Prideful Humility

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. 
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.  Phil 2: 3  

Alphonso flashed his award-winning smile as cameras snapped. “Get a couple more orphans in this shot,” he murmured to his press secretary while resting a manicured hand on a toddler’s fuzzy head. “Alphonso! Alphonso!” journalists shouted. “How much have you donated to this project?” The superstar lowered his gaze in practiced modesty and waved a dismissive hand. “A little over ten million, but really it’s nothing—” Fans cheered from the scarlet-roped viewing area, drowning out the next question. Alphonso exchanged a wink with his accountant. Ten million was a small investment that paid off in publicity. Charity work was rewarding in itself, made him feel like a good person. But it was also tremendously profitable—if you did it right.

“Prideful humility” is a paradoxical term that needs to be added to our dictionaries. Guilted by constant reminders of how blessed we are, we can be tempted to publicly demonstrate our generosity. We’re so used to posting and tweeting every minute detail of our lives that we can forget what true humility looks like. Culture’s attitude is: If you can’t Instagram it, why do it? This verse nails us. We do most things out of selfish ambition and vain conceit, but Jesus reminded us in Matthew 6:3: “Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.” That means that we should give, serve, love, and forgive quietly and privately because God sees our inward motivations. He wants to reward us for eternity, but He can’t if we’re already rewarding ourselves. When our greatest desire is to please the Lord, it doesn’t matter who else knows. God does. And that’s enough.

It's NOT Me First?

…not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. Phil. 2: 4

“Yeah, but I like things this way! I can’t believe you’re changing it.” 
“I don’t want our small group to grow. Those people aren’t like us.” 
“I should help support missions and our church, but I like nice things.” 

It would be great if those comments were pure fiction, but they’re not. Every church has its own version of them. Every family does too. Me First! My Wants Should Rule! Of course, we don’t say it like that. We’ve come up with milder ways to express those selfish tendencies. But the motives are still there. The very root of all sin is this: I want what I want when I want it. I’ll do right, as long as it doesn’t infringe on what I want.

What if we let Jesus rule our lives to such an extent that our first reaction to any idea was: “What would Jesus have me do? How can I best represent Him in this situation?” Imagine the transformation in our homes, our churches, and our communities if that was the default response of every Jesus follower. Most divorces would never happen. Families would live in harmony. The church would never need to beg for volunteers because the lists would be filled months in advance. Giving would overflow the buckets, every orphan would have a home, and there would be no needy among us. Is this utopia? No, it’s biblical Christianity.


Thinking Like Jesus

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: (verse 5)

Whoa! Wait a minute. We know we are supposed to try to BE like Jesus, ACT like Jesus, and LOVE like Jesus. But those are all external behaviors, things we can choose to do. Now, we’re told to THINK like Jesus. That sounds about as possible as leaping over Mt. Everest in a single bound. We’d be more likely to win the lottery without buying a ticket than to have the same mindset, the same attitudes, and the same motivations as the Son of God. Yet, there it is. A command we’re expected to follow. 

So when we’re confronted with an impossible-looking command in the Bible, should we: 

A) treat it as a suggestion?

B) pretend we didn’t see it? 
C) pretend we’re doing it but we’re really not? 
D) ask the Holy Spirit to do it through us?
If you guessed A-C, you’re wrong, but probably in the majority. If you guessed D, you’re right, but it might not be the way you think. Asking the Lord to “do this through me” is often spiritual code for “It’s God’s fault if I don’t obey Him.” That’s not what it means. Before the Lord can do the impossible through us, we have to be willing to get ourselves out of the way. If we are to have the same mindset as Jesus has, that means we cannot hang on to the old mindset that belongs to us. To think like Jesus means Self has to pack its bags. Self no longer gets to vote or veto. We capture those self-centered, prideful, lustful, envious thoughts, call them what they are, and kick them out. We stop excusing our sin, and agree with God. Then answer D will work.

Are you willing to have the same mindset as Jesus has? It means surrendering to His right to change your thinking.

Empty Yourself

…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Phil. 2: 6-7

Imagine the scene. The Adored One of heaven steps to the portal and looks down. On a faraway planet, the humans He loves are murdering, raping, and stealing from each other, while the religious ones are frantically trying to make themselves righteous enough to impress God. They are all without hope. The Son looks at the Father and hears, “It’s time, Son.” Jesus nods and lifts the ornate crown from His head while a thousand angels gasp in astonishment. The warriors draw their swords. What was happening? The Son removes His royal robes, but when angels rush to serve Him, He holds up a hand. “No, I’m not going there to be served. I’m going to be a servant.” Emptied of His privileges as God, the Son steps through the portal.

When Jesus “emptied Himself,” He willingly set aside everything that kept Him from coming down here and being with us: His rights, His history, His comfort, His own will. He left them in the hands of His Father and would depend upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help Him fulfill His mission. He set the pattern for us. Jesus emptied Himself of everything that kept Him from uniting with us physically, and we must empty ourselves of everything that keeps us from uniting with Him spiritually. We set aside our rights, our history, our comfort, and our own will, leaving them in the hands of the Father, and depending upon the Holy Spirit’s power to help us live for Christ. As Jesus emptied Himself to be one of us, we must also empty ourselves to be one with Him.

Veto Power

...He humbled himself by becoming obedient… even death on a cross. Therefore, God highly exalted him... Phil. 2:9

You deserve more! Demand your rights! Flaunt your stuff! So much for the wisdom of our day. It’s all about ME. Nobody can offend or take advantage of ME. “It’s my way or the highway,” we announce proudly, as though God Himself might want to take notes. What if Jesus had that attitude? What if He arrived on earth, grew up to understand Who He really was, and became disgusted with the whole plan. “These people are awful, Father. They don’t appreciate anything I do for them: the miracles, food…and for what? Only a handful even believe in me and I deserve respect! I’m not dying for them. Beam me up.”

That’s how we might feel. But Jesus understood true humility. He knew that to exalt Himself would distract from His message. So He always exalted and obeyed God—even when that obedience cost Him His dignity, His wants, and His life. How far would you go to obey God? We might want to please Him, but we also want to retain the veto power— just in case. Being beaten to a pulp and then nailed to a cross would classify as veto-worthy; yet, Jesus earned future glory by His willingness to fully obey. Jesus knew that His Father would reward Him for all eternity. We can follow His example because we know that too.

Have you retained the veto power in your level of obedience? You’ll never accomplish all God wants for you.

Falling Idols

The next morning the same thing happened--Dagon had fallen face down before the Ark of the LORD. 
I Sam. 5:4

God’s enemies were cheering. They did it! They captured that magical Ark of the Lord. Now success was guaranteed. They could have Yahweh’s power on command. They set God’s Ark beside their idol, Dagon, and everyone went to bed happy. The next morning, old Dagon had toppled over and lay face down before God’s Ark. They stood him up, but the next morning there he was again. This time his head and his hands broke off. Terror struck the city. Who was this God that no other god could stand up against? They couldn’t get rid of the Ark fast enough. Even God’s enemies had learned: Yahweh topples idols.

He topples our idols too. He greatly prefers that His people acknowledge and get rid of idols on our own. But when we refuse, He has to do it for us: The affair gets exposed. The kids turn out horrible. The casino takes all your money and gives nothing back. The spouse you thought would complete you, betrays you. You’re left with a broken Dagon and no way to fix it. When Self has been the idol, the toppling can be particularly painful. Age steals beauty. Popularity dries up. Success succumbs to the plunging Dow, and your overpriced, designer hiding places go out of style. We can rename, replace, and refuse to admit them, but the Lord knows about those other gods and He won’t tolerate them. He loves us enough to topple our idols.

God will not share His glory with idols (Is. 48:11). 
He will topple them, but it’s much better if we do it first.

What's Molding You?

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind… Romans 12:2

Your mission, Jim, if you choose to accept it, is to convince this people that their leader is against them.” In the classic TV show Mission Impossible, no mission was impossible. One of the IMF team’s favorite tricks was to use their incredible mask-making skills to fool their enemies. They made a mold from the face of the bad guy, then poured Rollin’s rubbery mixture into that mold, and Voila! The mixture conformed to the contours of the facial mold, and once hardened, became just like it. The mold created a mask that made the good guy look exactly like the bad guy. Enemy defeated. Mission Accomplished.

Satan does the same thing with our lives. Imagine the Evil Commander issuing an order similar to the one Jim received: “Your mission, Demon, is to convince God’s people that He is against them.” He does it by making a mold of himself, and then seducing us to pour our passions, time, and attention into it. He parades his superstars before us—the-rich-and-famous, and the famous-for-being-rich—and then suggests: “Be like them.” When we focus on his idols, we become like them. His work is so thorough, we can attend church every Sunday and never realize we are wearing the mask of the enemy. But God’s solution is to transform us by His power through His Spirit. He invites us to pour our passion, our will, and our surrender into His word. When we do, we conform to His image and Christ’s character appears in our lives. Enemy defeated. Mission Accomplished.

Whose mold are you conforming to? 
Use the mirror of God’s word to study your reflection.

Is God Jealous?

“…for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD…is a jealous God.”  Exodus 34:14

One celebrity has famously stated that she could never worship a God who is jealous; therefore, the God of the Bible must be rejected or reinvented. The confusion comes because of our misunderstanding of the nature of jealousy. We instantly categorize the word “jealous” with other negative words, like greed, hatred, or envy. But consider it this way:

John paused at the door of his home, fumbling with his house key while juggling the bouquet of roses he’d brought to surprise his wife. He smiled as he pictured her squeal of delight. He’d worked two jobs for the past ten years to pay the bills while she pursued her degree and an internship she loved. He’d stayed home with the kids on his days off so she could enjoy time with her friends, but he didn’t mind at all. He adored her. The love of his life. What a treasure she was to him!

The door opened and he lurched into the silent hallway, trying not to drop the flowers. He wandered into the kitchen, wondering at the stillness, and saw a note on the table: “Dear John, I’m sorry, but I must pursue my own happiness. I’m in love with that prisoner I’ve been writing to, and I’ve left you to be with him when he is released. The kids are at my mom’s. You’re a nice man, you’ll find someone else. Thanks for everything.” He stared unseeing at the note, trying to understand. That prisoner? The convicted rapist? Con man? Married 4 times? What was she thinking? Now consider this—Did John have a righteous reason to be jealous? Outraged? Heartbroken? That’s the way our loving Creator feels when we love ourselves instead of Him.

Do your choices, desires, and affections provoke jealousy 
in the heavenly Father who adores you?

Which God Is Yours?

“You shall have no other gods before me.”  Exodus 20:3

2:00 am. The house was quiet. Nothing moved except the figures on the screen before him. He needed this. It filled him, met his need like nothing else could. Regardless of how crazy the day or how cranky the wife, he knew where he could go to feel better. Here, before this flickering throne, he could be anyone he wanted to be. His online servants cavorted before him, performing for his pleasure and satisfaction. He was well-respected, a leader, considered a godly man by everyone. But this was where he found comfort, value, and identity. Only he and God knew his dark secret: this was where he really worshiped.

When the Lord commanded humanity to have no other gods before Him, he was not referring to placement, as in first, second, third. He meant that He wants to see nothing in our lives that meets our deep heart needs except Him alone. Whatever we run to in order to have those needs met is our functional god. But we defend our idols: “My wife isn’t meeting my needs, so porn is OK.” “My kids are my life, so God understands if I don’t trust Him with them.” “My reputation is everything, so lying on social media helps me keep it.” Idols don’t have to be sin habits. They can be God’s gifts that have become more important to us than He is. In order to identify our idols, we can ask ourselves this: WHAT DO I PURSUE, SACRIFICE FOR, AND RUN TO FOR COMFORT?

Whatever we cannot lay on the altar before God, IS our god. What idols reign in your life?

Idol Reflections

You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind…  Exodus 20:4

“I’ve gotta get home,” Bekah murmured. Her mother raised a brow as she backed out of the school parking lot. “What’s so urgent?” Bekah shrugged one shoulder and faced the passenger window. “I posted a few selfies with that hot new guy, Brad, then my phone died. I wanna see who liked it.” Her mother sighed. “Oh. I was hoping you were excited about drama practice at church tonight.” Bekah rolled her eyes at the window. “Puh-leeze, Mom. I’m not gonna be in that. They gave Jenna Ray the lead, and everybody knows I’m better than her.” She tossed her hair. “I deserve a bigger role. I will not be just an extra.”

Self-worship. We are supposed to outgrow it, like we outgrow taping rock star posters to our bedroom walls. Unfortunately, many don’t, and social media gives us plenty of platforms upon which to build our shrines. Even those of us who profess to follow Jesus can get turned around and start following ourselves. We subconsciously gauge our worth by the number of “likes” or comments on our posts. Duck-face selfies replace genuine smiles, and if we can’t Instagram it, why do it? American culture has seduced us into becoming our own gods, and this god is insatiable. We must feed, pamper, and console it continually, or it plunges us into depression. We may never bow to a wood and stone idol, but we bow every day to the one in the mirror.