Three famous surgeons were bragging about their skills. The first one said, “A man came to me who had his hand cut off. Today that man is a concert violinist.” “That’s nothing,” said another. “A guy came to me who had his legs cut off. I stitched them back on, and today he is a marathon runner.”
“I can top both of you,” said the third. “One day, I came on the scene of a terrible accident. There was nothing left but a horse’s posterior and a pair of glasses. Today that man is a United States Senator.”
I like what President George H. W. Bush said. “It’s amazing how many people beat you at golf now that you’re no longer president.”
We all face times when we feel as though we have to put ourselves forward because if we don’t then we’ll be left behind. So we push and shove to get what we want. But to get what we want, we push others out of our way.
Perhaps you know a person who is always talking about how wonderful her kids are, or how much her shoes cost, or how much money he is making, or what great vacations they’re taking. They’re tooting their own horn so loud everybody else’s ears are ringing. Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.”
When we act like this, even when we finally get what we want, the victory is empty. There’s nobody around us to celebrate with us. Making sure we are first often puts us last.
The reason why so many people are missing out on what God wants for them is because they keep giving themselves everything they want. If we fill our minds and hearts with ourselves, how much we are to be honored, and how important we are, then there’s no room left for anyone else to give us something.
Don’t make your life into a one-person show. Let others in. They’re not going to disappoint you as much as you might think.
I know a guy who is really good at volleyball at the Boynton Y. He is good but he knows he’s good. So when he does something top notch, in order to praise him, you have to go get against your gut reaction, which is to say nothing. He seems so happy with himself that it’s tough to break in on his one-man celebration. But I try to be the bigger person….
Our scripture reading tells us about a time when Jesus is invited for a meal at a religious leader’s home, and he see how the others also invited try to make sure they’re seated in the proper order reflecting their importance. So he tells a short story about how people put themselves in the wrong position and get embarrassed when they seek to make themselves more important than they actually are. As other Scripture tells us, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
While Thomas Wheeler was CEO of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance, he liked to tell a story on himself. One day when he and his wife were out driving he stopped at a dumpy little gas station. While he checked the oil, the one attendant filled the tank. When Thomas closed the hood he could see his wife and this gas attendant talking and smiling at each other. The man saw Wheeler looking at him, so he walked away. Wheeler paid the man and he and his wife pulled out of that one pump gas station.
As they drove down the road, he asked his wife is she knew the man. She said yes she did, and in fact they had dated seriously for a year at the end of high school. Wheeler couldn’t help himself and started to brag. “Boy,” he said, “were you lucky I came along. If you’d married him, you’d be the wife of a gas station attendant instead of the wife of a CEO.
Mrs. Wheeler turned to look at her husband and replied, “My dear, if I had married him, he’d be the CEO and you’d be the gas attendant.”
You know, if people were simply happy about their own good luck or good health that would be one thing. Everybody should have their day in the sun. There’s nothing wrong with doing well and being well and knowing that what you do matters to someone else. So often however people forget how much they’re blessed.
The trouble comes in when we look past the gift and the giver, the Lord who is the father of lights from whom all good gifts come, and see only ourselves. The honor should go to the Lord. The glory is God’s for what we have and what we can share. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourself before the Lord and God will lift you up.” The Lord does provide.
There is a story that Dr. Ian Paisley, the fiery Irish minister and politician, was preaching one Sunday on the end times, and in particular on the Day of Judgment. As he reached the climax of his address, he said that on the Day of Judgment, “there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” At that point an elderly woman put up her hand and said, “Dr. Paisley, I have no teeth.” Dr. Paisley replied, “Madam, teeth will be provided.” Oh, God does provide.
You know that lady showed her pride in that statement. She believed she was special, and she wasn’t going to be joining the rest of us in that fiery pit. She was exempt. She didn’t have teeth. She didn’t have it coming.
Be careful what you put your money on. Our hope rests on God’s love and mercy for us, not on some special attribute we have. Without the gift of grace, without Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, how could we turn toward the Lord and say, “It is finished.” How could we consider ourselves complete before God?
No, we aren’t finished. Many have barely begun. As the great poet William Blake put it, “…We are put on earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love.” Learn to love love, and to treasure it above being in first place.
Martin Luther said, “We need goat sense.” He told of seeing two goats meeting on a path on a mountain ledge. Instead of butting one another, one of them laid down and allowed the other one to pass over him. Fighting to prove who is first would prove disastrous. We should at least be as wise as goats, don’t you think?
The reason why many people find themselves getting tired and are struggling to keep going is because they’re using all their energy trying to keep themselves and their family up high on a pedestal, and keep others beneath them. They’re constantly fighting in their mind, comparing and competing. They never give themselves or others a break. All of this how great I am doing stuff is accompanied by a whole bunch of how inferior everyone else is stuff. In order to keep me up here, I’ve got to keep you down there.
That’s no way to be. We don’t have to knock others down in order to feel good. In fact, it won’t work. It doesn’t build you up to do that to others. Instead build up someone else and you will be built up. Surround your mind with negative thoughts about others and you can’t escape that judgment. We know from Christ that the measure we give to others will be the measure we get for ourselves. How you see others will be how you judge yourself. When you are humble and kind toward someone else, you treat yourself that way also.
Too many people are their own worst enemy. I know someone who is so afraid to let others in he’s constantly pushing them away. This is how he stays safe. Now there’s no doubt he has been hurt before—hurt when he was young, and by those who should have been lifting him up and telling him how wonderful he was, rather than telling him he wasn’t much or showing him they didn’t think he was worth a bunch.
So now he sees himself as the only one who’s on his side, and he’s suspicious of anyone who wants to get close to him. In his heart, he questions their motives and their ability. Deep down, he thinks to himself, “Who would want to love me. I’m not any good.” And he estimates that sure, they may love him now but they won’t when they find out who he really is. So he keeps his distance, and creates conflict so that he can’t be fooled by the good times. He takes first place in his world not because he sees himself as better than others but because of his fear of others.
So many people let others tell them how they should think about themselves. We get our opinion of ourselves by what others think or how they act toward us. You see this happen in children. They get the wrong idea that they’re not special or lovable or likable because of what someone else says and how they’re treated. It could be a bigger sibling, a confused parent, another child or a poor teacher whose own backgrounds of fear, loss, and pain are being passed on. And it’s so tough for children not to believe them.
That’s why it’s so important that children come to Sunday school to hear how much God loves them and who special they are to their Maker. But this is true not just for children. You all need to hear that God is on your side. We all need to be strengthened and encouraged that the one who truly sits on high has you in his sights and in his heart.
So don’t bear the beams of darkness. Reject the words and actions of those who reject you. It doesn’t matter who the person is, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, sister, brother, principal, neighbor who says or acts in such a way. Those words are not blessed by God. Their actions don’t come from on high. They’re not gifts of the one true giver. And so they don’t belong in your heart; they don’t belong in your mind; they don’t belong in your soul. They are not meant for you.
It is the Lord who gives us all we need to know about ourselves and where we belong. God showed us the depth of his love for us in the gift of his Son. Stay patient. The Lord will show you his love in person by bringing you kind people, someone who has a good soul, who sees in you what the Lord sees. God has plans to bring someone in your life who is unlike others. Even if you’ve been down in your heart and humbled because of others, God isn’t going to leave you there. It’s moving up time.
Don’t settle for someone who wants to keep you down in order to make them feel good. Seek beams of love instead. Turn to the light. Don’t compete for another’s honor or attention. Keep your focus on the good God has given you, and what the Lord has in store for those who seek his approval. And you will keep moving higher and higher. Can someone say, “Amen?”