In Defense of Self Esteem and Other Self-Help Needs

I am currently reading one of those books that people read in secret. You know, those books that would make us look bad and weak and inadequate if people saw them on our shelves? The title of the book does little to help my ego: How to Win Friends and Influence People. You are probably already drawing inferences about why I could be reading such a book — and that, right there, is my point.

I have often sat with among friends and spoke ill of self-help books and the people who read them. It is already tempting to start justifying why I am reading and agreeing with Dale Carnegie in How to Win friends and Influence People. I feel that I should at least explain why I am reading a book with such a “self-helpish” title, but I will not do it, because to do that would be to go against the point of this post. So I put my reputation at your mercy.

Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid - Maslow's Theory IllustratedWell, I said that in order to say this: I think the whole notion of “self-esteem” has received an unfairly bad rap from Christians who want to remain faithful to the Bible. Numerous articles and blog posts and even books have been written to explain why “self-esteem” is an unbiblical concept and an unholy pursuit. I, too, have written my share of tweets and Facebook status updates in the past to that effect. But allow me to play the devil’s advocate and tease out something that I think is important about the idea of “self-esteem”. Allow me to defend self-esteem and, hopefully, still remain faithful to God’s Word.

Why would anyone want to read a book about improving your self-esteem and feeling better about yourself? Why would Joel Osteen sell millions of copies for titles such as Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You? Well, the easy answer is that Osteen and other writers like Myles Munroe or Rhonda Byrne (of The Secret ) are responding to a real need in the world.

People are searching for significance, we want to know and feel and believe that we matter. We crave recognition and we cringe at the notion of being forgettable or dispensable. We yearn to know that we count, and we will do anything and go to any length to attain this significance, and that is why for many of us, the first and easiest step would be to bury our faces in a How to Stop Worrying and Start Living (also by Carnegie).

I hear someone like Victoria Osteen advising people to worship God “for yourself”, and I have to admit that I get her. I can see where she is coming from and what she is trying to get at. I don’t know where her heart is, but my best guess is that she genuinely wants to help people. Many of the people who write self-help books also want to help people — and they do it the best way they know how.

Whether or not they also want to make money and become rich is another matter altogether.Just because I want to make money and be rich through journalism doesn’t make my other motives in pursuing this career (e.g. to speak truth to power and keep the government accountable) any less noble.

So, to the extent that there is a real need for personal edification and validation in the world, to the extent that there is a real need to succeed and win and avoid failure in life, to the extent that we are hardwired to want to be respected and “esteemed”, I fully support the notion of self-esteem. You see, the problem is not self-esteem, or our longing for it, the crux of the matter is HOW we go about satisfying this goal.

What’s even more disturbing is when we begin to speak as if the need does not exist, or worse, as if it should not exist. It is one thing to say that self-esteem should not be our ultimate goal or even a primary objective in life. But it is an entirely different thing to say that it doesn’t matter or that it is a wrong goal. There are many things we yearn and long for in this life, and most of these things cannot be attained by directly pursuing them. Things like contentment, or peace.

There are people who pursue contentment by acquiring things, because they think when they have enough things and enough relationships, they will finally be content. I believe the psychological term for this ultimate end is self-actualisation. They will finally be self-satisfied. Such people are pursuing a noble goal, but they are pursuing a misunderstood goal using the wrong means. To help such people, we should not disparage their goals and longings, instead, we should re-route and re-wire how they think about such longings.

I-can-do-this

This is where and how the Word of God helps us. The Bible does not just provide us with principles to apply when we want to achieve our personal goals. The Bible is more radical, it gives us new goals and new ways to think about old goals. The Word of God sets us right by renewing our thinking, and eventually our lives, to God’s will (His means and ends).

So, is self-esteem evil and is it wrong for a Christian to want self-esteem? I would respond by saying those are wrong questions. The questions assume that we are settled on who a Christian is in the first place. We may discover that if we stepped back from the question and explored what it means to be a Christian, we will discover a message that renders the question of self-esteem moot or irrelevant.

That message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this is the message that should define our posture as we explore all subjects regarding human needs and wants and longings in this world. The Word of God is a good place to begin. In fact, it is the only place to begin. And if we trust in the God who authored this word and revealed it to us, we may also discover that this Word is also a good place to stop. Because it is the only place worth staying in.

For the fame of His name

Cornell

PS: This will be among my last posts on Alien Citizens. No, I will not quit blogging, but I am planning to take a slightly different road, which begins by closing shop over here. I will update you all on the great migration. Have a blessed day, friends.

A Biblical Example of a “Healing Service”

Did you know there is a healing service in the Bible? Actually, it is a healing and deliverance service and it is even Pentecostal. You have probably read the passage dozens of times but have never thought about it as an example of a healing service.

Photo courtesy: rejoicenow.nl

Photo courtesy: rejoicenow.nl

The possibility that the first idea of a “healing” ministry or service you ever came across was something you saw on TV or in your neighborhood doesn’t help the matter. You probably know or attend a church that has regular “healing and deliverance” services. These are special services where people suffering from various “physical, social or psychological” ailments come to church and they are prayed over and get healed. It is a time when people struggling with various addictions and generational curses come to get deliverance and freedom.

But the biblical story of something close to this looks quite different. It begins with a man seated near a gate. The name of the gate is “Beautiful”, and the man is anything but. He is poor, dirty and lame. You can find the story in the third chapter of Acts. The gate leads to a temple, and the lame man is a beggar. Peter and John are going to the temple to pray when this lame beggar asks them for money.

As the story goes, the two men have no money, but they offer the beggar something else. That’s when Peter says these famous words: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” The man jumps to his feet – healed – and follows Peter and John into the temple – praising God.

People who knew the man and knew that he was a cripple see what has just happened and they follow the trio into the temple. Of course the people are curious. Peter notices this and he turns towards them and says, “Who else wants to be healed like this man? Bring your lame and your sick people and I will show you what my God can do.” Okay, he didn’t say that. But what he said seems quite counter-intuitive and unexpected:

“Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this.” [Acts 3:12-15]

Instead of inviting them for more miracles, Peter accuses the masses. Instead of inducting them for an hour of power, he indicts them for disregarding God’s power. He points out their sins and their role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Instead of capitalizing on the new-found clout, Peter begins to offend the people. Instead of sustaining the “supernatural atmosphere” he preaches the Gospel.

“By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” [Acts 3:16]

Peter uses the miracle as an entry-point to a different message, a deeper message. He uses the miracle as a hook and bait into a greater message of healing and reconciliation.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” [Acts 3:19-20]

In other words, Peter turns this single spectacle of healing into a sermon on true healing – the redemption of souls separated from God by sin. The healing and deliverance that comes from turning away from our sin and believing on the salvation that comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter is saying that what they just saw was a shadow, a glimpse, a picture of something more real and lasting.

Of course, there were people in the crowd who were physically sick and lame and suffering. There were people who wished and prayed that they, too, could get a portion of the healing that the crippled beggar had received. Some of these people might have turned away disappointed, because Peter had instead focused on the message of soul redemption instead of the magic of bodily healing.

I bet many people walked away disappointed that the “healing and deliverance service” they expected isn’t what they got. They walked away never realizing that it is better to be without an arm or a leg or an eye than to lose their souls because they never believed on the one who could save both the body and the soul.

When Being Honest and Sincere is a Bad Thing

“What matters is that you are sincere” sounds like good advise, and it is, as we shall see in a moment. But it can also be the worst advise to give anyone. God does, indeed, want us to be sincere about what we do. A common dictionary definition of sincere is “free from pretense or deceit; proceeding from genuine feelings”. It is wrong to be pretentious and deceitful. We must always strive to be genuine, honest, in other words, sincere. Integrity.

Photo credit: genius.com

Photo credit: genius.com

But what if being true to who we are involves doing something that is hurtful and unkind and unloving? What if I genuinely don’t care about the homeless and the sick? Should I be sincere even then? Would it be pretentious to “do” caring things to such people because that is “the right thing to do”? Such questions lead us to something that often goes un-examined when we talk about “being sincere”: It matters what we are being sincere about. In other words, our personal feelings are not the ultimate standard of what is right or wrong. We are not automatically doing right just because we are doing what we feel like doing. There seems to be a standard of right or wrong, outside of our feelings.

Does this, then, mean that our feelings don’t matter? No. It only means that our feelings are Continue reading

Don’t Be An Upcoming Gospel Artiste

It happens all the time. You hear a given phrase over and over and you get used to it and you never notice anything odd or weird about it. And then one day it hits you. You may have even used the phrase in conversation, until this day when someone says it and you were a bit absent minded and then it really hits you. Suddenly it sounds so different. That’s what happened to me last evening.

I was attending SPA FEST, an annual dancing competition, to cheer a team called DICE. It is the team my friend Winnie (she has written a guest post here before) dances in. In one of the interludes, a guy came onto the stage to perform a rap song. I didn’t catch his name, and it was obvious not many people knew who he was. You could tell from the murmurs in the crowd as he climbed up onto the platform.

“I am an upcoming artiste,” he added after the name I didn’t catch.

That’s when it hit me. I have heard that phrase used hundreds of times and I bet I have even used it a couple of times when referring to people. But what does that phrase, “upcoming artiste” really mean?

L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)

L Jay Maasai was the new artiste of the year in the 2014 Groove Awards (Photo courtesy: tetemesha.com)

The surface meaning seems obvious. An upcoming artiste is someone who has recently started singing or performing in public. An upcoming artiste often doesn’t have an album – yet – and he has recently started recording some songs – or not yet. An upcoming artiste is not famous. His name has not caught on and people still struggle to remember him whenever he comes onto the stage.

An upcoming artiste is not an established artiste. In other words, he is not that popular – yet. Most of them can barely move the crowd (although the guy I saw yesterday really worked us up). All that sounds obvious, until it hits you afresh like it did me last evening. Why the “up” in upcoming? In fact, why the “coming”? Does the phrase reveal a worldview that we often overlook, as Christians, but should actually be wary of?

I believe it does, in a way.

An “up-coming” artiste implies that the artiste is “rising” to a certain level and that he or she will one day “arrive”. This bothers me. Because whenever we say an artiste is “rising” whose ranking are we using? The truth is that we have bought into the vocabulary and therefore the worldview of the world. We are categorizing and ranking Christian artistes using worldly standards and we don’t even realize it.

In the world, it is the numbers that speak. In the world, we know an artiste has “arrived” by counting the number of songs and albums and sales he has made. In the world, we know an artiste has arrived by looking at how many followers he has on Twitter and the place he holds in the TV music show charts. In other words, in the world, the stats are counted, not weighed. 

Which leads to the inevitable question, whose standards are we living and “performing” by? The irony is that most of the “upcoming” artistes often begin with a message that is faithful and biblical in the early years of their musical “career”. But as they rise up the ranks and arrive, the message gets more shallow and their gospel becomes watered down and less explicit. By the time they are topping the charts, many are great performers with messages that can barely be distinguished from the other chart-topping “secular” artistes.

Just track the musical journey of many current “arrived” artistes. Check their stats and you will see the consistent rise. Now go back and check the content of their songs and you will see the consistent decline. It will make you wonder if what we need is up-coming artistes or “down-going” artistes.

I am not saying that this is the case with all artistes who gain popularity in their musical careers. There will always be the remnants and the faithful such as Eunice Njeri. The fine wines that only get better with age like Christina Shusho are worth their place in the charts. But these are exceptional because they are the exceptions. The rule is more worrying.

“[Christ] must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

Is the Bible a Work of Plagiarism?

I came across this interesting comic on the web (below). A teacher gave her students the following assignment: What is the “Golden Rule” and its source? The answers she got from her students are quite telling. In fact, many atheists use this example to illustrate why they think the Bible is not the Word of God but a mere fabrication of pre-existing (pagan) traditions.

thegoldenrule

Now, what is fascinating is that all the answers given by the students were correct, and factual. The problem is that some of the people quoted lived centuries before Jesus was born, and yet we often attribute the Golden Rule to Jesus (Matthew 7:12). But Confucius (551–479 BC) and Buddha (480-400 BC) said and taught the same thing and yet they lived hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

Similar examples have been cited as arguments against the validity of the Bible stories. Such as Noah’s flood. Many argue that the story was merely a Jewish adaptation of the Neo-Assyrian Gilgamesh flood myth found in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The myth, according to historians, is very similar to the Biblical stories and yet it existed centuries before the supposed period of Noah.

Do these examples disqualify the Bible? Many people believe so. Yet what such arguments against the Bible reveal is the arguers’ ignorance of what the Bible is and what the Bible does. The Bible is not God’s Word because it contains novel (new and unique) ideas about God. In fact, the reverse is the case, all true ideas about God that exist outside the Bible only prove that God is the author and owner of all truth. It is the reason R.C. Sproul has popularized the phrase: “all truth is God’s truth.”

Truth is truth, wherever you find it. To argue that only the Bible contains truth is to actually speak against the Bible, because the even the Bible claims that there is truth about God outside itself. Romans 1:19 actually says whatever may be known about God is available to even those who have never read the Bible. Psalms 19 talks about how nature teaches us about various attributes of God. Even Paul often  quoted pagan sages in the Bible (1 Cor 10:23).

The availability of truth apart from the Bible is actually an argument for God, not against Him. It is proof of His sovereignty — that  God is God over all people and all things, not just the Jews and the Christians. It is proof that those who will never encounter Christianity will not be judged unfairly, because “what may be known about God is “plain” to them (Rom 1:19).

No, the Bible is not a work of plagiarism. But it is a work that seriously needs to be plagiarized by you and me.

For the fame of His name.

Cornell

To Forgive or Not to Forgive (Yourself)?

Guilt. It is a joy sapping, energy draining and hope crushing feeling. Guilt can imprison you in the past and make you unable to move forward. It will make you doubt yourself and even write yourself off. I know this because I have been guilty. Or rather, I have felt guilty. To BE guilty is a statement of fact. One can be guilty without even knowing it, let alone feeling it. On the other hand, one can FEEL guilty without actually being guilty. But today, I am talking about the feeling of guilt that is rooted in actual guilt.

doctorjenn

Photo courtesy: doctorjenn.com

You lied, cheated, stole something. You ignored a friend in need, spread false rumors about a colleague, and now you are feeling guilty. You should feel guilty. We all need a healthy dose of guilt. Guilt helps us to confront the monster inside us for who he or she really is. Guilt helps us acknowledge our inadequacies at pursuing perfection. Guilt is good, but guilt can also be bad.

You see, if you know Jesus, if you believe in and follow Jesus, then guilt should only be a stop-over in your journey. It should not be a destination. Even worse, it should not be your home, because Jesus came to save us from the sins we committed, the wrongs we did which left us feeling guilty. Like a guilty criminal in court, Jesus came and offered to bail us out. But some of us refuse to acknowledge this bailout. Many of us plead guilty and choose the prison of self-condemnation.

Jesus comes and tells you “Hey, you are free. I am not asking you to pretend that you didn’t do wrong. You did wrong. I am asking you to accept that, while you did wrong, I made it right. I paid the price.”

Self-condemning guilt reveals a failure to appreciate what Jesus did for you. He died for this. For what you are beating yourself about. He died to tell you, yes, I know what you did. I understand the gravity of your failure. In fact, it is worse than you think, and I love you anyway. I am merciful, I choose to forgive you. I paid the price, will you give me your guilt and accept my forgiveness?

Jesus asks us to learn from our guilt and then run from it. He asks us to face our guilt and then see through it to the mercy he offers us. To wallow in guilt and self-condemnation is to slap away the hand of God. It is to look at the cross and walk away unchanged. To live in guilt is to tell God “I know you have forgiven me and paid for my sins, but I am much better feeling bad about what I did. Let me wallow in self-pity and self-condemnation for a little while. I deserve this”

Oftentimes, when we have done wrong and are feeling guilty and beating ourselves up about it, a well meaning friend might approach us and say something like: “You need to forgive yourself.”

This is often after you have sought forgiveness from the person you wronged, but you are still finding it hard to move on. It is after the victim of your sin has told you “I forgive you, go and sin no more,” but you still insist on sulking and mopping and feeling really sorry for yourself. You need to forgive yourself.

What does that mean? “You need to forgive yourself” What do our friends mean when they tell us that? What do we mean when we tell others that? Some of us mean, “you need to let it go”. Other mean, “you need to move on from this because it is doing nothing but holding you back.” But I doubt there is any person, when they tell you “forgive yourself” actually mean, “You are God. You have the supreme power to forgive your sins. So go ahead and do it and redeem yourself from this bondage of guilt.” I doubt anyone actually means that when they say “forgive yourself”.

sodahead

Photo courtesy: sodahead.com

Of course there are some who come from the worldview that teaches “you are your own master and nothing but what you allow will control you.” Such people, when they tell you to forgive yourself, often mean “will yourself into joy,” “think positively”. They often offer advise that is not rooted in anything solid. But sometimes it is our fellow followers of Christ, sincere seekers of holiness, who tell us to “forgive ourselves.” I submit that some of these people do not fully understand what they mean by those words. They have simply blindly played into the prevailing “positive” thinking rhetoric of the day.

But the reality is that to live in guilt is to live in pride. It is to write off what you didn’t contribute in creating – YOU. To live in guilt over forgiven sin is to say God was a fool to forgive you. It is to say Jesus wasted his life dying for you. To continue in guilt after repenting and after forgiveness has been extended is to say you are master of your life, and you don’t need any help beating yourself up.

So, yes, you need to “forgive yourself”. But, in the “biblically correct” view of things, what you need to do is REALISE that you have already been forgiven, Jesus has already given his life for your sin, you ARE no longer guilty. It is to believe that you are worthy of God’s mercy and grace.

To TRULY forgive yourself is to live forgiven. And while you’re at it, you need to repent of your failure to acknowledge God’s forgiveness.

~~~

Cornell

A Public Apology to My Followers

I did something wrong a few minutes ago, no, two things. Well, I actually don’t think what I did was wrong, but most of my readers do, and that is why I felt I should do (say) something about it.

First things first, what did I do? 1. I clicked RT on a tweet by Joel Osteen and I clicked “share” on a status update linking to a blog-post by Rob Bell. The truth is, I really liked the tweet and the post. I thought they were inspiring, creative, and most importantly, I thought they spoke the truth. I thought what I was doing was perfectly innocent and even commendable — I was passing on the truth to the masses.

rob bell

Well, not everyone agrees. Though nobody said anything, I could virtually see the shock in the hundreds of eyes that saw the Joel Osteen Retweet on my Twitter Feed. I could hear the astonished gasps from the dozens of “reformed” friends who were unlucky enough to see the shared Rob Bell post on my Facebook Timeline.

The problem was not the tweet, or the post, the problem was the people who authored them. Continue reading