Do You Have a Napoleonic Complex (aka Small Man Syndrome)?

Time for a history lesson. Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769, had a penchant for posing with his hand in his shirt, was the man whose hunger for power plunged Europe into a devastating and lengthy war, and has nothing to do with Napoleon Dynamite.  He was also very short. The so-called “Napoleonic complex” is the idea that Napoleon tried to conquer Europe to compensate for being vertically challenged. (That seems a stretch to me; I know a lot of short guys, and so far none of them have invaded Russia.)

But we’re going to use the term “Napoleonic complex” differently. Listen to how one of Napoleon’s biographers, Paul Johnson, describes the general after he has just been crowned emperor of France: “Behind all the tinsel and glitter, he was only as secure as his last victory.” Napoleon won victory after victory in battle. He was a brilliant commander. But no matter how many victories he won, his reputation – perhaps we could even say his meaning in life – was no more secure than his most recent success. Now that’s a complex we can relate to.

If you invest your sense of meaning and worth in anything other than Jesus Christ, you will suffer from this kind of “Napoleonic complex:” perpetual insecurity and a need to prove yourself in a never-ending cycle. If the thing you look to for value is being a caring, merciful person (a good thing in itself!), you will never be able to rest. You will constantly be in need of another down-and-out case to pour yourself into, another underdog to support, another person to take under wing. Because your identity is only as secure as your last victory.

Do you see the pattern? If your worth comes from financial stability, every lost investment will devastate you and every gain will only drive you to pursue more security. If your worth is in being seen as a perfect spouse or perfect parent, you can never admit to marital strife or parenting struggles. I wrestle with this as a pastor when I preach: I feel good about myself if my last sermon was good. I feel insignificant if I preached a dud.

What’s the remedy for this cycle of insecurity and frantic driven-ness? Here’s the answer: you have meaning not because of what you do, but because of who you are. You are a Christian. You are united to Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of God, and adopted by God the Father. Listen to Jesus’ words in John 15:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love….These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:5, 8-9, 11).

Many of the things we look to for meaning are good things, and may even be things Jesus intends for us to do. I can’t stop preaching because I’m tempted to find my worth in the quality of my sermons! But neither does God want me to be a Christian who is only as secure as my last victory. Our meaning and worth is guaranteed by our union with Christ. There are no insignificant Christians! But because our worth is found not in what we do, but in who we belong to, we can be secure when the fruit is absent.

Are you, like Napoleon, driven to establish your worth by your performance? If so, dear Christian, God calls you to rest. Yes, there are works God would have you do – but they are not your identity. Christ is. You belong to him. Abide in his love, and be secure.

How To Escape The Snares Of Money Love and Fear

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

The writer of Hebrews tells us we should be content with what we have.

He says this will keep our lives free from the love of money, which is the root of all sorts of evil and brings multitudes of miseries into people’s lives: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:9-10.

Contentment helps us escape this powerful temptation: “Keep your life free from love of money and be content with what you have.” But how can we be content with what we have if we don’t have much?

Here’s the secret of contentment: “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.

We don’t need money or possessions to satisfy us because we will always have Jesus, the fountain of life and beauty and joy and satisfaction. He will never leave us. He will never forsake us.

Here is how to find contentment – by praying, “Jesus, satisfy me with your love in the morning.  Jesus, whom have I in heaven besides you and on earth there is nothing I desire besides you.  You are my portion. You are my treasure. You are my inheritance.”

We should not only look to Jesus for contentment, but for all our needs and fears.  That’s why the writer of Hebrews goes on: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

Not only will Jesus never leave us nor forsake us, but he is our Helper. We need not fear anything – the future, enemies – nothing.  What can man do to me?  The Lord – the King of kings who is sovereign over all things, the Creator of the universe, the One who sustains all things – is my personal Helper.

In other words, all we need is Jesus!  Turn to him.  Ask him for contentment.  Ask him to deliver you from fear of man.  Jesus is our escape from the snares of money love and fear.

 

Let’s Not Shock Any Angels

One day before I met my wife, I was asking God to bring someone into my life, and he spoke to me.

Not audibly, but clearly.  This thought came into my mind: Mark, if you can’t be satisfied in me as a single person, then you won’t be content when you’re married either.  Because no human being can satisfy another human being.

No human being can satisfy another human being.

Only God can satisfy us.  If we don’t find all our delight and joy in Jesus, we won’t find it in anything else.  God puts it like this in Jeremiah 2:12-13:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

The angels in heaven, who continually behold God’s glory are shocked, stunned – even “desolate” – when they see God’s people forsake him, the fountain of living waters, the source of all joy and satisfaction, and drink from broken down, barren, dust-filled wells.  The angels are dumbfounded.

So what is it you most long for today?  What is it that you think would make you jump for joy?  What is that thing you tell yourself, if I only had that, then I’d be happy and wouldn’t want anything else?  If it isn’t Jesus, your heart is deceiving you.  Because that ”thing,” even if it’s a blessing from the hand of God, can’t satisfy your heart.  Things will eventually disappoint us.  God may bless us with the most wonderful husband or wife, and if we aren’t content in him, we’ll soon find ourselves looking around for something else to fill the void.

Let’s look to Jesus to quench the thirst of our souls.  Let’s come to the fountain of living waters and drink deeply and say to The Lord,

The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.  Psalm 16:5-6

When The Lord is our chosen portion and our cup, the lines fall for us in pleasant places.  We can be content in the desert.  When Jesus is our meat and drink, we’ll always be full.  Jesus is our beautiful inheritance.  What more do we need?

Remember, no human can satisfy another human.  A wife won’t satisfy.  A husband won’t satisfy.  A child won’t either.  Neither will a job, a home, or anything else.  If God has given you any of these wonderful blessings, then thank him for them  And it’s not wrong to ask him for these desires if he hasn’t given them to you.  But don’t look to them to fulfill you.

Let’s make this our prayer:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Ps 90:14).

Lets not shock any angels, ok?

The Insanity Of Envy

God is a satisfying portion. This world may fill a man, but can never satisfy him. Most have too much, but no one has enough. — Swinnock

Sometimes I struggle with envy. What’s insane about that is I have so much – a great wife, children and grandchildren.  I get to preach God’s word to a wonderful, responsive church and work with the best pastoral team that exists.  God has allowed me to write some songs that have blessed others. He’s granted me years of health.

Despite all this, I’ve envied the gifts and success of others.  Once when I shared with some pastors that I’d envied another man’s preaching one guy said, “But Mark, you probably receive more encouragement than anyone else I know.”  Owwww.

In Psalm 73, Asaph confesses how envy almost undid him:

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (2-3)

The wicked appeared to enjoy unadulterated, problem-free bliss.

They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. (5)

Asaph saw them arrogantly strut about mocking God yet growing richer.  As he envied, he spiraled downward. Until he considered things from God’s perspective.

Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end. (17)

“I discerned their end.”  This world’s riches vanish at death.  All we enjoy here is a wisp, a breeze, soon gone.  In God’s mercy, the Psalmist realized the secret of contentment:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (25-26)

Envy springs from seeking satisfaction in anything but Christ. Contentment grows when God is our portion. So contemplate the end of the wicked.  Confess your envy.  Ask Jesus to be your satisfying portion.  And thank God for saving, forgiving, and adopting you and making you a joint-heir with Christ, crowned with every spiritual blessing.

photo by wackystuff

Finding Contentment As Children Of God

I have a little girl who is two years old, and the affection I feel for her is almost overwhelming at times. Everything she does makes me grin. She pushes Winnie the Pooh around in a stroller, and I grin. She points and giggles at low-flying airplanes, and I grin. She passes gas in that innocent “did I do that?” sort of way, and I . . . you get the point. I love this little girl with all my heart. And my love doesn’t hold a candle to God’s love for us.

In Zephaniah 3:17 God says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Our lives have a glorious soundtrack. God loves us so much that he exults over us with loud singing. He is so glad to have us as his children that he is singing over us.

Every morning we wake up as children of the King. We’re adopted, loved, treasured, and blessed. No trial, circumstance, need, pain, or heartbreak can ever separate us from the intense love and compassion of our Father. God’s love pursues us relentlessly and zealously. Paul describes this hurricane of love when he says in Romans 8:38–39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s love for us is invincible, unbreakable, and unshakable. The legions of hell can’t defeat it. There is no future we can imagine apart from it. Even death itself buckles before the almighty love of our Father.

You may not have an earthly father, but you have a heavenly one who loves you far more than any earthly father. You may not have a husband to shelter you, but you have a heavenly Father who shelters and protects you (Ps. 36:7). You may not have everything that you want, but your Father promises that he will meet all your needs (Matt. 6:26).

This truth is life-giving for the discontented heart. Do you want to be more content? Spend a day or a week or a month or a decade marveling and wondering at your divine adoption. You are a child of God. The Creator of the universe really is your Father, and he loves you with an intense, fatherly affection. He cares for you with the heart of a father. He hears your requests with the heart of a father. He watches over you with the diligent eye of a father. Reflect on and rejoice in every difference between your former state (rebel) and your current state (son or daughter of God). Thank God for adopting you instead of sending you to hell. Thank God for calling you “child” instead of “enemy.” Fill your mind with the massive truth of adoption. You’ll soon find yourself dizzy with joy and gratefulness.

Excerpted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment On Your Side of the Fence

We Find Contentment When We Realize That We Have More Than We Deserve

Many times when we don’t get what we want, questions and accusations start to flit about our minds.

“Why won’t God let me move up in my job? I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed for this. Doesn’t he want me to be happy? He could give me what I want in a second. Maybe he doesn’t love me. Maybe he’s not so good after all.”

The truth is, God will never withhold from us. The greatest, irrefutable proof of God’s generosity is Calvary. Look at the beloved Son, ridiculed by the masses, beaten beyond recognition, hanging upon a cross, slowly suffocating, dying for sinners like you and me. God gave up what was most precious to him so that he could save sinners who hated him. If God was willing to do that, won’t he also give us every good thing that we need? In Romans 8:32 Paul puts it this way: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Puritan pastor John Flavel says:

Surely if he [God] would not spare his own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sakes all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal, which is good for them.

If we don’t have something we desire, it’s not because God is withholding good from us. God didn’t spare his Son one stroke of misery. He won’t withhold any good thing from us.

Excerpted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side Of the Fence

Contentment Is Not About Circumstances, It’s About The Heart

Do you ever feel like you would be happy if your circumstances were different? I know that I do. But here’s what I’ve been learning about contentment.

Contentment is first and foremost a matter of the heart. It’s possible to deny yourself every worldly pleasure and still be discontent. Self-denial doesn’t automatically lead to contentment. In fact, self-denial can cause us to miss opportunities to enjoy wonderful gifts from God. Steak is a gift from God. Coffee is a drink that is 95 percent heavenly. When I eat a medium-rare steak and give thanks to God for the happiness that is occurring in my mouth, I honor God. Self-denial does not equal contentment.

On the flip side, it’s possible to have everything this world has to offer and still be furiously discontent. King Solomon’s life was a constant pleasure cruise. He really did have everything this world could offer—money, women, power, luxury, and all the alcohol he could drink. Yet after a life of hedonistic exploits, Solomon made the following observation:

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (Eccl. 2:11)

Solomon lived life to the hilt. He would have been TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year” and would have had his own cable channel. Yet in the end he still came up disappointed. Having it all doesn’t equal contentment.

True biblical contentment isn’t tethered to circumstances either. In Philippians 4:11 Paul says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” Stop and grapple with that one for a moment. When was the last time you had a really bad day? On your commute home from work that day, could you say, “I am really content right now”? The person who is truly content in God doesn’t ride the ever-changing wave of life’s circumstances.

Rather, contentment is inward, untouchable by circumstances, out of the reach of trouble. It can’t be stolen away by sickness or poverty, can’t be ruined by the loss of a job or house or spouse. Biblical contentment is not rooted in circumstances but in the infinitely stronger foundation of God himself.

Excerpted from The Greener Grass Conspiracy:Finding Contentment On Your Side of the Fence.

The Skittle Lined Path

path

I’m going to let you in on a personal secret. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but it’s true: I don’t like it when life gets hard.

I want my walk with Jesus to be all pleasant, all the time. I would prefer minimal to no suffering, and would like most of my “down and dirty” ministry to take place in Starbucks. If I get a missionary call to the beaches of the Caribbean, I’ll be okay with that. Essentially, I would like my path to Heaven to be lined with Skittles. Actually I would prefer sausage, but that’s for a different post.

This “no pain, no pain” mentality has made the past couple weeks particularly challenging. My newborn daughter, Ella, decided that she would like to be awake from 7 PM to 1 AM. If we lay her down, she turns into the human siren. And she doesn’t stop for a long, long time. Let’s just say that I’ve watched a lot of ESPN Sportscenter recently.

In the midst of these nighttime escapades, I’ve really struggled with discontentment. I crave rest, peace, quiet, and a decent night’s sleep. I feel like I deserve these things, like it’s my God given right as a member of the United States of America. My troubles are so insignificant, but they cause me to be discontent nonetheless.

But last night I read the following, challenging words by the Puritan, Richard Baxter:

What keeps us under trouble is either we do not expect what God has promised [suffering], or we expect what he did not promise [an easy life]. We are grieved at crosses, losses, wrongs of our enemies, unkind dealings of our friends, sickness, or for contempt and scorn in the world. But who encouraged you to expect any better? (Voices From the Past, 138)

Jesus didn’t promise me ease and prosperity. He commanded me to take up my cross and promised that each day would have enough trouble of it’s own. Discontent begins to ferment in my heart when I expect something else.

The reward for following Jesus is infinitely great, but the cost is suffering. That’s what I should expect.

What encourages you in the midst of challenging circumstances?

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+photo by richardefreeman

Though I Starve, I Will Bless the Lord

tree

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.(Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Habakkuk was a man committed to finding his joy in God and God alone. In his world, to have the fig tree wither, the olive fail, and fields be like iron, meant no food on the table. To have the flocks decimated and no herd in the stalls meant a slow, hungry death for his family. This is life at it’s bleakest, when everything is simply collapsing.

And yet even if his life should disintegrate, Habakkuk could still find joy. He had a joy that transcended his circumstances, a joy that wasn’t smothered by pain. He could rejoice when most people would be cursing and complaining.

I want this joy, don’t you? What was Habakkuk’s secret?

He found joy in the God of his salvation.

Habakkuk’s joy couldn’t be smothered by life’s brutalities because his joy was rooted in God. If he saw the fig tree start to wither, he would rejoice in the God of his salvation. If he saw his herds decimated, he would run again to his God. Habakkuk went deep with God, and found a joy that was unbreakable.

So when your 401k nosedives, and your health begins to fail, where will you find your joy? When you’re passed over for a job promotion where will you run? When you’re still waiting to get married after all these years, where can you find joy?

I want my joy to be deeper and stronger than my circumstances. I want to find my joy in the God of my salvation.

The question: what does it look like practically to find joy in God in the midst of trial?

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+photo by harold.lloyd

Enjoying Where God Has You Now

back-to-the-future

If traveling to the future were an option, I’d be all over it.

The future has such promise, and I’ve spent many hours pondering what’s to come. When I was single the future held the promise of marriage. Now that I’m married the future holds the promise of buying a house.

I longed for the day when I could purchase an iPhone. Thirteen seconds after I bought my phone it became obsolete, and I could look forward to getting a newer, faster phone someday.

When I was in high school I couldn’t wait to get to college. By week two of college I couldn’t wait to graduate.

Unfortunately, in my eager anticipation of the future I’ve often missed the grace that God has for me in the present.

In each season of life, God has blessings and grace for us that are unique to that season of life, and God wants us to enjoy those blessings. In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, writing as a senior demon to a junior demon, says:

We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the present.

When we perpetually long for the future, we miss the gifts that God has given us right now. We sacrifice the joy we could have now, in our current season of life, on the altar of the future.

God has a unique joy to give to singles that married couples won’t experience. He has special grace to bestow upon college students that the workforce doesn’t get. And He has special grace for renters that homeowners don’t have.

So what about you? Are you enjoying where God has you right now?