Increasing And Decreasing


CBS logoHuman nature seems to push us toward selfishness as I noted in “The Scientific Discovery Of The Sin Nature.” If in doubt, watch CBS’s 60 Minutes video for yourself. Here’s an excerpt:

Lesley Stahl: Sounds to me like the experiment show[s] they [the babies who were the subjects of the experiment] are little bigots.

Paul Bloom [Yale researcher]: I think to some extent, a bias to favor the self, where the self could be people who look like me, people who act like me, people who have the same taste as me, is a very strong human bias. (emphasis added)

The Bible doesn’t equivocate when it comes to human nature. We are self-deceived and wicked at our core—primarily because of our bias to favor ourselves. We want to win, to be noticed, admired, loved and praised. We want our fifteen minutes of fame, and if we can stretch it out to a half hour, all the better.

The problem for the Christian is that when we push ourselves forward, we are actually stealing the limelight from God. He’s the star, after all, the One who deserves the accolades, who produces the show, who works behind the scenes to hold it all together, who assembles the cast, who writes the checks, and who takes center stage. So when the curtain comes up for the credits, for whom is the applause greatest? The actor playing the page who carried the king’s sword, or the king himself?

Clayton_Kershaw_(8664742364)We live in a celebrity culture. Consequently Christians often flock to “famous Christians,” like Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin or Russel Wilson or Clayton Kershaw. And isn’t it a good thing when people of all stripe, even people of other religions or people of no religion, recognize a “famous Christian” for their talent and intelligence and good deeds?

That’s what the Bible seems to say. We are to let our light shine so that people see our good works (Matt. 5:16). It’s the last part of the verse that I think 21st century Christians seem to have trouble with: “… that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (emphasis added). The goal isn’t that they might glorify the Christian, but that they might glorify the God whom we serve.

John the Baptist articulated the principle well. One of his disciples was troubled that the crowds were leaving John and flocking to Jesus. Here’s his answer:

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:27-30)

In other words, John’s popularity was a gift from God. But he was not the Messiah. He was the second, the best man, the squire. Understanding his role, he rejoiced to see Jesus get all the attention. That’s what he lived for. To decrease, that Jesus might increase.

In some ways, it seems a person must first increase to get to the point that he can decrease. I mean, if John didn’t have a following, would he ever have been able to say, I must decrease?

But what about the widow who gave her last coin in the temple. She had no following, and she was still willing to decrease that God might increase.

I think our current Christian culture has it wrong. We should not be working to be known so we can make God known. That’s upside down. The widow gave to God because she knew God deserved her very last coin. As a result, God spread her fame down through the ages, to every tribe and tongue where the gospel is preached. She wasn’t after fame, but God gave it to her as a result of her willingness to decrease.

I think too of Boaz and the anonymous relative who could have married Ruth. In that day, a widow had no protection unless a relative of her deceased husband married her. She was also tied to the property her husband may have owned. So Boaz, wanting to take Ruth as his wife, first had to find out if the relative who was closer would step up and do the right thing.

Boaz started by asking the man if he wanted to buy the property which had belonged to the deceased. The relative said, sure. OK, Boaz said, but you know, of course, that means you’ll also have to marry Ruth. Oh, the man answered. Forgot about her. You know, on second thought, this marriage and property purchase isn’t going to work for me after all. It would jeopardize his own inheritance, he said—something about the child of their union would be known as belonging to the first husband, and his land reverting to that side of the family at the jubilee.

It’s a bit too legal and technical for me. But I bring it up because this man who wanted to guard his inheritance is no longer remembered by name. Boaz, however, and Ruth are both recorded in the ancestral record of the Messiah. The one who wanted to increase, didn’t. The one who cared for the widow, who served and protected a foreign woman in need, received recognition throughout the ages.

He must increase. And I must decrease.

My devious mind immediately goes to the idea that, yes, the way for me to get noticed, like the widow Jesus praised, like Boaz, is to put Jesus on display. But that misses the point. God can use even that wrong attitude, as Paul says in Philippians, but the right perspective is to see the way things really are: God, the high and exalted King; I, the servant holding the edge of His train.

Shockingly, this life is really not about me. It’s about God—serving Him, loving Him, listening to Him, abiding with Him, and above all glorifying Him. Seeing Him increase.

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Winning And Losing


Clayton_Kershaw_2010This past week has been filled with sports for someone like me who follows most sports and cheers for the teams in the LA area. Oh, and a Denver Broncos fan, too.

We had two teams in the Major League Baseball playoffs, USC football played on Saturday and a few hours later UCLA played as well. Then on Sunday the Broncos played in the afternoon.

The results of the eight games were mixed. First the Angels, after losing the opening game of their series against Kansas City in overtime, got swept out of the playoffs. Next the Dodgers, after taking a 6-1 lead behind the probable Cy Young Award winner, Clayton Kershaw, ended up losing their opening game, 10-9.

At the same time, USC lost the game against Arizona St. after leading most of the way when they gave up a “hail Mary” touchdown as time ran out. UCLA, having crushed Arizona St. last week, faced Utah. They trailed most of the game, took the lead late in the fourth quarter, then gave up a field goal in the last seconds and lost.

So when does the winning start? Well, the Dodgers came back in their game two and won to even their series with St. Louis. Then the Broncos came through yesterday to hand the Arizona Cardinals their first loss of the season. Still, that’s a lot of losing in just a short period of time.

But here’s the truth about winning and losing: it’s transient. The team that wins in February will begin a new season in September and have to do it all over again. There is no permanent winner—at least not when we’re talking about sports or business or the lottery or contests or anything else you might expect to find a winner.

The Heisman Trophy winner receives the accolades for his accomplishment, but the next year either returns to school or starts a career as a rookie football player or as a newbie in a different field. In other words, people won’t pay him for life because he won the Heisman Trophy in 2014.

In that respect, wins and losses are equal. Once they are over, they are memories. Sure, wins are most likely happy memories and losses may be painful, but here’s the truth. What lasts is what a person learns through the experience.

Players can learn more through the experiences of winning and losing then can fans, I would think. Fans are emotionally invested but incapable of affecting the outcome of a game. Maybe the greatest lesson for a fan is to hold games loosely. After all, only one team will walk away as the World Series champs.

Most teams when they celebrate with a parade down their city streets end up making some sort of statement about the next year—usually something like, Let’s do this again next year. In other words, they understand another season awaits in which the just-completed championship win will mean nothing.

So why do we try to win video games or chess matches or employee-of-the-year prizes or bridal-shower games or . . . you name it? Winning validates our abilities or our emotional connection or city association with a team. But because of the nature of winning and losing, we’re quickly right back where we were, wondering again if we’re good enough, smart enough, talented enough.

As the fans of the New England Patriots. After getting blown out by Kansas City a week ago, fans and media pundits were questioning whether or not their highly touted coach and quarterback could still get it done. Was Tom Brady over the hill, they asked? Would the coach consider a change at that position? Of course all those questions went away when the Patriots dominated Cincinnati Sunday night.

So what’s the point? Winning and losing are both temporal. They need to be held with an open hand. A false view of winning leads to pride and a false view of losing leads to despair, which is really the flip side of pride. Both are exaggerated views of self.

The only thing that lasts is what we do for the kingdom of God. The rest ends up being the wood, hay, and stubble Scripture says will burn up. The eternal things are good works as simple as giving a cup of cold water to a thirsty stranger.

Those things God promises to reward, and His “well done, good and faithful servant, last for eternity.

In the end, the only winning that matters is that which Jesus Christ accomplished in His work at the cross where He triumphed over sin and death, over His enemies, over guilt and the law. As Corrie ten Boom loved to say, Jesus is Victor.

Being His follower is the only sure thing out there. We can’t be sure if we’ll have a job tomorrow or if we’ll arrive home safely after work or if we have cancer cells growing in our body or will get bit by a mosquito with West Nile Virus or will fall and break an ankle or a wrist trying to stop our fall. We expect things to go the way we consider “normal”—without glitches or interruptions or anomalies. And God graciously gives us what we need day after day, even as He gave manna to the people of Israel six out of seven days for forty years!

But there are those days when we’re out of water or a river separates us from where we’re going or giants are in the land or thick walls obstruct us from what we plan to accomplish. In those instances, we need to keep our perspective. God is still the Victor. The circumstances that appear daunting or even “terminal” do not change who God is or what His Son has done.

Winning and losing both, even in things as trivial as MLA playoff games, give us an opportunity to remember what’s eternal, what real winning looks like (that would be the sinless Son of God hanging on a cross for our benefit).

And you thought watching sports was just a fun thing to do! 😉

Published in: on October 6, 2014 at 5:47 pm  Comments Off on Winning And Losing  
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