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Save Us From Self

July 11, 2016 One Comment

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by Robert Bugbee

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

“My life. My death. My choice.” It was an internet comment posted recently following a news story on the topic of physician-assisted suicide. I don’t know who wrote it, but the author figured this was a trump-card he could throw on the pile to silence people who don’t agree with him on that issue. After all, who could disagree that I alone should make ultimate decisions on things that clearly belong to me… like my life and my death?

It’s a little silly to imagine things are that simple. After all, my life isn’t something I earned in the first place. It came to me as a gift. Even people who don’t believe in God didn’t create themselves. Parents, loved ones, and a world around them all had a part in bestowing life, protecting it, and helping them to live theirs. Laws and social customs make clear that you cannot just do absolutely whatever you want with your life, your words and actions along the way. Try to be too radical about doing whatever you wish with your life, and there will be pushback. Things you figure you have every right to do frequently affect other people, their well-being, and even their pocketbooks when they have to clean up after some of the choices you decided were totally yours to make.

A crisis like the fires in Fort McMurray is a clear threat. The Zika virus or a terrorist attack would be, too. Everyone would instantly recognize, “We’ve got to respond… now!” But there is a different sort of danger among us. It is widespread. It is real. And we’re all affected by it. Because it is gradual and subtle, however, it flies “under the radar,” so to speak, and doesn’t grab headlines.

I’m talking about the self-absorbed mindset one meets all around us. It is not only a problem in Canada, but throughout western societies where people have wealth and more options than elsewhere. The symptoms are everywhere. You see them on news networks, where an endless stream of individuals and groups air grievances against somebody, because their rights are not being properly recognized. You hear their echoes in the constant demands being made on governments and relentless criticism of what they are failing to accomplish, while one hears rather little appreciation for the many things they do right. It leads me to wonder whether such blessings are being taken for granted or at least minimized because, after all, I am “owed” these things. One sees it in the struggle of some service organizations, parent-teacher leagues, and other agencies hard-pressed to find people to volunteer, while voices can be quick to complain if the same groups are not furnishing a service or benefit I figure I’ve got coming to me.

Because God’s people live in the real world, it’s no surprise that we meet this self-centeredness within the church, too. There are wonderful exceptions, but many church families struggle to enlist helpers to do important work, while in some of those places there is no shortage of voices demanding or complaining that “I’m not receiving what I should.”

When he explains the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther writes, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them” (Lutheran Service Book, page 322). In the Second Article, he reminds that Jesus “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil… that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him” (LSB, page 323).

Pull all that together. My life is given me as a gift. My mental and physical strengths are, too. My standing as God’s child is also an undeserved gift from Jesus. He has a claim on my words and actions, so that they offer grateful service to Him and to people He places all around me.

My life is given me as a gift. My mental and physical strengths are, too. My standing as God’s child is also an undeserved gift from Jesus. He has a claim on my words and actions, so that they offer grateful service to Him and to people He places all around me.

It is not likely that you will undo the self-absorbed mindset in the world around you any time soon. It’s wise, however, to pinpoint it as a distinct temptation aimed directly at you as much as anyone, to repent of it when it grips you, and to wrestle with it in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). When God gets His chance to do this work on you, it sets you apart from the run-of-the-mill out there that always stress “my right” over my duty and “what is owed me” over how I might give myself to others. The self-absorbed mindset, though it sounds like a “slam dunk” argument on the internet, is tearing much of our world apart.

How we praise the Lord Christ for freeing us to walk a better way! How we trust Him to use it to bring some healing in the corner where you live and give your witness!

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Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is President of Lutheran Church–Canada.

  • Jane Ford

    Thank you so much, President Bugbee. I have been taking quite a beating from others over this issue. You have just re-affirmed that I am not alone.