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Slaves to Praise

For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. John 12:43

Hey, Mom, Gabe-Age-Eight hollers, a Yertle atop his big brother and Papa.

Take a picture of this. It would be really good on Facebook. People would really like to see it. 

Mom squirms. The apple has landed. Not too far. I smile at my happy stack of man-folk and wince.

Hey, Mom-hurry! I might fall off. Get your camera fast.

I go. Not so fast, cringing and grinning, both. And I take the picture. But I don’t post.

Hey, Mom- aren’t you gonna post it? I know what you could say, ya’ know- the caption? Call it, “Ride ‘Em Cowdad.” 

A Hard Saying

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  John 5:44

Was that a throwaway line to his audience, to the unbelieving Jews Jesus had just said, refuse to come to me to have life? Was it just a stream-of-thought from the Son of Man, on his way to feed five thousand? No, never. Were any of our Lord’s words ever throw-away? Ever?

Here, and again in John 12:43, we have one of those hard sayings of Jesus. Those either/or, mutually exclusive, this-but-not-that type of deals. Either serve God or money. Either be a slave to sin or a slave to obedience. Either love the world or have the love of the Father.

Either believe in me or love man’s praise. Yup. He said that, too.

A text without a context is a pretext. The context of Jesus’ words was to unbelieving Jews. They’d just seen him do a big sign. He healed a paralytic on the Sabbath. And still with signs, and with and searching the Scriptures for eternal life they refused to come to Jesus to have life. 

But the bigger context, the bigger reason for these hard words of Jesus that John recorded is stated in John 20:31. These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. That’s not they and we-here, now, you, me, praise-craving, infected souls-to whom Jesus spoke this hard saying. It’s not just for those Jews then. It’s for us now.

It’s for me. I believe, and yet, Help my unbelief. When good deeds to be seen, and liked, and praised by man I act as an unbeliever. I do not set my heart on things above but on earthly things. I choose the quick buzz. I choose the puny praise. I don’t delay gratification. At the moment I post, or pose, or seek man’s applause, I don’t believe God’s praise is worth more. I’m acting like a hypocritical Pharisee, a praise-craving junkie, seeking another fix. I act like a functional atheist.

And it’s not just Facebook. The itch for man’s praise has been around since the Fall. The essence of the fall, is choosing our glory, or pleasure over the pleasure that comes from perfect union and obedience to God’s good will. All have sinned and fall short of his glory. And in perfect contrast, Abraham, we, grow strong in our faith when we give glory to God.

A Morbid Concern

Are you with me? Do you feel the itch, the twitch, the need for man’s praise? Do you feel it on Facebook when the likes stop coming? At work when the boss doesn’t notice or your colleagues don’t care? At home when your spouse doesn’t praise and the kids don’t thank? Do you feel it?

Over half-century ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached a this sermon on John 5:44. We are, he said,

[A]nimated by this one desire to receive praise and glory from one another. To receive honor means to seek honor, to desire and live for honor. It is to have it as your life’s ambition. He lives to have man’s honor and to give it to others. It has everything to do with the state of our soul.  

This [praise-craving behavior] is never more evident than today. Our agencies of publicity, our media, have been multiplied more than ever before so this thing can be practiced and carried out. The whole of life today is carried out on this very basis. All the time, the money, to keep this going. It’s what John calls, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Look at all the trouble people take to meet important people, just to say they met. It’s in books and papers. They are all writing for one another. It’s driven by a desire for reputation. Self-praise is involved-self-advertising. 

I’m amazed how people can be so fond of looking at their own photographs, of having them plastered all over the place. Self-advertising, dropping a hint here and there, making things known. You see it in the gossip paragraphs. Receiving honor one from another. We have a morbid concern for the opinion of others. 

It makes belief impossible, this life than consists in giving honor one to another. It is so external. Is there anything more superficial than giving honor one of another? It is such an external attitude toward life. It cares nothing for the inner man of the heart. For that which is highly esteemed before men is abomination in the sight of God. 

How to Slay the Praise-Craving Dragon

How can we defeat the dragon? How do we fight our morbid love of man’s praise? We all, to one degree or another, want somebody to notice when we do something good. Praise just tastes so good. But it’s addictive and deadly to faith. We won’t be mastered. By God’s grace, we won’t be overcome.

In a 6-minute Ask Pastor John podcast, Piper takes on the question, How can I conquer the love of human praise? Here are three ways we can fight off the praise-craving dragon inside us.

1. Hate hypocrisy. Your own. 
Thus when you give to the needy sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Matthew 6:2

Slaves to man’s praise do good, but the good they do is only incidental to what they really want. Sure, this side of heaven, motives will be mixed. But ask yourself, What’s driving me first? When we do a praiseworthy thing-when we cook a meal or give flowers, sing on stage or write a check- all for good, servant purposes, mind you, but when we’re doing it to be seen– APPLAUSE PLEASE- we are hypocrites. And Jesus hated hypocrisy.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by hating your own hypocrisy. Do the thing because it praiseworthy, not because you’re praise-craving.

2. Don’t settle. Visualize the prize.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. For then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

“They have received their reward.” We lose something great and we gain something pitiful when we settle for man’s praise. We get man’s short-lived kudos and likes and applause. But the buzz is incredibly fleeting. Facebook is heroin to praise-craving souls. The buzz is fast and big and gone. We might gain 10, 50, or 100-like reward but beware. On or off Facebook, so many of us are insecure and needy of people’s praise in order to be happy and feel satisfied. Let’s not settle.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by remembering not to settle. Set your heart on things above. Don’t to trade God’s great reward for man’s puny praise.

3. Keep Secrets. From your left hand. 
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

Seriously. Practice doing good deeds, giving gifts, in secret. Or at least in secret to all but right hand. Cultivate friendships with least of these people who can’t repay you. Who can’t say thanks, or repay in kind one day. Children and elders and people with disabilities might be just the type you need. God knows they need you and he is immensely pleased when we welcome and care for these. He sees.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by cultivating relationships with folks who won’t give you praise. Practice keeping your good deeds secret. Hide them. He sees.

*   *   *   *   *

I didn’t post Ride ‘Em Cowdad. I had an itch for a quick fix. But I didn’t post this time. I didn’t because I’m in rehab and fighting a faith-killing disease and slaying a dragon. 

And I want to love the praise of One more than the praise of man.

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart,
by the Spirit, not by the letter.
His praise is not from man but from God. 

Romans 2:29

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Facebook, Friction & Growth

The appeal of digital fellowship often arises from the lack of friction, either keeping people together or holding them at a remove from each other…However, by holding me in relation with people who are unlike me and often opposed to me, the friction of materiality forces me to grow in healthy ways that I might not otherwise choose.       -Alasdair Roberts

Has this happened to you? 

You log-off Facebook to re-enter the “real world.” That’s where you brush real shoulders and shake real hands and listen to real folks talk. And where you might deflate a bit and be brought back to size. Smaller, most likely.

Odds are, if you have a strong social media presence-or wish you did– it’s happened to you. Maybe you felt it as you sat at a meeting or when you walked into church or sipped coffee with off-the-FB-grid friends. WhooooshThere you are, feeling shrunken, unnoticed, and undervalued. As in, These people have no idea who I really am. If they only knew about that last 50-like post. (Blush.)
Tony Reinke knows us, and he’s at it again-stirring us Christians up and forcing us to think deeply about the our use of social media. Tony’s whole article-his interview with British tech thinker and author, Alasdair Roberts- is well worth the 15 minutes it will take you to read. (Longer to digest.) 

But if time’s tight, here’s a 2 minute taste. Italics are mine.
[S]peak to the person who has a strong presence in social media, and they show up to church on Sunday where they feel undervalued, misunderstood, and unappreciated. What advice do you have for them to know that, yes, they are likely exactly where God wants them to be? 

I have been struck by how distorted an impression of social reality online media can give. The sharp sense of dissonance between our “strong presence” in social media and our seeming lack of “presence” in the Sunday morning meeting can be illuminating of this. When we experience this sense, it is perhaps a sign of our excessive self-regard that our first thoughts run to our supposed right to be more appreciated, rather than to the fact that so many of the people we worship with in our churches have little or no presence in our privileged and exclusive circles on social media. 

Our online contexts are dominated by relatively affluent, cosmopolitan, Western, highly educated, literate and articulate, young, middle-class persons. Children, the elderly, the poor, those with less education or lower levels of literacy, and persons from less cosmopolitan and non-Western contexts are largely invisible. That is, the majority of the human race.

How do you break free from the constant lure of online likemindedness in order to jump into the awkwardnesses of embodiment? What do you tell yourself?   

In resisting the lure of online likemindedness I have been spurred by a recognition that homogeneous communities tend to have exaggerated blindspots and unaddressed weaknesses. Exposure to the challenge of people who perceive, experience, inhabit, and understand the world differently is a necessary spur to growth. To the extent that online communities are homogeneous or homogenizing, it robs us of this. 

I have also come to appreciate that the problem isn’t solely with the “likeness” dimension of likemindedness, but also with the “mindedness.” Social media is an abstract realm that consistently privileges the mind over the body. However, the Christian faith has always been grounded in the life of the body. As Christians we don’t just share beliefs, open up about our feelings, and give opinions: We share meals and open our houses to others; we give to those in need, we meet together, and are physically present to each other. A “community” that lacks these elements is hardly worthy to be called a community at all.

To any of us who would bask in the glow of our social media presence, Roberts says, Embodiment is better. Carefully worded posts and posed pictures don’t often frustrate or rub us wrong. Which means they don’t help as much to grow us up into Christ. 

Presence among iron-sharpening, sometimes wrong-rubbing people can grow us in godliness more than our presence in a homogeneous happy-happy, like-like Facebook community. Which isn’t to say we forsake Facebook.* It is to say, however, that we don’t forsake physical assembling of ourselves together.

Physically present love grounds the life of the body

Follow the way of love. Love. Beyond word or tongue or comment or post. To action and truth. Frets and rubs– a bit of friction-help us grow in love. Let us not love in word or tongue but in action and in truth

Duly convicted, I’m, um, posting now and dashing off to bed. I want to be ready for morning. I want to welcome the warmth and growth that flesh-and-blood friction bring. I want to be ready for church. 

There, Lord willing, I’ll bring my embodied, none-too-smooth self and worship the Lord. A body that builds itself up in love

In friction-making, growth-stirring flesh-and-blood love. 
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25

*This is not to say we can’t express love and build the Body online, by being present in social media. More on that in an upcoming post.