When Success Turns Sour

Fifteen years ago, a client of mine became president of his company. It all came about through a fluke (he was a mid-level manager), good luck, and a couple coincidences. He was very humble about his promotion, “It was just God’s grace. I hadn’t wanted it, I didn’t deserve it, and I never tried for it. God just dropped it on my lap.”

When Success Turns Sour

Within a couple years he began to attribute his advancement to his own hard work and brilliant insights. He said that his promotion had been delayed too long by people who didn’t appreciate him. He fired people who disagreed with his opinions.

He felt his genius was needed everywhere, and he was glad to offer it:

  • He convinced the high school athletic committee to change coaches because he knew a better way—though he had never played an organized sport in his life.
  • He became head elder at his church and bullied them into adopting a “better” Bible translation—though he had never studied Greek or Hebrew (not even Pig-Latin).

He once scowled in anger when a friend told him his zipper was unzipped (true story), and he sent his dental hygienist home in tears when she suggested he begin flossing (another true story). The slightest correction was met by him with red-faced fury.

Success turned a wonderful human being into an uncorrectable, insufferable know-it-all.

Who is Your Hero?

Sometime God speaks through a careful choreography of life events: conversations, readings, observations, and even the occasional media clip. Suddenly, all the pieces snap together, and we sigh (internally so no one hears us), “Aha!”

Who is your hero

This morning, I had one of those moments of clarity. Over the past couple weeks:

  • I pondered with friends why some people and ministries are wildly successful while other people and ministries—equally gifted—struggle for survival;
  • I heard a quote by Oswald Chambers: “Is He going to help Himself to your life, or are you taken up with your own conception of what you are doing?
  • I read a passage using the Scripture Meditation Plan: “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

These three events were preceded by a video I watched that smelled … funny. And the odor lingered. The creator of the video is a famous Christian writer who has morphed his verbal skills into marketing skills, and he wanted to help churches sell themselves.

In his video, a pastor shared the key to his own wildly successful church. I forget the exact words but he essentially said:

“I realized that too many churches make the pastor the hero. I decided to make the congregation the hero, and my church’s attendance exploded.” (Name withheld)

It reminded me of a conversation early in The Lost World movie. Repentant Jurassic Park creator John Hammond cries: “Don’t worry. I’m not making the same mistakes again.”

To which Ian Malcom retorts: “No, you’re making all new ones.”

Squeezing Bad News from the Good News

Last spring I attended a wedding and heard an impressive pastor preach a stirring sermon on a powerful passage called The Kenosis (or The Emptying).

SqueezingIt’s my favorite passage on humility:

Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)

The pastor urged the couple to be humble, to think first of the other person, and to give the remote to their spouse. He said humility is one virtue all religions agree on:

Confucius said, “Humility is the solid foundation of all virtues,” and the Quran says, “The servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth in humility.”

He claimed to offer the key to marital bliss found in the gospels. He said the entirety of the good news can be summed up on one simple sentence: Be ye humble as Jesus was humble.

But equating the gospel with our humility is confusing cause and effect. The fruit of the gospel is humility, but chasing humility to find the gospel is squeezing bad news from the good news. We’re trying to get wine from a rock.

Fifty Shades of Denial

I’m not surprised that bondage/sadomasochistic sex is practiced. I’m surprised that we are no longer embarrassed. Everyone has embarrassing behaviors (especially thoughts), but we practice them behind closed doors. If we must perform our shameful acts in public, we disguise them, like wrapping brown paper bags around our open beer bottles.

Drinking from a brown paper bag

I had not heard of Fifty Shades of Grey until someone emailed me an article from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation about a real-life man who practiced BDSM. (He later arranged the strangulation of his wife after she refused to participate in his sadomasochistic sex fantasies.)

Since then I have read a score of articles about Fifty Shades of Grey with differing slants:

  • Most secular articles were in favor, essentially agreeing with the movie producer, who said, “People are not that prudish anymore;”
  • A few secular articles were opposed; one article basically read, “Finally! An issue leftist feminists and right-wing Christians can agree upon;”
  • And all the Christian articles basically said, “Just don’t do it. Or read it. Or watch it.”

But thousands of people read the book in public—no paper bags—and tens of thousands of people publicly watched the movie. Its opening weekend brought in $81.7 million dollars, the second-biggest February opening of all time (ironically, second only to The Passion of Christ).

Amazingly, 68% of the movie’s attendees were women, even though—in the words of one article—“In the final analysis, it is always women who suffer most at the hands of violent sex.”

How did we get here, where our private disgraces are now brazenly displayed on our rooftops?