What Brian Regan’s “Me-Monster” Teaches Us About Grace

me2

Brian Regan, a comedian, has a stand up bit about the “me-monster”,? that obnoxious person at a dinner party who insists on talking about his or her accomplishments and insists on one-upping any other person?s story. Reegan wonders during the bit ?what is it about the human condition, people get something out of that?? (2:39 in the linked video) It?s a prescient question.

I?d like to take the question a bit further. Why do people get something out of that same one-upmanship when it comes to forgiveness from God? ?Oh you were forgiven for what you did? Well I did this! There?s no way He?d forgive me.? The me-monster strikes again. Something about that perversity in the human condition makes it more satisfying to win the one-up competition than acknowledge that God can actually forgive whatever it is you did. And I do mean whatever.

Or maybe it?s that you actually struggle to believe you could be forgiven and the me-monster persona is simply a bold face on an empty and fearful soul. Whether it is genuine braggadocio or a false front, the persona is pride. It is a statement that your sin, whatever it might be, has one-upped God?s grace.

But think back to the stories of scripture, those characters littered throughout its pages. Some of us might have had Sunday school teachers that did us the disservice of using biblical characters as mythical heroes. Really, though, they were case studies in the profound grace God has on sinners of all varieties. Adam and Eve, the originals. Noah the drunk and Jacob the liar (and cheat). David the murderous adulterer. Zacchaeus the thief. Mary Magdalene the demon possessed. Thomas the doubter, Peter the coward, and Paul the thug. Imagine a dinner party with these folks trying to one-up each other. And yet these were the chosen ones of God to be His patriarchs, His kings, His friends, and His apostles.

What is it about the human condition that makes us withdraw into our me-monster shell before God, even in the glow of His grace? Is it so satisfying to win a competition where the result is losing forgiveness, losing peace?

At the end of Regan?s bit he talks about how he wishes he was one of the astronauts who had walked on the moon so he could sit quietly at that dinner party by while the one-uppers yacked on. Then, in a pause between brags he could simply say ?I walked on the moon.? And the me-monsters would be silent. If a man who walked on the moon can silence his one-uppers, how much more the God that made that very same moon? There is no one-upping God?s grace for it truly is ?grace greater than all our sin.?

Who Carries the Load?

photo by ralphrepo (Flickr)

Recently I was at the end of a busy work day, one of those days where the to-do list seems to get longer the more hours you put in. I was tired and beginning to grow weary. (You know the difference. When you?re just tired you look forward to rest but still feel satisfied with your work. When you?re weary, joy oozes out, discouragement creeps in, and you begin to think, ?I?m not sure I can keep this up.? Can you relate?) I knew this wasn?t a good change in my soul, so I started to pray before going home for the day ? though I must confess at first my prayers were mostly just reciting my troubles to myself.

But God is merciful even to faltering prayers, and He began to work on my heart. Here?s what I realized: I feel weary because I try to carry burdens that aren?t mine to carry. There are things that I legitimately have responsibility for, which I must work and labor it. But God never intends for me to carry the ultimate responsibility for those things. A father might, in order to bless his son and involve him in the father?s work, ask the son to hold a wrench or even tighten a bolt while the father works on the car ? but that doesn?t mean the son is supposed to take over responsibility for fixing the family vehicle!

So often our weariness comes from trying to take ultimate responsibility for something God only intends for us to take limited, temporary responsibility for. You?re called to be a faithful parent to those little twitching bundles of energy that can?t sit still through an entire meal, but you?re not called to be their savior and to ensure that they make it through college, get a good job, find a spouse, and serve the Lord all the days of their lives. That?s fixing the car when God only asked you to hold the wrench. You?re called to work diligently today and make wise decision with your money today, but you?re not called to plan for every financial disaster that you might one day face as a result of a collapsing economy, a depression, or invasion by aliens from Mars. You?re not God. Just hold the wrench.

So are you, as I so often do, carrying burdens that aren?t yours to bear? Here?s what God would have you do: go to your Father in repentance for the pride that lies behind such efforts, and then transfer your burdens deliberately and specifically to Him. ?Father, I?ve tried as best as possible today to discipline my child and be a faithful parent. But I transfer the burden of his soul and his future into your mighty hand.? Repent and transfer. That?s all God asks!

1 Peter 5:6-7: ?Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.?

1 Peter 5:6-7? ?? Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,? 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
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Who Carries the Load?

Recently I was at the end of a busy work day, one of those days where the to-do list seems to get longer the more hours you put in. I was tired and beginning to grow weary. (You know the difference. When you?re just tired you look forward to rest but still feel satisfied with your work. When you?re weary, joy oozes out, discouragement creeps in, and you begin to think, ?I?m not sure I can keep this up.? Can you relate?) I knew this wasn?t a good change in my soul, so I started to pray before going home for the day ? though I must confess at first my prayers were mostly just reciting my troubles to myself.

But God is merciful even to faltering prayers, and He began to work on my heart. Here?s what I realized: I feel weary because I try to carry burdens that aren?t mine to carry. There are things that I legitimately have responsibility for, which I must work and labor it. But God never intends for me to carry the ultimate responsibility for those things. A father might, in order to bless his son and involve him in the father?s work, ask the son to hold a wrench or even tighten a bolt while the father works on the car ? but that doesn?t mean the son is supposed to take over responsibility for fixing the family vehicle!

So often our weariness comes from trying to take ultimate responsibility for something God only intends for us to take limited, temporary responsibility for. You?re called to be a faithful parent to those little twitching bundles of energy that can?t sit still through an entire meal, but you?re not called to be their savior and to ensure that they make it through college, get a good job, find a spouse, and serve the Lord all the days of their lives. That?s fixing the car when God only asked you to hold the wrench. You?re called to work diligently today and make wise decision with your money today, but you?re not called to plan for every financial disaster that you might one day face as a result of a collapsing economy, a depression, or invasion by aliens from Mars. You?re not God. Just hold the wrench.

So are you, as I so often do, carrying burdens that aren?t yours to bear? Here?s what God would have you do: go to your Father in repentance for the pride that lies behind such efforts, and then transfer your burdens deliberately and specifically to Him. ?Father, I?ve tried as best as possible today to discipline my child and be a faithful parent. But I transfer the burden of his soul and his future into your mighty hand.? Repent and transfer. That?s all God asks!

1 Peter 5:6-7: ?Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.?

Humble, Yet Sort Of…Humble

pepe-le-pew

Anybody reading this remember Pepe Le Pew?

If not, Pepe Le Pew is a skunk in Looney Tune’s pantheon of cartoon characters that features Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird and Daffy Duck.

I only remember one line Pepe ever said, and I regularly quote it to my wife.? In one episode, after doing something successful, Pepe said in his French accent, “Makes me feel humble, yet sort of proud.”? That statement rings so true to my sinful motivations it’s uncanny.? It’s so tempting to be proud of “my” puny accomplishments.? I must seem as comical and absurd to God as Pepe Le Pew.

In 2 SA 7 David thought he would do something great for God – build him a house to dwell in.? But God sent Nathan the prophet to tell David it wasn’t about what he would do for God, but what God would do for him.

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ?Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel.? And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth’ (8,9).

God says, “David, don’t forget that I took you from tending sheep in the field and made you King of Israel.? I’ve been the one that’s given you success.”? God then goes on to tell David that rather than David building him a house, God would give David a heritage.

In other words, what did David have to boast about?? He hadn’t done anything for God; God had done everything for him.? I love David’s humble response:

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, ?Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? … Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.? Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears (18, 21-22).

Whenever God enables us to do anything for him, we should pray similarly – “Who am I that you have brought me thus far?? You have saved me from hell and brought about any good I’ve accomplished.? Any success in my school or family or work or ministry is all from you.? Therefore YOU are great, O Lord God.? There is none like YOU.”

Makes me feel humble, yet sort of….humble.

photo by annalise.ellen

Pride and Arrogance 101


Good morning class, my name is Stephen Altrogge and I’ll be your instructor this semester in ‘Pride and Arrogance 101′. What qualifies me to teach this class? Well, to put it simply, I’ve written the book on pride and arrogance. Actually, I did write a book called I’m Better Than You, Deal With It but the publishers couldn’t see its brilliance. Fools.

Anyway, you may call me ‘Professor Altrogge’, or by one of my three nicknames (depending on which country you’re from): Sir Incredible, Senior Brilliance, or Monsieur Magnific. I am the country’s leading expert on pride and arrogance and I speak out of my vast experience. You should count it a privilege to look up to me. Today we’ll be examining the three basic laws of pride and arrogance. Once we master these, we’ll move on to bigger and greater things.

The Law of Always Being Right

Law number one is that you are always right on every subject. You must believe this at all times and at all costs, even when there is a vast amount of evidence to the contrary. The simple truth is, you are always right. You know that, and I know that, but not everyone around you knows that. And so you must labor to convince your peers that you hold the correct perspective on every subject. You must win every argument. Don’t let your opponents end a discussion believing that they’re right. Husbands, if you get into an argument with your wife, don’t back down. It’s crucial that you establish your position as right and hers as wrong. Don’t let silly things like cold, hard, evidence distract you from your main task of being right. Don’t let your mind even consider her ideas for a moment, because they’re obviously wrong. Take the high road, the ‘right’ road, if you get my drift (wink, wink). Once you believe that you’re always right, you’re on the road to excelling in pride and arrogance.

The Law of Criticism

If you’re always right, than it’s only natural that you regularly criticize those around you. As you can clearly see, any ideas other than your own are absolute rubbish, and worthy of the harshest criticism. Teenagers, don’t like the way your parents do things? I can understand why. After all, you’ve been alive for fifteen years and have a wealth of experience to draw upon. Remember, you’re right, no matter how much wisdom and life experience your parents have. So what should you do? Criticize them. If you’re going to excel in pride and arrogance, you simply must grow in criticism.

In addition, you must use extra care not to encourage anyone. This may mean turning a blind eye to some of the actions of those around you that would be classified as ‘admirable’ by lesser folk. If you’re going to be proud and arrogant, you must always be looking at and admiring yourself. You simply don’t have time to be pointing out nice stuff in other people. Which leads me to my third law of pride and arrogance.

The Law of Self-Admiration

If you’re going to be a pride and arrogance expert like me, you must start admiring yourself much more. How does one do this? Simple. Take a few moments and ponder any recent successes you’ve had. Then take credit for each success. Done well on the job? Played well in a basketball game? Gotten good grades? Seize hold of those and take credit for them. Does it matter that you were born with a brain that does well in school, or a body that can play sports? Of course not! You must take ALL the credit. If you do this, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an expert in the field of pride and arrogance.

Unfortunately that’s all we’ve got time for today. I’ll be holding office hours from 10-12 if you have anything you would like to talk about. I’m sure we’ll agree.

photo by Sarah Jane

Originally published February, 2008

It’s Good To Be Humbled

Brent, our church’s first pastor and the man who trained me, was back in town to visit and speak in our church.

Knowing he loved the sport, a number of golfers in the church decided to take him to a local course following the Sunday meeting. Though I’m not a golfer they invited me along for the fun and fellowship.

It was a drizzly day, but we were committed. Because all the other guys were golfers, they were prepared for the weather and had rain gear, hats, etc. I came completely unprepared. So in the clubhouse I secured a large trash bag, which I made into a makeshift parka by slitting holes for my head and arms.

Neither did I have golf shoes like everyone else. I wore tennis shoes which provided no traction whatsoever, especially on wet grass.

So Mr. Doofus in his trash bag and slippery shoes strode out of the clubhouse to take on the fairway.

I was miserable all afternoon. Dripping wet, and slipping constantly in my tennis shoes, I occasionally needed help getting up the slopes on the course. When I’d get ready to drive the ball, the wind would come up beneath me and inflate the trash bag, impeding my swing. Many times I’d barely nick the top of the ball, driving it a good, oh, four inches. Other times I’d miss completely. And when I did manage to connect, I ejected balls into woods, water and other dimensions never to return again.

By the time we got to the last hole, I was thoroughly disgusted. I’m pretty sure my mocking buddies weren’t even keeping my score. And I was wet to the bone despite my billowing trash bag. Sidling up to my ball on the tee, I looked toward the hole. It lay off in the distance beyond a pond. I decided I was going to smash the ball as hard as I could. Cream it. Crush it. I imagined everyone’s jaws dropping as my ball vanished into the heavenlies, only to reappear on the green, 2 inches from the hole.

I whipped the club back over my shoulders as far I could. Vertebrae cracking, neck craning at an inhuman angle, I could see the whole club dangling before me. With all my might I brought the club around, breaking the sound barrier.

Unfortunately, the head of the club plowed into the grass a full foot in front of the ball. The forward motion of the club stopped, but the powerful torque I’d generated, in combination with the slick bottoms of my tennis shoes on the wet grass, launched my feet arcing skyward. I hung suspended in the air. I saw scenes from my childhood. I left my body, coolly taking in the whole scene from above. Then suddenly I slammed onto my back, splattering the soaked earth, hands and feet flailing.

My friends convulsed and squealed with laughter like stuck pigs. “I can’t believe you did that!” one screamed, gasping for air. “I wish I had a video camera,” another shrieked, tears streaming from his eyes. “I’d have $10,000 on Funniest Videos.” It was a full five minutes before anyone could compose himself enough to play. And they told and retold the tale with raucous guffaws every time another foursome returned to the clubhouse.

I forgave them, of course, because it was funny and I know how to laugh at myself. But someday they’ll be sorry when they find horse heads in their golf bags.

photo by leonrw

Sleepy Dependent People

I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. (Psalm 3:5)

Because God knows that we’re both forgetful and self-sufficient, he’s kindly woven many reminders into each day that we are dependent on him. Sleep is a beautiful example of this.

On average we need somewhere between six and eight hours of sleep every night. Things begin to unravel when we don’t get those precious hours. I remember being at a conference with a friend who had only gotten two hours of sleep the previous night. He informed me that during the morning session he actually lost the ability to focus his eyes on the speaker. Without sleep our bodies fall apart.

Our daily need for sleep is a daily reminder that we need God. Sleep is a divine Post-It note with the following words written in bold, capital letters: YOU ARE NOT GOD. Only God doesn’t slumber or sleep, and he’s the one who keeps life flowing through our bodies while we sleep. Sleep is a wonderful reminder that we’re weak, frail little creatures who turn into babbling idiots when deprived of sleep.

Every night before bed we have the God-given opportunity grow in humility by expressing our dependence and need for God. Let’s not let that opportunity slip by. Instead of drifting into dreamworld without a second thought, let’s seize the moment to express our desperate need for God. Let’s ask him to keep us breathing through the night, ask him for the gift of sleep, and praise him as the only one who doesn’t need sleep.

In doing these things sleep will become more than closing the eyes. It will be a means of glorifying God by humbling ourselves before him.

NOTE: Most of my thoughts on this have been shaped by C.J. Mahaney’s outstanding message A Biblical Understanding of Sleep.

Setting People Aflame

FlameI’m a pretty big fan of myself. If a Stephen Altrogge fan club existed, I would be the first to join. And the truth is, I want others to be big fans as well. I want people to associate my name with great songs, great preaching, great blogs, and great books. When people hear me preach I want them to come away saying, “Never since the days of Charles Spurgeon have we heard someone preach with such authority!” I want my name to be mixed in with words like “incredible”, “life-changing”, and “steals your breath away”. Why? Because I’m really proud and want people to worship me instead of God.

Can you relate? Maybe it’s not books or blogs, but computers or basketball. You don’t want people to think you’re a great preacher, but you would love for them to think you’re an incredible project manager. Or mom. Or intelligent college student. Or great elementary school teacher. You get the point.

When I see my pride it makes me sick. I want to have the attitude of Charles Spurgeon. Listen to these words from his autobiography:

While I was on the lower ground, riding in a hansom cab, I saw a light before me, and when I came near the hill, I marked that light gradually go up the hill, leaving a train of stars behind it. This line of new-born stars remained in the form of one lamp, and then another, and another. It reached from the foot of the hill to its summit. I did not see the lamplighter. I do not know his name, nor his age, nor his residence; but I saw the lights which he had kindled, and these remained when he himself had gone his way. As I rode along, I thought to myself, ‘How earnestly do I wish that my life may be spent in lighting one soul after another with the sacred flame of eternal life! I would myself be as much as possible unseen while at my work, and would vanish into eternal brilliance above when my work is done’

O let that be my attitude! That I might seek to serve God without any thought of personal glory. That I might set people aflame with love for God without ever being seen myself. That the glory of God would be my one, consuming obsession. I’m not there yet, but I want to be.

Lord humble me! You must increase, I must decrease.

Jealous John the Baptist

Old Church

Did John the Baptist ever get jealous of Jesus? I bet he was tempted. Check out John 3:26 –

And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

Just a short time before this John the Baptist was the toast of the town. People were flocking to him by the hundreds, all eager to repent and be dunked in the Jordan (hence John’s nickname). John was the evangelical rock star of the day, and his ministry was flourishing.

Then Jesus comes along and everything changes. Jesus heals festering lepers, puts life into rotting corpses, and preaches with heart-riveting power. People aren’t so interested in JTB any more. The success of Jesus takes away from the success of John.

Yet how does John respond to all this? You’d think he might throw a pity party and go munch on some grasshopper comfort food. But he doesn’t. He says:

The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease

At a wedding, the groom is the center of attention. Friends of the groom stand off to the side and joyfully let all glory fall on the groom. John knew that Jesus was the groom of history, and John found his joy in seeing Jesus magnified, even at the expense of his own success. John was happy to see himself grow smaller in the eyes of the world if it meant Jesus would become more famous.

There’s going to be many times when we’re surpassed by other people in realms of serving God. Someone will come along who teaches children more effectively, or does a better job leading small groups, or is a more effective worship leader, or writes better blog posts, or plays drums better. That’s why it’s crucial for us to cultivate John’s attitude of humility now.

We exist to glorify Christ. If someone else can do it better, let them. Let’s rejoice when others surpass us spiritually. God will be glorified and we’ll be filled with joy.

+photo by dariuszka

Becoming Great One Day At A Time

Ways I want to be great:

  • By writing a killer blog that’s read by thousands of adoring fans and receives comments like, “Hey Stephen, just happened to stumble upon your blog and got saved.”
  • By writing phenomenal worship songs that are sung around the world and that make Chris Tomlin jealous.
  • By preaching lights-out sermons that result in hundreds of conversions and also happen to start a nationwide revival.
  • By being the best athlete to set foot onto the basketball court, baseball diamond, football field, squash court, cricket field, bowling alley, or roller skating rink.

Notice the common thread running through all these? I want to be great in the eyes of the world. Basically I want to be the guy that gets picked first in life. What’s on your list? Want to be an office superstar? Trying to be Mr. Popular? Want to be loved by your coworkers? Been there.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the words of Jesus in Mark 10:42-45. He says:

You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Here’s the thing that blows my mind about these verses. Jesus doesn’t say that it’s wrong pursue greatness. In fact, in these verses there’s an implicit command to pursue greatness. Here’s the deal though. Greatness in God’s eyes is totally different than greatness in the world’s eyes. It’s not wrong for me to want to be great. I just want the wrong kind of greatness.

So how do I be truly great? By becoming a servant to those around me. If I want to be a truly great person, I must become a slave. Jesus, the greatest man to ever walk planet earth, made himself a servant. That’s the path to greatness.

Every day I need to ask myself two questions:

  • Do I want to be great today?
  • Who can I serve today?

Husbands, do you want to be great? Do the dishes for your wife. College students, do you want to be great? Help a classmate that’s having a particularly hard time with a class. Teens, make a point of hanging out with the unpopular kids at school. Great people are lowly servants. They’re not looking for public glory, they’re seeking to serve.

God, break me of my sick pride. Help me be a lowly, humble man, content to serve behind the scenes. Teach me to be a servant.

I Am Nothing

O Thou Most High
It becomes me to be low in thy presence.
I am nothing compared with thee;
I possess not the rank and power of angels,
but thou hast made me what I am,
and placed me where I am;
help me to acquiesce in thy sovereign pleasure.

In my lostness thou has laid help on the Mighty One
and he comes between to put his hands on us both,
my Umpire, Daysman, Mediator,
whose blood is my peace,
whose righteousness is my strength,
whose condemnation is my freedom,
whose Spirit is my power,
whose heaven is my heritage.

Taken from Contrition, in The Valley of Vision