Looks, Brains, Money and Other Stuff

Many of you might remember the mascot, Alfred E. Neuman, of Mad Magazine. He was always on the cover of every issue, and the statement “What–me worry?” was emblazoned across the top of the monthly publication. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you’re either too young, or you were doing something more productive than I was in the 70’s…..like being responsible. Anyway, I can’t figure out how the slogan”What–me worry?” has anything to do with the magazine itself, but it’s a catchy tagline that immediately identifies the magazine to me to this day. I’d wager (well, not really) that if I polled people over the age of 60, and asked what magazine the phrase comes from, 75% would get it right, whether they read the magazine or not. The marketing department got it right when they created their catchy tagline…. they successfully branded themselves by using it.

So, what is my point? That we are remembered in people’s minds by certain things they recall about us through the way we brand ourselves. What identifies you and me? When someone thinks of you, what do you want them to remember most? Something about your looks? Your success in life? Your athleticism? How smart you are? Those qualities are commendable, but they don’t set us apart as believers. They’re worldly qualities that are just as present in non- believers as those who follow Christ. Those things don’t tell others what we believe, they don’t define our character, and they don’t identify who we follow.

God says through Jeremiah in 9:23-24, “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts, boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” When we read that, we immediately think, I don’t boast or brag. Well, maybe not with our mouths, but boasting isn’t only about what we say. That’s only one use of the word. Another use defines it this way: “A feature that is a source of pride”, or “to glory in”, such as, “the hotel decor boasts of its luxury.” Obviously, a hotel is a non-verbal entity, but it’s decor still sends a message about its identity. When we read, “the heavens declare the glory of God”, it’s the same idea. God takes pride in what He has created. It’s part of how we identify Him. So, if boasting isn’t only a spoken thing, but can also be a silent source of pride, then this begs the question, What things do I silently or openly glory in? Again, I’m not suggesting that we hide our successes under a bushel basket, but is there something else about us that we’d like for others to know, which would brand us as the people of God in Christ, other than money, stuff, brains, and more.

If you’ve ever read about the 5 love languages, you might recall that everyone has a receptive love language. (A love language is a gesture from others that particularly affirms the fact to you that you’re loved/ valued by them.) It doesn’t take me long to identify that my love language is “Words of Affirmation”. In other words, I feel loved or valued when I receive affirmations that I’ve done something well, i.e. a trophy, a statement of appreciation, a certificate, a pat on the back, etc. I also realize that I take far too much pleasure in a job I’ve done well. It’s a source of pride for me. How do I know this isn’t just a healthy attitude, but instead is an unhealthy characterization?…. Because I find it difficult not to point out to others that I did it. I’m far too quick to take the credit…to glory in it. One of the signs in myself that would indicate I’m growing in the right way, is to be quiet about my accomplishments. Humility is hard; it requires selflessness, and my sinful nature operates under the assumption that life is all about me. Carly Simon’s lyrics “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you”, describes my human heart. Of course, God said it first! As a result, pride has the ability to enter the picture for you and me on every level of life. Think of the everyday things we take pride (boast) in:

Look at how much emphasis our culture puts on fitness…. how good we can look; our strength. I’m not talking about just a healthy lifestyle; I’m talking about the time and effort we pride ourselves on to be ‘better than’ or ‘more than’. It isn’t enough to be in decent shape as a stand-alone quality. We have to be in better shape than the next person because we pride ourselves on the fact that we’re more disciplined, or more persevering, or more athletic. The shape we’re in boasts of our determination to others. All of this is good…. until it becomes a self-affirming means of branding ourselves. A boast of outward appearance that comes from a source of inner pride that says, “Look at me.”

I’ve always liked the Rocky the Flying Squirrel cartoon series. I’ll never forget a quote from Bullwinkle Moose when he and Rocky were having a contest about who could be the best at something. They were arguing about who would win, and Bullwinkle said in his dopey way, “When it comes to humility, I am the greatest!” You see… even when he was seeking to become more humble, his boast was that he had to be the best at it.

How about the way we take pride in where or how we get educated… to gain wisdom? There is much to be said in favor of a college degree, but which college, if any? These days, if someone aspires to learn a trade, instead of higher education, they’re considered to be ‘less than’ the brightest and the best. Or, if someone is accepted into an Ivy League school, it automatically pegs them as smarter (not just academically). Would you classify yourself as a failure if you could only be accepted into a community college? Do you pride yourself on the fact that you’re wiser than average? Once again, this achievement is commendable, but it has become a source of your pride and identity if you feel ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ your peers. Wisdom isn’t only gained through academics. It comes from living life, listening to the voice of reason, learning the fear of the Lord. However, on the down-side, if a wise person takes it to extreme and becomes ‘dull’ to listen to others, they have become prideful. Their wisdom or intelligence has become a source of their confidence, and their glory is to see themselves as superior. They identify only with other great minds, and the lowly insight of others is viewed as inferior or rubbish. They think,”You don’t know what I know.”

Finally, let’s look at the last thing God says through Jeremiah about how we shouldn’t boast….in riches, and the stuff that money buys. Granted, money doesn’t buy happiness, but who wouldn’t rather be rich than poor? We love stuff! Money creates status in so many ways. It buys houses, cars, the latest gadgets, world travel and the best restaurants, among many other things. However, there is something far more negatively insidious about what money will do. It creates a sense of independence from others. It allows a person to be free of having to expose themselves as weak and needy, and gives them the opportunity to hide behind the power. Money holds its possessor hostage to the belief that more is better, and a path to financial security means things are okay. We glory in how much we can amass while we’re here on earth. It feels good. It says to it’s owner, “I’m smart, I’m wise, and I’m free.”

There was a time in my past where my husband and I made a better than average income at a young age. We had done well professionally, and had purchased all the bells and whistles our money would buy. We weren’t believers at the time. As the months went by, after turning our lives over to Christ, God knew that I depended way too much on status and stuff, so He saw to it that our income plummeted into a complete nosedive. We just about lost, sold, and bartered everything, except a Mercedes Benz that I drove. Things got so bad that I had to supplement our income by carrying a newspaper route…. while driving the Mercedes. Talk about embarrassing! (I have some funny stories about those times.) What the Lord taught me was invaluable. I hadn’t realized it, but I had taken on a new silent boast when we had money. I saw myself as “better”, and the Lord knew I needed to be pruned of my pride in that. No wonder the Bible says that “(the love of) money is the root of all evil”. It gave me an extremely false sense of importance. Even though that time in my life was painful, it needed to happen. I’m still human and I love stuff, but the grace of God has given me a different take on what I have. It’s all from His hand….I take no credit for any of it. It can disappear as quickly as God knows it needs to if I begin to lose perspective again.

So, knowing that God addresses these innate boasts of ours as things we shouldn’t take an unhealthy pride in, what does He mean in Jeremiah 9, when He says that if we boast in anything, we should boast in Him? In other words, how do our lives reflect the fact that God is the giver of all that we have and all that we’re able to accomplish? And, how would that identify and brand us for others to remember? The Hebrew word “boast” used in this passage means the same thing as the English word….”to take pride in” or “to glory in”. In other words, God says that if we’re going to glory in something, let it be that we “know and understand the Lord”. Sounds good, but what the heck does it mean?? To know and understand the Lord sounds like something humanly unattainable and far too lofty. In this context, the Hebrew translation for ‘knows and understands’ simply points to the fact that because we glory in and celebrate who God is and what he’s done, then we’re always to be aware of that fact. He is the One to always be acknowledged as the Giver of all, and that includes our intelligence, efforts to look good, job status and financial success.

The psalmist says in Psalm 29:1-2, “Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness. “

This should produce humility, instead of pride. It should produce an awe that He would even notice or bother with us. Consequently, when we recognize that God, through Christ, humbly came to love and serve us, it should motivate us to become more selfless, and less prideful, through His example. Jesus carried the mark of God. He identified himself as a suffering servant, humbly washing feet, and ultimately offering himself up as a sacrifice for us. How will others recognize that brand we bear…. our mark of ownership by Christ? They will see it through our self- sacrificing, quiet, humility and service to others. A willingness to serve, regardless of the cost. I once heard someone say, ‘You can’t wash someone’s feet when you’re standing on a pedestal. ” So true. As believers who glory in God’s majesty, we’re humbled to decrease as He increases. When we struggle with humility, it’s a direct indication that we’ve lost sight of Him, and instead have proudly gazed upon ourselves.

I have a long way to go in this area. I’m not very quiet about much, and it’s a challenge to me. However, I’m confident the Holy Spirit will grow me because He is most satisfied in me as I’m most satisfied in Him. I’m going to memorize Proverbs 27:2, this week: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips. ”

May the mark of Christ be evident in you this week as you glory in Him!

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