Missourians, stand up and be proud. According to a news release on March 24th, your state may possibly be housing the largest domestic cat in the world. Weighing in at 50 pounds, Iggy boasts a 33-inch waist and consumes 30 pounds of food a week. Although that represents a lot of clumpy litter, the $10,000 that Iggy is looking to win from “Funniest Home Videos” just might deliver him some forgiveness.
I’ve been mulling over in my mind whether our own family cat could procure any kind of cash reward. We acquired Cougar four years ago when several undercover PETA sympathizers, otherwise known as students, were discovered harboring a stray kitten in their campus residence. After receiving the “he goes or you go” ultimatum, the animal lovers skillfully exercised their collegiate gift of sidestepping trouble and pawned the little kitty onto a couple of unsuspecting, completely delighted kids. I recall distinctly not wanting another family pet, but when your toothless wonder of a daughter, along with her supportive big brother, eagerly presents you with a gift that is given by students desiring to do nothing other than to “express their sincere love and appreciation,” you accept it; and then you claim a renewed resolve not to ever be manipulated again. At least not for the next 24 hours.
Though I readily acknowledge that Cougar is an official feline prodigy, I reluctantly admit that his fame comes at the expense of every form of wildlife that dares to slink, slither, or swoop through our neighborhood. The nickname “Killer Kat” only marginally describes his giftedness, for his serial-murdering antics only represent a portion of his talent. By far, his most extraordinary behavior is demonstrated by the methodical and morbid manner in which he displays his victims at our front door.
Sometimes he chooses to present us with one large, intact sacrifice, but most often he opts for a diverse array of offerings. On one of his particularly loving days, he bestowed upon us the aesthetic pleasure of a possum, a frog’s head, a rat’s tail, two lizards, a bird and a large snake, all neatly aligned in one bloody, sacrificial row. I am fairly certain he doesn’t fully appreciate the fact that not every state would feed his criminal mind as generously as Florida. Oh well. I am fairly certain that I don’t appreciate the fact that not every cat owner would be completely disgusted by these expressions of love and affection.
Cougar recently gifted us with a particularly repulsive offering. I knew it was going to be a whopper when my normally nonplussed daughter shrieked in horror. Of course, the appeasement of her ruffled spirit required my own viewing of the offending sacrifice. Nervously squinting through fingers strategically positioned across my eyes, I stood on top of the dining room chair as she slowly opened the front door. Eee-yikes! Now I’ve seen rats before, but this one made Cougar’s armadillo sacrifice look skimpy. I wish that I had taken pictures of the crime scene. Not for permanently recorded images of a bloody rodent, but for images of Cougar with his chin held high in the air and chest puffed out, sporting a fat cat attitude of smug self-assurance that he had just presented us with one truly fantastic sacrifice.
As I mused over the irony of Cougar’s arrogant satisfaction and our own personal disgust, I couldn’t help but to consider how some of our offerings must appear to the Lord. All those righteousnesses that we so proudly lay at His feet, convinced He must somehow be impressed with our beautiful displays of devotion. How Cougar-like we must appear to the King of Kings when we sport the attitude of a robust and self-satisfied cat as we proudly stand over our offerings of modest dress, Word-centered music, and militant stances against worldliness. How particularly repulsive the scene must appear to our Lord when we not only stand proudly over our offerings, but also turn a condescending eye toward the skimpy and bloodless sacrifices of those other neighborhood cats. I wonder how He views the scene of His redeemed children viciously sinking claws into their sacrifices of personal preference, hissing at anyone who comes close? Or how he views the scene of His children proudly singing about all the talents they are relinquishing to Him or about all the faithfulness with which they are serving Him when He is the giver and provider of the very things they are offering?
“Believer, let us beware! Unless in each advance in what we think is
holiness, we make the increase of humility our study, we may find that
we’ve been delighting in beautiful thoughts and feelings and in solemn
acts of consecrations and faith, while the only sure mark of the presence
of God, the disappearance of self, was all the time lacking. Come and
let us flee to Christ, and hide ourselves in Him until we be clothed with
His humility. That alone is our holiness.” – Andrew Murray
Marriage, that beautiful picture of Christ and His Church, has the potential to clearly demonstrate the battle that can wage within our hearts to keep our focus on the Lord Himself, and not on the righteous gifts we lovingly, or dutifully, and at times even grudgingly offer Him. My guess is that I’m not the only wife that has experienced her husband’s arms around her as he displays more interest in seeing her attention centered on him rather than on the household pleasantries that she desires to accomplish for him. Although a husband certainly enjoys the fruit of his wife’s labor, he is designed to enjoy her pleasure most. If she selfishly makes choices that continually keep her attention fixed on her duties, she will quickly find herself owning discouragement and frustration since these are the byproducts of functioning according to our own plan, not God’s. The fabric of Self is comprised of threads that always demand more appreciation than can be given, more success than can be acquired, and higher expectations than can be met.
There are several reasons why Iggy is a 50-pound cat, and genetic propensity is only one of them. Being fed 30 pounds of mincemeat a week is another. Although the natural tendencies of our hearts are geared toward prideful and arrogant thinking, there are feeding habits of tradition that need to capture our attention and evaluation if we don’t want to foster the breeding of fat cats.
I recently attended a service that highlighted children who had participated in a church Bible club. The sight of dear young ones being rewarded for Word-centered disciplines such as verse memorization and Scripture reading was a precious sight; but unfortunately, it was tainted by my own restless spirit. Not convinced that our embracement of reward systems is educating the heart biblically, I have a tendency to mentally squirm during award programs. What I witnessed after the service only added to my confusion. There was the mother dealing with her two children squabbling over who received the most honors, and then there was a child crying over her failure to win a ribbon she was certain she had obtained. As the questions swirled uncomfortably in my mind, I was thankful they ceased long enough for me to offer sincere congratulations to two adorable children who bounded toward me, proudly declaring that they had won every award possible.
When the fleshly bent of our heart is to be pleasers of men and to render service out of selfish motivation for praise and recognition, are our practices decidedly helping, or are they hindering, the process of heart transformation within our children? Are we providing genuine biblical education of the heart when we so publicly and openly reward them for the very things the Bible tells us to do secretly unto Him and not unto men?
My concern with our reward system permeates more venues than the example given. I question the wisdom of pinning “Superior” medals on children as we pat them on the back and tell then to esteem others more highly than themselves. Or the wisdom of draping “First” ribbons around their necks as we quote “Jesus first, Others second, You last.” The praise of men carries a dangerous and lethal power to fatten us no matter what level of spiritual maturity. Even if we learn to offer sincere and humble phrases of appreciation to God as we seek to center the attention on Him and His grace alone, the sobering reality is that a vicious battle rages as the enemy of pride wars for gratification.
Are we guarding the hearts of our children against worldly manifestations of pride with as much fervor as we are guarding them against worldly manifestations of lust? Are we counterproductive when we clothe them in modest attire, surround them with secure boundaries, permeate them with accountability and then drown them in public praise and adulation? In other words, are our outpourings of overt praise and our expressions of public lauding, which often become fodder for our school and church newsletters, equivalent to feeding Iggy 30 pounds of mincemeat a day?
I am often asked the question as to what I enjoy most about homeschooling. I have discovered that one of the greatest advantages is the existence of an environment that is not fired by comparison with others, or motivated by competition with peers. Homeschooling offers a unique opportunity to offer biblical instruction that compels a child to work his best for the Lord’s glory alone, an advantage that I trust I never underestimate. The reason typically given for the incorporation of public awards is that they serve as good motivators for children to do right and to put forth their best effort. If the Bible commands us to serve the Lord from a heart that is not driven out of a selfish desire to be seen and honored of men, then to some degree are we not using that which the Bible condemns to motivate behavior that the Bible encourages?
There are other areas where I think we demonstrate carelessness with the worldliness of pride. When I read the unending stream of public gushes of admiration, directed toward some of the men in our circles whom the Lord has very obviously blessed with solid articulation of the Word, that draws constant attention to their “unsurpassed minds,” I am concerned about their spiritual health. Does our continual fawning not demonstrate how little we value humility? These men do read; and if the blogosphere is any indication of what they endure on a daily basis, they are in need of very earnest pleas for protection. It is difficult not to absorb a culture that exalts and worships the name of men at the same time it minimizes the name of God. The names of men are being printed, etched, sewn, engraved, burned and painted on everything we own at the same time God’s name is being removed. There was a time when we had to squint to see the author of a book, and now the name looms as large as the title. Exalting the names of men is a cultural habit.
Do we offer enough thoughtful attention to our words that they don’t needlessly pile on pounds of pride? In our churches do we love our members enough to help guard their hearts, or do we carelessly adorn them with spiritual pride over our condescending comments about those worshippers in that other camp and those ill-clad and immodest dressers of that other congregation? In our schools, do we love our students enough to guard their hearts against pride, or in an attempt to promote our ministry do we carelessly facilitate attitudes of superiority, graduating them with a worldly sense of self-satisfaction that they possess more polish, Christian character and spirituality than other Believers? As parents, do we guard the hearts of our children as we teach them to be circumspect in friendship, or do we mumble condescending comments as we warn them against those ungodly neighborhood kids and those worldly classmates?
It is very difficult to diligently guard our hearts in this area, for true humility comes at a cost that is extremely uncomfortable. We can openly express a desire for it; yet carry within us a greater desire to be kept from the very things that will make us humble. If we aren’t earnestly and diligently pursuing humility, it should be no surprise that we aren’t earnestly and diligently protecting it.
The concerns that I have expressed are offered merely for our thoughtful consideration. I do not advocate the wholesale removal of awards, nor do I advocate the cessation of naming or honoring men of God. I carry a purse with my initials embroidered on the front and a Bible with my name engraved on the cover. Along with them, I do not carry concern that I have absorbed a sinful culture of exalting the names of men. I simply desire to draw attention to feeding habits that may or may not be unwittingly contributing to spiritual unhealth.
If the thought of Cougar’s bloody sacrifices frightens you, I trust you will not be deterred from visiting our home in Florida. Just plan to do what everybody else does. Hide in your car and grab your cell phone. “Er…uh…I think you have some visitors waiting for you at your front door…along with one very fat cat.”
Holly Stratton resides in Safety Harbor, FL with her husband, their two children and their devoted cat. She is the wife of Richard Stratton, president of Clearwater Christian College.