Please pray for the family of the Arch heicopter pilot that was killed last night. Story said his name was Ron Rector and he lived in Linn, MO. He was based here in Warrenton. Prayers too for all of our EMS team out here, I'm sure they are grieving along with the man's family. Just a very sad week-end (again!) in Warrenton
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 8, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (How Do You Balance Talent and Ambition With Submitting to God's Will and Control?) Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Psalm 103:8-12
The Bible says, "The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalms 103:8-12).
Christ is risen; He is risen indeed; and only the power of faith in Him can overcome the grief that so often comes in life. Amen.
We're continuing our sermon series today on the subject of "Regrets, Reality, and Restoration." Today's topic is a tough one. How does one come back from public shame when lots of people have been hurt by one's actions? Do you remember the name, Jeffrey Skilling or Enron?
The public downfall of Enron and its leaders is infamous. It was a corporate disaster. Thousands of employees lost their jobs. Many lost their life savings. The collapse of Enron epitomizes cutthroat business practices and arrogant business attitudes. This great corporate collapse caused a tightening of accounting rules for companies and led to greater scrutiny of compensation for corporate leaders. For Jeffrey Skilling, it meant public humiliation, personal loss, and legal proceedings that took him from the boardroom to a prison cell.
But as you know, he isn't the only one who has experienced a public scandal or downfall. From sports figures to politicians to religious leaders, many who were once mighty, have fallen. All I have to do is mention the names: Ted Haggard, Pete Rose, Ray Rice, Barry Bonds, Elliot Spitzer. And many whose names we do not know who have experienced the same thing.
As the Scriptures says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).
The themes are consistent in both private and public disgrace: arrogance, hidden wrongdoing, behavior that gets out of hand, the belief that "It can't happen to me. I'll never get caught." It is classic self-deception and it highlights the great danger of personal pride.
The Apostle John said it wisely: "For all that is in this world-the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes, the pride of life-is not from the Father, it is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:16-17).
What a stark contrast: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life that passes away compared to the will of God that leads to eternal life. It would seem that no one would want to fall on the side of arrogance, greed, and lust. Time and time again those have been the downfall of so many. One would think that we would want to gravitate toward God's good will and His gift of eternal life. But we're often our own worst enemy. Our own sinful flesh takes over so easily. We drift into becoming arrogant and prideful about our own gifts, abilities, and success. And all it does is lead to failure.
It is not a new phenomenon. During the reign of the Babylonian Empire in the days of Daniel the prophet, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon became swelled with arrogance. His kingdom was mighty. He felt it could never fall. One day, as he surveyed the grandeur of his accomplishments, he said, "Is not this the great Babylon that I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" The Bible tells us in Daniel, chapter four, that the words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven,"This is what I decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you" (Daniel 4:30-31 NIV). Pride led to the king's downfall. He was very gifted, very powerful. He had built a remarkable dynasty. But God humbled him when arrogance crept in.
In the New Testament, King Herod became the victim of his ego as well. We hear in the book of Acts, chapter twelve, how the people tried to curry favor with him. They shouted, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" Herod accepted their flattery. But assuming God's place in this world was a dangerous proposition, in this case, that led to a tragic fall. The Bible tells us that, "Immediately an angel of the Lord struck [Herod] down, because he did not give God the glory" (Acts 12:22-24).
You see, God's Word and God's ways endure, but pride goes before our fall. And it's not just famous people who struggle with this issue. What about you, what about me? What does our pride look like in our lives, in our hearts?
It shows its ugliness regularly in our lives, doesn't it? You may find yourself putting others down with secret whispers, hidden text messages, or anonymous bullying--all in the effort to lift yourself up. You may crave getting credit and do almost anything to make sure it comes your way. You may veer into becoming a control freak--as if everything depends on you. You may get caught up in a high velocity life of pursuing your hobby, career, or personal whims while you ignore your loved ones. You may refuse to forgive. You may always find fault in others. You may think you can get away with anything: impurity, poor treatment of others, cheating, laziness, or lying.
Sound familiar? The pride of life is dangerous. It always leads to a fall. Why, because pride and arrogance puts you in the place of God. Puts you in charge and in command, with a limited perspective, a selfish focus, you act as if you run the universe. But you don't. And the truth will always become clear at some point in time.
You don't have to look far in the Bible for examples. Remember Genesis 3, Adam and Eve experienced that truth when they aspired to be like God and disobeyed Him. The result was their tragic separation from God. That's what happens when our egos swell and our conceit takes over: separation--separation from people, from health and well-being, from understanding who you are, from peace and contentment, from friendship and love.
The insidious thing about pride is that the more we try to make things happen, the worse things get fouled up. Our gifts and talents, they have a dark side; there's a lack of humility, a loss of wisdom, even distorted perceptions on things.
The Apostle Paul expressed this pride conundrum in Romans, chapter 7. He said this, "I do not understand my own actions. For I don't do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15). "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I don't want to do, well, that's what I keep on doing" (Romans 7:19).
But the real question today is: is there any answer to this downfall of pride? Is there any solution to humiliation and failure? Can there be restoration when it seems like you've lost everything?
One person who knows the answer to that is NFL quarterback Michael Vick. Vick wound up in prison after being convicted of federal crimes related to dog fighting and gambling. He declared bankruptcy. He was kicked out of the National Football League. His name that was once lauded by fans around the world became synonymous with cruelty and crime. But while in prison, another man who knew the NFL very well and was involved in prison ministry approached Vick about the possibility of mentoring him. It was NFL coach Tony Dungy. When Michael realized that he needed to get back closer to the Lord, that's when Tony Dungy said, 'I'm going to stay involved in this. I'm going to help you.'" Dungy met with Vick regularly to help him gain perspective and walk humbly with God, and it changed his life.
Both the Apostle Peter and James have written that "God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
Each one of them knew how their own pride separated them from Jesus, but how God's grace brought them back after they were humbled. Michael Vick learned about that restoring grace, God's restoring grace in his life too. After he was released from prison, he apologized and he saw that his humble life was now under God's gracious control. Vick said:
"I want to apologize...for all the things I've done and all the things I allowed to happen. I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts... I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player."
Michael Vick showed that he was a struggler who had been given a precious gift: forgiveness from a gracious and saving God through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, we can rearrange sins. We can hide them, deny them, and blame them on someone else. But only God can remove sins. Only God can take them away. We can fall and we can fall hard, but God is the One who can lift us up.
King David, in the Bible, he knew that very well too. You may remember his public downfall when his prideful spirit of entitlement led him to implode in immorality and murder. But after being humbled by his exposed sin, God gave him a gracious gift. Listen to King David's words in Psalm 103, words that still have power and meaning today. He says, "The LORD, he's merciful, he's gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. He won't always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him." And I really love this part when he says,"And as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Psalms 103:8-12).
Think about it. He does not repay us for our sins. He removes our transgressions from us. How does God do such a thing? Through the beauty and the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. Isaiah, chapter 53, foreshadowed this when it said: "Surely he has borne our griefs. Surely he has carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).
Through Jesus Christ we are rescued from pride's destruction. When we fall and when our gifts fail, when our talents betray us and our arrogance gets us into trouble, when we blow it and hurt ourselves and the people we love, God, in His unfathomable grace, lifts us up even then. He sent His Son to bear our sins, to die for them, to heal us through His wounds. After being crucified for us, humiliated publicly in our place, He rose from the dead to bring us with Him into new life. Yes, King David said it well: "As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love towards us; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us."
There is hope and there is rescue through faith in Jesus Christ when you fall. Do you know that hope today, my friend? Do you really know that hope is here for you? Will you hang on to that hope? Will you share that hope with your fellow strugglers? When you are in the pit of your own despair, will you let God Himself lift you up?
A young man by the name of D.J. Fluker knew this well; he knew the hope of God in the middle of humbling circumstances. D.J. and his family lost their home to Hurricane Katrina. He, his mom, his siblings, they ended up homeless, living in shelters, churches, even a car. This nomadic existence went on for years. The family ate out of fast food garbage dumpsters, he said, and huddled together often in one bed. Unable to wash his clothes, D.J. went to school smelling badly and embarrassed because of it. But in spite of the adversity, the embarrassment, D.J. Fluker became a standout high school and college football player. Even more amazing is the fact that today he plays for the NFL San Diego Chargers. One of the first things he did after he signed a pro football contract was to buy his mother a house.
But the question I want to know is what kept D.J. going? What lifted him up when humiliation laid him low? He said, "Have faith in God. Have faith that you can overcome. There were days when I said, 'I've got two legs, two arms, and I can see. I've got a purpose even now.'" The grace of God lifted him up even when he was at his lowest ebb.
When your weaknesses are exposed and your vulnerabilities made public, it can make you collapse in on yourself. It can wound your heart and make you feel as if there is no hope. But there is an answer even when you feel disgraced. Our gracious God is present even then to lift you up when you fall.
Silas Nacita is another young man who knows this to be true. Silas is a running back for the Baylor Bears at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He excelled in high school classes and football, but his homelessness was something he kept hidden. Because of a turbulent home life and the death of his father while he was in high school, Silas found himself sleeping on friends' couches and trying to find a place to stay; including a ditch by a truck stop, a hotel lobby, and a park. With no access to a workout room, he lifted rocks to stay in shape. Finally, he earned an academic scholarship to Baylor and he made the football team.
Again, what lifted him up when humiliation laid him low? Silas said, "Place your hope, and joy, and love in something that will be available whether you have everything you have ever wanted or nothing at all." I love what he said. He said, "Nothing can give you the fulfillment you need except for faith in Jesus Christ." He is so, so right.
God's love prevailed in Silas' life. God's unconditional, life-restoring love lifted him up when he was down. This grace and forgiveness will lift you up, too.
Life this side of heaven is full of falls, some worse than others. If you are in the midst of that kind of painful reality today, your Father in heaven is not your critic, He's not the One telling you what is obvious to you and others. No, so hear this. It's not God who is hard on you. He was, for your sake, hard on His Son instead. And to you He shows love and forgiveness that can make all the difference in the world. Psalm 103 says it well: "As a father shows his compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him" (Psalms 103:13).
Will you trust in Him today amidst your circumstances? Will you cast pride away and receive the grace of God for your life? Now's the time not to lean not on your efforts and abilities, but on God's gracious work for you! If you find yourself caught in arrogance and pride, there is a way back. There is a way through. It starts with repentance and a walk of faith humbly with God! And, even more, if you've fallen hard, if you're at a low point, know this; know that it is God's joy to lift you up in His grace! May that encourage you, encourage you now and forever!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for March 8, 2015 Topic: How Do You Balance Talent and Ambition With Submitting to God's Will and Control?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, we believe talents and abilities are gifts from God to be used in His service, but they can also become sources of sinful pride. So, how do you balance talent and ambition with submission to God's will and control?
SELTZ: Now that's a 21st century question, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: We live in a world that celebrates personal ambition, pride, and self-promotion. It's not easy to retain that spirit of humility and service amid this self-centered spirit of the day.
SELTZ: You're right. That's why it might be best to talk first about temptation to a false humility that can be a reaction to our culture's tendency to glorify big egos.
ANNOUNCER: What do you mean by false humility?
SELTZ: Ironically, it's humility that ends up glorifying the self. I see it all the time, a humility used to gain people's attention or to set oneself above others. It's a humility that can be so exuberantly demean yourself that you end up getting all kinds of attention as people try to correct you or tell you how truly great you are.
ANNOUNCER: In other words, it's not true humility when you're always reminding people how humble you are.
SELTZ: That's exactly right; and false humility is often a very dangerous trap for believers in Christ, too. God loves us. He cares about us. He paid the price to make us His own. As forgiven sinners, we take it seriously, but we're not called to beat ourselves up to prove we're genuine followers. Jesus purchased and won us; that's where our value comes from. What fuels us is not receiving glory, either in humility or in exaltation, but in giving God glory so that more people can know Him as Savior.
ANNOUNCER: I'm told Billy Graham said a verse from the Book of Isaiah often helped him keep his ministry in perspective. It's where God says: "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other" (Isaiah 42:8).
SELTZ: Right, the glory is always His. Our life is to glorify Him. And that brings us back to our question for the day: "How do you balance talent and ambition with submitting to God's will and control?" I would offer our listener two responses: vocation and spiritual gifts.
ANNOUNCER: And please explain.
SELTZ: Love to. First, I think that the notion that striving for excellence, ambitiously with our talents is somehow opposed to God's will and control, I think that's a mistake. It's not the ambition that's wrong, it's why we strive! In fact, God is the source of our ambitions. We hear in Ephesians, chapter two, "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10 NIV).
ANNOUNCER: God inspires that desire for excellence.
SELTZ: I think He does. He prepares our works in advance. He places us in situations to glorify Him with who we are and where we find ourselves. That's what I mean by vocation, then.
ANNOUNCER: But, Scripture helps us strike a balance between ambition and vocation.
SELTZ: Absolutely. If your ambition is clearly against God's will and ways found in the Bible, it's not from Him. But if the gifts given to you by God are directed to glorify Him and serve your neighbor, do that with all your heart! If it's music, play to glorify and bless. If you are wired up to excel in computers, then bless others and serve God. The balance is in the realization of where the aspirations, ambitions, and talents come from and what purpose they have.
ANNOUNCER: Not everyone is called to be a preacher or teach Sunday School, for example.
SELTZ: Not at all. Those are areas of service and they are wonderful. They have a unique purpose, but the Holy Spirit equips all of us in a variety of ways so that many people can be blessed, with many avenues to bring God glory.
ANNOUNCER: This is all sounding like "Spiritual Gifts" talk.
SELTZ: It is. The Apostle Paul reminds us of that in 1 Corinthians 12. He said, "There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; varieties of service, but the same Lord.... To each of us is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
ANNOUNCER: St. Paul makes it clear that God is the giver of all spiritual gifts and that the purpose of these gifts is to bless God's people.
SELTZ: Yeah, and that's where the balance comes in again. Exactly, our listener can be assured that using the talents you have as gifts from God in service to others to glorify Him; that should give one balance in thinking all this through. In fact, God's Word will keep you on track here, especially concerning your attitude. It's also good to be a part of a community of faith to help you stay balanced and healthy as you serve well.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.
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