Archive for August, 2014

“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.” – Proverbs 18:12 (NIV)

The contrast between pride and humility couldn’t be more distinct. We don’t often see our own pride until it’s exposed for what it is.

The word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humilis” which means lowly, insignificant, or “on the ground.” We think of a humble person as one who doesn’t have an exalted view of themselves in relation to others.

I think humility is easier observed than it is defined. Humility becomes a larger slice of our character when we see a picture of reality that shows us we aren’t the perfect people we hoped we would be.

It’s easy to be blind to our own pride and to observe humility in others. We would probably admit to being proud before we would consider ourselves “humble.”

If you’ve been following the professional golf news lately you will be aware that there’s been a changing of the guard at the number one position in the world rankings. In recent years we have witnessed the demotion of Tiger Woods and the rise of Rory McIlroy at the highest level of the sport.

Even though Tiger won five PGA tour events in 2013 this year has been one of injury, frustration and  disappointment while Rory, winner of several events and two majors this season, has recaptured the ranking of World Number one and is going from strength to strength.

The comparison and contrast between these two child prodigies turned professional have been noteworthy. Both have been in the media spotlight for some time now and observations and conclusions drawn concerning both of them are clear to see.

One of the most striking differences between these two men is how they conduct themselves with the media. When interviewed Tiger is cautious, mysterious and most often closed. He’s a classic example of pride and perfection. Rory is open, honest, unassuming, and vulnerable and dare I say, humble for a young man of such accomplishment at his young age. The broadcasters know this quite well. They love Rory – so do his many fans. Draw your own conclusions as to how they view Tiger Woods.

We live in a world where pride and “getting to the top” in one’s area of expertise is a highly valued. We love our sports stars but we seem to appreciate the ones like Rory who have a sense of humility about them despite their huge success.

The wisdom of the ancient Proverb quoted above teaches us that without a sense of brokenness in our lives we tend to become proud and think that we are above the faults and failings of others.

As Tiger Woods discovered almost five years ago now life’s catastrophes come along at various stages. The proud man or woman falls. Those who are humble are honored in success or failure.

Due to various humbling experiences over the past few years I’m realizing that in years past my own pride kept me from admitting failure and letting others close to me see who I really was. A lot of wasted energy went into hiding unsightly things about myself so that I could maintain an appearance of “having it all-together.” We are the last ones to see the evidence of pride in our lives.

Our pride leads us to believe that we’re strong and invincible. Humility tells us that it’s safe to be honest with who we are as fragile human beings because we’re made in the image of God who knows us intimately. It’s His opinion of us that holds the most weight.

One of the most profound examples of humility in history is that of Jesus Christ. Being equal with God the Father He humbled Himself in taking on humanity and subjecting Himself to death so that men and women might find forgiveness and connection with God (Philippians 2).

Not even the Son of God promoted Himself in the grand scheme of things so why should we?

Long term we may not see Rory McIlroy win as much in his prime as Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods did in theirs, but if his attitude doesn’t change and barring major meltdown he may be one of the most beloved stars in the history of golf.

We know a proud man or woman when we see one. We know a humble man or woman when we see one. We are fortunate when we are vulnerable enough to admit our weaknesses and failures as well as our strengths and to release any illusions of our own superiority over others.

In the end humility seems to carry its own rewards.


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“ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42 (NIV)

Ever since we learned of Robin Williams’ unexpected death this week, we have been swamped with analysis and insights from a wide range of people across the globe who, like myself, appreciated his life work and were heartbroken to hear of his tragic end.

It goes without saying that Robin Williams was loved and admired by many – his films alone had grossed over $5 Billion worldwide. Yet a man of such rich accomplishment was haunted by demons of addiction and depression over the course of his life which overtook him in the end.

We know it’s true but it comes down hard on us in moments like this that a successful career, wealth and fame does not guarantee a happy and emotionally satisfying life. By contrast we know of many people who have very little in terms of the world’s wealth and influence who have happy and fulfilling lives.

Over the last few years I’ve been coming to some conclusions as to why this is so.

Take for example, the story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus comes into the home of Martha and her sister Mary.  When you stop to think about it, Jesus Christ the Lord and Creator of the Universe has just come into her home and Martha’s response is to get “busy.” Perhaps Martha’s activity is well-intended most likely making preparations for a meal that would certainly have been expected of a host in those days.

The problem arises with Martha when she sees her sister Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus and “listening to Him.” She gets bent out of shape that her sister is wasting precious time, listening to the Lord rather than helping her with all the preparations for the guest of honor and His friends.

Before we get too reactionary here let’s focus on what Jesus is really saying when he tells Martha to leave Mary alone. He knows that Martha is “worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed and Mary has chosen what is better.”

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you pales in comparison to what lies within you.” I think Jesus is making a huge statement about the contrast between our inner life and the external world around us.

I don’t think that Jesus condemns Martha for hard work or a desire to please Him and his company with a fine meal. I think He’s showing us that we, like Martha, can work hard to make sure our outside “world” is a happy place when it’s far more important to sit before Him as He speaks to our hearts.

The “inner life” that we all have, with its thoughts, desires and motives is made for intimacy rather than activity, by and large. By contrast our culture tells us to “do” all the right things on the outside and pay careful attention to our external image and happiness and contentment will surely come our way.

I recall a crisis time in my own life several years ago where incessant activity was killing my inner life. I found myself driven to perform for an unseen audience that literally controlled my existence. Now I know that if I can’t be content sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to Him while the rest of the world goes headlong into crisis with excessive activity, I’ll never be content with who I am or what I have.

Mary had it right but going along with the culture around me I was behaving a lot more like Martha.

Our inner life was designed by our Lord for intimacy and connection with Him. It’s reflected in Mary who somehow knew that when Jesus stepped into her surroundings – nothing, and I mean nothing, took priority over sitting quietly at His feet listening to Him. Things around her took lower priority when her posture was one of surrender to Him.

We can take away many lessons from the life and death of Robin Williams. Regardless of your talents you could get very busy with incessant activity so that the audience watching your performance might be happy for fleeting moments. Or you can take time in silence and solitude to stop and sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to what He speaks into your heart and act accordingly.

I think it’s a choice that makes all the difference – to us and to our world.

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“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.” – Proverbs 24:3-6 (NIV)

Yesterday Dustin Johnson, the thirty-year old, highly successful professional golfer at the top of his game, announced that he has decided to take a break from golf to address personal issues in his life and seek outside professional help.

Today the news is that drug use is the issue. It’s being rumored that he is being suspended for six months by the PGA for being tested positive for cocaine.

So the sporting world is facing a new challenge for one of its star performers. Even so I can relate to where Dustin is at just now.

Being a film-fan I always enjoyed a good western movie. In the great westerns of yesteryear you could generally count on the US Cavalry coming to the rescue in desperate situations. When the peaceful, hardworking homesteaders on the frontier got surrounded by the enemy and all hope was lost, the US Cavalry seemed to arrive just in time to save the day!

Life has a way of landing us in trouble that we can’t squeeze out of unless someone from outside comes to the rescue. The problem is that we often don’t know how much trouble we’re in before we call for help. I don’t know about you but it seems that in my life I keep having to learn lessons the hard way. All too often pain seems to be the best teacher.

In the early days of US television there was a famous western series called “The Lone Ranger.” It featured a masked man who, along with his trusty Native American sidekick, “Tonto” would rescue people out of hopeless situations.

In my generation, it was every boy’s dream to be “the Lone Ranger.” Strong, independent and reliable were subliminal code words we seemed to inhale with every episode.

For most of my life I preferred “The Lone Ranger” to “The Cavalry”. I wanted to be able to solve my own problems and meet my own needs without having to call in anyone else to help. For more years than I care to admit, I never sought out a mentor, although I often heard that it might be a good idea.

Unfortunately in the real world pride makes small men even smaller. Proud men dislike outside help. Hollywood, fueled by pride and competition, doesn’t preach that sermon.

In reflecting on Dustin Johnson’s situation I can’t help but think back to the beginning of Tiger Wood’s problems in November of 2009. He was in deep trouble long before the news hit the media. Although many of his problems may be resolved he’s still working his way back to prominence in golf almost five years later. He was in a deep crisis way before the Cavalry arrived.

The verses quoted above from Proverbs direct us to a much different pattern of life  – people who are wise, successful and productive in life have “houses” (i.e. lives) that are built on understanding, knowledge, strength and guidance from many advisers!”

The best leaders are also people who are led, most of time by the people they intentionally and willingly choose to follow. They are team players, not Lone Rangers! They rely on key outsiders and even disgruntled customers to speak into their lives and situations.

People who are growing and influential are vulnerable and connected to others. They welcome feedback because they know they can learn from it. They seem to know who they can trust. They confide in those people, seek their input and make mid-course corrections. Generally everyone wins from that type of behavior.

Because of our natural self-protection and blind spots we often don’t know we are in trouble until someone on the outside gives us a clue that we are not in a good place and that we need wisdom beyond our own boundaries.

Several years ago when facing a personal crisis I finally started to stop trying to be the Lone Ranger and start calling in the Cavalry. It made all the difference in my own life and new life patterns of dealing with problems emerged.

Often our own pride blinds us to see God-given advisers all around us. The truth is that we can’t watch ourselves travel through life – but others around us can. Many of them are smarter than we are and have pretty keen eyesight and life experience.

Look at your own life. I’d say that your “Cavalry” is all around you. They can be friends, spouses, small group leaders, pastors, teachers, church leaders, business consultants, coaches, doctors, specialists in a field of interest and the list goes on.

Now that I’m a little wiser I continually update my list of “Cavalry” members God has placed around me. I’m grateful for a growing number of key people near me whom I can call in to help before the crises of my life get out of hand. It’s like heeding the warning signs of cancer as soon as they appear – and doing something about them before it’s too late.

My hope is that at age thirty Dustin Johnson hasn’t left his decision too long before seeking help. If things go well for his recovery he’ll be the real winner in the long run.

Now when I see a crisis brewing I’m quicker to spot my foolish pride and call in my own Cavalry because in reality Lone Rangers finish last.

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