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I believe some of you are thinking, “Isn’t there a 3rd option? I’d rather be a Big Bang Theorist since I would get more TV exposure and nobody would understand what I said, just like usual ... only then I would have an excuse!”
We’ll come back to that thought after I explain the inspiration for this topic, which has not yet been fully (or even partially, for that matter) revealed. Many years ago, Pastor Foote at Pomerado Christian Church told me the humor in the Perihelion reminded him of an author I had never heard of before named Donald Miller. I am doubly appreciative of that comment because now I have had the pleasure of reading almost everything written by Miller and now I also know what a great compliment that was!
In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Don shares about a friendship he developed with an atheist named Laura at Reed College. Reed College was once selected by Princeton Review as the college where students were most likely to ignore God. Laura was brilliant and they had many deep discussions about the problems of our world. Don told her that he believed it was possible that problems like racism were the symptom of a greater disease. The root of the answer to our world problems is not people being more religious, or the wickedness of man, or wars … it is self-absorption.
“What I mean is, as a human, I am flawed in that it is difficult for me to consider others before myself. It feels like I have to fight against this force, this current within me that, more often than not, wants to avoid serious issues and please myself, buy things for myself, feed myself, entertain myself, and all of that. All I'm saying is that if we, as a species, could fix our self-absorption, we could end a lot of pain in the world” (p. 41).
After many more discussions and much time had passed, Don received the following e-mail from Laura. “Dearest friend Don, I read through the book of Matthew this evening. I was up all night. I couldn't stop reading so I read through Mark. This Jesus of yours is either a madman or the Son of God. Somewhere in the middle of Mark I realized he was the Son of God. I suppose this makes me a Christian. I feel much better now. Much love, Laura” (p.58).
So I ask the question … are you a SpongeBob who is self-absorbed or are you poured out like the title of the Red Hot Chile Peppers song says, to unselfishly “Give it away”?
I came across this staggering statistic last year shared by David Platt. The average American church-goer gives 2% (not the 10% tithe) of his/her income to the church. The average North American church gives 2½% for missions to reach the world for Christ. That means that for every $100 the average church-goer earns in America, only 50 cents goes to the local church to reach the rest of the world with the love of God!
I have a fun story I want to share with you, which barely qualifies as an example for this topic. Even though I have spoken in front of crowds of thousands of people (not to mention having worn wigs in front of the aforementioned crowds) I am an introvert at heart. I share with my Evangelism in the 21st Century college class that this is why I Peter 3:15 is probably my favorite evangelism verse. It simply says to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope … not to figure out ways to twist a conversation to try to get it to be about God. God certainly has His ways to arrange those conversations in his timing. For instance, 2 years ago I wrote (I have also shared it live with thousands of you) about the privilege of leading Pat Vedrin to the Lord after we finally prayed and asked God to do the saving. I have rarely told anyone that the conversation somehow began from a discussion on whether a tree makes a noise in the forest if no one is there to hear it. Our current home group leader, John Momsen, asks a similar modern question. If a man is speaking in the forest and there are no women around to hear him, is he still wrong?
So because of my introverted nature, I usually prefer to simply read on the airplane rather than engage anyone in conversation. However, because of 1 Peter 3:15 and my desire to invest my life in others for all of eternity, I often pray to let God know I’m available if He would like for me to speak to any one. “Here are my hands, here is my mouth, use me anyway You desire. God, I don't want to be self-absorbed.”
I prayed this prayer as I got on the airplane to fly from the Cincinnati/N.KY airport back home to San Diego to meet up with my wife on New Year's Eve. She was in the San Francisco Bay Area as we had both been visiting our families separately for the first time over the holidays. Neither God nor any of the other passengers seemed to take me up on my offer so I enjoyed reading a Christian fantasy book similar to those written by C.S. Lewis. As we approached the runway in San Diego, the fog thickened so much that I could not even see the lights on the plane much less those on the runway. At the last second, the pilot gunned the engine and we ascended back up into the night sky. It’s always fun when that happens as you actually get to see your life flash before your eyes! We were informed by the pilot that the fog was not going to allow us to land and we were being diverted to Los Angeles. WooHoo! Kristen should have landed 45 minutes earlier so it looked like we were going to miss spending New Year's Eve together.
When we landed at LAX I called Kristen and asked her to guess where I was. She immediately guessed correctly (although technically it wasn't really a guess because she already knew as she had been tracking our flight). She asked me to guess where she was and I was totally wrong because I had no tracking equipment on my plane! It turns out she was still in San Francisco because they had not even allowed her plane to take off because of the fog.
As the time approached midnight, they herded us together into a Greyhound bus to drive us down to San Diego. This was not exactly my ideal plan for New Year's Eve but I tried to stay upbeat and find a good seat on the bus. The first seat I sat in was toward the front of the bus, which filled up quickly and I decided if I had any hope of sitting alone I would need to move toward the back of the bus. I thought I had a seat to myself when right at the end a large couple boarded the bus. The man decided to sit next to me as his wife sat a few seats away. I do not want to judge anyone by appearance but I once was on a plane with a group of WWF, or WWE, or WWD40 wrestlers (they keep changing their initials) including Andre the Giant. This man made Andre look like one of the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz!
At this very moment, I was “filled with the Spirit” and felt led to be unselfish, asking the wife if she would like to trade places with me to sit next to her husband. :-) She took me up on my offer and now I finally arrived in my third seat, exactly where the Lord wanted me. As I started to read my book, the young lady sitting next to me asked what I was reading. I explained a bit about the book as she started to glance through it. Then she showed me her writings on death and time so I decided to go full-on into some of C.S. Lewis's fascinating thoughts on time, since she had mentioned she was familiar with him. Next she asked what I did for a living! It turns out I was sitting next to Chatty Cathy. Actually her name was Jennifer and for some strange reason she got very excited when I mentioned I was a Christian retreat speaker, among other things.
It turns out she was from someplace like Indonesia and her father had become a follower of Jesus Christ somewhere along the line. She was very fascinated with religions and whether they all led to God. I gave her a few examples, including the thought that most prophets like Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed were simply men trying to help others get to the top of the mountain, so to speak. However, there was One who started at the top of the mountain and did not claim to be just a mere mortal (more liar/lunatic/Lord theology from C.S. Lewis) but since He originated from the top of the mountain, or Heaven, He alone knew exactly how to get us there. Jennifer told me she had never thought of it that way but it made great sense to her. Needless to say, we ended up having a fabulous eternity conversation the entire 2 hours down to San Diego!
When I talked to Kristen later, I told her about the “availability prayer” & how God had delayed opening those doors for a conversation until the bus ride because of the fog. Then it dawned on her, “So you're the reason we got fogged in and nobody got to land at the San Diego airport!” Even though I had gotten little sleep and it was close to 6 AM EST from where I had just flown, I was full of energy and overjoyed to have spent this New Year's Eve investing in eternity. Things did not go the way we planned; however, they ended up being so much better the way God planned them! And Kristen and I spent a wonderful Jan. 1 together!
How does one know if one is self-absorbed? What are one’s highest priorities? Is it to keep from experiencing pain and discomfort or to have fun and be blessed or to love others and God?
If you had to buy a vowel, would it be an “I” or a “U”? It seems that we all want I-Phones these days more than U-verse. When we are self-absorbed, we are focused primarily on ourselves.
In the midst of researching this topic, I was drawn to a very timely quote by Pastor Charles Cutney in one of his thought-provoking articles from the 1st SBC North Hollywood newsletter. “…Self-centered (people) are looking to have their own needs met – first, last and always. As a result, they are never really happy, because no one can ever completely meet their expectations.”
Instead of being self-centered, we need to be self-sacrificing. If we die to our old selfish life and allow Jesus to live through us, then we will be able to unconditionally love the unlovely and forgive those who hurt us. Jesus will actually love them through us.
“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” (Phil. 2:3,4).
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