It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Gordon Dabbs currently pastors a large congregation in Dallas, Texas. He holds a PhD in philosophy, advanced degrees in theology and ethics, and has ten years of experience as a church planter in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he hosted a weekly television program.
Visit the author’s website.
Why would our loving God choose to forever record the stories of men and women whose lives collapsed in sin and shame? Why share biographies of people like Jezebel and Judas, whose lives didn’t have happy endings? Perhaps the Lord recognized that their stories could powerfully inform and shape us. Their loss can become our gain. Epic Fail: Gaining Wisdom from Failures of Biblical Proportion is God’s invitation to learn and grow from the great collapses of the Bible.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (May 1, 2013)
AND NOW…THE SECOND CHAPTER:
A Problem with Pride
A short time back, my wife and I visited the home of some good friends who are parenting two spirited young boys. Upon our arrival, the oldest boy proceeded to show us the mountain of trophies and medals he had won in Taekwondo tournaments. I made a mental note to stay on this kid’s good side. After their sons had gone back to their room to play, the mother whispered to me, “Don’t be too impressed. At these competitions, all the kids get a trophy regardless of how they perform. They just want all the boys and girls to feel good about themselves.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head.
In America, whatever we’re doing to make us feel better about ourselves seems to be working. A recent survey of high school students revealed seventy percent of them believe they have above-average leadership skills. Only two percent believe they are below average. Back in the 1950s, twelve percent of high school seniors regarded themselves as a “very important person.” Recently, that percentage has risen to eighty percent.
Americans are more self-confident than ever. In a culture that magnifies self and injects children with daily doses of pride, it’s no wonder we’ve been labeled a generation of praise addicts.6 In this climate, we would do well to heed the warning of an ancient proverb, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Prov. 11:2 niv).
Growing Up as a God
What would it be like to grow up believing you were the center of the universe, or to be told by adults you should be worshipped as a god? What kind of a person would be produced by this kind of upbringing? How easy it would be, for pride to overwhelm the heart of a person indoctrinated to believe in their own divinity.
Welcome to Pharaoh’s world. From the elaborate royal protocol that surrounded every meeting with him, to his ornate garments, to the magnificent palace that was his home, everything surrounding the young prince was orchestrated to convince onlookers he was no mere mortal. Those who had dealings with Pharaoh believed that he was special. His people understood that he was a descendent of the gods; yes, this god-man was exceptional. After all, he was the leader of the world’s technological, economic, religious, cultural, and military superpower.
To be sure, there were a lot of Pharaohs during Egypt’s proud history. One, however, came to be remembered as the Pharaoh. This one would gain a unique status because his rule would intersect with the life of a man named Moses, with the multitude of Hebrew slaves he represented, and with the God he worshipped.
Four hundred years earlier, the Hebrews had first migrated to Egypt to escape a massive famine. Since Joseph, one of their own, had risen to become the right-hand man to the Egyptian ruler, the Hebrews were originally viewed as partners and friends of Egypt. Over four centuries, however, their status changed dramatically. The Hebrews came to be viewed as a social underclass; they were drafted into service to build grandiose monuments in honor of the Pharaohs, and mistreated as the miserable slaves of the Egyptian social elite.
Along came Moses with his brother Aaron into the royal court of Pharaoh. Moses claimed to have been sent by a foreign God who demanded that his people, the Hebrews, be released from their bondage in Egypt. As absolute ruler, the decision of how to respond to this demand was entirely up to Pharaoh.
Hard Heart Syndrome
Why would Pharaoh give in to the demand that the Hebrews be released from their enslavement? Well, God, through Moses, made a pretty compelling case. It was a shock and awe display of divine power the likes of which Egypt (and the world) had never seen. One by one, the Hebrew God dueled Pharaoh and his pantheon of Egyptian deities who proved to be no match for his power.
After each devastating plague brought against Egypt by God, after each demonstration of Yahweh’s divine power, Pharaoh was asked to release the slaves. Time after time, the mulish king dug in his heels, closed his heart, and proudly refused to be pushed around by any man or any god. At moments like this, when an individual is convinced they are the center of the universe, all the ingredients for an impending catastrophe are present.
The Bible depicts Pharaoh’s heart as hard. Unchecked ego can strip a person of perspective and wisdom. A pride saturated heart morphs into a closed system that refuses to accept any circumstance or opinion that does not bow its knees to the god of self. The absence of checks and balances that come through humility handicaps a person’s capacity for self-reflection and wise judgment.
Something which troubles many when it comes to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was the role God played in the process. “. . . The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron . . .” (Ex. 9:12 niv). Frankly, it seems wrong for God to do such a thing. Why would God hijack his free will? Shouldn’t Pharaoh be free to make his own choice?
A closer reading of the entire narrative reveals an important nuance of how Pharaoh’s will became closed. In reality, Pharaoh did a bang up job of hardening his own heart before God ever got involved.
The first time his stubbornness is mentioned, the Bible relates, “. . . he hardened his heart and would not listen . . .” (Ex. 8:15 niv). Repeatedly, during the first half of the plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
So, how exactly did God participate in making Pharaoh’s prideful heart inflexible? For starters, it was God who provided multiple opportunities for Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. Over and over again, God made the exact same request through Moses: “let my people go.” By providing these decision points, God gave Pharaoh opportunities to either humble or harden himself. Pharaoh chose the latter. Just as calluses are formed on the hands of a laborer through repetitive use, a heart becomes callused when the same prideful decision is reconfirmed over and over.
God also became a participant in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart because God ultimately decided to honor the king’s own choices. In his sovereign power, the Lord could have hijacked Pharaoh’s heart and mind and reprogrammed it to say yes instead of no to the demand of
Moses. Yet God, in his love and respect for human beings, preferred to honor Pharaoh’s freedom to make his own decisions. Only after the Egyptian leader had unilaterally chosen to ignore God’s demand, does the Bible say the Lord hardened his heart.
Pharaoh had transformed himself into a self-absorbed man, a closed system, a person unable to interpret the signs of his time and unwilling to listen to wise counsel. Even voices within his own inner circle could not break through his fortress of pride. “The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is God’s doing.’ But Pharaoh was stubborn and wouldn’t listen” (Ex. 8:19 msg).
A wise person once said, “The only difference between a rut and a grave is six feet.” Every time Pharaoh chose to ignore the pleas of God, Moses, and his own counselors, he was digging a rut. That rut would become a grave for thousands of Egyptians, for his army, for his son, and for his legacy.
The Way of Humility
Hopefully, you were not raised in a home where you were allowed to be the ruler of the household or were worshipped as a god. But whatever our upbringing, a lot of us tend to struggle with pride. I certainly do.
One such struggle took place when I was finishing my master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. My course work was completed and all that was left was for me to take what were known as the General Exams. People around me, many of whom had already passed the exams and were working on their doctorates, told me I need not spend much time studying for the exams; they were really quite easy. The testing, I was told, was more of a rite of passage. Based on their opinions and experiences, and more than that, on an over-inflated estimation of my own knowledge and ability, I didn’t study. I was convinced the exams would be a piece of cake.
Unfortunately, I got a slice of humble pie.
A week after the testing, I received devastating news: I had failed. After all the course work, time, and money that had gone into my graduate studies, I was without a diploma. Suddenly my future plans seemed to be up in the air. My ego, however, came crashing down to earth. Thankfully, the merciful faculty allowed me to retake the exams and, after much study, I passed. Eventually, by the grace of
God, I was able to complete my doctorate in philosophy. To this day, I thank God for that painful and humbling lesson.
Whenever I start thinking too highly of myself, which is far more often than I’d like to admit, it seems God sends something or someone along to deflate my swollen head. One afternoon, I walked into a meeting and strode confidently to shake a fellow’s hand. As we greeted each other, he awkwardly observed I had a plastic toilet freshener suspended from the back of my belt. Ouch. Not cool. Sometimes, I’ve found, humility is pine scented.
A great measuring stick for how open a person is to growing in humility is to recognize how they tend to respond to losses. No one likes to lose, but being gracious in defeat, being able to laugh at yourself, and being open to learn from past mistakes prepares us to handle both future success and failure. Quite simply, Pharaoh didn’t know how to lose. He didn’t know how or when to accept defeat. Since we live in a “win at all cost” culture, this lesson may be difficult for us to learn, but learn it we must. Humility is needed.
While Pharaoh was a self-absorbed pride junkie, another leader in the Exodus story shows us a better way to live. In contrast with the Pharaoh, the Bible says, “Moses was a very humble man” (Num. 12:3 niv).
It is worth noting that, in all likelihood, Moses had been raised in the very same household as Pharaoh. They knew each other before Moses arrived in the palace to appeal for the liberation of the Hebrews. Moses had spent the early years of his life studying with the top teachers, enjoying the finest food and luxury accommodations, and reveling in all the perks and privileges of being a royal in Egypt’s court. Just like Pharaoh, Moses had been raised as a prince of Egypt, yet Moses was not an arrogant person.
When God appeared to him at a burning bush in the desert, inviting Moses to become the leader and liberator of the Hebrew people, Moses politely declined, citing his own inadequacies. “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:11 msg)? Understanding his faults and past failures (which included homicide), Moses basically said, “Lord, surely you can do better than me!”
After the successful exodus from Egypt, Moses found himself overwhelmed with the constant demands of leading a nation of people. Jethro, his father-in-law, challenged him to think about a new leadership structure that delegated authority to other capable leaders: “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (Ex. 18:24 niv).
Humility is a vital element of successful and balanced living. Humility is so valuable and necessary that it is the very first quality Jesus listed when he gave his famous description of the blessed life during his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3 niv).
Cultivating Personal Humility
An important way that people move against their own pride is to admit their limitations, while remaining open to stretching those limitations by embracing new challenges. In Exodus 4, Moses offers to God his own self-appraisal, revealing he does not believe he possesses the requisite public speaking aptitude required to lead. He understood he was never going to dazzle crowds of people with the turn of a well-crafted phrase, or with stirring orations. He was a great leader, but he was keenly aware he was not a great orator.
The lesson for us is this—Moses did not allow his limitations to close his leadership horizons. God had called him to lead. God would equip him with whatever he needed. This calling from the Lord gave him a quiet confidence. The humility of Moses permitted him a balanced, realistic, and faith-oriented appreciation for what God could do with his life. As Gordon Smith writes, “Humility means recognizing both our limitations and our potential. . . . With sober judgment we simply accept who we are.”8 Enormous potential for growth and future accomplishment is unleashed when people tear up their selfadmiration society membership card.
Another way that humility is cultivated is by listening to the wise counsel of others, then making the necessary adjustments. When his father-in-law came with leadership advice in Exodus chapter 18, Moses didn’t scoff and say, “Look old man, I’m the chosen one here! God made me the leader of Israel, not you!” Instead, he humbly considered the counsel of this older, more seasoned man, and decided to tweak his leadership style accordingly.
What a contrast between Pharaoh and Moses. One arrogantly stuck to his guns and paid an incredible price for his hubris, the other listened and learned.
No one is saying that Moses was perfect. He had some failures on his résumé. For starters, most of us can say with confidence that we’ve never committed murder. Moses could not say this. At one point, he disobeyed the explicit instructions of God which were that he speak to a rock so that water would come forth from it to refresh the thirsty people of God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he stuck it with his staff. But even though his initial meeting with God revealed he was well aware of his weaknesses, and even though he had been forced to flee Egypt after committing a capital crime, he still made an impact on the world around him like few others ever had.
Giving a short overview of the life of Moses, a New Testament writer says, “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25 niv). One thing we learn about Moses is he embraced his identity as one of God’s people. He could have bought into all the pomp and pride of being part of the royal family, but he chose to identify with God and with God’s family.
Like Moses, people also cultivate humility when they prepare themselves for spotlight moments by living their daily life understanding who, and whose, they are. In choosing Moses, the Lord chose to work through a person who was willing to serve a community and a cause greater than himself. Pharaoh’s ego left no room for any agenda but his own.
In an ancient sixth century Christian text, Gregory the Great wrote, “No one can learn humility in a high position unless he ceases to be proud when in a lowly position. No one who learned to long for praise when it was missing knows how to flee from praise when it abounds.”10 Once I humbly accept who I am, and that my value comes from the God I bow my knees to, then I am ready to open my eyes to a new reality. Then I find myself in a world shaped by an acute awareness of the constant movement of God in and around my life.
What about Moses? The Bible reveals that, “He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27 nlt). Whatever obstacle he came up against, he kept right on going.
What about you? An awareness of God’s presence in your life and in your world allows you to have the spiritual and emotional traction needed to pull through difficult and painful seasons of life. Whether in victory or loss, joy or sorrow, Moses kept on going. Why? Because he kept his eyes on the Lord.
This means the cultivation of humility is aided by recognizing the presence of Almighty God in day to day life. Consider this helpful insight of C. S. Lewis: “In God you come up against something, which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself…. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” If you are going to have a balanced and well-informed view of your potential and limitations, then you have to be awake and alert to your own spiritual brokenness, grateful and awestruck in the shadow of the Cross, and acutely aware of the greatness of God Almighty. Truly, if your eyes don’t turn upward to God, you will never have a clear-headed view of your own place in the world.
The more a person grows in the way of humility, the more room they give for God to operate in them and through them. Tender mercies and great strength are unlocked in the life of the humble believer.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5–6 niv).
So, where is your source of perspective? Where are you grounding your identity? Where does your sense of worth come from? Are you a praise addict, clinging to the shiny medals and trinkets of a self-magnifying culture? Or, do you look upward? May God make you secure in his love so you can humble yourself, believing that only then, his grace will be released, and his mighty right hand will lift you up.