Every January, Michelle and I comb through the previous year’s receipts and tally up what we spent in order to file our taxes. This is an arduous task, forcing us to look over every last one with the hopes of finding 50¢ there or $1 there that we can deduct from our taxable income.
Currently, those receipts are in a large pile, staring at us, laughing at us. It’s a job we’re slowly working through, Michelle having done most of the “combing” thus far. The other day I learned, though, that those receipts will not only reveal in the end how much of a tax refund we’ll get, they also revealed the ugly pride and selfishness in my heart. Let me tell you the story.
Michelle and the kids were getting ready to go somewhere one morning. I was helping the kids get their coats on and Michelle was gathering some things to take with her. As I awaited their exit, Michelle asked me a harmless question: “What are you doing today?” Immediately, I could feel a subtle but noticeable irritation welling up within. I had work to do, and I could tell it was about to be interrupted.
“I’m doing office work.”
“What kind of office work?”
Seeing my irritation, she graciously responded, “I wasn’t trying to question what you were doing, I just wanted to see if you could work on some of those receipts.” Ashamed – and still irritated – I said a teeth-clenched prayer requesting safety over my family, and I climbed the stairs to my office. I’m just glad that right then Jesus was interceding for them at the right hand of God.
There’s a little verse in the book of James that astounds me, chapter 3 verse 16: “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there” (NKJV). James reminds his readers that self-centeredness is the soil that fertilizes and sprouts the fruit of disorder, confusion, and virtually all kinds of sin.
So, what’s the biggest lie in the universe, then? Here it is: “You deserve better.” Those of you who can recall the very first sin committed by a human being will remember that Eve believed the lie that she deserved better than what God was offering her (Genesis 3). The other day when receipt-gate happened, my response to Michelle was nothing more than a reaction to me believing the lie that I deserved better than this. I had work to do, and my wife was trying to destroy my plans! The conversation in the garden between the Serpent and Eve proves my point (see Genesis 3:1-5):
“God said not to eat the fruit of that tree. If we do, we’ll die.”
“Eve, God was lying to you. He isn’t concerned about your best interests – in fact, He’s cheating you of true happiness! He just knows if you disobey– erp, I mean, eat it, you will be like Him.”
“Mmm, it does look good…you’re right.”
She believed the biggest lie in the universe. Her selfward focus birthed confusion and sin, and here we are.
Don’t think you could ever believe this age old lie?
You believe the same lie when your kids don’t go to sleep when you want them to, and you irritably shout them back to their beds.
You believe it when someone on Facebook challenges your political or ethical viewpoint, and you bite back at them because your integrity (pride) is at stake.
You believe it when someone cuts you off on the road and you respond with a colorful gesture.
You believe it when you won’t reconcile with someone who has done you wrong.
You believe it when someone graciously challenges your decisions, and you get offended by them.
And yes husbands, you believe it when your wife asks you to do something that could interrupt your “wicked important schedule,” and you snap back at their lack of submission to your high authority.
After you have believed this lie, discord in your life ensues. As well as shame, guilt, fear, anxiety, anger, irritation, rage, jealousy, reckless living, snarky remarks – you get the point: “every evil thing.”
James, though, goes on to correct us. He shows us that the only way of moving from believing this lie to believing the truth is to “humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (4:10). In other words, humility is the cure for selfishness. Here’s the deal guys – we don’t deserve better. Actually, we deserve death (Romans 6:23). The second we forget this, we’ll starting believing the lie that we’re the center of the universe, a position that belongs only to Christ.
The right response to our wrong belief is to turn again to Christ and His cross and meditate long and hard on what He did for us. It is to see His selfless love and respond by praising Him for His imputed righteousness, despite our arrogance. It is to remember that He was killed to atone for our irritation toward our kids, our offense when our viewpoints are challenged, our road rage, our unforgiveness toward others who wrong us, and our selfishness toward our spouses. Revisiting the cross often creates the kind of humility in us God is looking for. Martyn Lloyd-Jones says it like this:
“There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross…Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust. Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility.”
So the next time sales receipts expose the selfishness in your heart, don’t get angry. Look in the mirror and remind yourself of the gospel. Preach to yourself, as I had to preach to myself that day: Jesus died for my selfishness. I don’t deserve to stick to my selfish schedule, I don’t deserve “alone time,” I don’t deserve my wife or my family – I deserve His wrath! But He loved me by sending His Son to be crushed for me so I don’t have to face it. What’s more is that because of Jesus’ selflessness toward me, the Father only governs me by His mercy now and constantly lavishes on me all the riches and joys His own Son possesses. This is amazing, undeserved, perfect love.
Don’t believe the biggest lie in the universe. You’re just not that awesome!
But Jesus is.