Gifts, Calling, Narcissism and “The Voice”

You have got to be kidding me!  Not having satellite programming, combined with a lack of watching evening television, caused me to be surprised again by a show I hadn’t heard of called,  “The Voice.”  I quickly thought, “how many more of these American Idol type shows will they come up with?”   It took me about 5 seconds to discern the familiar storyline, “I have a gift/talent, I am unknown, I need to be discovered so my talents are shared with the world, and I will become rich and famous.”  American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, X factor, and America’s Got Talent all follow this similar genre, and speak of something very pronounced in our culture.

George Harrison wrote and recorded a song in the late 60s called “I Me Mine” that would be a great opening for most of these shows because it describes what they are about,  “All I can hear: I-me-mine, I-me-mine…Everyone’s saying it flowing more freely than wine I-I, me-me, mine.”   Another way to define it is Narcissism.   Narcissus is a mythological figure who fell in obsessive love with his own reflection.  Narcissism didn’t start with that  figure in Greek Mythology, it started way before that with Lucifer.  He was the most gifted/talented of all the angels, and his beauty caused Him to advance himself at the expense of God’s calling for him.

The psychological definition of Narcissism is an egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others.  Research psychologist Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell published a book a couple of years ago called “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” In the book they say that the narcissistic personality traits have become so pervasive in American culture that they threaten to transform us into a nation of egomaniacs.  In their book they cite research from 2006 in which 51% of 18- to 25-year olds said that “becoming famous” was an important goal of their generation – nearly five times as many as named “becoming more spiritual” as an important goal.  I am sure that percentages are  higher now.

As Christians, our obvious concern is that we avoid getting swept up in the Narcissistic spirit  (the Bible calls it our flesh).  We not only want to avoid it, but also live in a way that works to deliver others from their narcissistic chains.

Discerning gifts and callings in their Biblical context

We need to consider the relationship between gifts and calling to avoid the clutches of narcissism.  Every saint has been given gifts/talents,  and they are to be used to fulfill their calling.  We should never pursue our giftedness for selfish ends.  If we do, the very gift that God has given us will become an idol that we narcissistically seek to advance.

Giftedness does not stand alone in helping us discern our callings.  The first place Christians need to look to for that is the Bible. There are only five places in the New Testament that describe our gifts connected to His calling.  In those passages we see that gifts/talents are not given to make us famous but to build up what Christ considers important, His body, the church.  The Bible clearly declares that God is now moving to fill the earth with His presence through Christ’s  body, the church.

Eph 1:22-23 MSG  He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church.  (23)  The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.  This calling will culminate with the only two things that the Bible shows us will go on eternally in God, the Godhead and the church.

As we look at the five places in the New Testament that speak about gifts/talents and their use in our calling, we clearly see that the context is building up His body so He is revealed in the earth.  This is in sad contrast to many Christians who use their gifts for personal advancement while neglecting involvement in the church, or at best giving the bare minimum.

1Pe 4:7-11 (10)  As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another (the church) as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.

1Co 12:11-12  But one and the same Spirit works all these thing (gifts and ministries (vs 1-3), distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  (12)  For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.

1Co 14:1-40  Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy….(4)  One who speaks in a tongue edifies himself; but one who prophesies edifies the church….(12)  So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.   

Eph 4:1-16…walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called… (8)…AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.”…(11)  And He gave some as…(12)  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ…  (16)  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Rom 12:1-21…(3)  For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… (4)  For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,  (5)  so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  (6)  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly:…(10)  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another… (13)  contributing to the needs of the saints….(16)  Be of the same mind toward one another;

While our gifts/talents may vary in expressions, the central Biblical calling they need to stay rooted in is building up His eternal bride, the church, in order to display Christ in the earth right now.  Some may wonder about using our gifts/talents to reach the lost or impact the marketplace.  That is a given.  These things should be as spiritually natural as breathing.   But if we are applying our gifts/talents in those areas to the exclusion of building His church, it isn’t very Biblical.

Check out this video about Facebook friends and Narcissism.

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Joined or Connected (Pt 3) David Joined but Judas Connected

Coming into the type of relationships Jesus prayed for in John 17:20-24 means passing from relationships based primarily on convenience or perceived need, to relationships that are based on commitment to those He joins you to.  This is way different than what we see in our culture, both in and outside the church.  Relationships based on God joining you to others continue, whether it’s convenient or not, whether I need you or not, I commit myself to be a brother or sister to you.

Unfortunately, many Christians today experience only fleeting relationships with fellow believers.  There is very little real joined relationships in their lives.  They are the same type of relationships that David declared were absent at certain points in his life. Ps 142:1-4 I cry aloud with my voice to the Lord…4 Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul.

Walking with a covenant keeping God should motivate you toward covenant

David was a great example of one who understood the importance of being a covenant keeper.  Eventhough he had times like at Ziklag, when people didn’t honor covenants with him, he was a covenant keeper.  He understood that his approach to covenant was based on God’s example, not man’s. He walked in commitments even when it hurt.  Psa 15:1-4 A Psalm of David. O LORD,…Who may dwell on Your holy hill? (2) He who walks with integrity…But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change.  The moral ethic of covenant is greater than personal hurt because God is a covenant keeping God and those who walk with him will be as well.

A great example of this in David’s life was the way he treated Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.  God joined David to Jonathan in covenant 1 Samuel 18:1.  It says that David and Jonathan’s soul was “knit” together and they made a covenant.  Jonathan had a son, Mephibosheth, who became crippled when his nurse dropped him after Jonathan’s death.

Afterward David looked to find any relative of Saul and Jonathan to bless them because of the covenant he made.  2Sa 9:1-11 Then David said, “Is there yet anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (6) Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and prostrated himself… (7) David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly…So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table as one of the king’s sons.

In an age in which people relate together based on perceived needs, desires, or advantage, Mephibosheth makes no sense.  He was crippled and couldn’t care for himself.  He possessed no strength, land, or any thing that would be of benefit to David.  Yet David gave him a place at his table and took care of him. Why, for no other reason than covenant.  Like Psalms 15 says, those who dwell with God swear “to his own hurt and does not change.”  It was only because of the covenant that he made in the sight of God.

This is quite a contrast to a story I heard not that long ago of a Christian wife whose husband was injured in an automobile accident. The accident caused a loss of mobility and a head injury had affected his personality.  The wife who filed for divorce, was looking to justify herself to others and said, “this isn’t the same person I married, they have changed.” When I heard it I couldn’t help but think of Mephibosheth. He was damaged goods and was going to cost David time and money.   His father Jonathan was dead. The only reason David honored the covenant was that he was walking with a Covenant keeping God.  This caused him to “swear to his own hurt, and not change.”

Connections without joining make us more like Judas instead of David

Everyone likes the idea of having friends and relational connections because God created us to live relationally.  Judas liked his place among the twelve and liked the intimacy with Jesus.  At the last supper Jesus was initiating a New Covenant with the twelve with His life. Judas on the other hand was approaching his relationship with Jesus with personal advantage in mind.  He wanted 30 pieces of silver and betraying Jesus would help him get it. I think he loved Jesus (he betrayed him with a kiss) but had personal advantage mixed in with it.  The Judas spirit always wants intimacy and personal advantage without covenant.

Unlike Judas, David honored covenant by giving Mephibosheth a place at the table.  There was no personal advantage Mephibosheth could bring David.  David, like Jesus, only thought covenantally. One of the things we all find security in with God is that He is faithful and keeps covenant. Can you imagine how insecure we would be if He wasn’t like that.  As God dwells among His house He wants us to reflect His same image.  Eph 1:23 MSg…The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

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Joined or Connected (Pt 2) “Connected for Convenience or Joined in Covenant”

Jesus gathered His team together one last time before heading to His suffering and the atmosphere was thick with anticipation. His disciples knew something important was about to happen as Jesus expressed His deep (“earnest”) desire to meet with them this one last time. Luk 22:15 And He said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. Like anyone else meeting someone important to them for the last time, their words would be significant.

It would be something like a father calling his family to his death bed to speak and pray important things over them. At the end of the Jesus’ dialogue He prays a very important prayer. He ask for something to happen among them, as well as others who would believe in the future.

John 17:20-24 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; (21) that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (22) “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; (23) I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity(Gk into a unit), so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

When people hear the idea of oneness/unity they are prone to associate it with something other that what Jesus had in mind. It is easy for other man centered ideas to creep in regarding oneness/unity. It can be a shallow type of unity that isn’t very real. It can also be seen as merely connecting with others for personal benefit, convenience, and/or self fulfillment. Jesus puts oneness in another context, the Godhead. He prayed that the relationship that exists among the Godhead would be the type of relationships that His people walk in.

Even in the church people view relationships with a “what will I get out of it” mentality?  That foundation usually causes people to use relationships then walk away from them when they are not longer beneficial or convenient.

The Godhead doesn’t think or act that way.  They are joined.  They are an essential part of each other’s lives and futures.   It would be impossible for any of Them to disregard any of the others.  It would be like cutting out an essential organ that you couldn’t live without.

This is different than much of the church world.  I remember visiting some friends who had a close friend from Bible College that they were trying to envision about relationships.  She was leaving a staff position at a mega church and moved to another town.  She was beginning to meet with some people from her new church and my friends where hoping she would touch a more genuine relational life.  They were disappointed with her account of a previous lunch meeting with some of her new church members,  “the lunch went okay, but I am just trying to make contact with the ‘right people’ who will put me in contact with the staff who would hire me for ministry.” That type of relationship,  relating for personal advancement, isn’t what Jesus had in mind.  We aren’t to relate based on which I can get out of it, but who has God joined me to.

The Problem and  Solution to Godlike Oneness

The Trinity possesses two important traits that enable them to walk in oneness, faithfulness and covenantDeuteronomy 7:9 NASB  “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant.  When God enters into covenant, He is all there, through the good times and the bad.  He is not looking for exit strategies.  He is committed and connected to  those He enters into covenant with.

As our culture drifts further away from God we also drift further away from the ideas of faithfulness and covenant.  In marriages it used to be “till death do us part.”  Now it is more like, “until death, or a change in mind do us part.”

You have to die into covenant.  Jesus spoke of this as He was heading to His own suffering to effect the New Covenant.    John 12:24-25 NASB  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  The writer of Hebrews also mentions a similar thing Heb 9:16  For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.

The word used for “covenant” is defined as, “cutting, a compact (because made by passing between pieces of flesh), or confederacy.”  This was based on the cultural practice by which people made covenant together (seen in Genesis 15:9-17).  Animals were cut in half and both bloody halves were placed on the ground opposite of each other.  Those making the covenant had to walk through the divided carcasses.  It was walking through the bloody mess of death together so that as Jesus said in John 12 24-25 our life and love will be multiplied.

When you make a covenant you die to an element of independence as you embrace a new relationship with another.  Just like in a marriage, my single life is dead.  I now live my life in an joined partnership with another, we are one.  My life is forever altered.   I am now a member of them and they of me as the scriptures indicate.

Eph 4:25  Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.

Rom 12:5  so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

We will either be content with casual connections with those we sit next to on a Sunday mornings or we will reach for a joined way of life together in covenant, just like the Trinity.

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Joined or Connected (Pt 1) “If we stay together we survive”

Even though I am aging into responsible adulthood, there are still certain things, like movies, that appeal to the masculine spirit in me. Sometimes I still feel like a ten year old boy when I watch movies where the good guy overcomes tremendous odds to get the bad guy and rescue people. For me the movie “Gladiator” was like this.

One of my favorite scenes was the recreation of the battle of Carthage in the Roman Coliseum. Russell Crowe and the gladiators with him were playing the part of the barbarians in the battle that the Roman army defeated. As they were waiting for the gates to open, not knowing what was going to come out at the, Crowe asked the other gladiators if any have been in the army, to which many responded that they had. He went on to draw from his military background with a tremendous quote that causes the hairs on the back of my masculine, adolescent neck to stand up. “Whatever comes out of these gates we have a better chance of survival if we work together… If we stay together we survive.”  Wow, what a line!

The gates opened and several fierce chariots came after them. The men who banded together with one another not only survived the chariot attacks, but ended up routing their enemies. Those who drifted off on their own ended up dying.

At the end of that scene, after the joined together men defeated the group representing the Romans, the Emperor ask, “My history is a little hazy Cassius, but shouldn’t the Barbarians lose the battle of Carthage” to which Cassius replied, “Yes sire. Forgive me sire.” Awesome, Go Maximus!

A Biblical Design

You can easily see that these ideas (banding together to defeat the enemy) are more than just a movie line. They are very Biblical. This is how God created and called us. We are to be joined together in an unbreakable bond, called the church. Paul understands this design and prayed that every Christian would experience it.
Colossians 2:1-2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, (2) that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from…Christ Himself

When we are “knit together” with those He joins us to we “attain” things in a way that we cannot do alone. Together we become something greater than alone. We not only survive but thrive.
Lev 26:8 NASB five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NASB Two are better than one… (10) For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. (11) Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? (12) And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

This isn’t some idea that mankind dreamed up.  It began before mankind was ever created.  The Trinity has always been joined in an unbreakable bond and we were made in Their image. Gen 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.   The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been an eternal Family/Community long before man came along.  They are Three, yet One.  They dwell in perfect harmony.  Their lives are so much a part of each other that they have distinction but you never see it without the others included.  Within the mystery of His Person, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there is individual identity, yet absolute unity in perfect sync with each other.

Each of Their individual identity is submerged in their joint identity. They always move as One. Each member is affected by the other. They see themselves as a Unit. They are not like three separate liquids in individual glasses.  Their substance has been poured into one glass.  Their substance is intermingled and takes on the characteristics of the Others. Just like in a marriage where two become one.  Their two lives joined together into one affects the identity of each.  This is how the Godhead is.

Jesus has designed His church to live this way.  We see it in His prayer for His people in John 17.  He prayed that we would  have the same type of joined together relationship that the Trinity has. Joh 17:20-23 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; (21) that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (22)…, that they may be one, just as We are one; (23) I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me.

It is impossible to express the nature of the Triune God in the earth (which is what the church is called to do) if we are living separate lives.  Alone, we will live in defeat.  Jesus said that the gates of hell will not overpower the church He is building together Mt 16:18.  It is kind of like the movie, “Whatever comes out of these gates we have a better chance of survival if we work together… If we stay together we survive.”  Every Christian needs to evaluate and ask themselves regularly, “Am I walking in the reality of a life joined with others.  Do the relationships I walk in reflect the Trinity like Jesus prayed they would?

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