Is It Possible To Be Too Humble?

If you’re the type who likes to spend hours a day admiring yourself, please stop reading this. If you can’t make it more than a few hours without telling others, ever so subtly, how awesome you are, stop reading. This post isn’t for arrogant self-promoters. And it isn’t for the false humble. You know, the type who like to ramble on and on about their supposed short comings but are really only looking for cheap compliments.

This is for the humble. And the message is short and simple.

Be careful that you do not become too humble.

I know, it sounds weird. Humility is good. Jesus tells us to be humble. He rewards the humble. He humbled himself, even to the point of death. So what’s so bad about humility?

Nothing.

Until we start forgetting about God’s power.

Centuries ago, the people of Israel were living as slaves. God had a plan to deliver them. And, as usual, his plan included a flawed human being playing the role of rescuer. This time, that human being’s name was Moses. Not Rambo. Not the dad from the Taken movies. Moses.

When God called Moses out for this job, Moses was quick to give all of the reasons why God was wrong to pick him.

“I’m a nobody” (Exodus 3:11).

“I don’t know what to say” (Exodus 3:13).

“They won’t listen to me” (Exodus 4:1).

“I’m not good at public speaking” (Exodus 4:10).

And finally, “Look, could you please just find someone else to do this?” (Exodus 4:13).

God didn’t leave Moses alone and go back to heaven bragging about Moses’ superior humility. No, he got angry at Moses (Exodus 4:14-17). That’s because, more than just being humble, Moses was forgetting the power of God. What looked like humility was really just a cover for a lack of faith in God and his power.

Of course God knew about the obstacles. He knew that Pharaoh would be difficult. He knew that Moses couldn’t talk well. He knew about Moses’ questionable past. But he called him anyway. That’s what God does. He displays his unmatched power through the weaknesses of his broken people.

He called a skeptical weakling, not a battle tested warrior, to lead a mighty army (Judges 6).

He called a tiny shepherd boy, not a grizzly gladiator, to defeat a giant (1 Samuel 17).

He called fishermen, not the spiritual elite or religious celebrities of the day, to be his disciples (Matthew 4:18-22).

God is still working today. He is working in hard places. He is overcoming what seems impossible. And he is working through people like you to do it.

Shaping children into responsible adults is hard. You can’t do it. But God will do it through you.

Teaching a classroom of third graders with special needs is hard. You can’t do it. But God will do it through you.

Making a stand against oppression and injustice is impossible on your own. You can’t do it. But God will do it through you.

Humility is a good thing. It’s more than that. It is an essential thing. But it is possible to mistake humility for something else. Something far different and more sinister than what Jesus commanded for his people.

When God chooses to demonstrate his power through you, his tattered and imperfect instrument, and you curl up, declining his command while citing your weaknesses and all of the other reasons why you can’t do it, you are not being humble. You’re being disobedient.

So watch your humility. Make sure that it doesn’t turn into disobedience. Otherwise you might miss the joy of having the power of God overshadow your weaknesses and work through you in such a way that someone else’s world is changed forever.

You’re right. You can’t do it.

But God can.

And he will.

Will you?

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV)

A Word To Churches With Poor Pastors

A lot has been made of Creflo Dollar’s plea for money to buy a new jet. Sadly, preachers like that aren’t unusual. Turn your television to the religious stations right now and you’re sure to find some guy begging for money and promising a divine blessing in return. These men are more like confidence men than they are men of God.

Of course, this isn’t the case for all preachers. There is another end to the Creflo spectrum. It is there where you will find legitimate men of God who are quietly and faithfully serving churches while barely making enough to provide for themselves, much less a family. And, for fear of being lumped in with Creflo, they don’t say anything.

“What do you mean you would like a retirement plan? Who do you think you are, Creflo Dollar?!”

I’m thankful to be a part of a generous church. But many pastors aren’t. They’re told to have a little more faith. They are reminded that they didn’t get into the ministry to get rich. They are barely making it. Still, they continue to serve faithfully.

While in seminary I spent a fair amount of time checking the job openings for pastors. Here’s a basic summary of how far too many of them looked.

We are searching for God’s man to lead our church. We would prefer him to have a seminary degree and to at least have begun doctoral work. The ideal candidate will have at least 30 years of experience, a wife and three or more well-behaved, blonde-haired, blue-eyed children with Old Testament names. Yearly compensation: $14,000.

I don’t know your church’s budget situation but it won’t hurt for you to take another look at how you are taking care of your pastoral staff. If you’re underpaying him, chances are that he’ll never say anything. But he’ll still feel the hardships of your stinginess. And so will his wife. And his kids.

Since he won’t say anything, I’ll do it for him.

Stop going into debt from building gyms. Stop hoarding thousands and thousands of dollars for some rainy day that you’re church will likely never see but your pastor likely sees every day. Stop being greedy and take care of your leader. If you don’t think he’s worth it, get rid of him and find someone who is.

Look out for him when it comes time for him to pay his taxes. If every United States citizen had to pay taxes like ministers, there would be a revolution by tomorrow afternoon. Some pastors have figured the system out. Others haven’t. And they are the victims of a financial catastrophe every year. Courtesy of the IRS. And your church.

There are a lot of churches that have much more in common with Creflo Dollar than they would care to admit. Neither one of them has the first clue what to do with the money that God has given to them to manage.

Most pastors that I know are nothing like Creflo. They don’t need a private jet.

They’d just like to be able to turn on the air conditioner this summer.

A Quick Word For The Guy Thinking About Becoming A Pastor

Don’t do it.

Don’t do it if you want to be liked. Your desire for the approval of man will eventually clash with your call to say and do what God says. There is a good chance that your heart will be won over by the approval of man rather than the grace of God. And you, your family and your church will suffer. So find something else to do if you value pleasing people more than you do obeying God.

Don’t do it if you’ve got it all together. Maybe you’re a super talented speaker. And you have a photographic memory that allows you to spend half as much time as other pastors preparing messages. That’s good. But it can be bad. It’s bad when you convince yourself that you’ve got it together to the point that you don’t need Jesus. As a result, all you’ll ever give people is more of yourself. They don’t need that. They need Jesus. And so do you. But if you can’t see that, please, find something else to do.

Don’t do it if you’re just looking for a job. There’s a difference between a calling and a job. A job is something that you quit when it starts to get on your nerves or in the way of your real dreams. A job is something you do just because you need the money. People with a calling need money too. But there’s more to what they do. They do it because of love and obedience. A person with a career is more likely to make a stand, even if he’s by himself. Someone with a job will say whatever people tell him to say, perform a wedding ceremony for whoever wants to get married and jump through all of the hoops he’s told to jump through. Until a better job comes along. So if you’re just looking for a paycheck, find something else to do.

If you don’t love people, don’t be a pastor. And I mean all people. Not just the young, hip, trendy crowd. If you don’t love people, you’ll treat them as the cheap labor working to build your kingdom. The church is not your kingdom. If you forget that, you can be certain that God will remind you, usually in an embarrassing way. So if you’re more of a slave master than a shepherd, find something else to do.

And finally, if you don’t have a problem asking people to buy you a multimillion dollar custom made private jet, please don’t be a pastor. Start a business. Become a professional wrestler. Go into politics where you can use government agencies to force people to buy you a new airplane. Do whatever you want. Just don’t be a pastor.

Being a pastor is no more or less spiritual than any other job. But it is rewarding. So please, before you get too far into it, consider what kind of a reward you’re seeking.

If it’s the kind of reward that has the Creator of the universe telling you, “Well done,” at the end of your life then, by all means, press on.

If you’re looking for those rewards that inflate your ego and build you’re kingdom, you can find those in pastoral ministry too. But they don’t last. And when they end, it’s never pretty.

Just don’t do it.

You Will Never Enter The Kingdom Of Heaven

If you want to get a bunch of people mad at you, try this. Say something on Facebook about making the switch from whole milk to 2% in order to live a healthier lifestyle. Now sit back and prepare for attack.

Someone will mention how 1% is much healthier.

And then the skim crowd will chime in.

Perhaps the worst will come from those who equate dairy with crystal meth and get their milk from organic, farm raised, fair trade mushrooms.

After about three or four seconds, you’ll figure something out. It’s never enough. You can never eat or live healthy enough. There’s always someone with a better plan, a better idea and a theory as to why your diet pretty much makes you the worst person who ever did live.

You just can’t win.

And that doesn’t just go for food.

In Jesus’ day, the spiritual elite were called Pharisees. They were perfect. Well, at least that’s what people thought. And they were just fine with people thinking that way. You might say that they did their best to make sure that people thought that way. If both products would have been available 2,000 years ago, the Pharisees would have an arm full of WWJD bracelets and a mouth full of Testamints. They were really good at looking the part.

So you can imagine the shock when Jesus told an audience that, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Exceeds.

Exceeds!

How am I supposed to be more righteous than them. It’s impossible.

And that’s just where Jesus wanted his hearers to land. You might be familiar with the words he spoke to them at the beginning of his sermon.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 (ESV)

The point is that self-righteousness isn’t real righteousness. No one gets into heaven on their own righteousness.

Not superspiritual Pharisees.

Not zoned out meth heads.

Not connoisseurs of organic, farm raised, fair trade mushroom milk.

The only way you get in is through the righteousness of another. And it can’t be a Pharisee or some other member of the spiritual elite. The righteousness has to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, remember?

Thankfully, there is a way.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

You can’t be religious enough to get your way into heaven.

You can’t be Calvinist enough.

You can’t be KJV only enough.

You can’t be loving enough.

You can’t be passionate enough.

You can’t be missional enough.

You can’t give away enough money.

Simply put, you’re not good enough to make it into heaven. And neither am I.

We will never enter the kingdom of heaven. At first glance, that’s the worst news ever. Nothing we do will ever be enough. But a closer look reveals a much better truth.

We will never impress our way into heaven. So we can stop trying. Instead, we must lean on the grace and mercy of the Savior who has given us his righteousness.

You aren’t good enough to get into heaven.

But Jesus is.

And he loves you enough to make a way for you.

But you’ll never see it until you first see your own spiritual bankruptcy.

Leprechaun Trap

Over the weekend I had to help my son make a leprechaun trap for school. Here it is.

photo

The upshot is that my kid won’t be accused of making his dad do all the work for him. I can see his teacher’s thought process now.

“Man. That looks awful. But hey, at least his dad didn’t do it for him.”

Here’s the bad news.

I did it for him. Well, enough for me to be ashamed of my work.

But if it helps, the whole time that I was building the trap, and I use the term building loosely, I had this going through my head.

So now my kid will go to school with a really bad leprechaun trap that his dad built and tell his teacher, “I wanna know where the gold at.”

Please pray for our family.

Blessed Are The Sore

Exercise hurts. It makes you walk funny. It makes you think about putting rails up on the walls in your bathroom to make sitting down easier. You might be in the best shape you’ve ever been in but the day after a tough work out, you’re moving around like you’re in your 90s and people are asking you if you’re okay.

You are.

It may not look like it but you are.

The pain is a sign that you’re doing it right. Muscles are growing. You are being stretched. You are getting stronger.

Sitting on the couch watching other people work out usually isn’t all that painful. We’ve all eaten a few pints of ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser. It gives us all of the benefits of working out with none of those painful side effects. Okay, so you really don’t get any of the benefits of working out but you do get to eat ice cream so you’ve got that going for you.

Being serious about following Christ will cost you. It might cost you a job promotion because there are just some things that you won’t do. Your kid might miss out on starting in his baseball game because you’re trying to teach him that commitment to his church family is more important than seven weeks of practices at 10:00 on a Sunday mornings.

It could be even worse. Your devotion to Christ might mean that you get sued. Or that you lose your job. Or your life.

You’ll wonder if you’re okay.

You are.

It may not feel like it but you are.

The pain is a sign that you’re doing it right. You are being stretched. You are growing. You are knowing Christ’s strength better. Your faith is getting stronger.

Suffering and hardships are inevitable for Christians. Well, except for those who are content with the spiritual equivalent of laying on the couch and eating ice cream while watching The Biggest Loser and waiting for Jesus to come back. But that’s not Christianity. Genuine faith, like the human body, is meant to move.

Following Jesus can be painful. But hang in there. The pain means that you’re doing it right. And the pain won’t last forever.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12 (ESV)

How Your Church Can Avoid Persecution: Three Easy Steps

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Christians being persecuted. In our own country, followers of Christ are being sued for standing by their beliefs. In other countries, they are being thrown in prison and killed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a way for you  to avoid the persecution that has been so common throughout the history of Christianity.

Of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, the church in Sardis is unique. It’s one of the few churches where persecution was not mentioned. In the six short verses devoted to Sardis, there is no mention of believers losing their homes, health or lives because of devotion to Christ. Most of the other churches are enduring trials. They are losing members to tyrannical governments bent on shutting down the church. But not Sardis. They managed to avoid the hardships that have been common for so many followers of Christ. And so can you if you just follow the Sardis example. Here’s how.

1. Look the part. 

Jesus told Sardis that they had, “the reputation of being alive” (Revelation 3:1). So focus a lot on your reputation. Build huge buildings that make people think that God is really working at your church. Use social media and mail outs to remind people of how “exciting,” “relevant” and “vibrant” you are because of your upcoming sermon series on sex or the fact that you’ll be having the county’s largest egg hunt. Your church might not really be doing all that great but so what. In a world where appearance is king, reputation always trumps reality. Always.

2. Know who to please.

Jesus told the Sardis church that their works were not complete in the sight of God (3:2). If it’s persecution that you want to avoid, you should do the same. Make sure that your works are complete in the sight of man. Bow to the same idols that everyone else in your culture bows to. In your sermons, Bible studies and doctrinal statements, say essentially the same thing that your local public school would say but sprinkle in a few Christian buzz words here and there. Just don’t go overboard. You wouldn’t want to be seen as salt in a decaying world or light in the darkness. That might offend people. And if you want to avoid persecution, you’ll do everything you can to avoid offending people. Even if it kills them. But hey, as long as it doesn’t kill you, right?

3. Stay the course.

Sure you’ve made mistakes. We all have. But keep at it. You never see politicians apologizing and changing for some action they did and look at how well it works out for them. Do the same thing. Repentance is messy. When people see you repent, they remember that you aren’t as good as you would like them to think that you are. Also, repentance tends to be contagious. If one person genuinely repents, others might do the same. And then the whole church changes into something that resembles, well, an actual church. Remember, you’re trying not to get persecuted here so you don’t want to look anything like a church. That means just say no when it comes to repentance.

Follow these three simple steps and you’re sure to navigate your way through a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to the faith that you claim to hold so dear. But, in full disclosure, you will have something worse on your hands. The Author of that faith you claim to hold so dear will be opposed to you.

“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” Revelation 3:3 (ESV)

Jesus is never opposed to his church (Romans 8:1). So why would he say that he will be opposed to the unrepentant members of the church in Sardis? Because it is possible to look the part and not actually be a part of the body of Christ. Those who truly belong to him will obey him. Even if it means persecution. And they will remember that the temporary opposition of men and governments is worth it all compared to eternal communion with Christ.

“Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:4-6 (ESV)

Allahu Akbar is not the worst thing that a Christian can hear just before enduring some form of persecution.

The worst thing that a professing Christian could hear is that he is no different than anyone else.

Parents, Your Mission Matters

The mission matters. The mission can be something like making sure that your kids get a good education. It involves the hard work of shaping them into adults who produce, serve and lead. It’s doing your best to keep them away from the worst possible things. It’s trying to be a good parent.

The mission matters.

The mission is good.

But like most good things that really matter, the mission can rob us. It can dominate us. If we’re not careful, the mission can be like a finish line that someone keeps moving further away from us. And if we do ever manage to reach it, it never ends up being worth all of the work. That’s because there is something that matters just as much as the mission.

The moment.

The mission is big. People make movies and write books about the mission. The moment is mundane. You may even think that the moment is insignificant. Like the stop for an ice cream after practice. Or the no agenda Saturdays spent together has a family with nowhere to go and no one to see. Sometimes the moments even frustrate us. Like the milk on the new carpet. Or the nightmare that wakes your kid up 45 minutes before you were supposed to wake up.

Moments matter more than you think they do. Twenty years from now, your kid might remember your mission as a parent. He will definitely remember the moments along the way.

There is no mission without the moments.

On Monday night, my wife baked a cake while I cooked burgers on the grill. There was nothing special about our meal. No one was celebrating a birthday or coming home from college. It was just another Monday night. After the burgers were eaten, my wife asked me a strange question.

“Do you want to make the cake an unbirthday cake?”

I wasn’t too sure what an unbirthday cake was but I said okay. My wife put a candle in the middle of the cake and I lit it. We called the kids in and we sang Happy Unbirthday to each other. Our kids looked at us like we had lost our minds. And then we all laughed. And ate cake.

On Monday night, we had a moment. It was a moment that didn’t seem like much at the time. But it was a moment that our kids aren’t likely to forget, even after their mom and dad really do start to lose their minds. And it was a moment that I would’ve missed if I would have skipped dinner because I was working late to earn extra money to get my kids a good education.

The mission matters. In fact, there probably aren’t enough parents who have a mission that goes beyond getting the kids out of the house before someone has an untimely pregnancy.

But the mission is meaningless if we’re not paying attention to the moments. The mission amounts to nothing if we’re not slowing down to create our own moments. The mission is a failure if we’re not turning those stressful moments of parenting into lessons for us and our kids.

Every night I pray for God to protect my sons.

I pray for him to shape them into real men.

And I thank God for that day’s moments.

Because it’s in those tiny snapshots that our kids are being shaped. It’s there that, if we slow down enough, we will see the work of God.

Parents, your mission matters.

But not without the moments.

Never Let Your Kids See You Cry In McFarland, USA

Never let your kids see you cry. That’s a rule in some unwritten parenting book from long ago. A few days ago, I tried to obey that rule. It didn’t work out too well.

One son was invited to a birthday party at one of those places where they have pits filled with plastic balls where kids sit and pee. I knew that sitting around watching kids pee in giant ball pits would make me cry.

Never let your kids see you cry.

So my wife got to go to that giant germ pit which is represented by, of all things, a rat. I decided to take my other son to see a movie. We saw McFarland, USA.

I went into the theatre expecting Remember the Titans with running instead of football. That’s pretty much what I got. It followed the usual formula for Disney produced sports films. Outcast kids + down on his luck coach who initially doesn’t want anything to do with said outcast kids + adversity + great athletic accomplishments + singing and dancing montage + inspiration. Predictable as it is, I like this formula. It’s sort of like watching YouTube videos of soldiers surprising their families by coming home early and showing up at halftime of some football game. You know what’s going to happen but you can’t quit watching.

My son and I couldn’t quit watching McFarland, USA. There were a few times that I looked over at him to make sure that he was holding up okay during the two plus hours of non-cartoon involved cinema. He was doing just fine. His eyes couldn’t turn away from the screen. He was captivated by the well-told story.

I once heard someone say that you know you’re watching a good movie when you forget what time it is. We both forgot what time it was. For over two hours, our world was in McFarland, USA.

And then it was over.

And that’s when I broke the rule about never letting your kids see you cry.

I looked over at my son and he was crying. Later on he said that they were “tears of joy.” That’s another sign of a good story. When it can make you cry without making you sad. So my son and I sat in that empty theatre and we cried. For a second or two, I was doing one of those cries where your shoulders move up and down. And my son saw it all through his tear soaked eyes.

And I’m glad.

So I say, forget about the parenting rule that says that your kids can’t see you cry. When your kids see you cry they see that you are a person. A person with feelings. A person who cares.

Later that day, we all met back up at our house. My son and I still had that post-cry feeling in our eyes. My wife was on the verge of tears after spending all afternoon watching kids pee in the giant pit of plastic balls. My other son was wondering what was wrong with all of us and when he could go back to see the rat again.

My sons finished their day with their customary Sunday evening run. My oldest son said that he was thinking about McFarland, USA while he ran. I’m sure that he’ll do that for quite some time. And I hope that he doesn’t forget anytime soon about crying with his dad in the theatre after the movie was over.

So parents, stop holding in the tears. Let your kids see you cry. Let them see your happy tears. Remember, tears go along with a good story.

McFarland, USA is a good story.

And so is your life together as a family.

But like any good story, it goes by quick. So don’t be afraid to slow down and soak it all in with the ones you love.

Don’t be afraid to let them see you cry.