Monday, September 5, 2011

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.

Vanitas painting by Harmen Steenwyck (1612-1656)
     King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived, who actually wrote the Book of Proverbs, summed up his life with the following conclusion: Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun, (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
     The subject of Vanity is thoroughly and exhaustively discussed by Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes, another book he is credited to have written. Both books are (and have been) revered throughout history for unparalleled wisdom. During his 40 year reign of the nation of Israel, he was sought out by other kings and world leaders for advice on myriad of issues and topics. Even today, no one can walk away after reading either book, especially Proverbs, without feeling a profound sense of gaining new and profitable knowledge to deal with specific issues on ethics, morals, parenting, marriage, business and almost every subject life presents mankind.
     Solomon was granted this wisdom contained in these books, as well as fame and fortune by God, above all men, before and after his time. By today’s standards, Solomon’s fortune during his reign would rival that of Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the fifty richest Arabs in the world, all rolled into one. As the story goes in the book of 1 Kings, chapter three, beginning in verse 5, we are told why God afforded him that honor and blessing:
     In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night: and God said, Ask what I shall give thee. 6And Solomon said, Thou hast shewed unto thy servant David my father great mercy, according as he walked before thee in truth, and in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with thee; and thou hast kept for him this great kindness, that thou hast given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.7And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.8And thy servant is in the midst of thy people which thou hast chosen, a great people, that cannot be numbered nor counted for multitude.9Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? 10And the speech pleased the LORD, that Solomon had asked this thing.11And God said unto him, Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; 12Behold, I have done according to thy words: lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart; so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee. 13And I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honour: so that there shall not be any among the kings like unto thee all thy days. 14And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days, (1 Kings 3:5-14).

     Sadly, King Solomon lost it all because he did not follow the statutes and commandments as his father did. After reigning as the mightiest King ever, for forty years, as we read in 1 Kings11:1-6, Solomon turned away from God, erecting and praying to various idols at the behest of his many wives and concubines (approximately 1000 in total), God turned over Solomon’s fortune to another, dividing his Kingdom, which began the downfall of ALL of Israel.
     What is vanity? The dictionary tells us that it is excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, character or the quality of being vain. There is no human being alive or ever lived who has not been guilty of vanity, at one time or the other, some more so than others. If examined carefully, acts of possessing the character of vanity is actually committing the gravest (if not the most important) sin of all the Ten Commandments. It is not the greatest of the 10 Commandments (as we read in Matthew 22:36-39), but it is important to recognize it was chronologically elucidated as the first in Exodus 20:3-4.
     The first (Gr protos=chief, best)) and greatest as we read in Matthew 22:36-39) is Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matthew 22:36-39).
     We purposely focused on the Greek rendering of the word first to demonstrate that there is a difference between first (as in 1st) in chronological order and first as in chief or best, an extremely important point we discussed in our book, The End Times Passover (pages 377-381), where we point out that the “first resurrection” mentioned in Revelation 20:6 is describing the best way to be resurrected and it is not describing there will be more than one resurrection, as so many Bible students (and many professors, as well) have the tendency to do. But we digress from the importance of vanity and the negative impact in can have in our walk with Christ.
     We broached the subject of vanity and the life of the author of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes to make one extremely important point: No matter who, or how rich and famous, or even how blessed by God a person may be or feel, if they allow vanity to rule their walk with Christ, and do not obey God’s statutes or commandments, we can lose it all.
[Mr. Blackwell, famous fashion critic, presents Joe Ortiz with 'The Angel" award for "Best Telelvision Host in Los Angeles" in 1973 at the Coconut Grove Ballroom, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles]

     As stated earlier, there is no human alive or that ever lived who has not experience the sin of vanity. I, myself, have been accused of being vain and at times those accusers are probably correct. We all want to be appreciated and recognized for our achievements, whether they include being the winner of a baseball game in our school, winning an Oscar for Best Actor, and yes, even for writing what one believes is a profound book on theological matters. For that matter, thousands upon thousands of people are on FaceBook and other social networks seeking recognition and praise daily by quoting scripture or unique pearls of wisdom, or even starting a ministry web site and or hosting their brand of religious radio. Thriving for approval and recognition is probably one of the most preoccupying activities in our daily lives!
     What truly lay at the heart of vanity? Is it mere self-confidence, or self assurance based on being blessed with exterior beauty and high intellect? Many individuals (and even nations) have assumed leadership roles based on such attributes. Sadly, many have conquered their immediate terrain and pushed forward for higher and larger territories based on an evil affliction we know as narcissism. What is narcissism?
     Dr. Mike Gropper, an American psychotherapist and marital therapist, in an article I read sometime back described ‘narcissism’ thus:
     “At first glance, it appears that these people love themselves, yet, deep down, they don't love themselves in fact, their "self" barely exists, and what part does exist is deemed worthless. All energy is devoted to inflating the self, like the stepmother's seeking reassurance about her beauty and perfection from the magic mirror. Narcissism is named after the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus, a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. In punishment for his cruelty, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, he pined away and changed into the flower that bears his name to this very day.
     Because they need continuous proof of the significance of their "voice," narcissists must find people, particularly important people, to hear and value them. If they are not heard, their childhood wound opens, and they quickly begin to feel threatened, like the evil stepmother in Snow White. This terrifies them. Narcissists use everyone around them to keep themselves inflated. Often they find flaws in others and criticize them fiercely, as this further "distinguishes" them from those who are "defective."
     Repeatedly, in order to keep himself inflated, the narcissist has to control and dominate those that are around him; usually these are his immediate family members. There is not enough room for more than one correct viewpoint in the mind of a narcissist, unless that viewpoint is in agreement with his own. The narcissist does not really like others. Rather, others are used to reflect back the image he quite cleverly imposes on the world to keep his grandiosity inflated. This behavior of selling an image is to have people reflect, admire, applaud or even detest, in order to have the narcissist feel his existence. Because of their underlying need to be heard, narcissists often work their way to the center of their "circle," or the top of their organization, or community. They may strive to be part of the inner circle of friends, making sure that they do so at any cost. These patterns often get played out in social settings like a civic organization or club or synagogue. Indeed, they may be the mentor or guru for others. The second they are snubbed, however, they rage at their "enemy", (Dr. Mike Gropper).
     This form of vanity expressed so eloquently by Dr. Gropper is more prevalent in the church than many realize. Albeit they may have that external beauty and high intellect, deep down inside they have acquired self-disdain by virtue of childhood injuries stemming from mean-spirited parents and siblings, as well as childhood friends. Yet we are told in the Bible that those who claim to be ‘Christian’ no longer manifest whatever maladaptive traits they may have been burdened with before coming to Christ: 
     17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new, (2 Corinthians 5:17, KJV).
     Yet, the issue of vanity prevails amid the church in greater fashion than even in early Christian era. Why is this so?
     For those who have accomplished much (by society’s modern-day standards), there is nothing truly wrong in being proud of their achievements. It is only when those achievements become the engine that drives and motivates their respective ministries. Many evangelists and renown pastors have been known (as has glowingly been published) to have stumbled due to abusing their ill-gained fame and fortune through vain methods, just as did King Solomon. No one is immune from the heady stuff of being admired (some even adored) for their vast knowledge, charisma and great eloquence in preaching the Gospel. No need to mention names but the list of fallen-from-grace ministers is growing rapidly.
     What many fail to realize is that this malady has existed forever and a great throng of vanity-filled church folk can be found in the New Testament, as well as the Old. As we read in the Gospel of Mark, James and John appeared more concerned about being praised for their work rather than recognizing that much will be required of them if they are true servants of Christ:
     35And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. 36And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? 37They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized:  40But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared, (Mark 10:35-40).
     Speaking of the word “prepared” in verse 40, this word is the same Greek word (hetoimazo) Jesus uses to describe what it is He goes to prepare in John 14:2, which is a future position of authority each disciple will receive when Christ returns. This subject is dealt with at great length in Chapter 10 (Heavenly Minded) in our book, The End Times Passover. In other words, Jesus is not preparing the mansions we are supposed to occupy in Heaven which many associate with the Rapture myth; but, rather it is the positional status His disciples will serve and be administrators of in His soon-to-come-Kingdom on earth, based on the works (in Christ) which He is currently recording. This is the reward He brings with Him as is spoken of in Revelation 22:12: 
     Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. Again, I digress from the issue of vanity, which does not discriminate any person. We all struggle with this malady. Even Paul, the greatest evangelist who ever lived (who was also martyred) struggled with the issue of vanity, as we read in 2 Corinthians 12:4-9:
      1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say. 7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong, (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
     Many theorists focus primarily on what that thorn was, offering a myriad of afflictions. But the most important aspect of this group of scripture is why Paul had to be afflicted by the thorn, which (the Bible clearly states in verse 7) was designed to keep him from being conceited. Obviously, having been exposed by Christ to inexpressible things things that man is not permitted to reveal to others can create a heady trip in a person. When Paul tells us that eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor the mind conceived what glories God has in store for His children (which he obviously saw and heard when he was caught up to the 3rd heaven), one very well could become extremely conceited by virtue of this knowledge.
     There are other examples of Christ-loving and obedient servants who had trouble with the vanity issue, but these two examples will suffice it is a bigger problem than many are willing to admit. A bigger problem they never noticed before; one that even haunts them daily. God will soon humble them unless they humble themselves first.
     I know of many, many individuals in public ministry who suffer this afflicting vanity malady, which will eventually come to a destructive end. Many, who actually believe they are gaining points with Christ because they still believe they have unique skills, talents or intellect but will be amazed once they enter the Kingdom upon His return. Many will be surprised when they actually see who will be seated next to Christ as John and James yearned for. Many will wonder why the renowned minister and pastor who had a giant mega church with 35,000 members cannot be seen up front, instead will be occupying  a row in the back of the proverbial Rapture bus; barely making it into the Kingdom by the skin of his teeth.
     Many self-professed servants of God believed they have been blessed above others, and that their esoteric knowledge in what they believe to be new areas of discovery are unique. As we read in Ecclesiastes 1:9, The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
     Yet, the majority of us work hard at coming up with something new to add to the Gospel equation; efforts (that we believe to be of a religious nature) that actually distracts and takes us away from doing what God requires, as I often quote in James 1:26-27:
     26If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
     Sadly, abiding in the above mentioned work is not exciting, not as rewarding as receiving praise for preaching or writing about the latest paranormal anomalies that inundate the Internet and media. Those works above do not gain us the notice, praise, acceptance and nor the positional status in the church we believe is servant duty. We relish the “great” or “good job” from the fans and groupies we acquired by preaching, teaching or writing about “our version” of Bible prophecy that, when compared to the masters of yesteryear, would fall on deaf ear. We smugly feel we NOW have the answers to eschatological issues, proffering new and unique formula and time frames regarding the return of Christ. And all the time turning our backs on Christ who told us in Acts 1:7: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But “Damn be the word of God, I’m going to do it anyway!”
     One of the biggest questions, and the prevailing topic amongst Christian leaders, concerns the decline and dwindling interest in the “Church” not recognizing that the true ecclesia has its marching orders strewn throughout the Bible. It’s about picking up our crosses and following Jesus, not about ceremony, style, size, nor whether it’s politically correct from the liberal or conservative perspective. It’s about serving, not the service; it’s about caring and character, not crying nor characters.
     How does the sincere and committed servant overcome this powerful temptation, especially since childhood most of us have been trained and conditioned to pursue excellence? How does the genuine disciple adopt and put on the attitude that should be prevalent among those who genuinely want to be recognized and acknowledge by Christ rather than man? It s easy to say, humble thyself. We are given one example in one of the wedding parables found in Luke 14:
     7 When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests, (Luke 14:7-10).
     Yet, we see in many so-called servants of God, leading ministries that have failed to shed their egos and are filled with vanities, seeking recognition for the false appearance of godly matters. If instead each would gather themselves in their prayer closets and seek God to reveal their inner motives.
     “Am I doing this for your glory or for mine, Lord? Please reveal my heart! Examine me and let your true will be known."
     David, the Psalmist, like the godly Paul, did this all the time as we see in the entire chapter of Psalm 26:1-12. Both were aware of the great (and costly) sin of vanity. David learned his lesson the hard way, not realizing his vanity enacted a heavy price on his respective ministry, as it can for ours. David, boastfully feeling mighty by virtue of his vast military power (1 Chronicles 21:1-30), examined his kingdom and sought to count its vast powers, boastfully in belief its greatness was of his own doing. God showed His anger and plagued him with pestilence that ended with the death of 70,000 of his military that included thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword, (vs. 5). Recently history shows us how so many Christian leaders have seen their ministries crumble before their very eyes due to haughtiness, pride and vanity; therefore, this sin affects others as well.
     Conversely, there are many who are worthy by virtue of faith and trust, by living solely by the word of God (not man-perceived notions), not seeking or even concerned about any recognition for their work; they just do it! These will enter the Kingdom to feast with Jesus upon His return. While thousands more who trusted their own strength and felt they earned points with God by working with and trusting their own skills and talents (with great pride in and of their respective accomplishments) will be amazed to see who is seated next to the throne of Christ. They may not recognize those humble servants but will be stunned to see the widow who tended to a dozen orphans in the remote hinterlands of a 3rd world country; or a once pregnant woman of an illegitimate child, who sat by a cancer-stricken old man, tending to his sores and wounds for years until he departed. Or even that little old handicapped man who rose at 5 in the morning for over 40 years to faithfully feed the farm hands on a southern cotton plantation.
     None of these faithful servants will nor can boast about their blogs for Christ, producing and or hosting a thousand radio and television broadcasts, nor for appearing (or holding the record for being a guest) on TBN, nor of even leading one, ten, fifty or a thousand people to Christ. Nor with those who can quote every verse in the Bible and its corresponding numbers, nor repeating eloquent prayers or even in sharing words of wisdom.  But they practiced true religion as we read about in James 1:26-27. They will not posses Oscars, Emmys, Grammies, Nobel Peace prizes, nor ten photo albums filled with press clipping of their so-called spirit-filled fruit, nor a member of anyone’s Hall of Fame, nor on the New York Times best author list.
     No, those who will be seated next to Christ will not be renowned nor recognizable names in the annals of “Christian” ministry, they will be people with names no one knows or ever heard of.  But they will be known by Christ. These folks may not even know how to spell the word VANITY. But they did the will of the Father.
     I pray God will help me to get back to the real reason He called me in the first place, to trust, serve and obey. And most importantly, that He will find me no longer worrying about what I feel I am contributing to His Kingdom, but to find me worthy to be included among those truly humble servants of God!
  • "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
  • Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud."(Proverbs 16:18-19).
For more information about the author and his books, please click on The End Times Passover and Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation. To access his blogs and other web sites, please click on Joe Ortiz.

In conclusion click the link below, which says it best:
Carly Simon Said It Best!

1 comment:

  1. More words of wisdom from a man who gets his wisdom from the Word of God! Since there's nothing more I can add to what I've just said, I won't say anything else. Rosa