a dynasty that will last forever. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem the multitudes proclaimed Him the Son of David, not the Son of Jonathan.

David lived to be an old man. In his last days, the most beautiful virgin in all the land, Abishag the Shunammite, “comforted” David in his bed. Jonathan died in his prime — a faithful soldier of Israel. He paid the ultimate price for his Father’s sin, not his own.

So why does David get all the glory?

The scriptures call David “a man after God’s heart” (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22). But was David’s devotion to God distinctive from Jonathan’s? We have every reason to believe Jonathan was just as much a man after God’s heart. He was loving and faithful toward Yahweh. Unlike David who committed adultery and then murdered his faithful captain Uriah; there is no record of any grievous sin Jonathan committed. David’s son, Solomon, born by Uriah’s wife, became the richest, most powerful king of Israel. Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, became a cripple.

The scriptures show David as courageous in battle and zealous for the LORD’s reputation.  But Jonathan was just as zealous and courageous. It was Jonathan who first demonstrated that “nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6) He defeated a fortified Philistine garrison almost single handedly. It seems David followed Jonathan’s example when he later went up against the Philistine giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17).

God passed over Jonathan, as the next king, simply to discipline his father Saul. Yet, Jonathan submitted joyfully to God even at great cost to his own status, safety and reputation. Like David, Jonathan never raised his hand against God’s anointed. Instead he chose to bless both David and Saul. He loved them more than himself. He risked his life for David and then died for his father Saul. Unlike David, Jonathan lost everything by loving faithfully.

David foreshadowed Jesus as a king.  But Jonathan foreshadowed Jesus as a faithful brother and dying prince — the one who “humbled himself to the point of death” and was pierced for another’s transgression.

History overflows with unsung heroes like Jonathan. For every David there are dozens of Jonathans. We must celebrate unsung heroes or we will distort the ones we normally sing about. I am thankful the Bible retains the stories of unsung heroes like Jonathan, Ruth, Boaz, and Barnabas.

Who are the unsung heroes in your life? Is it your spouse, a grandparent, a child, a teacher, a coach, a co-worker, a sibling, a neighbor, a babysitter, a counselor, a soldier…? Take notice of the unsung heroes in your life. Others will not sing their praises but you can. So sing loudly! Celebrate them, encourage them, brag about them.

Often, they are the heroes that reflect Jesus most clearly.

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Are You Sick with Envy?

“A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh, but envy makes the bones rot.” Proverbs 14:30

8350807501_72d94a2300_zThis proverb contrasts contentment and envy.  Contentment is a heart at peace and it gives life.  Envy is a heart at war.  It rots a person to the bones like a malignant cancer.

Here are 5 symptoms that indicate you may be sick with envy:

Envy kills joy. I was in a good mood as our family left for a day trip to visit friends. When we arrived, I walked into their kitchen and gasped with admiration. But, as I gazed lustfully upon their stainless steel Bosch dishwasher my good mood died. Before that moment, I had been perfectly content with my raucous, energy hog of a dishwasher. As I drove home, I ruminated on spending money I didn’t have for a new machine I didn’t need. My wife noticed my grumpy attitude and asked, “Is everything okay?”

“I’m fine!” I lied.  But envy had murdered my good mood.

Envy wastes time.  Have you ever lost sleep comparing yourself to others? It’s good to admire another’s strengths and humbly learn from them. But, there’s no benefit to spending time entertaining resentful feelings toward people you otherwise appreciate and enjoy. The vigor you would otherwise use to pursue happiness is siphoned off by distracting thoughts of jealousy.

Envy wrecks community.  Envy is isolating.  It’s sad when we allows ourselves to grow distant from friends simply because they excel in areas we struggle. Envy is unloving. It keeps us from truly rejoicing with people, even though we desire them to rejoice with us. Envy is illogical — especially if we desire to be on a winning team and partner with people capable of great work. Envy whispers, “Just as long as their work is not too great!” Envy insists that our star shine the brightest. It undermines our ability to joyfully participate in something bigger than ourselves.

Envy alienates us from God. Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.” (Proverbs 23:17) This proverb warns us that bigger sinners will receive the blessings we covet but are denied. My wife, Marty, worked for years as a nurse in labor and delivery. We struggled with infertility, so my anger spiked whenever she recounted the behaviors of her patients and their boyfriends. Their denial of reality and indifference toward the gift of a new life was nauseating. I never envied their messy lives, but I envied their easy pregnancies. Why would God give healthy babies to people who didn’t want them, and withhold a baby from us? Since God seemed so unfair in his dealings, I questioned if he actually cared much about justice — about right and wrong. My conscience slowly hardened. Rather than fear what the Lord might say, I thought the Lord should fear what I might do. I avoided God and I started acting like a person I didn’t enjoy being around.

Envy causes exhaustion and prevents true rest. Shops and restaurants provide a good example. They rarely close because they’re all afraid to lose customers to the competition. Envy for bigger profits drives owners to bribe employees away from their families. Recently even Thanksgiving Day was sacrificed to the god of envy. We may pick on businesses, but the problem of envy runs deeper in the human heart. It can trap people anywhere and at any time. I see it on vacation when a family member yells, “Put that cell phone down” because someone is preoccupied with work emails. I also see it in the glazed eyes of those sitting in the pew on Sunday, worrying about their week ahead rather than beholding the God who holds them in His hand.


Are you sick with envy? What symptoms do you have? Jesus, the great physician, came to heal this deadly disease. His life, His death, and His resurrection guarantee He has the ability to cure all disappointment and restore all loss. Because of Him, we will experience blessings beyond our imagination. Heavenly creatures will stand in awe of us. As we rest in that coming reality, our hearts will stop warring and grow tranquil.  We’ll begin to sense a recovery from this debilitating disease. And one day, when we see Jesus, and He takes our hand in His, we will be fully and permanently cured.

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