Pursuing Humility

I’m thankful for the chance to start our sermon time with a baptism.  We don’t do it enough here and I think that there are plenty of reasons.  Some have been baptized as children and so you feel funny about being baptized again.  Some come from faith traditions where only children are baptized, and so this whole thing is weird.

I will say though that when we read the bible, it was adults who were being baptized.  Jesus was baptized at 30.  Think about that.  And why does it matter?  Because at 30 years old Jesus was willing to let the world know exactly where he stands.  He is going to live his life God’s way.  And Jamie here also made a decision to be baptized because she wants the world to know that the Lord is her Shepherd.  And if you are interested in being baptized than we are planning another on Easter, and I’d love for you to be part of it.  And every Easter, when we celebrate the Lord rising from the dead – you can celebrate it as the day you announced to the world that you are His, and He is yours.

This morning we are nearing the end of our study in the book of James.  James was a pastor – one of the very first pastors in the church.  In about 54ad, he writes a letter to a group of churches – and one thing that’s good to know about these letters that are in the New Testament, is that just about all of the letters are being written in response to a problem that has arisen within the church.

So Paul writes Galatians, for instance, to address a doctrinal issue.  People were trying to convince people that one must first convert to Judaism before they could decide to follow Jesus.  And Galatians is a strong rebuttal to that doctrinal issue.

Corinthians was written to address morality issues within the church.  Corinth was like the Las Vegas of that time, and so as people were giving their hearts to Jesus they were dealing with residual sins of the flesh – things like drunkenness and sexual immorality.

So what is the occasion, the reason, for James to write his letter?  Well there appears to be factions, strife, and conflict within the church.  And so today we are going to talk about conflict, and how to fight with your fellow church people in a way that honors God. 

When I attended college to learn how to be a pastor, I had one class that talked about practical matters within the church.  And in class one of the things we talked about was the problem of church splits.  Have you ever been part of a church that split?  One time it was united and whole, and then one day conflict arose and so some people, usually an elder or a pastor, decides – forget this – I’m going to leave this place and start my own church down the road! 

It usually starts like someone says – have you noticed they just don’t ever buy cream filled donuts?  This place – they are ridiculous with their donut picking.  Who’s in charge of the donut selection?  Who’s the moron who keeps buying these french cruellers!  We want more cream filled donuts!  And I give money – so either you do what I want or I’m leaving – and believe me – there’s a lot of people out there who feel just like me – I know – they talk to me all the time. 

So what next?  They leave and take all the anti-french cruellerites with them and start another church.    On the other corner.  Now with fifty percent more cream filled donuts.  And better preaching too.   

Now I make jokes but if you’ve ever had the misfortune of living through a church split you know it can be painful. and so I don’t mean minimize it. 

So what did I learn in this class?  I learned, among other things, that we should not hire administrative people who attend our church.  Apparently church administrative assistants are real sources of dirt on what the pastor is really like, that jerk! 

I learned also that it’s best that I not have any friends in the church.  And that’s why I don’t.  Right? It’s not because I’m unpopular.  It’s my choice.  Again – the thinking is – that if people found out the real you, then they would spread gossip around.

The point is that conflicts arise, even within a church, and I think that it’s important that we be aware of the reality that what was occurring in the early church could very well occur at Journey.  Could very well occur within – doesn’t have to be you against me – it could be you against someone on the other side of the room. 

So we will read James and the first thing we will see is the most common cause of conflicts.  Then we will read a rebuke – a good old first century smack down – deservedly so – and then he is going to finish by giving us the antidote to conflict.  There is an antidote to conflict.  And I’ll just tell it to you right now, because really it’s the big idea for the day – if there is one thing I want you to understand from James 4 it’s that conflict will arise, but the antidote to unhealthy conflict is humility.

It’s worth noting that conflict is normal – disagreements and differing opinions – conflict is normal but there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways to deal with conflict- whether its within the church, or the workplace or the home.

And so though James is writing specifically about internal conflict within a church, I think what we learn applies to those other areas as well.  Humility is the antidote to unhealthy conflict.

It’s a large portion of scripture, so if you have a bible it will be easier to follow that the screens – and if you have a bible I do encourage you to bring it with you and mark it up, feel free to underline stuff and write in the margin.  It’s good for you. 

James 4:1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?  Word has reached James – the church is quarreling and fighting one another.  So he is going to ask a question that he already knows the answer to…

See at first blush- someone might say – we are fighting because we don’t like the worship style, or we don’t like the preaching, or we don’t like the color of the carpet, or we don’t like whatever… But James answer gets to the heart of it.  He writes…

Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you?

Now notice – that conflict starts internally.  It starts within you.  The conflict gets unhealthy inside of you long before it gets unhealthy outside of you. 

It starts with an unhappy heart, or soul.  Something inside of you is offended.  Or feels it must have its way.  The war of conflict – whether it be within a church or within a marriage, or at a workplace, or wherever – starts in the invisible places.

It’s the desire of an unhappy soul.  Perhaps it feels insulted.  Perhaps it feels that it is not being recognized properly.  Most often it is a soul that can’t have it’s way.  Did you know that your soul could turn into a spoiled brat – lashing out if it doesn’t get what it thinks it deserves?  Watch out! 

It feels it knows what it needs and is willing to fight to have its way.  From there, this invisible conflict spills its banks to the visible.

 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them.

So now the battle begins.  There’s scheming going on. You’ve seen this before – in the break room at the plant or the teacher’s lounge – or the lunch room at school, there’s a gathering of support.  Gathering the troops. 

You frame your complaint in such a way as to make you come across in as best a light as possible and your opponent in the worst light possible. 

Those conversations start with things like “Can you believe…” or “Did you hear…” and they usually end the conversation with phrases like, “Am I right?”  or “Isn’t that messed up” or “Am I right or what?”  It’s an informal vote.  Are you with me, or are you with my enemy? 

If you find yourself in the position of being recruited for a fight – I think that Jesus’ words of blessed are the peacemakers come to mind.  A friend who might challenge a person’s desire to war with another.  Usually though, you raise the risk of being seen as a friend who wasn’t there for me in my time of need.  Right?  You feel like you’ve been put in a no win scenario.  And you are probably right.

Because they, or you, aren’t trying to recruit peacemakers on your side, you are trying to recruit warriors who will do your bidding in this conflict over.

Now again, I think it’s important to state that the complaint might be valid.  There is usually something legitimate to every conflict.  You are passionate about something important.  You aren’t going to war unless you feel it’s important enough to war about. 

Conflict becomes unhealthy when it becomes less about resolving the issue and instead becomes more about winning the conflict. 

The difference that James is facing in his church is that these people who are fighting and quarreling with one another don’t seem overly concerned with resolving the issue, they only appear concerned with winning.  They feel right, they want the world to know they are right.  They poll their friends to see if they are right.

And can I just say, that for me personally, when I am passionate about something that I know I’m also right about?  That’s the most dangerous time for me, because  I can be the biggest jackass on the planet.  I will beat you into submission with my rightness.

The first pastor I worked with had a saying that, sometimes you can be so right you’re wrong.  And I think he meant this kind of thing.  You are technically right in that your opinion is the correct path, you know you are right, and so you plan to crush the other co-worker, friend, pastor, spouse, your kids- with your rightness.

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

It’s one thing to sit in the break room at work and try to manipulate another person to be part of your scheme to get what you want.  That’s pathetic enough.  But it’s really pathetic to try to sit down in prayer and to try to recruit God to do your bidding.  To pray and try to convince God about just how right you are, just how wronged you feel, just how much you deserve what you feel you deserve.

So most don’t even try.  They aren’t praying about it. 

Why don’t people pray during times of conflict?  Well, most honestly couldn’t stand the idea of God saying, “Drop it”.  or “Let is go”.  Or even, worst of all, gulp, “no.” 

How much conflict in your life would dissipate if you actually brought the issue to the Lord in prayer.  I think it’s one of those things where if we do it, we must bring with us the humility, should we hear God remind us that “Not everything is big a deal.”

Of course, some people will turn to prayer – but not sincerely – rather, with wrong motivation, they seek to turn God into some kind of good luck charm – they attempt to leverage him to do their bidding. 

And I think it’s that kind of thinking that causes James to give one of the harshest rebukes in scripture.  He says…

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God?

Last week we put two signs up – and we talked about what a life looks like if you drink from this well that says “If it is to be it is up to me.”  The wisdom of this world.  And then on this side we put up a sign that said, The Lord is my shepherd.”  And we talked about how different life looks if you know this to be true.

If you make the decision to trust the Lord to govern your life, then you are saying that you are going to stop living as if everything is up to you.

But then you want something really bad – you revert back to scheming and manipulating to get it, then you are cheating on the Lord – it’s like adultery – you say God your will be done, until you don’t get what you think you deserve, then it’s My will be done.

James correctly points it out and delivers a strong rebuke.  You are fighting and quarreling because you are reverting back to “my way or the highway” thinking. 

But look at what James tells us about what God is passionate about….  He says, God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him.

God wants us to trust him.  Trust is faith.  Faith is trust in action, not just words.  It’s trusting him even when he leads us into the valley of death, and especially when that death is the death of something we are deeply passionate about. 

Sometimes the most difficult death to endure is the death of a dream.  And some of you have lived through that, some might be living through it right now. Some of you have started businesses that have failed and it’s been it’s own kind of death.  Some have endured a divorce you never wanted, and it killed you inside. 

But God wants us to believe that He knows what he is doing with our life.  He is passionate about us.  Passionate enough about us to die on the cross for us.  If we are faithful to him, and trust him with the governance of our life, there is nothing in life we need to fear. 

Why can I say that?  James tells it to us…  And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

There is grace – immeasurable grace, poured out on the person who is humble enough to trust God.  Humble enough to not have to win.  Not have to have their way. 

There is grace for that person.  And opposition for the proud – the person who feels that they are right and will win, baby, win.

Humility is the antidote to the disease of unhealthy conflict.  Why?  What does humility accomplish?  Here’s a few ways that humility heals the wounds of conflict.

Humility changes the pronoun.  It changes the pronoun from “I need to win” to “WE need to win.”  We need to win.  In a marriage, from I must figure out a way to win, to we must figure out a way to win.

In a church, we need to win – we need to resolve this for the good of the kingdom. 

Humility seeks to understand.  It honors the person on the other end of the conflict and turns them into a human being instead of a metaphorical punching bag.

Why is my opponent holding this view?  What is valid about their viewpoint.  Nothing!  They are just dumb! “X” 

Humility causes us to attack the problem and not the person.

Pride obscures the person we are in conflict with – it hides their heart from us.  And thus it’s easy to make them inferior.  It’s not that their position is inferior to mine – it’s not they as human beings are inferior to me.

Humility clears the obstructions and presents us with the privilege of learning why they feel as they do without resorting to tearing them down as being somehow inferior.  Intellectually, spiritually, physically, other otherwise.  There’s no shortage of ways we make people we view as opponents inferior to us –  as human beings. 

Humility allows us to at least consider that we might be wrong.  This is, of course, something that pride would never allow to enter into the orbit of our sun.  We are right, and I have even found a meme on the internet to prove it.  And I will post it on my facebook and I will gather my army of people who agree with me – my minions who will click the like button!  Do not question my genius! 

I’m talking about myself when I say this, but have you ever unfollowed a friend on social media because you read their posts and you say, this post shows that this person is too dumb to be my friend?   I have – that’s not humility talking.

Humility allows us to lower the volume.  You know conflict is coming when the volume gets louder.  People are talking louder and louder!  “Fight fight fight!”  Humility turns the volume down, because if you are listening to the other person, they don’t need to shout.  It brings some dignity to the effort to resolve the conflict. 

Humility allows us to resist the devil.  And we sometimes need a reminder that we do have an enemy who seeks to destroy good things.  And the devils native language is pride.  Humility is a foreign language to him.  He doesn’t understand a word of it.  Humility is a heavenly language.  Because God himself is humble. 

Remember that we serve a God who was humble enough to be born in a barn.  Jesus lived a humble life. Read about it for yourself.  He died and was buried and was raised to life in order that all who would place their faith in him could be freed from this dog eat dog, every man for himself prideful kingdom of self and freed into the Kingdom of God, where God himself promises to protect and provide for us.

Humility allows us to resist the devil – the destroyer.  Humility allows us to work to resolve conflict in a way that we win.  Humility is the antidote to unhealthy conflict.

Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.

Isn’t it wonderful to serve a God who does not stiff arm us because we’ve blown it. It is God’s desire that we draw near to him – that we walk closely with our Lord. 

A prideful heart says “ I’m right”.  “I’m superior”.  “I’ll win.”  But a humble heart draws close to God and says, I’m your’s Lord.  So teach me how to deal with the issue at hand. 

James closes his thoughts with a call to repentance. 

Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

This prayer is where healing begins… 

In closing I’m going to highlight three possible prayers you might need to pray this morning – should the Holy Spirit prompt you.  Perhaps you’ve been in conflict and it has turned bitter and angry and unhealthy.  Here’s three different prayers – perhaps one is for you.

The first prayer is what we will call, the “I’ve been a jackass and I’m sorry” prayer.  And it goes something like this… “Lord, I’ve been acting like a real jerk and I’m sorry.  Please forgive me for being so arrogant and foolish and mean.”  You can pray this prayer.  And you know what- once you come to the realization that this is the case – this prayer is so wonderfully freeing.  It’s like honey on your lips to realize that you’ve been wrong.  And then after you confess to God comes the other part of letting someone else know that you’ve been acting pride fully and wrong.

This doesn’t necessarily meant the issue that you feel passionate about doesn’t get addressed – but this is the prayer you pray when you’ve been so right you are wrong.  And so this prayer resets the scene -and allows you to address the issue with humility instead of arrogance.

Prayer #2 is the “Thy Will be done,” prayer.  It might sound like this.  Lord, you know I’m very passionate about this issue.  I believe that I’m right.  I believe I know what’s best in this scenario – I’m driven by my passion.  However, I am willing to relinquish the outcome to you.  May your will be done, and may I learn to trust that you know what needs doing.   Help me not manipulate people, or frame arguments to make me sound brilliant and my opponent dumb. 

This prayer could be called a number of things.   It could be the “Help me fight fairly” prayer.  It could be called “I’m okay if I don’t win this one” prayer.  It could be called, “Help me keep my integrity” prayer.

Prayer number 3.  This one could be called the “I’m not going to be okay if I don’t win this one” prayer.  It sounds like this…  Lord, I am so passionate about this issue that I don’t think I will be okay if I don’t get my way.  It feels like I will die a thousand deaths if you don’t resolve this issue in a way that I think is right and fair.  I don’t want to pray the prayer that says, “I’m okay if I don’t win this one.”  I can’t bring myself to pray it.  And I want to be honest with you about it. 

However, I will at this point make the decision to declare what I know to be true.  You will be with me in the valley of the death of my dreams and although I can’t imagine coming out of that valley in anything other than pieces, I will trust in you.  I will.

This is the prayer that Job prayed – when he said, “Thou you slay me, yet I will trust in you.” What does he mean?  I feel like I’m going to die if you say no to me in this case.  And yet, I will not desert you.  I will choose to remember that you are God and I am not.  That you are always good and wise and near and that will need to be enough for me right now.

Are any of these prayers the prayer you need to pray today?  Maybe there’s a variation – listen to the Holy Spirit speak with you about the conflict in your life.  And may you be humble, for humility is the anti-dote to the disease of unhealthy conflict in your life.

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