Abraham Lincoln stood about 6’4”, but his looks stood quite a lot lower. His face looked considerably handsomer when lighted by his smile. But he wouldn’t have been a finalist in any looking contest.
With some justification, Matthew Brady claimed that his portrait of Lincoln, taken after his Cooper Union speech, helped make him President. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles commissioned a portrait of the President that he considered a good likeness. The President didn’t disagree, but had a story. A western man secretly had himself painted to give his wife a birthday present. But her response on first seeing it was, “Horribly like.” Which Lincoln considered appropriate to Welles’ portrait of him. War years III, 428
Well…we all like our best side photographed. Some of us think we have no “best side.” Any picture is “horribly like” us.
Which is humiliatingly true of all spiritually. Scripture everywhere, once we left the innocence and security of Eden, paints us in unflattering, brutal, nothing-beautiful and everything-homely tones. And every single frame accurate!
That view of us collides with our view of us. We consider ourselves not bad looking spiritually if equating spiritual with moral. Which scripture doesn’t and won’t. However much we “clean up morally,” we’re still ugly spiritually if outside Christ’s grace. Only conversion to him from our lost estate, secured by his grace and our obedience in repentance and baptism, gives us a new look, a fancy look, a pretty look, a handsome look—and all because we look like Jesus in our new state.
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In his short story Mackintosh, Somerset Maugham painted Mackintosh as a fastidious legalist, the opposite of his boss, Walker. At night Mackintosh would awaken and immediately think of an insult Walker had delivered during the day. What galled him was his inability to return it. If he tried to match barbs, Walker had a quicker, more biting wit. If he occasionally thrust a delicate shaft Walker missed it entirely.
What could Mackintosh do? He hated Walker with an increasing mania. He had to find a way to diminish him. He found it in their opposite habits. Mackintosh could pride himself in being different from Walker. Walker ate noisily and greedily; Mackintosh thought: “The barbarian.” Walker used bad grammar and said ignorant things; Mackintosh thought: “Uneducated boor.” When Walker openly despised his assistant Mackintosh thought: “The fool; he doesn’t know a good man when he sees him.” In every possible way Mackintosh elevated himself by debasing his boss.
Unconverted human nature often exalts its virtue by critiquing another’s faults. It’s the sin Paul condemned in II Corinthians 10:12. Christ’s nature in us WON’T. Instead, it remembers to “do to others what you would have them do to you….” Matthew 7:12. It remembers to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” Colossians 3:13. It honors the admonition “…but in humility consider others better than yourselves” Philippians 2:4.
Mackintosh finally had his boss killed. No wonder: murder lurked within him just waiting a chance to strike. If we were to extrapolate into a future act what we presently think of someone, what would we do to that person?
Wherever slavery existed, owners felt threatened by revolts that could come at any time and came often enough that whites never felt safe. In September, 1739, one such rebellion occurred in Charles Town, South Carolina. Twenty slaves stole “guns and gunpowder from a store, killing and decapitating” two storekeepers.
However, instead of heading quickly south to Florida and freedom, they marched along pounding a drum and shouting “Liberty!” This attracted other slaves until 80-100 had been recruited. They burned plantations as they marched and killed 20 whites.
The owners in turn mounted an offensive that ran them down on the second day. They cornered and killed most of the runaways, most after they surrendered. Then, as a warning, cut off their heads and posted one to each mile back to Charles Town. American Colonies, 240
Slave owners never stopped to ponder: slavery itself was the cause of their fear.
Like them, we hardly ever think that our sin causes the problems we face. We blame the government—which often brings misery to our lives. We blame education—which is certainly responsible for much of our alienation from God. We blame the preachers—who are sometimes under God’s indictment for weakly and indirectly proclaiming his word.
We far too seldom blame ourselves. Even though, as Toscanini once said to a refractory, incompetent orchestra member, we are “what’s standing between” God and his intention for us.
When Jesus and his apostles preached, they never hinted that someone else was the reason we needed to repent. We remain the cause of our rejection of God. We need to repent of being ourselves.
A San Diego Union cartoon featured the face of the late Maya Angelou. As a crown over her head it had what was likely one of her favorite sayings: “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” Union Tribune, 5/29/14
In fact, anyone who ever put his feelings before God’s Word, has made a deity of himself. The homosexual who knows what the Bible says against the lifestyle, but “thinks” it’s still acceptable, has made a deity of himself. The moral person who considers Christ’s death on Calvary unnecessary for him since “he’s a good person” has made a deity of himself.
We do not need encouragement to “listen to yourself.” We do it naturally, innately, viscerally. We need to be warned “Never do that!” For self makes the poorest of all deities, because it’s inflamed, swollen and marinated in the Satanic temptation to consider one’s self God’s equal.