Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Black and White of Death and Life

This is the transcript of a devotional talk I gave tonight to the First Alliance Church Photography Group monthly meeting. I post it here by request for those who wish to read it again.

“There is a way that seems right to a man but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Prov. 14:12 KJV (There is a way that seems right to a woman also…)

What are “the ways of death”?  Things that cause death? Is this only spiritual? Let’s list a few:
  • The thousands of choices that don't bring life
  • Words that tear down
  • Critical spirit
  • Waste
  • Sin
  • Ingratitude
  • Looks can kill
  • Withdrawal
  • Weapons
  • Self-protection
  • Covetousness
  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Comparison
  • and more...
A college classmate of mine in a large town was recently found dead. He had passed away almost two weeks before, they think. His lack of close relationships, solitude and loneliness led to his death. Scientists say you can literally die of a broken heart. Emotional diseases can kill your “life” before your body ever takes its last breath.

I’m going to focus for just a moment on how “comparison” brings death. I personally believe comparison is the eighth deadly sin.

When I compare myself to others, two possible things happen. If I think myself "better", it can lead to a superiority attitude and condescension. If I view myself as "worse", it leads to humiliation, shame or covetousness.

Feeling like I’m better or like I’m worse are two sides of the same coin of pride. Heads or tails it's all the same: Heads I win, tails you lose. Heads you win, tails I lose.

We may have emotional or mental storehouses, hordes of “pride coins” - different denominations by which we compare ourselves to others.

The pennies of possessions.
The silver dollars of wealth.
The gold bullion of appearance.
The platinum of position.

Each, with purely symbolic face value, minted by the Kingdom of Self, hoarded in the Bank of My Own Mind. Tokens with no guarantee that debase another's currency. Or that minimize our value before God and others. Or that give us a sense that somehow we deserve to stand before a holy God.

Listen to this life-giving perspective from Romans 12:3 MSG:
"I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what God does for us, not by what we are and what we do for God."

I'm sort of on the flip side of the coin that what I bring isn't good enough (still another comparative term).  So many of us struggle with this basic lie in our lives: “Nothing I can do is ever good enough” or I am not pretty enough, thin enough, young enough, tall enough, rich enough, nice enough...  The end of it is simply, "I am not enough."

I struggle with this in photography. I know there are those of you who produce a much higher quality photograph, so I have to intentionally choose to offer what I can, from where I'm at, knowing that if I come to these monthly meetings and participate in the bi-weekly challenges in our Facebook group, I will learn something or possibly even help someone else. It is life-giving to participate in a community like this. Each of us has something to contribute. Each of us can learn from one another.

The best example of this is how the Body of Christ operates when it is healthy and all are exercising their God-given gifts. See the Apostle Paul’s take on this in 1 Corinthians 12 MSG:

“God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:
  • wise counsel
  • clear understanding
  • simple trust
  • healing the sick
  • miraculous acts
  • proclamation…”
Here we see the list of the ways of life, rather than "the ways of death". Paul goes on:

“All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. God decides who gets what, and when.

“Think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together… As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

I learn more of God by seeing how these gifts are used in each of you. So, no comparisons, okay? Respect the gifts, respect the Giver. Use your gifts, whatever they may be. You are right where God wants you. And God will be glorified.

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