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I had a lightbulb moment today. Some truths connected for me in ways they hadn’t before. I thought I’d share.
Humility and pride may be two opposing sides of a coin, but humility and confidence go hand in hand. Humility is a virtue, and being humbled is a blessing. Humility teaches you who you really are. Knowing yourself like that brings a sort of confidence. The proud never truly know who they are, since they have not experienced humility. Their confidence is only a false facade, an attempt at hiding their fear of being humbled.
The same is true in the Christian faith. When faced with the reality of our own sin, we can run away from the horror of ourselves and live in prideful ignorance, or we can run to Jesus in humility. This humbling is a blessing because it allows us to see ourselves—and see who we are before God: miserable, self-centered, self-destructive sinners (Rom 3:10). Knowing this, and knowing that God reaches out in love and redemption through Jesus, gives us a new sense of self. A new identity. An identity that is confident of his place in the world—as a child of God (Rom 8:14).
The proud never experience this confidence. They constantly run from their own moral failings, pretending they have none, but still living in deep fear and guilt.
Thank God for his law that humbles, and his grace that raises up! I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Whenever we achieve something great, the temptation is to be proud of it. And if achieving that thing took a lot of work, time, or money, it’s natural and okay to feel a sense of satisfaction from a job well-done. But we have to be careful what form that satisfaction takes.
It’s right and good to think, “Wow! I just finished a marathon. Look at what this God-designed human body is capable of. I am so thankful for good health and a family that encouraged me to accomplish this goal!”
It’s not so good to think, “Look at this company I built for myself. I am master of my fate and totally self-reliant. This accomplishment is proof of that.”
Not that anyone’s inner monologue actually sounds that stiff, but I’ve definitely felt those emotions welling up in myself whenever I do something that doesn’t flop.
Whether we admit it our not, we’ve all been there. When God chooses to bless us, it’s so tempting to take the credit. I am personally very blessed, so I face this temptation every day.
I recently started working at a Christian College that just finished a large building project. I think we are all proud of it. It is a well-thought-out addition to the school. A lot of talent and hard work went into designing and building it.
But I hope that we are mostly thankful. Thankful to donors that have now funded over half of the cost. Thankful for leadership that evaluates the direction of the school in light of scripture. Thankful for a God that has allowed this school to remain on the shore of Medicine Lake for over 50 years. Thankful for this treasure in jars of clay that we get to share with the students who come here.
So go, accomplish great things, run marathons, start companies, build gyms. But remember who made you.
Soli Deo Gloria.
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
I used to think the most misunderstood parable of Jesus was The Prodigal Son.
But now I think the Parable of the Talents might just give it a run for its money in that metric.
A quick summary for the uninitiated. Jesus told this story:
A rich guy goes on a trip, leaving a portion of his wealth with a few individual servants. To one he gives a large amount of money, to the next he gives a moderate amount, and to the last, he gives a small amount.
The guy comes back, and his servants start showing him what they used the money on. The first two servants invested or used the the money in such a way that they doubled their portion. The last one hid his money in order to return it safely to his master. To the first two the master says “Good job! Since you did well here, I’m going to trust you with even more.” To the last one, he says, “You failed. You’re done working for me. Give me back the money.”
In our neat armchair dissection of these verses, we praise the ones who invested and returned a profit. But in practice, we encourage a far more conservative approach.
Let’s take a look at how we run our churches. The Lutheran church denomination I am a part of (AFLC) is made up of individual, self-governing congregations. We are an association rather than a synod. We unite under a common confession, but we are largely independent. This means each church gets to make its own decisions.
As part of this conservative church body, we are known for our rigid adherence to scriptural inerrancy. . . and our resistance to cultural change.
This resistance is not an entirely bad thing. American culture is taking a nosedive by biblical standards—at least in the external ways we pay most attention to.
But that conservative resistance to change also pushes us to play it safe in ways we shouldn’t. It causes us to have an emotional attachment to the past that hampers us from doing present good.
A quick note: In talking about the past, I do not intend to disparage the historical church. We have inherited a rich theology from the reformation and beyond. Many churches have too quickly left this behind. I am not in any way encouraging a separation from the biblical Lutheran theology of the past. Rather, I am encouraging an evaluation of what is theology, and what is merely nostalgia.
Getting back to the parable: What was the final servant’s motive for hanging onto his small sum of money? I don’t think it was greed. He knew he would have to give it back, after all. I think his motive was fear. Fear of losing what was entrusted to him.
How often are we motivated by fear? How often do we miss out on what God has for us because we are afraid to fall on our face—afraid of our pride being bruised.
Congregations within a synod do not have complete control over how they spend their money and resources. In the AFLC, we do. We also emphasize lay (non-pastor) involvement.
This is where I quote Spiderman’s Uncle Ben who said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” To rephrase: With the freedom or the ability to act, comes the duty to act. Or to put it biblically, “To whom much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12:48)
However you want to say it, what does that mean for the “Free and Living Congregations” of the AFLC? It means that “keeping things the way they always were” for the sake of comfort and safety is a poor way to use our God-given wealth, talents, skills, and ideas.
Now, you might say, “We’re not a wealthy church, in money or in talent.” But remember the last servant was also given little. The expectation placed on him was the same: to multiply what he had.
We can complain about declining culture, and declining church attendance, but what if it’s our fault? What if we have not been faithful in how we interact with culture? What if we have not been faithful in how we’ve used our resources? What if, instead of investing our time, our resources, the very Gospel itself, we have instead hidden them all in a hole like the foolish servant?
The wise servant (church) doesn’t build up walls to keep himself protected from the thieves outside; he invests what he is given in the world around him. In the case of the church, returning a profit of souls.
That might mean interacting with culture. It certainly means maintaining our church building and pursuing excellence in the quality and thoughtfulness of the worship service.
If we don’t do this, the little we have may be taken away.
I’ve always loved the story of Joseph. As long as I can remember, Genesis 37-50 has been my favorite biblical account. In a theatrical sense, it’s a really satisfying story. It has betrayal, mistaken identity, looming catastrophe, and sweet redemption. But the reason I’m drawn to it is actually deeper than that.
The fundamental idea presented in this chunk of scripture is that God uses our pain for good. Not only our individual good, but BIG good—the kind that affects nations. I won’t summarize the whole story here, but through the unthinkable betrayal of Joseph by his brothers, an entire empire (and beyond!) was saved from starvation.
Considering that God created the world to be free of pain and suffering in the first place, this idea of good coming out of pain is pretty radical. Goes to show that God is in control, even when we are not. (And if you look through the Bible, you are sure to find other places with this same theme.)
As a result of growing up with this story, I’ve always been of the opinion that God uses my own hurts for his glory. More recently, I’ve tasted and seen that this is true.
Over the course of 5 years, I was majorly wronged by someone very close to me. This is not the place to go into detail, but suffice it to say, it was something I never thought I would have to go through. It fundamentally altered how I see the world.
Now, it obviously had many negative effects on my life. It was emotionally torturous to go through. It cost me a lot of money. It wasted a huge amount of my time. And I now tend to be a bit more cynical of people because of it.
But I have seen good come of it too.
Because of what happened, I can help others who may be going through something similar. I’ve experienced personal growth that has furthered my walk with God, and surprisingly my career too.
On top of that there have been some really far reaching ways God has used this pain. Many I will never know the full extent of, but a surprising number I do.
This ordeal has affected my family. They will now make certain life decisions much more carefully. They have been able to give informed advice to a surprising number of friends going through similar situations. It has affected how my family members do ministry. It has affected how they serve their local church congregation and how they advise on school boards.
I was told recently that God used this unfortunate event in my life to impact the leadership culture of an entire college. This one was staggering to me!
But I really shouldn’t be surprised.
Just like so many other stories in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph points us to the larger narrative of the Bible. It points to Jesus. It points to the BIGGEST good, resulting from the DARKEST evil.
If God used the evil desires of men to help bring about salvation for all through Jesus’ death on the cross, it’s really no surprise that he can use my pain too.
If he’s big enough to do all that, I can be thankful for my trials.
Some Christians get a little squeamish when they hear people talk about church marketing. They fear that marketing will turn Jesus into a product.
I understand and even admire their hesitation to some extent. Perhaps, like me, they have friends who decide to stay away from church because they think the church is out to snatch their money or rope them into volunteering.
But this fear of marketing really comes from a lack of understanding of what marketing is. High-falutin “Marketing” is not to blame when churches require donations. (Predatory churches is a topic for another post.)
Seth Godin, a nationally recognized entrepreneur and marketing expert, describes marketing as “the stories we tell”.
If THAT is what marketing is, then no church can exist without it. The Church’s whole existence is centered around an incredible story that they believe is true. And not only true, but relevant.
So Church, if you want to grow. Get out there and tell your story. Start “marketing” Jesus.