Humility And Its Gifts - Vince Brackett
Second in series: Leave Bad Faith. Find Good Faith.
Kyle talked with us last week on Easter about how, the fact is, faith is not always good. He introduced us to these super helpful and comprehensive descriptors of Good Faith vs. Bad Faith from writer Brian McLaren We asked last week in our service what from these descriptors you all want to hear more about this April.
One of the biggest things that came up in the awesome responses we got was: bad faith is arrogant and unteachable
I resonate with that one a ton too, because it just feels like there is nothing quite like arrogance and unteachable-ness that makes people want to run for the hills. I remember when I first learned guitar I experienced this in a Guitar Store This is not every Guitar Store I’ve ever been in, but this one I went to when I was brand new to guitar — man! — There’s something about the particular skill-set and knowledge that a guitarist gains that can make them feel so powerful when a newbie is in front of them Like to this salesman I asked a question to, I was no longer a potential paying customer, I was the audience to his great guitar monologue that he had clearly been dying to deliver. I remember, this guy literally said to me, when I asked a question in the middle of all he was explaining, “hold on, my turn to explain, then you can ask questions…” Not pleasant! But, really, isn’t it sad that, in so many ways, it feels like arrogance and unteachable-ness really finds a home in religious settings? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve gotten to know in this church — I don’t want to say this with certainty, but it may be everyone — that have had at least one experience of arrogance or unteachable-ness in a religious setting
Well, opposite to bad faith’s arrogance & unteachable-ness we have “Good Faith is humble” And perhaps you’ve heard us say this before: humility is actually what we call our number one value here at BLV — the distinctive above any other we hope to be said of our church and of the faith we pursue
I’ll tell you why A year before BLV was even a thing, Kyle and I were just friends, not yet co-workers, and I remember this time we were praying together — I remember it was Ash Wednesday — and the way we were praying this particular time was just being quiet, it was less of a “praying for each others’ specific needs” prayer, and more a “being quiet together, trying to listen to God” prayer — because we felt at this time God might be weaving our futures together — we were in the very early stages of thinking about what would become this church… And while we were being quiet and praying, we both separately felt the word humility come to us and then it would not leave our minds. Kyle said it out loud first, “I just feel like God is saying: whatever I do, humility is where it’s at for me," and then I started doing this thing that I do a lot in our staff meetings where I start pointing at Kyle in an aggressive and kind of weird way, which to me means: "yes! exactly what I'm thinking!” He gets that now, but I don’t think he got it then. Anyway, that got us talking and what we put into words together that Ash Wednesday was: we had both become people of faith NOT because we felt like we had all the answers, but because we felt like we DIDN’T have all the answers. We felt filled with compassion for all the friends and family we loved who had been peddled bad, arrogant, unteachable faith That talked about the capital-T Truth of life and of God as if they’d already read the book on it, and it now fits in their pocket, and they can pull it out at any time to enlighten someone To us, the idea that we were bigger than Truth — that it can fit in our pockets and be delivered in one conversation— was absurd! Truth felt to us like it was all around us — so much bigger than us — that we could only hope to discover a small sliver of Truth in our entire lifetime… And that was exactly why having a relationship with the God of all this Truth was such a gift! Jesus famously said he, a person, is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” How could we say we know Jesus completely and totally? I don’t even know my wife completely and totally! But it’s not a defeat getting to discover just a small sliver of Truth over our entire lifetimes — to us, that sounds like an amazing privilege! Wow! A small sliver of Truth? Yes! We’ll take it, God! Because, seriously, we don’t know anything! You know, this is actually one of the big reasons we built this church on a model of Co-Pastoring — two equal Lead Pastors It’s not actually because Kyle and I each wanted to do half the work No, it’s because we are keenly aware of the tendency for churches, for faith leaders, to fall into the pitfall of arrogance and unteachable-ness In the worst cases, pastoral roles and churches can be breeding grounds for cults of personality — some particularly good-looking, charismatic, strong personality commands a ton of attention, is highly functioning, and becomes a local celebrity… but in the process manipulates people and abuses power But often it’s not malicious — it’s just because there can be a pressure to present yourself as "the one with the answers" when you’re a pastor And your church as "the place with the answers" Because life is so messy, we human beings are so messy, and presenting faith as “having all the answers” is a way to give some feeling of a semblance of control in the midst of that messiness Deliver that “have all the answers” message for long enough and you and your church will start to believe it And the feeling of being in control that gives means a church may also learn to look down on anyone who doesn’t believe the same that they believe Kyle and I thought: we are surely just as prone to these things as the next guys (maybe not the good-looking, charismatic parts, but the other parts), so we want to protect against this We want to actually be spiritually helpful to people. We don’t want to be a cult of personality, and we don’t want to fall into this pitfall of believing we have all the answers So we committed to the idea of pastoring together. There is no single personality at the top of BLV. The buck doesn’t stop with either of us. And every major decision goes through two sets of perspectives. And beyond just the two of us, this commitment has set us up to be better at including even more perspectives — which is especially important because as different as the two of us are personality-wise, we are both white men — we need more perspectives than just ours to lead well. Co-Pastoring has helped both of us improve at listening, at including other voices, and at receiving feedback well You know, this actually means the cost of doing business for our church is higher — our church's budget is striving to support live-able salaries for two pastors to be able to live in this area. With a one pastor church, it would only be one salary. That’s an extra fundraising challenge for those of us who call this church home But we really feel a commitment to humility in leadership is a non-negotiable in today’s world
But, zooming in past bigger picture things When it comes to each of us personally, moment to moment... What exactly do we mean by humility? And why does that give us the gift of a good faith?
Humility is actually a kind of often-misunderstood thing Ever noticed how athletes or movie stars often say "they’re humbled" when receiving an award or winning something… Maybe someone can correct my lack of knowledge about the word, but I think they have that wrong - don’t they mean “honored”?... to be humbled is to be brought down from up high - the opposite of receiving an award
Being brought down — that to me is the best definition of humility. And it’s not actually bad. If you agree with a process of being brought down, it’s amazing
For example, for me...
I talked about that conviction I’ve come to that I don’t have all the answers. That I have blind spots when I look at the world… I am not always right… I’ve had to be brought down to accept that. I’ve had to be humbled by saying things too certainly and then hearing my wife say back to me: I think you’re missing the point as a white man with a limited perspective. Or I’ve realized how every good or noble thing I’ve ever done I’ve done with mixed motives — When I was teaching, or during the 8 years I worked with the elderly, or now as a pastor, my intentions never have been, and never will be, perfectly pure I’ve had to be brought down from my moral high ground to accept that. Or I’ve realized I’m an angry person. I’ve had to be brought down to accept that. I’ve had to come to face to face with the fact that I very often say things with the intent to hurt people — because I’m angry and want to let someone have it
But in being brought down in these ways, here’s some things I’ve found myself into: Co-pastoring, which as I mentioned has been awesome An honest, transparent marriage that I love Even more basic: Having friends at all.. I really mean it — every time I’m humbled I’m more tolerable as a friend... at this point I think many people would even go so far as to say they like me And finally, every experience I’ve had that’s humbled me has made it easier for me to experience and hear Jesus Because those experiences have taught me to be more critical of my instincts. To slow down. To pray before acting. I find Jesus loves to guide me with an impression or thought or feeling when I take my instincts to him and ask him about them before just acting on them What I’m saying is: being humbled, as challenging as it is for our egos, is necessary for one of the most important things in your entire life to work: your relationships - with people and with God
There’s an important distinction to make though…
There can be a fine line between: what can appear to be humility (or sound like humility), and what is actually self-shaming
Humility is being brought down, but it is not berating yourself. It is not having a low self esteem or a low opinion of yourself. It is not negative self-talk.
I remember talking with an old friend who was dreading a hard conversation he knew he had to initiate with someone he cared about Where he kept getting stuck, it seemed to me, was in self-shaming He had a loop playing in his head that what had gotten him and this person he cared about into the mess they needed to talk about was: “I am a jerk.” While we were talking, I remembered some research I’d learned about shame — about how when someone’s internal self-talk is “I am (fill in the blank - a jerk, an a-hole)” they are rarely ever able to make healthy choices in the midst of whatever they’re dealing with but when someone can shift their internal self-talk away from “who I am” and instead to “this thing I did was manipulative, that thing I did was hurtful and not okay” they are much more likely to make healthy choices I suggested that shift in internal self-talk to my friend, and his whole tone changed at even just the suggestion I think that was because my friend was ready to be humbled -- he wasn’t trying to hide from his mistakes -- but the only way he could imagine it looked to agree with being brought down was self-shaming When he was presented with a better and actually healthy option of a way to agree with being brought down that didn’t leave him paralyzed by a shame-cycle, that felt like water on dry land!
I wonder if any of us might feel the same — like the only way we can imagine it looks to agree with being humbled is shaming ourselves… That’s not the case! One practical thing that might help you is this suggestion I had learned and gave to my friend about shifting our internal self talk from “I am rotten” to “that thing I did was rotten”
Another different friend’s story comes to mind for me too that might feel helpful to some of us this friend had been doing therapy, and he told me about what he’d been working on with his therapist: He feels this drive that he has to appear like "a good guy” — “I’m a good guy” is the loop playing internally for him At one point, his therapist asked him: “What if you’re not always a good guy, but even so you’re still love-able?" That was this friend’s aha-moment about the difference between humility and self-shaming Do you hear how agreeing with that is being brought down, BUT it is not shaming? It is actually freeing A different shift in internal self-talk than my first friend, but the same power. We all need shifts in our internal self-talk. I wonder if either of these help you think about what you need?
So I want to leave us with one last bit of practical help: the Bible, especially the Psalms — the prayer and song book of the Bible — is a treasure trove of prayers to help us experience the awesomeness of humility.
It can be such a resource to you!
And, let me just say, no matter who you are, and no matter what you believe, you are going to need resources to help you be humbled well. Because life just has a way of humbling us. It’s inevitable. If you haven’t had an experience yet, rest assured, one is coming eventually. So, if you’re game for considering the Bible a resource, let me pass on two Psalms that I pray all the time.
Psalm 144 Lord, what are human beings that you care for them, mere mortals that you think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow.
Oh, I love that! — So in touch with the smallness and limitations of being human — AND YET so in touch with the love and care God has for us, small & limited humans. You pray this regularly, you put this on loop in the background of your life, and whatever the next thing that comes your way to humble you, you will be more ready for it!
Here’s another one:
Psalm 84 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless [or humble, we might say].
This one is so beautiful to me — God is so good that once you experience Good Faith in that God, you will find yourself genuinely preferring to work an all-night job just outside the house of that God… over a bed and a night’s sleep inside in some other house I think the Psalmist here is very intentionally ironic — "Really!?" we’re meant to think: "Working a job as a doorkeeper outside this house is better than getting to relax and dwell inside that house?" “That’s ridiculous! Prove it!" And that’s just the Psalmist’s point: God will prove it. For all the challenge and hit to our egos it is to be humbled, to be brought down, to be a doorkeeper instead of a relaxer, God will prove to us it is so worth it By the way humility softens our hearts By the way it grows and matured us By the way it makes our relationships work well By the way it protects people in positions of authority (like me and Kyle) from abuses of power These are the gifts of humility that God wants to prove to us, if we are tilling our soil to be able to let it take root.
To close this morning, I want to pray God would do some of that now.
But also, praying prayers from the Bible (like these) is a very accessible way for any of us to pray regularly throughout our weeks. We’ve got these two humility prayers written out in your program, but even if you don’t have a paper Bible the whole Bible is online. If you’d like a few more humility prayers, jot down these references in your phone or on your program: Isaiah 40:6-8 Psalm 139:1-18 1 Timothy 1:15-17
Ok, would you stand with me...