Painting by Raphael
Saint George and the Dragon, c. 1506

The Ego Disease

There is no such thing as a healthy ego. There is no such thing as a safe serpent. There is no such thing as a safe rattlesnake. There is no such thing as a safe cancer. When we see it, we must kill it, defang it or quarantine it before it kills us. The earlier we see it and deal with it, the more likely we will be able to kill it. I am not permitted to kill your ego, your dragon; and you are not permitted to kill my ego, my dragon. We all must kill our own dragon. There are not only individual egos but also collective or group egos. Cities can have diseased egos. Nations can have diseased egos. Yes, even churches can have diseased egos. A diseased ego has an unquenchable appetite for power and applause. It craves to be worshipped and admired.

A diseased ego looks and talks like this, “I am more important than my neighbor. My point of view is more valuable than my neighbor’s. I have a better education and a better track record. If I would be your president, senator, congressman or county commissioner, I could do a better job. Move over God, move over incumbent; I am better qualified, and can do a better job.”

Egos come in different sizes. There are big egos, little egos and everything in-between. The ego says, “Here I am. Make room for me. Listen to me. I am important.” All babies have egos and are cute, but not every baby stays cute. What are we to do when they don’t stay cute? We can’t kill them. We can’t kill the patient to cure the cancer although that can and does happen.

We have made laws and built jails for those who don’t stay cute. We have built mental hospitals for others. We go to war and kill those who are not like us “good guys.” The real problem is not them, it’s us. It’s us far too often. But generally we can’t see it and don’t even want to see it. And when anyone tells us that there is something wrong with us, we get in their face. When someone tells us that it would be a good idea to see a priest or psychiatrist, the hackles go up on the back of our neck. “Don’t tell me what to do,” we snort as if there might be a dragon in us. There very well might be!

It took quite a while for the Holy Spirit to sneak up on my blind side to let me know that I needed a lot of help. We all need a lot of help; and we generally can’t get it by going to the Yellow Pages or the phone. We generally do not ask for or are able to receive help until we have exhausted all our own resources. In other words, until we are physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and financially bankrupt, we tell everyone to bug off and leave us alone.

If these words have found their way into your life and what you have read so far makes sense to you, read on. If it does not make sense or irritates you, I hope you will still endure reading the rest of my letter. The purpose of my letter is to hand you the same diagnostic tools that helped me to realize that I had a big problem. And that problem was my ego. When I was young, everyone thought I was cute and cuddly. Later in life I did my best to excel and be the best and first in my class. I was applauded by some, shunned or ignored by others. My bulging ego had an insatiable appetite for more attention and applause. It was clamoring to be number one. Coming underneath the authority of others was difficult, nearly impossible. Being a soldier during the Korean War helped a little.

Rebekah, my wife of many years, was the first person who was able to point out to me that I had an inflated ego. Others had tried to tell me, but without success. She did so in the gentlest way and at a most opportune moment. When I showed her one of my favorite paintings and said, “I see myself as Saint George on the white horse,” she innocently blurted out, “You are the horse, Jesus is the warrior knight on the horse.”

Those words were my wake-up call. The Holy Spirit used the painting by Raphael plus Rebekah’s words as a marvelous diagnostic tool to expose the serpent of pride within me. He was a very big serpent by the time I was forty and this happened. The serpent called “pride” had been waiting for that perfect moment to strike and kill me and anyone who got in his way. He was ruthless and arbitrary and had convinced me that God was directing my life.

Quite often over the years I have climbed back on the horse only to be gently reminded that I had once again put my hands in the cookie jar of God’s glory. Yes, the higher our calling, the lower our profile needs to be. As I pen these words, I am an old man. And yet, I must continue to be on guard like all ex-addicts. If I do not voluntarily and deliberately put on the mantle of humility when I write and speak, I am treading on dangerous ground. Today I give God the glory for a sound mind, not the education that I paid for so dearly. It did little more than puff up my ego. My way of thanking Jesus is by telling you my story and being transparent, honest, and vulnerable. Sharing my life and my search for sanity always adds to my own healing.

Another picture that has been a diagnostic tool for my inflated ego is of a farmer watering his little seedlings. For years I had seen myself as the farmer. In other words, I interpreted the picture in my favor. In fact I had repeatedly mentioned to Rebekah that I was the farmer watering the seedlings. The picture had occupied a pivotal place in our bedroom for possibly fifteen years before Rebekah quietly reminded me that Jesus was the farmer and that I was the clay pot.

There will be someone reading these words that will smile and say, “I have been the farmer all my life; from this day on I will try to see myself as the clay pot and act like a clay pot.” Believe me, that is not an easy transition. Allowing Jesus to be in charge of our life all the time takes a lot of daily surrender, a lot of practice, and a lot of dying to self. I am smiling because I know that there are a few more out there that have had their hands in the cookie jar of God’s glory. It is our human tendency to have an exaggerated sense of importance, to think more highly of ourselves and our jobs than we ought to. Paul reminds us by saying, “As God’s messenger I give each of you God’s warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

I recall the day Rebekah came home and said, “I have a surprise for you. I found the perfect sign.” We both laughed as I read the words. Laughter helped the medicine go down. The words described to a “T” who I was, but not who I was supposed to be. All my life I had clamored for attention – a clear sign of immaturity, insecurity, and insatiable ego-needs. But one day the obsessive need for man’s approval took a hike and never came back. It happened when I sought God's approval in lieu of man’s approval. It happened the moment I knew that Jesus loved me all the time. Now I can say it and mean it, “If you don’t approve of me, talk to Jesus about it.”

When I look around, I see quite a few people who have the ego disease. Sooner or later we all have to come to grips with our ego by voluntarily killing it – by stepping and stomping on it. That’s like pulling out our own teeth with a pair of pliers without the benefit of Novocain. When we do this, we are de-fanging ourselves. We are nailing our old nature to the cross. The apostle Paul tells us what the rewards are for being willing to die to self, “If we are living

now by the Holy Spirit’s power, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Then we won’t need to look for honors and popularity, which lead to jealousy and hard feelings” (Gal. 5:25-26).

When I met Jesus, my balloon popped. My life splattered all over the place. Waking up in a mental hospital behind iron bars was what one might call, “A rude awakening to my diseased ego.” The clay pot, me, broke into a thousand pieces. It took many years to build a new and different clay pot. I am still under reconstruction. The Master Builder, Jesus, did not give up on me. And that is my message of hope to those whose clay pots are in danger of breaking or have already broken into a thousand pieces.

My story is the story of Humpty-Dumpty (Click on Humpty-Dumpty) with one difference. Jesus came along and picked up all the broken pieces and made a new and better clay pot. He unscrambled my confused and tormented mind and gave me a new one. And folks, it did not take a ton of drugs to heal me and put me back together again. The name of Jesus and the power that is in the name of Jesus was enough. On the outside I still look like Humpty-Dumpty, but my insides have been totally overhauled. I am a new man today. I am secure in the fact that I have been forgiven and that God loves me. Nothing else matters.

As I look at the skylines and skyscrapers of big cities I see egos that have ballooned out of proportion including my own. When I see huge stadiums built for a few superstars and many spectators, I see egos that have ballooned out of proportion. When I see mega industries competing with one another for dominance, I see egos that have ballooned out of proportion. When I see mega churches and denominations claiming to be the only legitimate or best way to God, I see egos that have ballooned out of proportion. When we seek and applaud head knowledge above of heart knowledge we put our souls in jeopardy. Whenever we worship the god of “big” instead of our big God, we are missing the boat. The ego says, “Bigger is better.” That’s a lie from the pit of hell. Pride, lust, and greed create ego-monuments. Pride is the most deadly disease there is. It is more deadly than cancer because it causes our souls to become diseased and severed from our Creator. It is also one of the hardest diseases to diagnose correctly and heal. Generally it takes a complete overhaul. Complete overhauls take time, are painful, and very expensive. Overhauls begin with repentance and confession. Repentance and confession is our fire escape from ego towers. That’s what I am doing just now as I bare my soul to you and am asking you do the same.

Our desire to do our very best in order to honor our Creator and humbly serve our fellow man is worthy of praise, but not worship. However, if the motives of our heart are impure and we do what we do for the sake of fame and fortune, pride still reigns supreme in our life. Pride looks quite innocent at first, but given enough time, applause, and room to grow, it will eventually take over. Pride wastes our precious soul like cancer wastes our body.

Here are the three killer cancers that stalk our souls: Gals, glitz and glory! The Living Bible paraphrases it this way, “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love these things you show that you don’t really love God; for all these worldly things, these evil desires – the craze for sex, the ambition to buy everything that appeals to you, and the pride that comes from wealth and importance – these are not from God” (I John 2:15-16).

The King James’ version puts it this way, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

The Message Bible puts it a little differently: “Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from Him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out – but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”

Lucifer was the most beautiful of all the angels. It was pride that caused him to fall and lose his exalted position with God. He has never repented. He was able to convince one third of all the angels to follow him into hell by rebelling against God – a very real and permanent place by the way. How many of us humans have bought Satan’s lies? I did for a long time. It is pride and rebellion that will eventually cause every balloon, every inflated ego to pop and splatter.

So far we have learned very little from history, if anything. We continue to build monuments to ourselves. They are getting bigger, more ornate and ostentatious all the time. The big pyramids are now tourist attractions. The day will come when the few remaining standing skyscrapers will also be tourist attractions. Penthouses will be seen as “ego islands in the sky.” They will be upscale apartments for bats and buzzards. Busy streets below will be empty and dark. Theatres will be empty. Gambling casinos will be empty. Coliseums will be empty. Halls of fame will be empty. Shops will be empty and boarded up. Cruise liners will be rusting in their docks or at the bottom of the ocean. It’s only a matter of time before we see these things happening. The Bible is very clear about that. So, let’s not invest our time or money pursuing and supporting ego dreams.

How puffed up is our ego? How sick is our soul? There is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, rabbi, pastor or priest that is able to tell us. There is no MRI or brain scan that can diagnose the soul. There is no lie detector that can uncover the darkness that is within us. Without the help of the Holy Spirit we cannot look inside our own or someone else’s heart and know if there is a brood of vipers or a murderous spirit hiding there. Hitler was a cute cuddly baby at one time. He killed millions of Jews. Jesus was a cute, cuddly baby at one time and we all know what happened to Him. We nailed Him to a cruel cross – all of us did. Only God knows what is in our hearts. Only Jesus, our high priest, can give us the answer and will if we ask Him. He is waiting for us to ask Him. He is waiting for us to repent. He is waiting for us as long as there is breath in our bodies. We must not be afraid to ask Jesus because it is written that His mercy is greater than His judgment. But we must ask. Please ask while you are able. Ask Jesus; don’t ask anyone else.

Don’t pamper your ego. Don’t pamper my ego. Don’t let anyone feed your ego. The ego has an unquenchable appetite for attention and applause. Kill it; don’t feed it; starve it to death by saying, “No, No, No” to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye and the pride of life. Ask Jesus to help you. No one else can.

COME WITH ME to a place where egos are flatter than pancakes, horses are groomed in the King’s stable and clay pots are fit for the Lord’s Table. Yes, it’s a place for outstanding citizens but none stand out except Jesus. (Click on the picture or “COME WITH ME” to get a preview of heaven.)

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