Starting Over: Own Your Past

Own your past. This is a vital step in the process of starting over as explained by pastor F. Remy Diederich of Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin.We all make mistakes.

We all fall short. No one gets everything right all the time. So there will be many times in life where we need to start over. It might be in a relationship or with your finances. It could be with your education or career. Many people fall off the rails with God and so they want to start over spiritually.

So the question isn’t: Will you have to start over in life? That’s a given. The question is: WHEN will you have to start over and will you do a good job of it? But too often we sabotage our start with bad choices.

One of the ways we sabotage our start is by getting back in the game too fast. I talked about this last week. We rush to start over and fail to take responsibility for the mess we made, or take time to deal with the character flaws that caused our failure in the first place.

We get daily examples of this in the media. Right now, the NFL (National Football League) is going through a major public relations debacle for this very reason. People are sick and tired of big time athletes messing up, offering a quick apology, and getting back to business. They want these guys to take responsibility for their actions.

This is interesting to me because what we are seeing in the media today is the exact same thing we see in the opening pages of the Bible. Now a lot of people question the Bible, especially the Adam and Eve story. And I get that. I mean, how can a story written thousands of years ago have any relevance to us today? I think it’s fair to ask that question.

But when the ancient text exposes a fundamental flaw that we all know we have, I have to sit up and say…maybe there is some truth here. In fact, the Bible nails the human condition so well that it leads me to believe that it’s beyond the capabilities of any prehistoric psychologist. I’m convinced that it’s inspired by God… but I’ll let you come to your own conclusion.

I want to look at this story to see what we can learn about starting over.

The first two chapters of the Bible relate the creation of the earth, including the creation of the first two people: Adam and Eve. At the end of chapter two the writer proudly announces that:

The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.  -Genesis 2:25

In other words, everything was good. But then the story changes. God lays down one simple rule: to not eat from a certain tree. It proved to be too much for Adam and Eve. They both ate the fruit. And the story says:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden…And God said…Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” …The man said… I have to be fully honest here. I ate the fruit. Please forgive me.  -Genesis 3:8-12

Not quite. The Bible would be a lot thinner if Adam would have said what I indicated in the bold part of the text. This is what he said:

“The woman you put here with me–she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”  -Genesis 3:12,13

Rather than come clean, Adam and Eve first tried to hide from God and then they pointed the finger at someone else before they were able to choke out an admission of guilt.

In my last post I said I was going to give you four principles for starting over. The first principle I gave you was: take time… take the time you need to fully deal with your past and your weaknesses.

Here’s the second principle: own it. That’s what Adam and Eve didn’t do. You see, you can’t start over well until you first own your past. Today, I want to break down what it means to own it.

I have four steps for you.

Admit

The first step to owning your past is to admit your fault… completely. What did Adam and Eve do? First they hid their failure, and when they couldn’t hide it, they blamed others.

There is a natural progression that happens when we fail. We usually don’t own it at first. First we hide it, thinking, maybe no one will notice. But inevitably people find out. They always do.

So our next line of defense is to deny it (I absolutely, unequivocally, and categorically did not do it). When that doesn’t work we blame others (well, yes, I did it but it was because of them).

I like what Andy Stanley says about this kind of behavior. He says when we blame, etc. we are smuggling our dysfunctions into the future. That’s a very visual way to think of how we refuse to deal with our character issues and choose to sneak them into our future story. Rather than confronting our failure and our weaknesses, we just bring them with us as we start over, hoping we get away with it. And then we wonder why things don’t work out for us.

What happens with your credibility when you drag your dysfunctions with you? It drops, right? People lose their faith in you and when they lose their faith in you it’s a lot harder to start over. They aren’t so sure they want to let you start over.

If you want to have any hope of a second chance with people you need to admit everything you’ve done as quickly as possible. Don’t admit 50% or 80% or even 99% of what you did wrong. You’ve got to admit 100% otherwise people feel betrayed when the rest of the truth finally comes out. You insult their intelligence and mock their trust in you. Even though you admitted some of the guilt, you are worse off than you were.

Now, I understand that it’s hard to admit your mistakes. It’s painfully embarrassing to be fully exposed in your weakness and failure. Most of us will do whatever we can to avoid the pain and the potential rejection. But followers of Jesus have a distinct advantage here. Followers of Jesus know that they are forgiven… that their past isn’t held against them. God forgives them and empowers them to start over. So they can have the courage to admit their mistakes. If they step up to tell the truth, God will honor them and help them to get their life back on track.

Now, many times you aren’t the only one to blame. In fact, sometimes other people deserve the lion’s share of the blame. They might be responsible for 95% of what went wrong. This is where it gets tricky. You need to be careful because this is when it’s the hardest to admit your part.

Imagine a circle. Imagine that it represents who’s responsible for some failure. Let’s say, only 5% of the responsibility is yours. It’s so easy to obsess about the 95% and forget about your role.

But if you want to start over well, you need to own your part in it, no matter how small it is.

You have to get really, really honest with yourself and admit that you did have a role in your failure. For example, you might say to yourself “You know, if I’m really honest here, I saw some character defects in them a long time ago and I never said anything about it. I didn’t want to rock the boat. I wanted this relationship to work out so bad I just looked the other way but if I’m honest, I should have said something. I could have confronted them months ago and this whole mess would have never happened. I need to own that.”

My parents warned me about this. They told me not to buy that. Yeah, the owners took advantage of me but I shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. I knew better. I need to own my part of what happened. I stayed in the relationship too long and enabled their behavior. That’s my fault.

Yeah, they took advantage of me but, truthfully? I was greedy. That’s why I was there in the first place. I thought I was going to make a bunch of money so I ignored the warning signs. I can point the finger but to be fair, it was my greed that pulled the trigger on this.

The truth is: I could have left that party. I didn’t have to stay. I said I didn’t have a car but I could have called a cab, or a friend, or even walked. No one held a gun to my head.

The truth is: the coach cut me from the team because I wasn’t giving my best. Yeah, he can be harsh at times but I have to own my part. Sometimes I’m lazy. I was late to practice or skipped practice all together. I’ve gotta own that.

Okay, I spent a lot of time on this first step because if you cut corners admitting, you might as well not bother to do anything else I have to tell you. In my next post we will pick up with the next step in the process of owning it. If you can’t wait that long, you can listen to the entire message in podcast form here.

The Myths that Prevent Us From Starting Over

One of the keys to starting over is to put to rest the myths that get in our way.In my last post, I looked at two myths that prevent us from properly starting over. Today, we’ll look at the final three.

The third myth is the Experience myth

This myth says: Experience makes me wiser, therefore I’m sure I will do better the next time.

That’s a pretty big assumption. I’ve heard a lot of people brag about having attended the school of hard knocks. They act like the bumps and bruises of life have taught them all they need to know. But the school of hard knocks doesn’t guarantee an education. It doesn’t guarantee you’ll be any smarter. The only thing it guarantees is the opportunity to learn from what worked and what didn’t work in the past.

We all know people that believe the experience myth. They never seem to connect the dots between their behavior and their failure. Their experiences did nothing for them but develop a habit that they cluelessly perpetuate.

This is the person that thinks the first few times they failed was just bad luck. Isn’t that what they say? Oh, it was just bad luck, but then they add this: but the third time is the charm.

No, it wasn’t bad luck. It was more likely bad choices, and the third time won’t be the charm, it will just be a repeat of the first and second failures if they don’t learn what they did wrong and do something about it.

Now, I realize most of us are probably thinking of some friend or family member right now. You think they really need to hear this. You are going to send them this post. But can I suggest that I might be talking about you? Just sayin’.

The fourth myth is the Exception myth

It says, I’m unique. I’m the exception. I don’t have to follow the directions like other people.

This person will tell their kids or friends how to follow the rules, but interestingly enough, they don’t practice what they preach. They think they are a little bit smarter than the rest of us so the rules don’t apply to them.

You know if you believe this myth simply by listening to what you tell your friends. You’ll say something like this; “I know I shouldn’t do this but…”

I know I shouldn’t eat this brownie because I’m on a diet, but I’ll just exercise more tomorrow.

I know I shouldn’t buy this because I’m in debt already, but it’s on sale. God wants be to save money!

I know I shouldn’t date her but she makes me happy.

I know I shouldn’t do this but I’m the exception to the rules. I can do this without it affecting me.

I’m bullet proof.

No you’re not. Time will prove that.

People who believe the Exception Myth are masters at denial. They have an exceptional ability to rationalize, justify, and minimize their dysfunctional behavior. But the truth is: you can’t start your life over and have it both ways. There are no shortcuts.

The final myth is the Time Myth

The time myth says: The clock is ticking. I’m running out of time. I’ve got to get back in the game. I mean, all my friends are getting ahead of me. I’m getting older. I’ve got an opportunity sitting right here in front of me and if I’d don’t snatch it up right now I may never get another chance. In other words, the Time Myth says: You need to start over TODAY, even if you aren’t ready to start over.

People who get divorced often think this way. Rather than deal with the root causes of their divorce, they just want to start dating again.

People who have an affair often think this way. They want to quick patch things up with their spouse and get back to normal without looking at what led to the affair in the first place.

People who have some kind of an addiction often think this way. They think if they get some counseling or read a book they are good to go and no one should worry about them.

The reality is: most of us think this way because starting over too soon keeps us from taking responsibility for the past and facing the reality of our weaknesses.

The mistake we make is believing that time is our enemy. But time isn’t the enemy. Time is our friend. God wants us to take all the time we need to get to the bottom of our failure, so when we finally do start over, we succeed.

There’s an older movie called 28 Days, with Sandra Bullock. It’s about people in recovery from alcohol addiction. There was a guy in recovery who wanted to start a new relationship and his sponsor said, “In the first year, buy a plant. And the end of the first year, buy a pet. If at the end of the second year they are both still alive, that would be when I would recommend starting a relationship.”

That’s great advice and it applies in all kinds of situations. If you’ve had some kind of major setback, you aren’t in a good mental state to make big life decisions. You need to let the air clear before you start again. If you feel like you HAVE TO do something NOW, your sense of urgency will cloud and distort every decision you make.

For example: if you just HAVE to be in a relationship, there’s a good chance you will end up in a relationship with the wrong person because the right person won’t be attracted to you. The only people who will be attracted to an unhealthy person is either another unhealthy person or someone who wants to take advantage of you. So, you think you are starting over. But in reality you just set yourself back a few years.

I mentioned that the Bible is full of stories about people who failed miserably. Once example is Moses. Moses grew up in the upper class of Egypt. He was groomed for political office. But one day he saw an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave and he killed the Egyptian.

Moses ran into the desert to hide and when he was there, he met a woman and married her. Then he ended up tending sheep for her father, Jethro. The Bible tells us that Moses lived in the desert for 40 years.

I’m sure Moses was tempted to get back in the game. He wasn’t trained as a shepherd. He probably thought it was beneath him. But his situation forced him to wait. If he went back he’d be thrown in jail or put to death. So God had him right where he wanted him, right where he could work in his heart.

Some of us are probably in a place like that. You are all frustrated because you want to get back in the game but, have you ever thought that God might want you out of the game right now? You know, coaches pull players out of the game for a reason: to rest, to recover from an injury, or to show them what they are doing wrong. The coach isn’t as concerned about you getting playing time as much as he is concerned about making you productive when you are in the game.

God does the same thing. He doesn’t mind pulling you out of the game. He’s more concerned about you being productive when you are in the game. I’m sure Moses felt like life was passing him by, that his destiny had been thwarted by the murder. But look what happened…

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help, because of their slavery, went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.  -Exodus 2: 23-25

The phrase, “During that long period…” is key here because it’s pointing to the time element. God used Moses time in exile to prepare him for his ultimate purpose: to rescue God’s people from slavery. Who’da thought, right? God’s timing was perfect. I bet Moses told God how he needed to get back to Egypt. He probably thought God had forgotten about him. But God was waiting, waiting for the Pharoah to die and Moses to mature as a leader.

God does the same thing in your life: he waits for key factors to fall into place before he releases you to move on. God knew what he was doing. Moses didn’t have to rush to get back to Egypt. In fact, when it was time for Moses to get back in the game, God came and got him:

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire; it did not burn.  -Exodus 3

And that’s when God spoke to Moses in the burning bush and called him to save his people. If Moses would have tried to fast forward the process, he would have messed everything up. He probably would have been killed or thrown in jail and God would have needed to call someone else. But what probably seemed like an eternity to Moses was God’s perfect timing.

God’s timing in your life is perfect too

You see, God uses time to shape us into the person he wants us to be BEFORE we start over. And so, if you are in a time of starting over, I want to invite you to press PAUSE on your life for the next few weeks and come back and read my blog posts. Let’s see if I can give you some helpful tips to begin starting over. Because you want to make sure that the next time is better than the last time.

This post is part of a series I did a few months back. If you would like to listen to this message in podcast form, you can listen to it here!

The Myths that Stop Us From Starting Over

We begin this new blog series by looking at the myths that prevent us from starting over.I hate following directions.

Does anyone else? Directions are totally over rated, don’t you think? I mean, directions are for people who like to get it right the first time. That is so boring! Where’s the adventure in that?

I hate directions so much that, when my kids bought me a grill a few years back for my birthday, I said: “I will accept this gift under one condition: that you put it together.” That grill would still be in a box in my garage today if they hadn’t assembled it for me.

A lot of us don’t like to follow directions, but, you’ve got to admit: there’s a price to pay for not following directions, isn’t there? If you don’t follow directions, there is a good chance you will mess things up, you’ll waste a lot of time and money, and then you have to start all over.

Starting over… that’s what we are going talk about in the next few posts.

We’ve all had to start over. Our human nature tells us that there is a “start-over” in our future, right? That’s because none of us are perfect. We are all flawed. We all make mistakes. If you want to use a religious term, we are all “sinners.”

It’s not something to beat yourself up about, it’s just the way things are. It’s who we are. Even if you don’t believe in the Bible, or like the word “sinner,” it doesn’t matter, because you are one! You can’t help it. It’s beyond your control. We fall down, we get up, and hopefully: we start over.

Maybe you quit school and you started over.

Maybe your marriage failed and you started over.

Maybe you lost your job or worse, your career, and you had to start over.

But some of us make a habit of starting over. We are in a vicious cycle of starting and stopping. You relapse into your addiction and then recover: relapse, recover. Some of you fall away from God and then return: fall away and return. Others lose your temper and ask forgiveness: over and over again.

Or there are the smaller things like diets and exercise programs: you start and you stop, start and stop. I mean, we are starting, stopping, and restarting something all the time! And we keep asking ourselves: When will I ever learn? When will I get it right? How many times is this going to have to happen before I learn?

Now, if you fail to read the directions for installing a ceiling fan, you might waste a day, but you can probably recover pretty well. Not a big deal. But if you rush into more important matters without knowing what you are doing, like a relationship, or finances, or your career, it can take years to recover… sometimes decades. Sometimes people never recover.

So, what if there were directions for the big decisions you make in life? What if you could avoid repeating past mistakes when you start over? What if you could have a plan in place – a process – for starting over?

Over the next few posts, I’d like to offer you principles as a process for starting over. A lot of people come to Cedarbrook Church because they want to start over. I love that. I love helping people start over. Usually something bad happens and they say: “I’m so desperate I’m going to go to Cedarbrook, maybe they can help.” They might not believe in God, or Jesus, or the Bible, but they say: “Hey, what have I got to lose? What I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. So…I’m open…talk to me.”

If that describes you, I’m glad you are reading this. Let’s see if we can get you some help.

Today we aren’t going to get into a deep Bible study. What I want to do today is lay some groundwork for this series. I want to look at why it is that our do-overs haven’t always worked; why is it that we seem to sabotage the success of starting over.

I’d like to focus on five myths that keep us from starting over. We’ll look at two of them in today’s post and then hit the other four in the following days.

The first myth is the Failure Myth

The Failure Myth says: I’ve made too much of a mess of my life to start over. So…why bother?

People who believe this myth spend half their time beating themselves up for their mistakes and the other half of their time feeling sorry for themselves and hoping other people will feel sorry for themselves too.

People who believe the failure myth will often say: I have so many regrets. I just can’t forgive myself. I don’t deserve to start over. They might not realize what they are doing but not forgiving themselves and not starting over are their ways of punishing themselves.

What they don’t realize is that: by not forgiving themselves and failing to start over, they only slide deeper into their mess. The illusion is that, by not starting over, they remain in the same place. But that’s not true. It’s like being in a boat and failing to row on a windy day, you just keep drifting farther and farther from the shoreline.

You need to know that when you fail to start over, you aren’t just punishing yourself, you are punishing everyone around you…the people you know and love. If you want to do something about your regrets, and something for the people that love you, don’t beat yourself up; start over.

Thankfully God has never met a failure he can’t turn into a success. The Bible is full of comeback stories. In fact, three of the biggest names in the Bible: Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers. But they were successful because they didn’t quit; they started over.

The second myth is the No-Fault myth

The no-fault myth says, My failure wasn’t my fault. I only ended up this way because of them. “When I start over, I don’t need to change anything about myself. I just need to start over with the right person, or the right job, or the right church.” – sure, that’s the ticket!

These people refuse to take responsibility for their problems.

This is the person that has gone through five girlfriends, five jobs, and five churches in the last two years and is amazed at their string of bad luck. They never realize that they are the one thing that each bad experience has in common. For example: a woman who has had five consecutive bad dating experiences might say, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with men. I think they are all losers.” Well, hey, maybe it’s not them. You picked them. Maybe you are a part of the problem.

Now, sometimes we aren’t at fault, but the way we respond to the person who wronged us sidelines us just the same. It takes a lot of courage to look in the mirror and admit that you are a big part of why you haven’t been able to get any traction in your attempts to start over.

I love it when I find biblical principles in secular books. In the business book, Good to Great, Jim Collins does a good job talking about the No-Fault Myth. He calls it “facing the brutal facts.” He says:

You absolutely cannot make a series of good decisions without first confronting the brutal facts.  -Jim Collins

In other words, if you try to start over, thinking that this time is going to be different, but you haven’t been honest with yourself or others about your own part in past failure, you are only setting yourself up to fail again. That’s the no-fault myth.

We’ll look at the rest of the myths in my next post. But if you can’t wait that long, I did a sermon series on this very subject and you can listen to the entire message as a podcast, here!

Humility is Beautiful

Humility is a beautiful thing and we will be finishing this three part blog series looking at the final two points of Pastor Remy Diederich's discussion on Humility. This is taken from the Cedarbrook Chruch sermon series.Most of us would agree that humility in a person is attractive. It wears much better than pride. I like the story that John Dickson tells in his book.

He said three young men hopped on a bus in Detroit in the 1930s and tried to pick a fight with a   man sitting in the back. They made fun of him. He didn’t respond. They ridiculed him. He said nothing. Eventually, the man stood up. He was bigger than they had estimated  from his seated position—much bigger. He reached into his pocket, handed them his business card and walked off the bus. As the bus drove on the young men gathered around the card to read the words: Joe Louis. Boxer. They had just tried to pick a fight with the man who would become the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. Louis chose to forgo his status on behalf of these three teenage boys, and I bet they were happy he did!

There’s something beautiful about that story… much more beautiful than hearing that Louis got mad and beat these kids up.

So humility is beautiful, but the interesting thing about humility is that it hasn’t always been seen as a good thing, a desirable thing.

Ancient cultures broke life into two simple categories: shame and honor. They would do all they could to gain honor and preserve it. And they would work equally hard to distance themselves from shame. To let go of your honor on behalf of someone else was the fool’s choice. It was shameful. Humiliating. Humility was for slaves, prisoners, and outcasts, not for respectable people. When authors wrote about moral virtues they never mentioned humility.

But historians noted a distinct shift in the first century. Suddenly writers started referring to humility in positive ways. Humility became a desirable quality to have, showing up on lists of virtues. Historians said that there was only one way to explain this shift. It came after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A humility revelation took place with Jesus.

John Dickson commented:

If the greatest man we have ever known chose to forgo his status for the good of others, reasoned the early Christians, greatness must consist in humble service. The shameful place is now a place of honor, the low point is the high point.

When Paul listed virtues for believers to aspire to, humility was often on the list. He told the Colossians:

…clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Colossians 3:12

Just a few decades later,  a Roman church official named Clement (AD 96) sent a letter to Christians in Corinth saying:  You are all humble-minded, not boastful, yielding rather than domineering, happily giving rather than receiving. Clement (A.D. 96)

Dickson’s concluded this about the history of humility: Western culture was imprinted by the cross. … Humility came to be valued in Western culture as a consequence of Christianity’s dismantling of the allpervasive honour-shame paradigm of the ancient world.   -John Dickson

Jesus made humility beautiful.

Humility is Persuasive

My final point is that humility is persuasive. We are more inclined to believe a humble person than an arrogant one. A few years back General Stanley McChrystal was asked what his approach would be to the insurgency in Afghanistan, and he said:

I have found in my experience that the best answers and approaches may be counter-intuitive. The opposite of what it seems you ought to do is what ought to be done. So, when I’m asked the question, What approach should we take in  Afghanistan? I say, humility.   -General Stanley McChrystal

That’s the last thing I’d expect a general would say. What did he mean by that? He meant that if the US army came into Afghanistan like gang-busters, with all the power and all the answers, that was the worst thing they could do. It would offend the Afghani’s and turn them against the Americans. So McChrystal said the wise thing to do was to come in as servants. To come in humility. He understood that humility is persuasive.

Many of us think that the only way we can get our way is to power up and power over those who oppose us. Bosses do this. Parents do it. So do wives and husbands. But the most persuasive people are the people who persuade by suggesting, not demanding, who appeal to reason and goodness, and not resorting to using authority or intimidation to get their way.

One day Jesus spoke to his disciples about his teaching style. He said he didn’t teach like the other rabbis. He put it like this:

Take my yoke (teaching) upon you for I am humble and gentle and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  -Matthew 11:29,30

Rabbis used a top-down kind of teaching. “Here are the rules. Don’t question them. Just do them.” In another place Jesus described it like this:

They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  -Matthew 23:4

Jesus wasn’t like that. His teaching was respectful, not condescending. That’s why he said his burden was light. He persuaded people by his humility.

Humility serves others. It’s beautiful. And it’s persuasive.

Now, while you were reading these posts on humility, I bet you had someone in mind. We’ve all got someone in our life – someone that we deal with on a daily basis – that we wish was more humble. You are probably thinking of sending them these blog posts or the full podcast.

Well, we have no control over that person. But we do have power over ourselves. What if this week we all looked for opportunities to humble ourselves – we set aside our rights – our power- our status- for the sake of others? Let’s make humility our focus in our lives and let’s invite God’s spirit to do that work right now.

Humility is a Choice

Humility is a skill we could really use a lot more of in today's society. Here is part 2 of Pastor F. Remy Diederich's series on Humility. This blog is taken from an original podcast sermon that is available on the Cedarbrook Church website.Today’s post continues my discussion from the previous one on humility. We’ll pick up with my second point and that is that humility is a choice.

The word “humility” comes from the word “humus” which literally means: earth or ground, implying being low to the ground. Metaphorically, the humble person is someone who is low to the ground.

But there are two ways you can find yourself low to the ground. One, you get pushed there. That’s humiliation. But the other way is by choice: you choose to lower yourself. That’s humility.

Paul told the Philippian church how Jesus made this choice:

Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but emptied himself of his powers, taking the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross.  -Philippians 2:6-8

Many people have accused Jesus of being a loser for being crucified. In their minds, he suffered the ultimate humiliation. But Paul clarified this misunderstanding. Jesus didn’t have to do this. He wasn’t forced to become a slave and die. Jesus chose to die. It was voluntary. And because it was a choice, his death was an act of humility, not humiliation.

Jesus made this point when he was at a party. He noticed that the guests were all lined up, trying to get the best seats at the table. Luke tells it like this:

When Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:  “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 man 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 your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”   -Luke 14:7-11

If you are told to sit in a different seat, that’s humiliating. But if you choose to sit in a lesser seat, that’s humility. Jesus said: either way you end up in the lower seat. But one way is humiliating. The other way shows humility.

Humility is a choice.

My third point on this topic also comes from Dickson’s definition which I discussed in the previous post: Humility is for others. Sometimes your status can get in the way of what God wants to do. You are so insecure that you feel the need to cling to your status, or your position, or your control. But then God can’t use you because doing what he wants requires relinquishing your status for a season.

For example: when Jesus came to earth he could have easily played the God card. That means he could have used his position and authority to get his way. “I’m God. You’re not. Do what I say.”  Jesus could have done that. He could have set up his kingdom by forcing his will on us. But instead of demanding that we serve him to promote a selfish agenda, Jesus chose to serve us to help us make a connection with God. Jesus put it this way:

…the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people.  -Matthew 28:20

Jesus set the example for how to humble yourself to benefit others. Then Paul used Jesus’ example to encourage the Philippians to have the same attitude:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have the same attitude that was also in Christ.  -Philippians 2:3-5

So humility is not humiliation. It’s a choice to lower yourself for the sake of others. But there are two other attributes of humility that I want to tell you about and I’ll do that in the next post.

If you would like to hear this entire message, I preached on humility a while back. You can listen to the podcast here.

Humility is Not Humiliation

Jesus showed us exactly what humility looked like. In the next few weeks I'll be examining this concept in detail at Cedarbrook Church on my blog.I’ve never written on humility before. As I approached this topic I realized that there’s an inherent two-edge sword associated with talking about humility. If you are humble you probably don’t think you have the right to talk about humility. And if you aren’t humble, no one thinks you have the right to speak about humility! No wonder there are so few sermons on humility!

But in spite of the awkwardness associated with speaking on humility, I want to talk about humility because I think it’s central to who God is, who Jesus was when he walked the earth, and who we are called to be.

You see, humility should be the essence of a Jesus follower, the aroma that we bring into a room and the scent we leave behind us. And so we are going to take the next few weeks to look at how we can develop humility.

Do I really want to be humble?

Now, some of us might raise our hand and say: Excuse me, but I’m not so sure I want to be humble. You’re afraid that if you acquire humility that it might be the fast track to stunting your career and blunting your influence: take the edge off your coolness. It’s like what Muhammad Ali said once: “Humble people…don’t get very far.”

Isn’t the humble person the guy who gets pushed to the back of the line? The person that gets passed over because she doesn’t speak up for herself? No one wants that. So I can appreciate why you might not be excited to learn about humility.

I recently read this book, Humilitas, to help me better understand humility. The author is a Christian but he writes as a historian, not a theologian. I’ll be quoting from him quite a bit in this post. In contrast to the fears I just mentioned, the author said:

The most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility. True greatness, in other words, frequently goes hand in hand with a virtue that, on the face of it, might be thought to curb achievement and mute influence. In fact, I believe it does the opposite.  -John Dickson

Now, humility won’t make you great. We all know humble people who are not great, and we know great people who are not humble. But the truly great leaders are also truly humble. In fact, in another book, Good to Great, Jim Collins showed that the greatest leaders, what he called Level 5 leaders, were known to have two qualities that Level 4 leaders lacked: unrelenting determination and humility.

Collins reflected on the Level 5 leaders that he met during his research, he said:

We were surprised, shocked really, to discover the type of leadership required for turning a good company into a great one. Compared to high-profile leaders with big personalities who make headlines and become celebrities, the good-to-great leaders seem to have come from Mars. Self-effacing, quiet, reserved even shy— these leaders are a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are more like Lincoln and Socrates than Patton or Caesar.  -Jim Collins

So, rather than humility being a threat to your career and influence, humility can be the very thing that helps you advance in life as well as succeed at home, at work, in ministry, and with God.

I’ve got five points to help define humility for us. I’ll start with this definition from the book I just mentioned:

Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.  -John Dickson, Humilitas

Humility is Not Humiliation

Using this definition, the first point I have is that humility is not humiliation. It’s not being a doormat. It’s not being pushed to the end of the line. Some people think of themselves as humble when in reality they just suffer from low self-worth. They allow themselves to be treated poorly, not because they are humble, but because they don’t think they are worth being treated well.

But Dickson said that the humble person forgoes their status. To forgo your status presumes that you believe you have status to begin with. You are aware of your inherent value as a child of God and so you don’t lower yourself because you think you are worthless. You lower yourself to achieve a higher purpose.

Jesus gave us a great example of what I’m talking about. Before the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples feet. Listen to what John said was the reason Jesus was able to humble himself:

Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. SO he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him.  -John 13:3-5

There’s a direct cause and effect relationship here. Jesus’ ability to humble himself was directly connected to his self-awareness. He knew who he was. He was secure in his identity and his relationship to God. So Jesus was able to function as a servant without feeling threatened or demeaned. He didn’t feel the need to prove himself. He could risk being mistaken for a slave because he knew he was God’s Son.

So humility is not humiliation. It comes from a place of status.

We’ll stop today at my first point and we’ll pick up with point two in the next post. If you’d like to listen to this entire message as a podcast, YOU CAN GO HERE.