One of the most valuable truths I have learned from my mentor and friend, Pastor Roger Bennett, is from his teaching on God-esteem. God esteems and gives my self-hood value. Jesus proved His love once and for all through His agony and hideous death on the cross. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).
Make no doubt about it. My self-hood is precious and often fragile. Yours may be fragile too. David, the shepherd king of Israel experienced the ravages against his self-hood from mean-spirited and cruel people who railed against him. Feel the emotional pain he suffered from their derisive slander. “When I stumbled, they gathered in glee; attackers gathered against me when I was unaware. They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me. O Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue my life from their ravages, my precious life from these lions” (Psalm 35:15-17 NIV). The King James Version poignantly expresses “my precious life” with the translation, “my darling.” And, David isn’t talking about his sweetheart. He is referring to the essential personhood of who he is.
I don’t have to tell you about how severe emotional pain is. It can be more painful, much more painful than any physical pain.
The emotional pain Jesus experienced was every bit as excruciating as the physical pain that he endured. Hours before He was arrested, blood poured out from Him. The bloody wounds were not from whips, lashes, a crown of thorns, nails, or the cross. He bled in the Garden of Gethsemane due to a wounded spirit and rejection by those He sought to love. Blood poured from the cruel words hurled against Him. Anguish tormented His personhood from the verbal artillery of hate-filled religious leaders who wanted Him dead. The Scripture records Jesus’ misery before His trial, beatings, and crucifixion. “Being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44 NIV).
Emotional and mental pain affects our physical well-being. There is tightening in the chest, sleepless nights, headaches, and many other psycho-somatic wounds. Such symptoms can be as painful as any broken bone or bodily wound.
Emotional and mental agony comes from the malicious attitudes, words, and actions from others toward us. Why? We have a great desire to be liked and accepted, to be important, and to be warmly regarded. When rejected, we hurt.
Those who have the desire to control others like the Pharisees and Sadducees did who tried to control Jesus through embarrassment and cruelty are exemplified in a mother or father who want to keep their children or adult-children under their absolute control. Instead of discipline, the parents resort to verbal and physical abuse when the child will not obey and do exactly what the parent wants. Or, they give them the silent treatment and play on the child’s fear of abandonment by withholding relationship in order for the parent to keep the power position over the child or adult-child. Such actions deeply wound and scar the “darling” self-hood of children who are the recipients from verbal or physical abusive treatment.
A domineering husband or wife can resort to the same or worse tactics to defend and keep the power position over a spouse. Robert Stewart threatened and vowed to kill his wife if she ever left him again. He wanted total control over her. On March 29, he barged into a Carthage, North Carolina, nursing home looking to kill his wife, Wanda. Somehow, she was able to lock herself in a bathroom. Unable to find her, Robert shot and killed seven residents of the home and a nurse.
After years of suffering in fear and at the same time trying to make the marriage work, Wanda moved out in February and went to live with her mother. She could no longer take her husband’s controlling desire to rule over her through his verbal, mental, and physical abuse. Wanda’s mother, Margaret, said her daughter is “devastated” - devastated that her husband could kill many innocent people and devastated from the abuse she had received from Robert.
Another example is in the church. Bureaucrats in the local church and denominational too often rule to consolidate and control their power. As a result, people who are perceived as threats to their power are run over, rejected, and despised. It has been said, “The church is the only place that shoots their wounded.”
In local churches, power-hungry leaders can wreck havoc in a person and in the self-hood of a pastor. New members come into the church and find their way into powerful committee positions. They want to make a contribution and often want change. The same is true with a new pastor. More often than not, the old guard resists change in order to hang on to their power. After all, it is their church, they think. The struggle between the new and the old is like an irresistible force against an immovable object. Something has to give.
Rejected and injured in the collision, good people - mostly the new people and pastor - are hurt emotionally and mentally. They often drop out of the church never to become active again. Their self-hood suffers a severe blow.
That’s why I like my little church. We are broke. So, there is no need for arguing about budgets and financial issues. Powerful financial power-brokers in the church sit on committees that control the purse strings. They will not approve one single appropriation or approve a raise for the pastor unless it meets their approval even if most in the church want to move forward. I had one powerful deacon tell the deacons and me, “It won’t do for you to get a raise, pastor, because then you would be making too much for a preacher to make.” No one said a word about raising my meager salary after that outburst. One word from that deacon was like the law of the Medes and the Persians. Tight-fisted rulers who control the finances of a church will not be found in our small congregation since there is no money to control.
We meet in a rented building. So, there is no need for trustees or deacons who argue about building expenditures, lawn maintenance, and furnishings. If something needs fixing at the Blanchard Center, I just call Sandy with Columbia County, and it’s fixed that week.
We don’t need committees to argue and fuss about programs. We have none. We only have one Board of Directors meeting a year. No one gets hurt or crushed by power hungry people who love to run the church.
I think this may be the way God intended - like in the New Testament. Churches in the New Testament era were small, broke, and met in one another’s homes. When they did get a windfall offering, they distributed the money to needy widows or the poor. Nothing was spent on themselves in the way of programs or buildings. Paul did encourage them to pay the preachers a fair wage. But, most of the time, he did not claim this right and worked for free supporting himself with his side job of making and selling tents. Serving as pastor of my church is refreshing. No bickering, arguing, or church fights.
In one prominent, large church in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, the church split five ways after running off two pastors in a power grab. Statistically, a pastor stands a better chance of being fired than does a coach in the National Football League. 1,600 ministers per month are being dismissed or forced to resign largely over battles for power. The Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ day didn’t like losing their position and power in their synagogues. They wanted to push Jesus over a cliff, sent police to arrest Him, and finally got rid of Him by humiliating and crucifying Him. The average pastoral career lasts only fourteen years - less than half of what it was not long ago. This sad state is in part due when the Pharisees and Sadducees control the church.
The church power-brokers and religious bureaucrats should be people of acceptance, healing, and affirmation. Sadly, many leaders are filled with an insidious thirst for control. They will stop at nothing to keep and consolidate their despotic rule like a controlling parent over a child or a dominating husband over a wife.
The resulting anguish of someone rejected, despised, and abused in a relationship negatively affects self-hood. It can make you feel like a nothing-person. Depression and feelings of worthlessness, shame, and guilt often accompany the kick from the hob-nailed boot.
As David experienced and so vividly described, “They slandered me without ceasing. Like the ungodly they maliciously mocked; they gnashed their teeth at me.”
Where does much of the damage to person-hood come from? It comes from the critical, negative view that others express to or about you and me. Malicious words, actions, and attitudes are like a grenade going off hurting our “darling” self. This coupled with the great sense of relationship loss can send us to the mat. Everyone likes to be liked.
My pastor friend, Roger Bennett, sets forth a different way - God’s way. Instead of allowing others to define who I am, allow God to define who you are. This is God esteem. In the Holy Bible, God has a lot to say in defining who I am.
Now, instead of depending on the acceptance and good feelings that come from important people in our life, turn to what the Lord has to say about you. Let the esteem He feels towards you and grants to you fill our wounded hearts The result is freedom and true liberty from the bondage of negative opinions, judgment, and rejection. In that true liberty, we stand and do not fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).
What does God say about you and me through His Word? What are his gracious actions toward us?
For those in Christ, who are saved by faith through the blood, grace, mercy, and love of God, the Lord has wonderful things to say about us. Everywhere you look in the Bible, love messages shower down upon us from Him. Each page is lined with love like a vein of gold sparkling in rock.
For starters, God says you are His “darling.” His beloved (Romans 1:7 KJV). You are precious in His sight. (Psalm 116:15 KJV).
The letters of Paul are filled with golden nuggets. Go through these letters, journal what God has to say about your self-hood, and know, really know, who you are. Here are some examples from Philippians chapter 1 to get you started.
Verse 1: God says that you are a saint. No, it doesn’t mean saint in the Roman Catholic sense like St. Aquinas or St. Francis of Assisi. Saint means that you have been separated from the world and consecrated to the worship and service of God. Thus, God confers sainthood on you. You are special, separated from all others, and consecrated or sanctified by the esteem God places upon you.
Verses 10-11: God tells us that through the redemption by Christ, He has made you pure and blameless and filled with the fruit of righteousness. You are bountiful in fruits from your soul for the glory and praise of God. Think of that! Think of who you are from God’s perspective and the high regard He bestows upon you and me. You are blameless through the righteousness of Christ. You are not guilty. You are forgiven through the blood of Christ. Stop letting others put shame and guilt upon you as if you don’t measure up.
You may not measure up to their standards. But, you do measure up to God’s standards through Christ. In Christ, you are justified, accepted, and perfect in Him. Such truth is enough to make you stop reading and shout, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Thank you Jesus!”
God declares you innocent. Past blunders, yesterday’s sins, and last week’s mistakes are not held against you any longer. Jesus made a great transaction for us at the cross. He took, and then He gave. He took all of our guilt and shame and gave us righteousness, forgiveness, and honor. You are continually cleansed and made right, righteous, and blameless through Christ who forgave you once and for all time on the cross. He took your present, past, and future and declared you innocent. So, stop feeling guilty, worthless, and shamed because of the guilt and dishonor that mean-spirited people heap upon you in order to humiliate and control you.
God further says this. “The spiritual person makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment” (1 Corinthians 2:15 NIV). We are only subject to the judgment of God (1 Corinthians 11:32). Confessing our sins, and asking for His forgiveness, Christ sets us free from bondage. Liberated! “We have freedom now, because Christ made us free. So stand strong. Do not change” (Galatians 5:1 NCV).
We may fail in performance and receive an unsatisfactory job review. We may fail because of our own flaws in relationships. Others may try and make us feel guilty and ashamed when actually we are innocent. But, the most important thing is what God says about us. Our self-hood is defined by God in Christ - by Him and Him alone. Because we are defined by God, He tells us through his Word, “Do not let anyone treat you as if you are unimportant” (1 Timothy 4:12 NCV).
We even have been given a shield to hold off the fiery darts hurled against us from the tongues of unkind people. God tells us to take up the shield of faith - believe what He says about you is truth and revel in the confidence of who you really are. The fiery darts will not penetrate your soul. They fall harmlessly away because of the shield God gives you to defend yourself (Ephesians 6:16). You are, in fact, esteemed by God whether others like you or not!
The Old Testament is also filled with God’s good opinion about those who love Him. In the little book of Zephaniah, God tells us, “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing" (3:17 NIV). Consider the contrast. Have you been rejected, ill-treated by mean-spirited people, or cursed out?” Such treatment leaves me downcast and feeling bad about myself. I imagine you feel the same. Know, on the other hand, that God sings over you and quiets your anxieties with His eternal great song of love over you. No wonder David proclaimed, “O LORD, You are a shield around me. You bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3 NIV).
Take two Zephaniahs 3:17 and three Psalms 3:3 before going to bed, and you will wake up refreshed with your self-hood rejuvenated and restored.
Finally in the book of Isaiah, God says this about you and me. “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (49:16 NIV). Do you see the nail prints in the palm of Jesus’ hand? They are like an eternal tattoo injected into His skin. A tattoo is made by using a machine with a sharp needle and ink. God used the machine of a hammer, three sharp nails, and the blood-ink of Christ to tattoo your name in His scarred hand. Then, he surrounded your name with a heart signifying His great love and esteem for you. Words cannot express the value God gives you and me. So, He carved my name and your name in the palm of His hand. That carved symbol expresses what words cannot express about God’s assessment of you.
No longer do I live in pride - the pride of trying to be somebody esteemed by other people of position and power. No longer do I depend on their evaluations and opinions of me to determine my self-worth. I am at peace with who I am because I rest in God’s evaluation of me. And, He evaluates me as guiltless, pure, and without condemnation (Romans 8:1).
When I look at the cross, when I know God sings over me, and when I see my name carved in the palm of His hand, I am deeply humbled and bow before Him in adoration, praise, and thanksgiving.
All my confusion, He understood.
All I had to offer Him,
Was brokenness and strife,
But He made something,
Beautiful, of my life.
- Bill Gaither
So dear friend, does anguish, despair, and depression follow you around like a mangy gray dog? Has someone rejected, despised, and abused you in a relationship that negatively affects your darling self-hood making you feel like a nothing-person? Accept by faith the love God demonstrated for you giving His Son on the cross for you. By faith, look at your name surrounded by a heart engraved in the nail print of His palm. Feel the glory and worth the Lord pours out upon you. However, be on the alert for those who seek to destroy your person-hood. Receive God-esteem by faith and be courageous and strong ( Corinthians 16:13 NIV).
Others my curse you. God favors you. Others may reject you. God accepts you. Others may betray you, God writes your name in His hand. Receive what God says about you and “cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV).
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