Category Archives: Christianity

Self-Denial is not Self-Destruction

Many times, in our work journey, my wife and I have faced difficult environments and sought the Lord’s wisdom on whether to persevere or to find a better place for our gifts and skills. Years ago, a close friend and prayer partner remarked: “You cannot leave something just because it’s hard.”

How do we know when the current toxicity at work is a sign for fidelity under trial — or when it’s a providential indication to move on? Here’s an insight that has helped us make several transitions under trying circumstances: Biblical self-denial is not a call to personal self-destruction.

When our Lord Jesus Christ summons us to “leave all and follow” and “deny yourself and take up your cross,” it is an urgent summons for kingdom obedience — and no excuses will do in light of the master’s call. No institutions, relationships, or internal fears should hinder our obedience to the gospel call (Luke 9:57–63).

But it’s important that we understand the boundaries and focus of this summons to suffering. Our leaving, self-denying, and refusing to excuse delays means relinquishing our sovereignty in favor of God’s, choosing his will over ours. Self-denial focuses on taking off the old nature, putting on the new nature empowered by the Spirit, and submitting to the ways and will of God (Eph 4:22–24). As theologian Dale Moody once observed, “Human sovereignty leads to frustration. Divine sovereignty brings all responsive persons to fulfillment.”

Biblical self-denial, then, does not eradicate God’s callings and gifts, nor does it repudiate the good works preordained for the believer (Eph 2:10). We are accountable to our heavenly master for how we use all the resources he’s entrusted to us (Matt 25). We are also accountable to keep all his commands; therefore, any call to cross-bearing will not violate other divine commands. For example, God may take your family through deep waters, but he will not call you to stop caring for your marriage and family in the interests of work.

Consider the distinctions between biblical self-denial and unbiblical self-destruction:

  • Self-denial calls us to unselfish service; self-destruction demands we cease being the person whom God designed.
  • Self-denial calls us to bless those around us and not resent others’ success; self-destruction happens when we’re subjected to unnecessary harm.
  • Self-denial commands us to seek the good of others; self-destruction occurs when we let fear displace faith and fail to step forward.
  • Self-denial helps us discipline our responses; self-destruction leads to toxic and unjust environments that harm others.
  • Self-denial cooperates with God in our battle against sin; self-destruction is when we try to be someone else.
  • Self-denial enables us to learn new skills and adjust to rapid change; self-destruction looms when we either refuse to change or presumptively assume roles we’re unqualified to fill.
  • Self-denial means we learn emotional intelligence; self-destruction comes when we’re constantly crushed in spirit.

In challenging work environments, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to apply the above insights. Prayer with trusted family, spiritual leaders, and peers will help us “understand the hour.”

In one difficult church we served, we persevered, helped shape a new staff, and prepared a fiscal pathway for flourishing. All of this was in the midst of unfair attacks and dysfunctional relationships among some leaders. We stayed the course and things improved. Then all the pathologies reappeared in a moment, and we realized we could no longer function as faithful stewards of God’s calling.

In another settings, we persevered through multiple transitions — including times of unfair accusation — and saw the community weather the storms and come out healthy. We left that church due to a new call, not a need for healing.

There is no formula for guidance in difficulty at work, but there are biblical promises of wisdom as we seek God with all our hearts and cry out for grace (Prov 2; James 1:5). God delights in giving wisdom, and its fruits are peace and justice for ourselves and others. Before we leave a trying situation, have we done all we can to bring change that benefits the whole and not just our position?

Self-denial is not self-destruction. God allows tribulation so the character of Christ is formed in us (Rom 5:1–11). Our personalities, natural and spiritual gifts, sense of purpose, and opportunities all exist for the glory of God and the good of others. Seeking happiness is not wrong, but we must remember that it derives from pleasing God and serving others.

History is Made and the World Changes Forever

Easter. Bunnies and chocolate, egg hunts and beautiful dresses.
Easter. A time of renewal as spring is fully here.
Easter. Family feasting.

Easter includes all of these cultural expressions, some rooted in ancient spring rituals that antedate Christianity. The word itself originates with fertility deities celebrating new life. Other practices are the creations of brilliant marketeers.

For billions throughout history and around the world, however, Easter is about the most important event in human history: the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His crucifixion on Good Friday is a mere martyrdom without this divine affirmation of triumph over death. In First Corinthians, chapter 15, the Apostle Paul, himself a former persecutor of the church, declares that without the resurrection of Jesus, the entirety of the Christian faith is in vain and founded on a lie. Without the resurrection, there is no hope in our future or present as we confront evil and suffering – we might as well, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” (a famous Epicurean saying rooted in the denial of life after death).

Amidst all the chocolate and flowers, billions of Christians will declare, “He is Risen!” and respond with, “He is Risen, indeed!” this confession is at the core of the faith and ultimately, this belief is what splits history into BCE and CE or BC and AD…before Christ and “in the year of our Lord” (or “before the common era and the common era).

The resurrection declares that Jesus’ death is full of meaning: the forgiveness and sins and bearing of sicknesses, sorrows and undeserved suffering. Justice and love meet perfectly as the Incarnate One bears the penalty and shame for all human sin. But death does not win! The resurrection is also the preview of our human future as we see our destiny when the world is fully restored. Such hope, empowered by the Holy Spirit, inspires our acts of love and justice today. 

Please enjoy Easter in all its expressions…and remember that the essence of Easter is hope in Christ and an invitation to new life that is not mere pagan celebration, but spiritual transformation.

December 17: Advent Reflections, Part 1: Unlearning and Unconditional Love

Celebrating Advent and enjoying the Christmas Season warrants reflection of the love of God in Jesus and our response to this grace through our love for one another. Sometimes this requires some unlearning. Here are some historical reflections that can help us celebrate wisely.

Mary and Joseph were not poor and homeless. They were artisans and small business owners that needed temporary shelter during the census.

Shepherds were despised by much of society and represented the poor and humble. How wonderful that they are given revelation of God’s glory in the humility of Jesus!

The Magi from the East arrived about 18 months after the birth of Jesus and their caravan probably had 40-50 people. It was a major moment of honor and King Herod, already paranoid and powerful, was deeply threatened.

Interestingly, Christmas was not a universal Holiday in the USA until later in the 19th C. the combination of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s hearty celebrations imported from Germany and the marketing of Sears and Coca-Cola with Santa helped tipped the scales toward joyful gift exchange.

Advent is a season of celebration and reflection as we consider the holy humility of our Lord and the promise of peace in his coming to us. May we welcome him with open hearts and extend open hands to our neighbors.