Message Jan. 21, 2016 Losing Our Big Heads
Scripture: James 4: 1-10
Today we are continuing our Biggest Loser, Blairsville Style sermon series where we are attempting to lose the hurts, habits and hang-ups that keep us from experiencing God’s best for our lives. Last week we looked all the excuses and reasons we give God for not living into his call for our lives (our big buts), but today we’re going look at one the biggest daily struggles we face when trying to be faithful to God: losing our big heads that are often filled with pride.
From the moment we were born, we have struggled with sin, or those behaviors and attitudes that keep us from missing God’s best; we’ve struggled to live lives that reflect God’s glory and character. And it really shouldn’t surprise us. It takes only three chapters in the Bible to regress from the goodness of God to the problem of sin. And we could spend some time naming all the sins of the world, and the sins that plague our hearts, but we’re just going to focus on one today: the sin that has often been deemed the “mother” of them all, the one that gives birth to so much painful and hurtful activity and action- and that is pride. The old proverb suggests that pride goes before the fall. Behind most arguments, discord and evil,(and you didn’t need to look too hard yesterday) you can probably find a heart caught up in a whirlwind of pride.
In his work entitled, Mere Christianity, author C.S. Lewis (who wrote the Chronicles of Narnia) suggests that pride is battle common to each of us. We may not all murder or experience greed, but we each probably struggle with pride on some level. Lewis also suggests that the less we think we have pride, the probability of our guilt skyrockets. But in order to lose our pride (and discern whether or not it’s a personal struggle), we first need to recognize what it is not.
The sin of pride is not the feeling that rises up when our children do something wonderful. It really is ok to be a proud parent! When we say we’re “proud parents,” what we really mean is that we are delighted in our children’s lives. That’s not pride. It’s not the deep emotion you experience on the fourth of July when everyone is singing, “I’m proud to be an American.” It really is ok to be proud of our nation’s good qualities. When we sing our patriotic songs, what we’re claiming is gratitude for freedom. That’s not pride. Pride is not the sense of satisfaction you receive when someone offers you a compliment or the feeling you experience after a job well done. That’s joy, friends; that’s contentment; but that’s not pride. And pride is not the well-deserved recognition that you are worthy when you’ve been told your entire life that you’re not! That’s grace. So what then is pride? Here’s a quick definition: Pride is the negative characteristic that swells up the moment you begin to elevate yourself over and above God and others. In essence, pride is a “big head” that suggest my feelings, my desires, my needs and my opinions are more important than anything else.
The Christian tradition suggests that the sin of pride began with the character we often refer to as Satan, the personification of evil. According to some biblical accounts Satan was one of God’s good creations, filled with beauty and light. In fact, one of the names often use for Satan (Lucifer) literally means “the one who bears light.” But there was a moment when Satan, this “bearer of light,” began to look away from God and towards himself. And the more he looked towards himself, the more dissatisfied he grew with simply being a light-bearer. Instead, he wanted to be the light and he wanted the power and the glory that was reserved for God alone.
It’s no wonder then that the first sin that appears in Scripture, the story of Adam and Eve found in Genesis, begins with the opportunity to become more than what and who they were meant to be. “For God knows that when you eat of it,” says the serpent, “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” And there it is: The opportunity to elevate ourselves over and above someone else. That’s pride. Up to this point, those first humans have been living a very God-centered lives. They are more like God than they will ever know: created in his image, his very Spirit has breathed into them the breath of life; God’s love has cared for their every need. His love for them is the love of a Father for his children; and he’s never given any reason to doubt his goodness.
You know, what was true of those first humans is also true of us. We’ve been created to be like God. God has created us in his image, called us to walk in relationship with him and has empowered us to care for his creation with the same love and integrity with which he cares for us. But the serpent’s statement, disguised as friendly advice, beckons us to desire the god-like characteristics that we’re better off without. Instead of being “like God,” pride redefines our identity and suggests we should be “God-like.” Power. Glory. Unrivaled status. Number one! The need to be right. The need to be heard, no matter who it may hurt…Those are the cravings James talks about, cravings that are at war within us. And before we know it, our cravings begin to pull us from who were meant to be and launch us into people who can’t see beyond the end of our own noses. When those cravings gain a foothold in our hearts, we trade peace for discord and love for power. Where do these problems come from, asks James? They come from pride, from a me-first view of the world.
In a fascinating passage from Philippians, a passage Joanna and I chose to have read at our wedding, we discover God’s answer to our big heads. (READ HERE) Jesus, who as God’s son, had all the power and qualities of God available to him, didn’t exploit those capabilities. Instead, as is beautifully written, Jesus emptied himself and became obedient to death on a cross. This is fascinating, because it implies that not even Jesus was exempt from the “you can be God-like” enticement. Yet Jesus fully committed to God’s plans, and by doing so, he practiced the opposite of pride. He did nothing out of selfish ambition. He looked not to his own interests, but to the interests of others. He practiced the virtue of humility. That’s what humility looks like. It looks like the decision to do nothing out of selfish ambition. It looks like the unnatural choice to act (or in some cases, to refrain from acting), based on the interest of others. This is what draws us together as a church and what makes the church stand as a significant witness to the world. We have a Savior who could’ve had it all, but instead practiced humility, even to the death.
It is humility, friends, that is our defense against the sin of pride, but humility takes time to develop. As I watched yesterday’s inauguration, I was reminded of an early RNC debate. During one of his first debates as a hopeful candidate, President Donald Trump was asked what his Secret Service code name would be if here were to win the election. Now, it’s no secret that President Trump is a tough cookie. You might say he's a “win at all costs” type of guy and refuses to back down no matter the opponent or situation. And so when the question was asked, President Trump, not one to miss an opportunity, offered a quick smile and boldly stated the name “HUMBLE,” an answer that solicited laughs all over the world.
How I wish we could so quick to name our struggle, flip an internal switch and become humble…but it doesn’t work that way. Losing our big heads doesn’t happen over night, nor does humility appear because we want humility to appear. Humility is cultivated and lived out when we begin to see the world through the eyes of God and trust God to be God. Again, in his work Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis suggests that humility is born out of relationship with God. And that’s a relationship that takes time to build. As I thought about how we begin to build up a relationship with God, I was reminded of an old parable of a grandson and grandfather often attributed to the Cherokee Indians. “Grandson,” said the grandfather, there are always two wolves living inside of us. A good wolf and a bad wolf. And they are always at war.” After a few minutes, the grandson asked, “Grandfather, which one will win?” “The one you feed,” replied the grandfather. (www.oneyoufeed.net)
Pride and humility are never too far apart. The one we feed will be the one that defines us, and ultimately, the one that either makes or breaks our relationships with God and with one another. But if humility is a virtue we aspire to, a good place to begin is at the cross. Because it’s the cross that reveals what true power, glory and victory look like. And it has nothing to do with being first, being right, or being the best. What we see on that cross is the face of Christ, who pushed his own ambitions and desires aside so that we could live fully and freely with God. What we see on the cross is a Savior who fed the good wolf. Oh, I’m sure there were times he wanted to respond with a public rant when angered by others. And I’m sure there were moments when he wanted to say, “You know, this isn’t good for me, so I’m not going to do it.” And I’m sure there were times when he wanted to lose his cool and say, “I’ll show you!” But he didn’t. He fed the good wolf, the one that invites us to have a heart that is larger than our big heads, the one that leads to life.
Which one are you feeding? If you find that you’ve been feeding the wrong wolf, I invite you to come to the cross tonight and meet Christ. As James says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” If you find tonight that you need a cleansing of your heart, a new start, or the strength to repair what your pride has broken…or if you simply find that your pride is just getting in the way of so many relationships….I invite you to the cross to get re-centered, to make the move today from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered one. That’s how we lose our big heads. Amen.