Why We’re So Unhappy – Part II: Comparison

What does your life really have to do with their life?

Since childhood, I’ve been obsessed with analyzing life to discover what the best is.  What exactly does “obsessed” look like, you ask?  For me, it often came in the form of actual charts with complex rankings, systems that went far beyond pros/cons.  And nothing was immune to my criticism and final assessment.  The comparisons just changed as my interests in life changed – professional athletes, TV shows, school subjects, clothes, movies.  It’s true, you can ask me for my list of 250 favorite movies sometime, including my 25 favorite in each genre.  The comparisons and rankings only got less healthy from there – friends, pastors, girls (I know, before you label me as an “awful human being”, understand that I’m not justifying the behavior, simply sharing it to let you know how bad my comparison tendencies were.  Fortunately, the LORD blessed me with such a wonderful woman who gave me no more reason to ever rank again 🙂 ).  I hope that comparison to this extent has never been a problem for you.  However, obsession over comparison and analysis is so common that I will go so far as to say I guarantee it exists in your life more than you know.  And the odds are that it’s making you feel bad. 

So where do we get such a craving to compare and contrast?  Well, for starters, we see our world doing it all the time, so unless our head is in the sand, to some degree, it’s a learned behavior.  Every year the best-selling issue of People magazine is that which labels its 50 “most beautiful people”.  Every year the time that Americans are most fascinated with Barbara Walters, a pioneer female journalist, is when she trots out her list of “10 Most Fascinating People”.  One of only 3 shows to be ranked #1 in the Nielson ratings for 5 consecutive years, the most popular show in America, American Idol is nothing but performers standing in front of a panel of judges and getting compared, evaluated, and ranked.  And then there is the Miss America competition – what kind of 3rd world chauvinist came up with this thing?  We’re going to dress women up (and in the case of swimsuit competition, down), parade them around a stage, make them demonstrate whatever talent they think will endear them most to us, and finally, ask a random and painfully open question that is more than likely going to cause them to look foolish.  And finally, yes, we’re going to let a panel of B rate celebrities RANK THEM.  In the end, we’ll put a crown on the winner like she’s our queen, so she can cry, validate herself, and inspire many young women to compare themselves to one another in their clothes, swimsuits, talents, and overall looks & personality.  Maybe I’m overreacting.  This seems like a bad idea though.   

Comparison that leads to discontent is obviously nothing new.  Let’s take it back to the first sin again.  When the serpent tempted Eve in the Garden, he offered her fruit that would cause her to “become like God”.  Do you see what’s going on here?  How many people did Eve know at that point?  2 – Adam and God.  And the apparent pecking order of personal beings at this point was God – Adam – Eve.  Is it possible that this crafty serpent was preying on some brewing discontent in Eve?  “Why do I have to be the suitable helper?!  Why can’t I be more at the top, like God?”  That was appealing fruit.  Since Satan figured out that trick early on, he’s been reusing it ever since to cause each and every one of us to believe that we’re somehow shortchanged by God, deserving of much more when we compare ourselves to the world around, and desirous of leap-frogging to the top.  The discontent spawned by ongoing comparison will lead us to do and feel terrible things, from slandering others to starving ourselves to be skinnier.  

Although I now recognize the danger and destruction caused by my comparisons and have understood the importance of walking away from it, it’s still a temptation, even for a pastor.  I try to read several books/month on ways to improve a congregation’s ministry and improve myself as a pastor.  Simply by the nature of publication, the people who are writing these books are relatively successful, at least from an earthly standpoint.  And although I glean what I perceive to be many valuable insights from them, you know what feeling I’m left with almost every time I put the book down?……………a little bit of guilt because I haven’t been able to produce what that person has.  “Maybe there’s something wrong with me” if their ministry is as vibrant and engaging and growing as it is and mine is not.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that only the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word and Sacraments is capable of truly bringing someone into the “Church”.  But Satan continues to take shots at my human pride and suggest that I’m a failure if my “church”, by comparison, isn’t stacking up as well as I might hope.   

That’s just a pastor’s struggle though.  You guys are facing numerous more widespread attacks like this.  And unfortunately, like my childhood, nothing is immune to comparison – houses, jobs, spouses, kids, vacations, looks, wealth, sense of humor, intelligence, dress, and so on.  And in the past several years, the most powerful comparing device of all time has been developed, and Satan has set up shop.  It’s called Facebook.  Now, as with many abused blessings, Facebook itself isn’t evil.  In an article several weeks ago I even mentioned what an incredibly valuable asset it can be.  But, you have to recognize the temptation – it’s as simple as God’s Command not to “covet”.  Have you noticed how very few people put pictures of themselves wearing horizontal stripes online? :).  In other words, if people have 100 pictures of themselves, guess which 10 they’re likely to use as their profile pic?  The one they look the thinnest in, with the most hair, with nothing in their teeth, and with their eyes open (but not too intensely).  They post their best!  They post pictures of their new house.  They post pictures of their great vacation.  They post a witty status that they’ve thought about for a couple of minutes.  They don’t post the lame joke that probably no one would laugh at.  Almost no one posts reality!  And yet, when we bounce around from profile to profile, we assume this is their life.  We compare it to ours.  We recognize that there indeed is stuff in our proverbial teeth, our eyes are closed, and we do look a couple of pounds overweight.  And then………by comparison……….we feel awful.  How naive are we?! 

The biblically operative word that we need to find here is “contentment”.  I’ve found the Apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians to be a great source of encouragement.  In 4:11-13, he writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  I don’t think too many of us would suggest we’ve had it as rough as Paul did on many occasions.  And yet he found contentment in knowing that God was going to meet his needs, that God in Christ had forgiven him for his sins and in doing so had given him the keys to eternal life, and that in the strength he found in his Savior he could handle anything in this life and still maintain peace and happiness.  Often his “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” phrase is taken a little out of context.  Some may use it to say that God can give them the strength to run a marathon in 3 hours or bench press 500 lbs.  While that may be true, note the immediate context of what Paul’s saying.  He’s saying that despite some of the lousy conditions he’s been in, God still gave him the strength to find contentment through God’s promises.  Being satisfied in life is much more difficult for us humans than running fast or lifting heavy weights.  But with Christ-centered motivation, fleeing known temptations, and praying for strength to be content, we can find that same satisfaction that Paul found.  If we can stop comparing and start “contenting”, we’ll find satisfaction.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we find greater success along the way either.  

Here’s a (hopefully) helpful tip to get you started.  In their best-selling book Every Man’s Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker advocate a practice that they call “bouncing the eyes”.  Now, it’s worth pointing out that they’re specifically writing about men not looking at women to avoid lustful thoughts and temptation, but the fundamental mechanics of it would work for anybody who is looking at something that it causing them to sin – for our purposes today, looking – comparing – and coveting is the problem.  If looking at one person’s Facebook page always makes you feel bad about your own life, don’t look at it.  If you can’t resist, delete them from your “friends” list.  If they ask why, and you told them that your admiration for their life was leading you to covet, they’d probably go off on how unspectacular their life really is.  If looking at all sorts of people’s pages makes you feel bad, delete your account.  It’s not worth it.  The same is true in other walks of life.  If every time you see your neighbor’s new car in the driveway makes you want it, stop looking.  If seeing unrealistically muscular or emaciated actors and actresses on TV makes you feel bad, get rid of your cable and magazine subscriptions.  If reading ministry help books ever gets to the point where I know I can’t resist coveting, it’s time to stop reading them.  More time to read my Bible – no real loss after all.  It’s really simple Christian living – Be honest with yourself.  Flee your temptations.  And don’t come back until your weakness is replaced by strength.  This side of heaven, that might be never.  “Bounce your eyes” from your temptations and stop comparing your life to other people’s lives.  

The truth is, God intended their life for them.  According to his own divine plan and reason, he allowed your life to be yours.  It was specially blueprinted for you.  There’s purpose and meaning to it.  Focusing on other people’s lives (in covetous ways) is only going to cause you to lose track of God’s purpose for your life.  Renewed focus will help breed contentment.  For instance, when you examine someone else’s life and find something that you really want in it and your pride is bruised because you don’t have it, what are your natural (and sinful) human defense mechanisms?  Answer: To criticize the other person for having it.  Soon you’re criticizing everyone and everything.  And you know what, criticism generally isn’t isolated in a person’s life, it touches all aspects, including the way you view yourself.  Show me someone who is highly critical of others and I’ll show you someone who is comparing others to himself, is likely highly critical of himself, and consequently is also very unhappy.  If you can stop comparing and stop criticizing, the fun little secret is…………………YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE YOURSELF MORE.  And then, you’re going to think of yourself as highly as God, through Jesus’ blood, thinks of you too.

Why We’re So Unhappy – Part I: Pressure

Agree/Disagree – Christians are the happiest people in the world. 

I can talk forever about why Christians have more reasons in the world to be optimistic than anyone else (starting with the 1200 plus promises God makes his people in his Word).  However, it’s no secret, we live in a sinful world.  Christians don’t find themselves with any fewer circumstantial problems than the rest of the world.  In fact, Christians don’t have any fewer instances of cases of depression (and in some studies, have more) than the rest of the world.  Satan works overtime on those whom he’s attempting to pull from the path that leads to salvation.  Look at the words of biblical characters like Job, Elijah, Jonah, Jeremiah, and the Apostle Paul.  At times they clearly appear to be suffering at the very least mild forms of depression, disenchantment, and sadness.  From at least an earthly standpoint, they were at times, very unhappy. 

Over the course of the next several weeks, we’re going to spend some time taking a look at the some of the most common things that make God’s people unhappy.  We’ll seek God’s guidance and, God-willing, better understand ourselves and our lives. 

The first issue we’ll look at is PRESSURE.  Everyone faces pressure in life.  However, much of it is self-imposed pressure that comes from unrealistic expectations and perfectionist mindsets.  And when we have these mindsets, we set ourselves up for failure, at least in our own books.  And then we feel awful.

We all face some anxiety over perfectionist tendencies, to varying degrees, but I’ve included here an inventory from one of my favorite psych texts of what probably categorizes someone as a “perfectionist”.  Rate yourself from 1-4 (mild to extreme) in the following categories:

  1. I like to be in control at all times.
  2. I like things to be fair.
  3. I have a hard time saying “no” without feeling guilty.
  4. I like things to be perfect.
  5. I have high expectations of myself.
  6. I worry about what other people think.
  7. If I want something done right, I feel I should do it myself.
  8. I feel guilty easily.
  9. I do not like to fail.
  10. I feel people should listen better.
  11. I don’t like to cause conflict.
  12. People don’t appreciate all that I do.
  13. I’m not where I want to be in life.
  14. There is not enough time in my day.
  15. I don’t really feel rested.

All of these are common experiences of those who feel pressure through expectation.  And the generalization is that if you’d mark a 3 or 4 consistently on numbers 1,4,5,7,9, you’re likely a perfectionist. 

Now Christians should understand better than anyone that we are not perfect.  Romans 3:23 makes it very clear: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But we still have trouble living with that.  We still sometimes beat ourselves up over being flawed.  And I guess I’d like to make one point of clarification here – obviously we don’t want to be dismissive of moral imperfections, i.e. sins.  That would be to take Christ’s suffering and death lightly.  Conversely though, when God has completely forgiven us, for us to not forgive ourselves for being imperfect would also, in a sense, be taking Christ’s suffering and death lightly – that we feel we have to wallow in what Christ has already set us free from (this happens to be what this past Sunday’s sermon was about – http://www.resurrection-wels.org/church/sermons).  We have to forgive ourselves and we also have to accept the fact that, as flawed humans, we are not perfect.  This is not a license to sin, but it is a guide for reasonable expectations for ourselves in our lives.

Furthermore, another product of unhappiness from imperfection might not be due to moral imperfection in our lives at all, but rather just the fact that since we’re in a sinful world, mistakes are made.  These, in fact, are often the “flaws” that bug us the most.  If any of this sounds like your personality type, it’s time to stop trying to be perfect, and start trying to live with imperfection.  Post Adam/Eve fruit faux pas, perfection is simply not the real world. 

And so we’re going to set 2 goals for ourselves today to help us cope with our absense of perfection:

Goal 1) Stop Trying So Hard to Please Others – the amount of energy we spend to make ourselves “acceptable” in other people’s eyes is obscene.  Isn’t it strange how sometimes even the people that we don’t particularly like are the ones whom we try the hardest to make like us?  Why do we do that?!  Ultimately, it’s because we determine that our self worth is dictated by how this world perceives us.  You can tell already how unchristian that thought is, right? 

You are simply never going to please everybody.  The old rule is that 60%, yes, 60% of people, almost regardless of what you do, are probably not going to like you in general.  Little old me?!  Yes, lovable you.  The other 40% are going to like you most when you simply be yourself.  I remember hearing a variation of this from several pastors/professors who agreed that whatever congregation you go to, 10% of the people are probably going to like you no matter what, 5% of the people aren’t going to like you no matter what, and the other 85% or so of the people are going to see you as “the pastor” and not really have much opinion. 

If my self-esteem is based on my approval-rating from the world (or from my congregation), I’m always going to be let down.  Trying to please everyone will drive you nuts.  Good thing Jesus made it simple.  He said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27).  Essentially here, Jesus  is saying, “Seek to please God first, and that means that you’re going to love and serve others too.”  That’s going to make you as likeable of a person as possible.  Anybody who doesn’t like you then, well, they have a problem with God, not with you.  It’s not your job to waste your time and emotional energy trying to make them happy. 

Simple Rule: Seek to put God and his will first.  If someone still doesn’t like you, it’s their loss.  Don’t think about it anymore. 

Goal 2) Lower Ridiculous Expectations – Perfectionists, without consciously realizing it, tend to have a list of “shoulds” that their lives are filled with.  I should get this grade on the test.  I should land this kind of career.  I should have this much money in my bank account.  I should look like this or be this weight.  I should have these kinds of friends.  I should have these kinds of kids.  I should have this kind of spouse.  I should have this kind of house.  I should have this kind of life.  Invariably, they’re unrealistic expectations are then foisted upon others in their lives as well, making relationships difficult and at times, not enjoyable.   

Well, the “shoulds” of our lives will drive us nuts too and pressure-filled perfectionists will inevitably find out the hard way that they’re not nearly as in control of the circumstances of their lives as they think they are.  It’s horribly frustrating. 

We often lay out rigid timetables for ourselves that include things like “By 27 I want to be married and have a boy and a girl.  By 30 I want to make my first million.  By 40 I want to be the CEO of my own company.  By 65 I want to retire comfortably.”  Now careful and faithful planning is great, but there are so many considerations and variables to this plan that you have almost zero say in.  When that Mr. or Mrs. Perfect doesn’t come along by age 30 or I lose my job or health or whatever else, we’re then tempted to think either A) something is wrong with me, or B) God isn’t fair.  And it might not be based on anything other than the “shoulds” we’ve established for ourselves.  That makes us miserable.

If you are a prisoner to your own “shoulds” a worthwhile exercise is to sit down and write a list of the “shoulds” you have for your life.  Some of them will be very good and healthy goals.  Others may range from fairly silly to downright unhealthy.  If you have a “should” that is a budget that’s part of an extended plan to help yourself become debt-free, probably a healthy goal.  However, if you have a “should” that causes you to feel like a failure until you get an advanced degree or a degree in general, probably a destructive should.  Going back to school may be a great option.  However, it might not be right for your family at this moment.  And it obviously will require some time.  Preventing happiness until then would be destructive.  So……still have dreams and goals, but the key is to make them realistic and not don’t obsess about them so that you are inclined to feel incomplete without them.

Feeling complete and contented simply comes from recognizing your completion in Christ and being “okay” with everything else.  In his first letter, John uses the term “complete” numerous times to describe the joy that believers have in Christ.  We were created in the “image of God”.  We lost part of that with sin, but Jesus came to restore it in us and for us.  Practically what that means then is that I don’t have to accomplish another single thing in this life or have a single enviable item in my life that would cause the world to stand and applaud, because God still sees me as the crown of his creation and that’s all that really matters.  I don’t have to put any pressure on myself to be anyone or do anything.  That won’t make me lazy.  It will inspire me and set me free from perfectionist expectations.  It’ll allow me to take chances in life, fail, learn, grow, and succeed.  And throughout the process I can feel great that I had the courage to try and find comfort in the fact that God will work this all out for my good. 

Likewise, I don’t have to put any undue pressure on others in my life.  My 5-year-old is not going to be able to always effectively communicate with me.  My husband is not going to always understand what I’m feeling.  My co-workers aren’t going to always buy into my vision or share my industriousness.  The person in line in front of me is not always going to have their act together when I’m in a hurry and need things to move along.  I can’t control them and I can’t expect them to be perfect because I’m not perfect.    When I stop unfairly expecting perfection out of them and myself, and make my expectations more realistic, I will stop being so disappointed by everyone and everything.  The pressure will melt away.

Simple Rule: Find contentment in your identity as God’s beloved child.  Anticipate life in this sinful world to be filled with mistakes.  Allow yourself to be human.  Anticipate perfection in the next life. 

If there is undue, self-appointed pressure in your life right now, I guarantee you’re not as happy as you could be.  Step back from it all and understand that life just shouldn’t be lived that way.  Allow yourself to live as though God is in control, because he is.  Don’t worry about what others think.  Laugh at the simple, innocent mistakes.  Repent over the moral mistakes and enjoy Jesus’ forgiveness.  Release that pressure and leave the mistake-free perfection to be enjoyed where it can actually exist – in God’s presence in heaven.

Embracing Change

President Barack Obama’s campaign for office in 2008 essentially centered around one concept: change.  Regardless of whether or not you think his first year+ in office has been a success or not, it’s hard to argue against the success of his campaign.  And the fact that America voted the man who promised “change” into office indicates, at least in part, that America was not totally happy with the status quo. 

A variety of  factors may have contributed to America’s discontent with the status quo – a clearly sinking economy, America’s continued presence in the Middle East that many were unhappy about, healthcare premiums rising at frightening rates, etc..  And, perhaps, there’s the possibility that some are simply never content with life and are always seeking change. 

The opposite is also, however, true.  Some people, contented or not, absolutely despise the concept of any change.  Being deeply involved in church for my entire life, I would venture to guess this number (at least in church circles) probably far surpasses the former. 

There’s an old phrase that goes, “We don’t always know what we like, but we’re pretty sure we don’t like what we don’t know.”  Does that notion of discomfort with change ring any bells?  Let me share an example…….

My first year at seminary was the first year that the school required students to purchase a laptop and biblical language software for use in class as well as for homework.  This came about due to a growing concern that, due to other demands of time and energy, our denomination’s pastors were not keeping up with their biblical language skills that they had put so much time and effort into in their schooling.  The theory was that if managing languages became more accessible (instead of, for instance, having 4 lexicons, 3 Bibles and 10 commentaries on your desk as you’re trying to prepare a sermon) pastors would be more inclined to keep translation skills fresh.  For me personally, doing language studies via computer has been manna from the sky as far as I’m concerned – an absolute godsend.  Not everyone felt that way though.  I recall some of my classmates giving up on it within months.  They went back to only ever bringing books to class and doing language studies the “old-fashioned” way.  They’d felt that learning the new language programs was more trouble than it was worth and weren’t particularly big fans of technology, or for that matter, change.

It’s only fair to point out my own similar experience though.  Several years ago I deleted my first Facebook account.  I had one when it had originally started and was more of a “college student” thing.  In my opinion it was too much to keep up with.  As an undeniable introvert, it was more access to my life than I’d ever wanted anyone to have, and “commenting” on other people’s pages didn’t feel right to my reclusiveness either (whereas a blog feels right at home :)).  Anyways, after several years away from Facebook, I’ve now jumped back in, albeit not entirely whole-heartedly.  Why did I do it if didn’t totally enjoy it?  Because I realized Facebook isn’t going away.  Because I realized Facebook was an incredibly useful tool for staying in contact with others (particularly teens that I minister to).  Because I realized that, when used properly, Facebook can be a real blessing.  So…….it was time for me to make an uncomfortable change……………for the better. 

Cliché as it may sound, change is never easy.  However, computers aren’t going anywhere.  The internet isn’t going anywhere.  Social networks, as far as we can tell, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Somewhat oxymoronically, “change” isn’t going anywhere.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  More importantly, often it’s God-glorifying. 

I’m sitting in my office right now looking at a picture that has the phrase “Create in me a pure heart & renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  Having just acknowledged his sinfulness and understanding God’s power and willingness to forgive, King David now asks God what?  Answer: To make a CHANGE in him.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 the Apostle Paul writes “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Saint Paul writes in excited terms about a positive change – in this specific instance the change of new life that comes from Spirit-given faith.  Is change difficult?  Yes.  Does it require effort on our part?  Yes.  Might it cause us some discomfort?  Almost undoubtedly.  But it’s impossible to say that change is never good.  For that matter, I guarantee that if we’re the type of people who refuse change when it’s needed or kick and scream when we see the world changing, we’re going to experience some big headaches anyways and be left behind.

A very wise and faithful lady (you know who you are) gave me a copy of an article she’d read recently and thought I might enjoy.  I forgot which periodical, but it certainly resonated with me.  Here’s an excerpt:

The precious truth is that even though little in this life remains the same, the Lord emphatically reminds us in the Scriptures, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).  We can embrace the new things that come our way in confidence that the God who allowed them will remain steadfast.  It was His unchanging love that sent the Christ Child so we might experience a new kind of hope.  It was His unending grace that provided a Savior so we could enjoy a new kind of life.  We serve a God of new things.

 New things are approaching us all the time in life.  For that matter, new things are approaching us all the time in church.  But we always have to be careful to separate what MUST change from what CANNOT change.   Receiving God’s Word as holy, inspired, and inerrant cannot change.  A proper distinction of Law/Gospel cannot change.  Speaking openly and honestly about mankind’s tragic condition of sin cannot change.  Proclaiming God’s unending love demonstrated most clearly and most effectively in the Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection cannot change.  Loving others as Christ loved us cannot change.  In other words, obvious as it sounds, the essence of the Christian faith cannot change, or we no longer have the Christian faith.  

On the other hand, some things must change if I truly desire to faithfully communicate the gospel in 2010.  This is precisely what the Apostle Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 9 when he said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (vss. 22-23).  It wasn’t just that he indeed had the freedom to change.  Paul recognized the necessity to change in order to lovingly remove obstacles to the gospel.

What obstacles to the gospel could theoretically exist as a church?  Unfriendliness could be a problem.  Unclear or disorganized church programs could be a problem.  Poor communication could be a problem.  Tragically, even the vessels through which the church has proclaimed the gospel for hundreds and hundreds of years could become an obstacle: Complicated orders of service could be a problem.  Ancient music could potentially be a problem.

What further complicates matters is that breaking through these potential barriers can initially be uncomfortable to us.  It involves saying hi to new people.  It involves having eyes open to recognize needs as well as giving of time and energy to volunteer and lead.  It involves doing stuff we haven’t done before.  That’s not always easy.  That’s not always fun.  But in Apostle Paul-like efforts to be Jews to Jews and Gentiles to Gentiles, we need to step outside comfort zones and make some changes.  It might have worked 20 years ago.  We can learn from that.  But finally, what matters is whether or not it works today.  It might have been considered the pinnacle of music and gospel proclamation 400 years ago.  We can learn from that.  It may still be the ideal vehicle for praise today.  It may not be.  There’s rarely wisdom in throwing everything out.  But finally, what matters is whether or not it touches hearts in 2010.  If that’s not the question we’re asking, we’re holding onto the traditions of men in place of God’s charge to us (Mark 7:8). 

“What potential obstacles to gospel communication exist?” is a question that a church (and Christians in general) need to ask regularly.  Sometimes that involves painful honesty.  When obstacles are found, change is necessary.

Embrace the concept that change will always exist.  The more you live for “what comes next” rather than “what once was”, the more flexible your life will be and the more receptive to change.  That’s more consistent with the way God looks at our lives too.  He isn’t nearly as concerned with the things we did in the past as much as what he has in store for us in the future.  Embrace the changes that may come your way, trusting that your Lord has your best interest in mind.  Exercise that faith and be amazed at what’s on the other side of the next door.

Is That What I Really Want?

Former NFL star and draft "bust" Charles Rogers is still paying for bad past decisions.

When I was 17 or 18 years old, I would have given virtually anything to trade places with Charles Rogers.  Ironically, 10 years later, I’d bet Charles Rogers would give virtually anything that he has left to trade places with me.  

If you don’t know, Charles Rogers is a freakish athlete that I had the “pleasure” of running in track meets against in high school back in Saginaw, MI.  No, I didn’t even belong on the same track as Charles.  He was world class.  After graduation in 2000, he went to Michigan State University where he became an All-American and  Heisman Trophy candidate who likely would have won had he not been on a relatively weak team.  Conversely, I went on to Martin Luther College where I blew my knee out while helping to coach a freshman girls high school basketball team.  

After several seasons playing for the Spartans, Charles made himself eligible for the NFL draft.  In the 2003 NFL draft he was selected with the second pick by the home state Detroit Lions, considered the most physically gifted player in the draft and one of the most physically gifted wide receivers ever.  Although he caught two touchdowns in his first game as a Lion, seemingly foreshadowing a Hall of Fame career, Charles broke his collarbone several weeks later, taking him out for the season.  The next season began with renewed hope.  However, Charles once again broke the same collarbone within the first couple of games, once again ending his season.  When season three rolled around, Charles got busted on drug abuse charges early on and missed a number of games.  Failing to register a certain minimal number of plays in his first 3 seasons invoked a clause in his contract that meant he would be paid a fraction of what his contract had been for.  And the hits kept coming.  Charles never cleaned up his act.  The Lions eventually wanted nothing to do with him, nor did any other NFL team for that matter.  In fact, he was no longer good enough or “worth it” to any Canadian Football league team or any NFL Europe team either.  

What got me thinking about it once again was that yesterday when I opened my internet browser I noticed that on the front page of YAHOO News was once again Charles Roger’s mug.  He’s still making negative headlines.  This one read, “Detroit draft bust Charles Rogers owes Lions $6.1 million“.   

I couldn’t believe it.  Being known as one of the biggest flops in NFL history, Charles is still not only dealing with the enormous weight of that reputation, but actually is literally still paying for it.   

I remember sitting down with him at a couple of track meets and talking with him, seeing what was going on in the mind of a future superstar.  I remember asking him to sign my track spikes with both of us acknowledging that he’d soon be famous.  Even by this point, autographs were no big deal to him.  I was a skinny white kid with acne.  He was this larger-than-life character.  He seemed to already have a very professional perspective of what he was about to become, or at least what he and I thought he was about to  become.  Boy, were we wrong.  Maybe I should have handed him my Bible instead of my cleats.  

This is a simple lesson, but one I need to remind myself of daily so I hope that you appreciate the reminder too.  There were a number of things that you could point to that ultimately led to Charles’ downfall, but I think the most accurate is this — the issue of priority.  I understand that Charles perhaps couldn’t have prevented his injuries, but no one forced him to smoke the unthinkable amounts of marijuana that he did.  That was his choice.  No one forced him to get reportedly very lazy in his training regimen.  That was his choice.  No one forced him to act incredibly irresponsible.  If he had made his career, providing for his family, and his reputation a priority, he wouldn’t have missed the games that cost him millions and millions of dollars.  Instead, comfort and fun when he wanted it were more important to him. 

I never got into a religious discussion with Charles, so I don’t know where his heart is at, spiritually speaking.  Who knows, maybe this latest rock bottom will be God’s way of turning him to the Lord.  I hope so.  But I think a lesson to learn in all of this is that one of the inherent blessings of Christianity is the benefit of perspective that comes from the right priorities.  There are a number of passages in Scripture that encourage this, but here’s just one selection that I think best summarizes a Christian’s priorities: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things (earthly needs) will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33) Although every Christian’s pecking order of priorities in life might look a little different, God is going to be at the top of every list.  He has to be, otherwise one fails to be Christian.  Take for example the “Rich Young Man” in Matthew 19 who believes that he has perfectly followed the Lord.  He asks Jesus what else he must do to be saved.  Jesus says the final thing is simply to give away his wealth and come and follow Jesus.  The young man walks away sad because he feels he can’t do it.  The problem isn’t that the young man is wealthy.  The problem is the priority of wealth in his life and in his heart.  He refused to move his wealth from the top spot in his priorities.   

As a Christian, what the Holy Spirit living in me wants is to have a healthy pecking order of priorities.  In this world, fame always sounds good.  Money always sounds good.  Excitement and pleasure always sound good.  Material things sound good.  Big houses and fast cars sound good.  Vacation sounds good.  Beauty sounds good.  Comfort sounds good.  Family, relationship, humor all sound good.  However, they can’t sound better than God.  We seek then to make God the #1 priority and show him he’s our #1 priority.  We follow the principles of his Word for letting the other things in our lives fall into their proper place on our pecking orders.  And then every day, unfortunately, we fail, but we ask God to forgive us.  And our loving God is willing and able to forgive us.  Why?  Because he made us the #1 priority on his pecking order.  He made living a perfect life, dying on the cross, rising from the grave (i.e. our redemption process) – the most important thing on his list even though it caused him to have to sacrifice.  But he was happy to do it, because he loves us that much.  And so we too are happy, if needs be, to sacrifice, making God our top priority.   

Although Charles Rogers has no one to blame for his problems but himself, I find myself having a tough time holding his decisions against him.  Without God holding the top spot of priority in someone’s life, how are they supposed to know the pecking order that other things are supposed to fall into?  Without a godly, biblical worldview, it’s tough to know the true importance of providing for family, dedicating yourself and your skills to your work, maintaining an honorable reputation, etc.  In other words, it’s easy to let bad things become priorities and act very immature.  If God wasn’t in my life, I’m guessing my priorities would look fairly ridiculous as well.   

It’s honestly hard for me to watch all of this happen to this person that I’d put on such a pedestal 10 years ago. But I do hope Charles’ lesson serves as a wake-up call to him and all of us when our priorities fall out of place.  As Christians, we try not to worry about wealth, health, fame, status, etc.  We put God first (make him the top priority), and we trust that everything else (earthly things) will fall into the right place.  That’s Jesus’ promise.  And that’s healthy priority.


Blessings on Your Holy Week

Due to being a little under the weather and working to get a couple of sermons prepared for Good Friday/Easter, I unfortunately don’t have a new post for you this week.  However, I do want to wish you God’s blessings as we contemplate what our Savior has done for us over the next couple of days.

Also, I wanted to be sure to invite you all to our Holy Week Worship:

Maundy Thursday – 3:00 & 7:00pm

Good Friday – noon & 7:00pm

Easter Sunday – 7:00am (Sunrise Worship); 8:15am (Breakfast); 9:30am (Festival Worship); 10:45am (Children’s Pinata Smash).

Hope you can join us!

Lastly, I’m always interested in hearing what’s on your minds.  If you have a certain news item or life dilemma issue that you’d particularly like to see an article on, send me a note at pastorjameshein@gmail.com  God Bless!