Posts tagged ‘Pride’

A Little Lesson in Humility

TableHumility is hard.  If you don’t believe me, just consider whether you became reflexively defensive the last time someone questioned one of your beliefs, decisions, or values.  Consider whether you asked yourself, without anxiousness or annoyance, “What can I learn from this person?  How can I love them rather than seeking to justify myself before them?”  More often than not, we are far quicker to defend ourselves than we are to humble ourselves.  We are far quicker to protect our pride than we are to sacrifice our egos.

Jesus was never proud.  Instead, “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8)!  Indeed, one of my favorite lessons from Jesus in humility comes in when He is invited to a party at the home of a prominent Pharisee.  When Jesus notices that, at dinner, the party guests are all clamoring to grab the best seats at the table, He says:

When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, “Give this person your seat.” Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 14:8-11)

Jesus uses a dinner table to illustrate just how deeply pride has sunk its roots into the human heart.  Even at the dinner table, we’ll position ourselves closest to those we perceive as most important so others will perceive us as more important.

Author Michelle Fields tells an interesting story about the presidency of Thomas Jefferson.  In Great Britain, the country from which President Jefferson emigrated, formal dinners were always hosted around rectangular tables.  But as president, Jefferson always insisted on hosting his dinners around round tables.  Fields explains his logic:

He didn’t like the rectangular tables used at royal functions, which would seat guests according to their rank and status. Jef­ferson figured that, at a round table, no one could sit at the head and no one could mistake him for a king. He believed that “when brought together in society, all are perfectly equal, whether foreign or domestic, titled or untitled, in or out of office.”[1]

President Jefferson did not want people clamoring for places of pride around the dinner table.  So he rounded his tables.

Part of the reason pride is so cunning is that it’s not just those who clamor for a high seat at the table who can fall prey to pride, it’s even those who willingly take a low seat at the table in an act of self-debasement who can struggle with pride.  Why?  Because both of an arrogant view of one’s self that takes a high seat and a pitiable view of one’s self that takes a low seat are focused on the self.  They are both fundamentally narcissistic, which is the very definition of what it means to be proud.

Humility is focused not on the self, but on God and on others.  As C.S. Lewis explains it, “Humility…turns [a] man’s attention away from self to [God], and to the man’s neighbours.”[2] Thus, humility is interested neither in a position of honor at a table nor in a position of debasement at a table because it is too concerned with everyone else around the table.  Humility doesn’t care where it sits as long as it can serve others.

What rectangle tables do you have in your life that need to be rounded?  Where do you clamor for a seat, whether that seat be high or low, at your job, in your church, in your home, or in your self-perception?  Rather than worrying about which seat should be your seat, humility invites you to look at people in other seats – and love them.

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[1] Michelle Fields, “A Country Steeped in Humility,” National Review (6.21.2016).

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: Harper One, 2007), 224.

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August 8, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Wisdom That’s Not So Wise

Credit:  wired.com

Credit: wired.com

It was G.K. Chesterton who said, “It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob.”[1]  There just seems to be something about one’s own age the dupes those living in it into thinking they are living in the best age – they are living at the pinnacle of human achievement, intelligence, and insight, unsurpassed by anything that has come before it, or, for that matter, anything that will come after it.

Case in point:  Albert Schweitzer, in his seminal work The Quest of the Historical Jesus, opens by touting his credentials:

When, at some future day, our period of civilization shall lie, closed and completed, before the eyes of later generations, German theology will stand out as great, a unique phenomenon in the mental and spiritual life of our time.  For nowhere save in the German temperament can there be found in the same perfection the living complex of conditions and factors – of philosophic though, critical acumen, historical insight, and religious feeling – without which no deep philosophy is possible.[2]

At least Schweitzer doesn’t have a confidence problem.

The ironic thing about Schweitzer’s opening paragraph is that on the back of this very book is this review:  “Schweitzer’s … proposals no longer command endorsement.”  In other words, Schweitzer, who thought his age was so wise that the people, and specifically the Germans, in it could in no way be mistaken, were, in fact, mistaken.  Perhaps his German pedigree wasn’t as intellectually impenetrable as he thought it was.

Whether or not we are as unabashedly arrogant as Schweitzer, we all, to one extent or another, use our age as the measuring rod for all ages.  We project the sensibilities of our age back onto the past and even forward into the future.

Greg Miller of Wired Science recently published a pithy little post, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today.”[3]  Ed Fries, the former vice president of game publishing at Microsoft, shared with Miller a fascinating cache of vintage European postcards that offer a glimpse of how the people of yesteryear thought we would be living in our years.  For instance, there is one postcard featuring a prop plane with a spotlight and luggage attached to the top of the cabin ushering a group of tourists to the moon for “just another weekend trip.”  The year, according to the postcard, is 2012.  Are any rockets needed?  No.  And the people on the aircraft seem to be blissfully unconcerned with the fact that their cabin is not pressurized.  Another postcard features a videophone, projecting its picture onto a wall, just like the movies of the early 1900’s did.  Apparently, those at the turn of the 20th century simply could not envision the hand-held screens we enjoy today.  Perhaps most comically, the people in all of these postcards are decked out in their early 1900’s wears.  As Miller wryly notes, though everything else underwent radical evolutions, “fashion stayed frozen in time.”

For all the fanciful things these postcards envision, they are embarrassingly transparent products of their time.  No one would mistake these as accurate or modern depictions of our age.  The people of the early 1900’s, it seems, were stuck in the early 1900’s.

We would do well to remember that just like the people of the early 1900’s were stuck in the early 1900’s, the people of the early 2000’s are, well, stuck in the early 2000’s.  We too are products of our time.  Not that this is all bad.  Our age has much too offer.  But our age cannot lead us to disparage other ages – especially past ages.  For the wisdom of the past that we discount as foolishness in the present may just be the wisdom of our present that will be discounted as foolishness in the future.  In other words, we should take the wisdom of our age with a grain of salt.

One of the wonderful things about Scripture is that it self-consciously bucks the human tendency to jump on the bandwagon of whatever zeitgeist happens to be popular at any given moment.  Indeed, it sees past learning as key to present wisdom.    As the apostle Paul says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).  This is why, according to one count, the Old Testament is cited in the New Testament some 263 times.[4]  Wisdom, according to Scripture, cannot be confined to just one age.  It needs many ages.

When you look at your present, then, don’t assume that your day is the greatest day and your generation the greatest generation.  Or, to use the words of Moses, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deuteronomy 32:7).  Wisdom is not just when you are.  It was before you.  And it will continue after you.  Wise, therefore, is the person whose memory and vision is long.

______________________

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1908).

[2] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Mineola:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1911), 1.

[3] Greg Miller, “Here’s How People 100 Years Ago Thought We’d Be Living Today,” wired.com (5.28.2014).

[4]New Testament Citations of the Old Testament,” crossway.org (3.17.2006).

June 2, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Casting Stones

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

Credit: Ciro Miguel via Flickr

From the department of the inane but entertaining, the real estate site Movoto.com recently published its list of America’s most sinful cities.  Surprisingly, the city famed for its profligate sinfulness, Las Vegas, didn’t make the list.  An article in The Street explains how the list was compiled:

The study analyzed 95 of the nation’s 100 most-populous communities…to see how often locals commit the Catholic Church’s seven major sins:  Envy, Gluttony, Greed, Lust, Pride, Sloth and Wrath…

[They then matched] each behavior on the church’s 1,400-year-old list of sins with a modern-day measure of immorality.

For instance, [they] gauged Wrath by looking at the FBI’s annual report on each U.S. city’s violent-crime rate – the number of murders, robberies, aggravated assaults, rapes and non-negligent manslaughter cases reported each year per 1,000 residents.[1]

Here’s what the study found.

Coming in at number five is Milwaukee.  According to CDC obesity rates, Milwaukee falls prey to the sin of gluttony.  Spot number four belongs to Pittsburgh, which struggles with pride.  In this city, there is one cosmetic surgeon for every 3,170 residents.  Minneapolis garnered spot number three.  Over 30% of Minneapolis’s residents are inactive, making this city super slothful.  Place number two belongs to Orlando, which, like Minneapolis, struggles with sloth.  And spot number one belongs to – drumroll, please – St. Louis!  Movoto found “the Gateway to the West places number two for Wrath and Envy, with 20 violent crimes and 65 property incidents per year for every 1,000 St. Louis residents.”  If it’s banal carnality you want, St. Louis is the place to go.

Of course, it’s hard to take a study like this too seriously.  But I have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when my town of San Antonio didn’t make the list.  Then again, I used to live in St. Louis.  I went to seminary there.  So I guess that means, according to this article, I once lived in a den of iniquities.

What makes a study like this one so comical for Christians is that we know that sin defies such simplistic statistical quantification and comparison.  This is the apostle Paul’s point when he writes, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23).  There is no difference, Paul says, between one sin and another in God’s eyes.  Every sin leads to death.  Every sin leads to damnation.  Before God and apart from Christ, sin is sin.  Period.

This is why, when an angry mob of religious leaders seek to have a woman caught in adultery stoned for her sin, Jesus disarms this mob’s self-righteous pretenses by saying, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).  Underlying this statement is an assumption that we have no right to use our own self-styled righteousness as a benchmark against which we can measure and condemn other people’s sinfulness.   The only benchmark that may be used to distinguish righteousness from sinfulness is God’s.  Everything else is just casting stones.

So, although I won’t cast stones at my old seminary town, I will eat concrete if I ever return for a visit.  And if that previous line doesn’t make any sense to you, just click here.


[1] Jerry Kronenberg, “5 Most Sinful Cities in America,” The Street (7.17.13).

August 19, 2013 at 5:15 am 2 comments

ABC Extra – Shattered

Last Sunday, I was pulling out of my garage to come to church.  As I was backing out, still half asleep, I all of a sudden heard this loud “CRACK!”  My head snapped to attention and I looked to my right to realize my driver’s side mirror had scraped up against the garage door frame.  My garage frame was fine.  My mirror was not.  Half of it got shattered by the encounter.  Apparently, the warning, “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” really is true.  I had misjudged just how close my side view mirror and my garage frame really were…and it cost me.

This past weekend in worship and ABC, we tackled the topic of pride.  As I mentioned in ABC, there are two different kinds of pride.  On the one hand, there is positive pride.  This pride flows from our creation in God’s image.  Because we are created in God’s image, we owe each other respect and dignity.  Such human dignity is positive pride.  But then, on the other hand, there is also negative pride.  And negative pride is when human dignity gives way to human arrogance.  It is when the insistence that all human beings ought to be treated with respect and dignity gives way to the insistence that some human beings ought to have their egos stroked and their self-images inflated.

Because the Scriptural authors are keenly aware that humans tend toward arrogance rather than dignity, the vast preponderance of biblical references to pride are in its negative sense.  This is certainly true when Solomon writes, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  “Negative pride,” Solomon warns, “comes with a high price – destruction.”  The Hebrew word for “destruction” is shabar which, as I discussed last Sunday, describes a “complete collapse” or a “shattering.”  Pride eventually and inevitably leads to a shattered life.

It is important to note the preposition Solomon uses to link pride with destruction:  “Pride goes before destruction.”  The Hebrew word for “before” is lipne which can be used in both a temporal as well as a spatial sense.  In other words, if a person is prideful, destruction can and does indeed catch up with them chronologically.  A person is prideful, and destruction then ensues.  But pride and destruction are also close spatially.  Indeed, the preposition lipne is often translated as the phrase, “in the face of.”  Thus, prideful people stare destruction right in the face.  They are closer than they might think to having their lives shattered.

Just like a side view mirror can be shattered in a close encounter with a garage frame, a person can be shattered in a close encounter with pride.  This is why we are called to flee from it – because pride destroys.  So you don’t want to get too close to it.  You don’t want to stare it right in the face.  Just verses before Solomon’s famous words concerning pride and destruction, he offers this sharp warning: “The LORD detests all the proud of heart.  Be sure of this:  They will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).  When we insist on living proudly, God will not let us stand.  He will humble us in our sin.

The Hebrew word for “pride” is ga’on, referring to someone who is “exalted” or “lifted up.”  This is why Solomon writes, “A haughty spirit goes before a fall.”  For a person who ga’ons himself will not be able to maintain his position of exaltation.  He will fall.  Conversely, God’s promise to those who humble themselves is that He will do the ga’oning for them – He will “lift them up” (James 4:10).  And being lifted up by God is a much more secure position than doing the lifting up yourself.  So wait for God to lift you.  For when He does, it will be unto eternal life.  And that’s enough to lift even a troubled soul in a humble – and sometimes humiliating – life.

Want to learn more? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Prieto’s
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August 29, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

ABC Extra – Pride and Destruction

One of the frustrations of teaching through a whole book of the Bible in the scope of a mere hour, as I did in Sunday’s ABC, is that, inevitably and necessarily, I must leave many aspects of the book unaddressed.  Thus, as I taught the book of Esther yesterday, I found myself frustrated with all the things I didn’t have time to talk about!   Thankfully, however, I do have this blog.  And so, I thought it might be helpful to touch on a fascinating subplot in Esther’s story that I did not cover yesterday.

The basic contours of Esther’s story are these.  The Jews are under the rule of King Xerxes of Persia in the fifth century B.C.  When Xerxes’ queen, Vashti, embarrasses him at a party, he banishes her and launches a search for a new queen.  After an exhaustive quest, Xerxes settles on Esther, a lovely young Jewess.  Shortly after Esther becomes queen, however, an evil advisor to Xerxes named Haman concocts a plot to destroy the Jews.  Esther has a cousin named Mordecai, and when he catches wind of this plot, he sends the queen a message, begging her to help her people.  Esther then holds a series of two banquets to which he invites King Xerxes and the evil Haman and, at the second banquet, reveals to the king Haman’s nefarious objectives.  When the king learns of Haman’s plot, he becomes furious and orders Haman to be executed by hanging.  And the Jews are saved from extermination.  This is the story’s major plot.

The subplot of Esther’s story centers around the queen’s cousin, Mordecai.  We are first introduced to Mordecai in Esther 2 where we are told, “Mordecai had a cousin named Esther, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother” (Esther 2:7).  Thus, Mordecai had taken Esther under his wing.  Later in this same chapter, we read this interesting anecdote:

During the time Mordecai was sitting at the king’s gate, Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, became angry and conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.  But Mordecai found out about the plot and told Queen Esther, who in turn reported it to the king, giving credit to Mordecai.  And when the report was investigated and found to be true, the two officials were hanged on a gallows. All this was recorded in the book of the annals in the presence of the king. (Esther 2:21-23)

Apparently, Mordecai is a Xerxes loyalist.  When the guards of the king’s chamber conspire to kill him, it is Mordecai who foils their plot.  Incidentally, about ten years after this assassination attempt, Xerxes is indeed assassinated by some new guards who also keep watch over his chamber.  What is especially important to note, however, is the thanks Moredecai receives for saving the king’s life.  He receives no thanks.  The king quickly forgets about his valiant act, though it is recorded in his annals.

Well, several years pass, and the night before the king and his right-hand man Haman are to attend Esther’s banquet where she will reveal Haman’s plot against the Jews, the king comes down with a case of insomnia:

That night the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the record of his reign, to be brought in and read to him.  It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s officers who guarded the doorway, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes. “What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” the king asked. “Nothing has been done for him,” his attendants answered.  The king said, “Who is in the court?”…His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.” “Bring him in,” the king ordered. When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?”  So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor,  have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” (Esther 6:1-10)

Mordecai finally receives his well-deserved commendation from the king.  But how he receives it is comical.  He receives it from Haman, the very man who is plotting to kill Mordecai along with all his people!  And Haman could not be more humiliated that he is compelled to honor Mordecai in this way:  “Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief” (Esther 6:12).

“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  Clearly, Haman is presented as an insufferably arrogant character.  His delusion concerning his own greatness is sickening:  “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?”  Haman believes there is no one greater than himself.  But before we scorn Haman for his haughtiness too quickly, it is worth asking if we don’t suffer from a pride similar to Haman’s.  After all, who among us does not think we are somehow worthy of high honor?  And who among us has not gotten angry or bitter or resentful – if only internally – when we did not receive the acclaim we thought we deserved?

Haman’s hauteur should remind us all that we are called to be humble servants of Christ.  For we follow One who “humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).  Do you live your life with Christ-like humility?

Want to learn more on this passage? Go to
www.ConcordiaLutheranChurch.com
and check out audio and video from Pastor Tucker’s
message or Pastor Zach’s ABC!

May 9, 2011 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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