It is almost the end of your second module. The freshers’ night is long over. Yet, permit me to start today by picking on the Freshers a little bit. For those of you who no more consider yourselves as freshers, please try to look back to a time when you were a fresher in this campus.
I would like you to think about your emotional journey when you first came to SAIACS. Great institution. You have heard many great stories about the institution and that is why you applied here. For many of you , it was a dream destination for Theological studies. So among all other emotions that you had about finally making it here, would I be wrong if I say that we had a little bit of pride about the fact that we made it here? Weren’t we a bit proud of our accomplishment? I will leave you to think about that to yourselves.
But you also know that as you progressed into the second module, as you understood what is plagiarism and how serious it could be for your academic career, as you came to understand the rules set out by the academic dean and the student dean and the chef and the librarian and the campus manager and the chaplain etc etc, as you started getting your first assignments for the second module, the first wave of pride that you felt would have given way to something else. Some of the other emotions could have been anger, skepticism etc. But among the many emotions you have felt, would I be wrong in suggesting that there was a hint of fear in us? Especially regarding the assignments?
Pride and Fear. Do we have them? If you don’t have those emotions, you don’t need to listen to this message anymore, but if we have those emotions, let us look at what message the Lord brings to us about them today, shall we?
So what is wrong with Pride and Fear? Is there anything wrong with being proud of getting admission to a premier Theological Institute? Is there anything wring in being fearful about the grades? On the surface of it, not much right? But let us think again?
We ran a program called lead like Jesus during the last two Saturdays for some of the students and staff members . Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, who co-authored the book Lead Like Jesus, says that Pride and Fear if left unchecked can lead to EGO. Are they right?
Last evening when I was preparing for this message, my wife asked me. “What are you going to speak on?.” I said EGO. She smiled and said, “ Oh.. that should be easy for you. Isn’t it? “ I responded naively, “Yes I have enough material for the message”. She smiled again. That is when it hit me. She wasn’t referring to me having enough material to prepare a sermon on ego. She was pointing to my own Ego. She was referring to the fact that I had plenty of it. And she knows it best. I have been a successful corporate executive. Wherever I have been posted in the corporate world, I have succeeded, and I have contributed significantly to the growth of the unit. When I was the manufacturing head, I have been able to grew the volumes multi fold. When I was the Quality Head, I was able to get international recognitions for the company. When I was the L&D head, I was able to grow the learning penetration multifold and gain international recognition and awards for the organisation many times. So am I proud of them? Sure I am. About 12 years back I shifted to Bangalore and a small congregation approached me to take leadership of them. I thought it should be easy for me. After all, I have been associated with growth wherever I went, so, how difficult could it be to manage and grow a church in a progressive city like Bangalore? So, I took the leadership, and started applying all my corporate wisdom and strategies for growth to the church. Within three years, the membership of the congregation came down to one third of what we started with, the founders left the congregation, and we were faced with some difficult decisions. To continue or not to continue? I tried different things, brought in new people, but could not sustain the growth at all.
What was the problem? The problem was my pride and fear. Through my pride and fear, I was Edging God Out of the equation and trying to rely on my own strength and wisdom for the congregation. Edging God Out. That is the EGO that Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges talk about in their book Lead Like Jesus. EGO: Edging God Out through pride and fear.
C S Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity says “According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind…… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.” Sounds rather harsh isn’t it? Could this be the reality?
Let us turn to Daniel Chapter 4. An interesting story is told here. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream. In the dream he sees a magnificent tree, reaching up to the heavens. It is so high that it could be seen from all over the earth. It has huge branches and lovely leaves and provides shade to all the creatures of the earth. All creatures find shade under it and birds of the heaven find their nest in its branches. Its fruit is abundant, and is enough to feed all living creatures. (Daniel 4:10-12). Till now it is a beautiful dream. But this is followed by a jarring scene. Then he sees an angel coming down and ordering the tree to be cut down, its leaves to be stripped off, fruits to be scattered, and all those who fed from it and took shelter under it to be taken away from the tree. (Daniel 4:13-14). The King is understandably perturbed by the dream and asks the court magicians to interpret the dream. The magicians are unable to do so. Daniel is able to easily interpret the dream, and he explains the dream to the king saying that the tree is the King himself, and the cutting down of the tree and the subsequent actions are actually about what is likely to happen to the King himself and no one else. Daniel also explains that as per the dream the King will be driven from his men, he will be like a beast in the field, he will eat grass like an ox, and he will be like this for seven years. (Daniel 4:20-25). However, Daniel also explains the silver lining in the dream and gives the King some sage advice. Daniel 4:26-27 (NKJV) 26 And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
However, it does not appear as though the King took Daniel’s advice seriously. About a year later, he surveyed his kingdom from his balcony and his heart grew proud. Daniel 4:30 (NKJV) 30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?” . Note the self-praise in the text, note the attribution of all successes to himself. Note the number of times the words “I” and “my” appear here. This is what pride does. It attributes all success to ourselves. Nebuchadnezzar Edged God Out completely because of his pride on his achievements. And we see the result of such a prideful attitude immediately too. The next verse (Daniel 4:31) says, that while the word was still in in the kings mouth, God responded to him and then all that he dreamt came true. He loses his sanity, eats grass like oxen, he is wet with the dew, his hair grows like eagle’s feathers and his nails like bird’s claws.
We should think about this story every time we are tempted to take credit for successes in our lives. Every time we look at our wealth, our fame, our position, and are tempted say.. look what “I” have accomplished. Every time, our chest puffs up when someone praises us, every time we are tempted to count the number of people whom “I” have helped to become better.. etc etc. We all Edge God Out through our pride when we fall prey to such temptations.
Let us look at another character in closing. Let us look at Pilate. In your view is he a good guy or a bad guy? I had actually thought of him as a very bad guy initially, but as I studied the whole story of crucifixion, my view about him changed. When you read through the four Gospels, you will notice that Pilate was very convinced that there was no case against Jesus. There was nothing that warranted any severe punishment, let alone crucifixion. But despite that conviction, he finally gives in. Why did he give in despite being so convinced that Jesus did nothing wrong? When I study this story, all that I can find in Pilate is a man who wanted to do the right thing, but ended up doing the wrong thing. What made Pilate do the wrong thing, despite being convinced about the right thing? What do you think Pilate is driven by? Pilate is driven by fear. He feared that the crowd might break into a riot. He feared continued enmity with Herod and used this opportunity to become friends with Herod. He feared that he might lose his position and power because the Jews sort of threatened him when they said that if he lets Jesus go, he will not be considered Caesar’s friend anymore.
You must be thinking, there is something wrong about these examples that I have quoted. Both of them were not believers, they were pagans. Is it fair to use these stories for us who are good church going Christians, especially in an evangelical seminary?
But then, we also know that our spirituality itself, our religiosity itself could be a cause of our pride isn’t it? We all know about Spiritual pride as seen in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector Luke 18:9-14. Let me quote Jonathan Edwards (from “The works of Jonathan Edwards”)“The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride. This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. Pride is the main handle by which he has hold of Christian persons and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces to clog and hinder a work of God. Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors. Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases.”
We can be critical of Pontius Pilate. But think about ourselves. Are there not times when we know what is the right thing to do, but did not do that because of some kind of fear? Aren’t there times when we end up doing the wrong thing, knowing well that it is wrong, because of peer pressure or FOMO?
Pride and Fear. We continuously Edge God Out through them. So is there an antidote to this EGO? Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges say that the antidot to EGO is EGO itself. The antidote to Edging God Out is Exalting God Only. We can Exalt God Only , when we replace Pride with Humility and Fear with God grounded Confidence.
This morning, God is asking us not to Edge Him out, but to Exalt Him only. Let us examine our heart for traces of Pride and Fear and ask for His help to replace them with humility and confidence.