Seth Godin, Status, and the Christian

I’ve been listening to an audiobook of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing. He talks about the importance of status as the reason why people do things and the difficulty of getting them to change if it means going against what gives them status. According to Seth, people acquire status by affiliation or domination, i.e., “I’m part of this group,” or “This is mine!” He tells a story about young men in a tribe who acquire status by killing lions as their rite of passage. This has led to a significant decrease in the number of lions in their area. And he says that trying to change them by trying to convince them that killing lions is wrong or bad won’t work. What works is getting them to change their perception of acquiring status. For example: Be a lion-saver, not a lion-killer!

I think there’s an insight here that relates to Christianity. Part of the motivation involved in the change in a person’s conduct when he becomes a Christian has to do with the way he perceives his status: he is now affiliated with Christ and he identifies with his fellow Christians. They read their Bibles, so does he. They pray and sing hymns, so does he. They go to church, so does he.

This isn’t peer pressure or herd mentality; this is biblical teaching, or if you like, biblical psychology. You see yourself in a new way, you then act in a new way, and it helps that you’re part of a group that sees and acts in this new way. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self…” “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” (See Colossians chapter 3).

New identity, new self, new affiliation, new practices. New status!

Know when to stop

“Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.”

Greed has no bounds. The danger of desiring to be rich is that there might never come a time when you’ll feel rich enough. And so you’ll be forever toiling with all the anxiety and stress such toil entails. Not to mention that being obsessed with becoming rich can destroy your relationships and your health. “Keep your life free from love of money,” because greed can consume you. It can even kill you.

So know when to stop. Agur (see Proverbs 30) had discernment; he prayed, “Give me neither poverty or riches.” Paul too had discernment; he said, “Having food and clothing, let us be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8)

Do we exercise discernment when it comes to acquiring wealth? Do we know when to stop?

Lord, help me not to be greedy for wealth. Help me know when to stop. Amen.

Master of One Thing

“They said that Dioscorus of Namisias made his bread out of barley, and his soup out of lentils. Every year he made one particular resolution: either not to meet anyone for a year, or not to speak, or not taste cooked food, or not to eat any fruit, or not to eat vegetables. This was his system in everything. He made himself master of one thing, and then started on another, and so on each year.” (The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks)

Very good advice on productivity from a most unexpected source! Master one thing at a time. Don’t move on to the next thing until you’ve mastered that one thing. Also, learn something new every year.

Obadiah

“Now Obadiah feared the Lord greatly, and when Jezebel cut off the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah took a hundred prophets and hid them by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water.” (1 Kings 18)

Obadiah seems to be one of the great forgotten people in the Bible. He is virtually unknown compared to David, Moses, etc. But he’s not a nobody. What he did was not only praiseworthy; it was truly remarkable. At the risk of losing his life had he been caught, he saved a hundred of God’s prophets and fed them. What he did was both loving and courageous. And the key to it all was because he feared the Lord greatly. Others during his time probably feared the Lord too; but his reverence for God was greater than theirs, for he feared the Lord GREATLY. Great acts of love and courage require great fear and reverence for the Lord.

How much do we fear the Lord? Do we dare to do great things for him and his people?

Lord, help me to fear you greatly so that I may love and serve your people greatly. Amen.

Vanity of Vanities?

“Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring very work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 KJV)

You can’t be blamed if the impression you get from reading Ecclesiastes is that “Everything is vanity” must be its theme. But when you reach chapter 12, there seems to be a great reversal of this theme. Instead of “Nothing matters,” this time everything matters because God will judge everything you do. The fact that God is there and will judge everything we’ve done makes everything we do significant. Our lives and actions are meaningful because there is a God who will evaluate all these and will stamp his seal of approval (or disapproval) upon all that we’ve done. If so, we have to make sure we’re ready to face him on judgment day.

The jar of flour and the jug of oil

“The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17)

The Lord provides!

He made the brook at Cherith from which Elijah drank, and he commanded the ravens to feed him day and night.

And when the brook dried up he commanded a widow – of all people! – whose food supplies were about to run out, to feed him.

And even in the worst of times, a severe drought, “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”

Why, then, do I worry?

Forgive me, Lord, for the many times I’ve worried about provisions in life. Help me to trust that you will provide for all our needs even in the worst of times. Amen.

Thomas Merton on Spirituality

“The spiritual life is first of all a life. It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived.”

But if so, then spirituality must be an engagement with ordinary life, not a withdrawal from it. Merton himself said, “Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of His time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time.”

And to think that the most spiritual human of them all spent the greater part of his life being a carpenter rather than a preacher! Hands-on engagement with life rather than abstract contemplation of it – that is spirituality.

“The spiritual life is not, therefore, a life entirely uprooted from man’s human condition and transplanted into the realm of the angels … If we are to become spiritual, we must remain men.”

Spirituality, then, is a form of humanism; an acceptance of one’s humanity, not a denial thereof. After all, we are human beings, not angels. This does not mean that we tolerate the sins done in and through the body; it means that this weak human flesh can be an instrument of righteousness – if we present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

God’s Anger

“God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation everyday.” (Psalm 7)

God can and does feel anger, but it is a righteous anger consistent with his righteous character. The Bible depicts God as a being who has emotions, but these emotions are under his control. If ever he becomes angry it is because he chooses to be. It is in this light that we should understand the biblical passages that describe him as being provoked by our sins. Being omniscient, he is not caught by surprise by them; nevertheless, he is genuinely provoked and his anger is genuine as well.

“If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword.” (Psalm 7)

The threat is real and should not be taken lightly. In 1 Kings ch. 16, because Baasha provoked the Lord God of Israel to anger with his idols, the Lord destroyed all his house (i.e., family) through the hand of Zimri, in accordance with what the Lord spoke by Jehu the prophet.

Do we take the Lord’s anger lightly? Do we provoke him to anger?

Lord, forgive us for the many times we have provoked you to anger. Help us to fear you with a holy fear. Amen.

For a Dear Friend Who Recently Died

His soul has gone to heaven,
his body left behind,
his friends are all a-weeping,
his loved ones all resigned

to what they deem unchangeable
– the Almighty’s stern decree:
The soul, although immortal,
must soon the body flee.

But still they bravely carry on,
their grief can’t overwhelm them.
They know the One and Only Son
will comfort and sustain them.

And tho’ their loved one might be gone,
’tis only for a season.
The One and Only Son shall come,
and he will rise again!

(Written on 03 December 2017)