Tag Archives: Humility

Why I admire people in the armed forces more than famous entertainers

I’ve noticed that many Christians can tell me a lot about famous entertainers. It doesn’t matter if it’s singers, musicians, actors, athletes, etc., they seem to know details of their biographies, achievements, etc. And it doesn’t really matter if those people are Christians, or whether they have performed actions consistent with a Christian worldview in their private lives.

Anyway, speaking for myself, I mostly admire two kinds of people. The first kind is the kind I blog about here all the time: Christian scholars engage non-Christians intellectually using logic and evidence. The second kind, as you can tell from my reading list, is people who distinguish themselves in conflict with those who oppose the principles and policies that allow me to live out my Christian life. And I am especially interested when people who are fighting evil (imperialists, Nazis, socialists, communists, leftists, etc.) exhibit Christ-like character in risking their lives to save others, or in giving their lives to save others.

Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot
Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot

Anyway, today is November 10th, so I have a war story to tell you that happened on November 10th, 1943.

Lieutenant (later Lieutenant Commander) Walter Lewis Chewning of Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, steps on the burning fuel tank of an F6F-3 Hellcat flown by Ensign (later Lieutenant) Byron Milton Johnson of Potter, Nebraska to effect a successful rescue of the pilot on November 10, 1943. Johnson had flown out to USS Enterprise from Barbers Point, Hawaii, enroute to Makin Atoll in the Gilberts to support the United States Army invasion, which occurred on November 20, 1943. The afternoon of November 10, Johnson took off in F6F Hellcat Number 30 for a routine training exercise. He immediately developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing. He was waved off three times as he struggled to maintain control, but his tail hook caught the third arresting gear wire, and Johnson’s Hellcat was slammed into the deck, coming to rest in the port catwalk. The plane came to rest on its external belly fuel tank, which started to leak. As the engine vibrated horribly as the propeller bent itself on the deck, sparks ignited the fuel. The hard landing had jammed Johnson’s canopy closed, shearing the retaining pin; he could not exit the plane. Chewning, who had joined the ship October 2, 1943 as Enterprise new catapult officer, scrambled out of the catwalk and came through the smoke. Stepping on the burning belly tank, he forced open the canopy and pulled Johnson to safety.

He received the two highest non-combat medals available:

Chewning was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.

He was a well-educated and accomplished person before joining the Navy:

Chewning played soccer and Lacrosse at Cornell while studying Mechanical Engineering, breaking his rib and left ankle in one game. He graduated in 1936 and studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Navy in January 1941. He was the assistant to the Chief Engineer at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before joining USS Enterprise. He served as Enterprise’s catapult officer until December 1944, when he transferred to Dutch Harbor Naval Air Station in Alaska as ordinance officer. Chewning served in the Navy until December 1949; he also was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war he assisted research and development for various aeronautical companies, the United States Air Force, and the fledgling National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Motion picture film of the crash, taken from Enterprise’s bridge, was shown as part of the television program “Victory at Sea” on January 25, 1953. Chewning and Johnson gave interviews to several newspapers about the accident after the program aired.

You can see a video clip of the rescue here, from 5:35 to 6:00. I found a colorized version of the picture above here:

Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot
Lt. Walt Chewning charges unto burning F-6F Hellcat to save trapped pilot

This image was colourized from the original by Paul Reynolds.

What I thought was interesting about Chewning was how he had everything going for him in terms of his education and career, but he chose to join the Navy anyway, in order to defend his country from Japanese imperialism. Those who understand how the Japanese treated prisoners and conquered peoples will know which side of that conflict was good, and which side was evil. Chewning wasn’t some sort of loser who took risks for fun and thrills. It had to be a risk where the prize was worth the risk. And he had the humility to consider others better than himself, so that their life was worth the risking of his own. Many people on the secular left who like to talk about how generous, compassionate and virtuous they are are unable to make moral judgments against evils like Japanese imperialism – much less take self-sacrificial action against them.

I just think that it’s important for young Christians to have the right kind of heroes. The heroes who are promoted to young Christians by the cultural elites are not usually the right role models. And there is a reason for that. The secular leftists don’t want young Christians to be emulating people who excel according to the standards of the Christian worldview. We are in a religion where self-sacrificial love is the centerpiece. Taking trouble on yourself for someone else. Doing your job, when it goes against your own self-interest. Let’s not allow a bunch of godless socialist celebrities to pick and choose who we hold in high regard.

Former inmate prays with the officer who arrested him eight years ago

Former inmate prays with the police officer who arrested him
Former inmate prays with the police officer who arrested him

This story is from the Daily Caller. Let’s take a look and then I’ll link it back to Christianity and parenting.

Excerpt:

Prompted by the slew of attacks on police officers, a former inmate who turned his life around, caused a social media frenzy by praying with the officer who arrested him eight years ago, asking God to protect police from violent criminals.

Texas City patrolman Salvador “Sal” Chapa was attending a barbecue on Saturday when he was approached by Doc Amey, a man he arrested eight years ago for a gun offense. So disturbed by the attacks on police, Amey pulled Chapa to the side of the crowd, where the two joined hands and said a prayer for the officer’s safety, according to ABC13.

Fellow barbecue-goer Kevin Woods was so touched by Amey’s prayer, that he snapped a picture of the pair and shared it on Facebook saying, “We should be seeing more of this in America. There shouldn’t be race involved and this is living proof that color doesn’t matter. This is a prime example. All lives matter ONE NATION UNDER GOD!”

According to the now-viral post, Amey was arrested by Chapa on a gun charge, and received a five year sentence for the crime. While in jail, Amey devoted his time to prayer and getting his life in order. He was released from prison after serving only a year and a half, and has since graduated from Bible college with perfect attendance.

According to Chapa, he and Amey had seen each other in town before, but never talked. Moved by the recent trend of attacks on police officers in America, the reformed criminal was compelled to approach the Chapa who arrested him nearly a decade ago, and ask God to protect the officer from the rampant crimes.

The picture has received nearly 30,000 Facebook shares, including a share by the Texas City Police Department’s official page.

“After seeing the picture getting posted and all, I was overwhelmed but at the same time I was happy it happened. I hope whoever views it looks at police in a different aspect. We’re here to help everybody,” Chapa told ABC13.

I want to be friends with that man. He is a good man!

So I want to make two points, one theological and one about parenting.

First point, Christians who read the Bible carefully will develop a tolerance for God chastising them with suffering, because they know it shapes their character to be more like Christ. This is the process of sanctification, where a Christian is made more like Jesus through the process of encountering the moral law, and learning how to obey it. If a Christian makes a wrong decision, and God lets him suffer, he praises God for teaching him right and wrong. He does not turn away from God, block him out of sight, and then continue to make bad decisions as if nothing had ever happened. Christians, of all people, need to be reading the Bible practically. We need to make ourselves comfortable with being judged, and not be rebellious when it happens. We need to learn to respect God and his moral law, and not make the same mistakes over and over.

Second point, about parenting. I think that there is a lot of hostility on the secular left towards parents who want to discipline their children. This story shows how disciplining is supposed to be done, and what the right response is to being judged and having boundaries placed on you. When a child stays up late and then sleeps right through a test and fails it, the parent should ground the child so that the child associates staying up too late the night before a test with a punishment. Most parents today would be mad at the teacher and the school for bruising the ego of their child. That’s wrong. It’s much better for the child to suffer a trivial punishment now, and not make much bigger mistakes with much bigger punishments later. In computer science, it costs MUCH LESS to fix a defect when it is discovered by the project team in the early requirements elicitation phase than it does to fix it if it’s discovered by customers after the deployment to production phase. Find the mistake early and fix it. The longer you wait, the more it costs to fix it.

Here’s a good passage from the Bible about accepting the suffering God allows you to experience after making a bad decision:

2 Samuel 12:1-13:

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him,“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.

The rich man had very many flocks and herds,

but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him.

Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan,“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die,

and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul.

And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.

Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’

11 Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun.

12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”

13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.

This attitude of being grateful for judgment and boundaries is not popular on the left. The left is all about not judging, and especially about not punishing. They call it compassion – letting people who make mistakes get away with it instead of teaching people who make mistakes a lesson that will make their future decisions better. I often see Christians refuse to judge other Christians when they make mistakes. Instead of warning them, we want to pray that their mistake will “work out”. My advice for people, and especially Christians, is to not run away from being judged and having boundaries placed on you – if they come from someone who is wiser and who loves you and is looking out for you on a long-term basis. Parents are like that, most of the time.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less

Buddy breathing
Buddy breathing

Note: I am re-posting a series of five Bible studies this week that I wrote last year. Every 2 PM post Monday to Friday this week will be a Bible study.

I have been getting into disagreements with the woman I am mentoring in apologetics, where she has been telling me that accurate assessments of my strengths are “proud” and that I need to be more humble. So I thought I would explain what I take humility to mean.

Here’s something from J. I. Packer:

“Being humble is not a matter of pretending to be worthless, but is a form of realism, not only regarding the real badness of one’s sins and stupidities and the real depth of one’s dependence on God’s grace, but also regarding the real range of one’s abilities. Humble believers know what they can and cannot do. They note both their gifts and their limitations, and so are able to avoid both the unfaithfulness of letting their God-given powers lie fallow and the foolhardiness of biting off more than they can chew.”

— J.I. Packer, “A Passion for Faithfulness: Wisdom From the Book of Nehemiah”

I think I can give an example here. Ever since I was young, I have wanted to do the PhD in computer science and become a Christian professor. I already have the BS and MS and I have been working in industry full-time for over 10 years. The money is there to do the PhD in computer science five times over, but I have not done it because I am not sure that I have what it takes to be a researcher. Sometimes people ask me what I studied and what I do for a living. I am accurate about my degrees, my resume and my savings, and what I am doing and can do with my resources. But I am also accurate in saying that doing a PhD takes a whole different level of commitment and sacrifice. And I am humble enough to know that it is beyond me, at least at this time. I lack the support to do it. God hasn’t given me a mentor or a wife. So I am humble about not “biting off more than I can chew”. That is real humility. But trying to pretend I don’t have any skills, haven’t made any good decisions, or that I am lousy with money is not humility.

Here’s her most favorite theologian, A. W. Tozer:

“The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and as helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring.”

— A. W. Tozer, “The Pursuit of God”

So let’s talk about some cases where I feel I am humble, but my apologetics mentoree doesn’t see it.

I know that there were things that I wanted, and things that I wanted to do in this life. Getting married early was one of them, and keeping chaste as my 20s passed by has been hard. I really wanted to be married by now and to have children and a home. If you are looking for some sort of evidence of humility in a person, that is a good place to look: how far has this person been willing to go along with God’s purposes and rules, even when it meant not fulfilling their own needs and goals? Humility means not thinking of your own goals and needs. It means following the rules even when you know you aren’t being fulfilled. Although I have the resources to just grab for happiness, I won’t break God’s rules to do it.

Let’s get specific with that. There are lots of things that I would like to do for fun that cost money – like learning how to fly a plane, or buying an even faster car than I have now, or taking scuba diving lessons. For some people, it might be surfing, hang-gliding or skydiving. These entertainments cost money, but that money could just as easily be donated to a Ratio Christi event or a Faith Beyond Belief event. That’s humility – putting God’s needs above your own needs in stewardship of resources. Even though you have a right to be happy with what you earn, you can humble yourself and share and go without thrills and entertainment. I almost never spend money on entertainments. The argument “but you only live once, you have to experience this now” means nothing to me. I like to stay home.

Humility also comes into play when deciding what I should do with my life. I think all of us would like to be William Lane Craig or Stephen C. Meyer or Jay Richards or Michael Licona. Standing up on stage, smashing atheism into the floor with both hands. I would love to be that. To do that, though, I would have to go back to school and spend tens of thousands of dollars on PhDs, and then write books and papers. That would eat up the savings that I need for a family. Then I could be famous and awesome, like my heroes. But I choose not to sacrifice tens of thousands of dollars on my dream, when my money and the money of other Christians who might support me could be better used for God’s Kingdom by the more skilled scholars who already exist. Maybe there is someone getting a PhD in Biochemistry who I could help out instead, just by keeping my job and doing with a little less entertainment. Humility means being content with your part in the Kingdom, and not trying to be something you’re not. Letting other people have the spotlight, while you just quietly help them from the shadows. It takes real faith in God to be that humble… to work in secret, and to depend entirely on Him for your accolades.

So how to be more humble? One good way is to sit down with someone you trust and confess things that you have done wrong, or things that you failed at. That’s what I do with her, and it helps to remind me of my limitations. I try to confess my failures in achieving the things that I wanted to achieve all the time. I recommend that to everyone. It’s not hard for me, I think a lot about my failures. The missed opportunities, the things I never got to do. Sometimes, you can have the best of intentions, and things just don’t work out. It’s good to confide in someone else when that happens. So if there is someone who you would like to be more humble, maybe the best thing to do is to ask them about their mistakes and regrets, and then just listen to them. That will work.

What does it take to be a good spiritual leader? What does following Jesus mean?

Theology that hits the spot
Theology that hits the spot

I think it’s pretty clear from the gospels that if Jesus did anything, he certainly died for our sins in obedience to God his Father. He did this not because it was fun and thrilling, but because he though it would be effective on our behalf. I’m sure that Jesus would have preferred to go do fun things, have nice vacations, etc. But instead, he chose the suffering and the death. And for those of us who claim to be Christian, we should be careful that we are not living our lives in the constant pursuit of pleasure as well. There is no place for that in Christianity – we need to be about the work of identifying with Jesus’ example of suffering, self-denial, self-sacrifice.

Matthew 16:24-27:

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

Matthew 23:12-12:

12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

John 12:25-26:

25 He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal.

26 If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.

Our lives are supposed to be about taking up our crosses and following Jesus. Not having fun or pursuing thrills. Sometimes I say that to people I mentor who have been raised in the church, who love to read devotionals and Bible study, who love to go to church. And what I find is that they disagree and think that the purpose of life is to do easy things that make them feel good and that make other people think that they are something special. It is an article of faith for them that you can make a difference for God by choosing the easiest, funnest and most thrilling option throughout your life and that God will work this into an effective life. But Jesus didn’t think like that. In fact, I cannot think of a single case in the Bible where Jesus chose fun and thrills. Jesus chose the cross. He was not trying to have good feelings or to be liked by lots of people. And we are supposed to be following in his steps.

Christian self-sacrifice is all about denying desires and interests which interfere with our ability to follow Jesus. For example, one of my goals is to follow Jesus through charity. So I went into a field that was not easy for me, took jobs that I did not like, and put away investments instead of spending – all so that I would be able to invest in others as a way of imitating the self-denial and self-sacrifice of Jesus, with the goal of making a difference. I am trying to stop looking out for number one, and starting looking out for Jesus. And if I have to do things that I don’t feel like doing, well so much the worse for me. And let me tell you, investing in people who then betray you at the deepest level is no fun. And yet I must keep giving away money to people joyfully, even after this happens. I have to continue to care for others and to deny myself. It is not good for my self-love and self-esteem to be hurt when I invest in others, but it is following Jesus.

So I want to say three things about this based on my own personal experiences.

The first thing to say is that a good spiritual leader is one who leads us to be more like Jesus. And that means helping us be better less interested in fun, less interested in thrills, less interested in travel, less interested in vanity. And so on. For example, if what you are trying to do with your life now is the exact same thing that you were trying to do with your life before you became a Christian, it’s a good sign that you are deceiving yourself that your plan is from God. A good spiritual leader is able to spot when you are wrapping your pre-conversion desire in a cloak of religious language. In my own case, if you ask me to lead you, you’ll find that I’ll push you away from things that do not work to serve God. But there’s more to self-denial than just avoiding fun, there’s self-control. Don’t do stuff just so that you can tell everyone about it on Facebook. An outspoken supporter of intelligent design I know proudly posted that she had been admitted to a prestigious graduate school on her Facebook page, and she lost her academic adviser. We need to have humility, wisdom and self-control if we expect to have an impact for Christ. A good spiritual leader can sense when you are just doing stuff in order to impress other people, and he will tell you not to do that.

The second thing to say is that a bad spiritual leader does not make us more like Jesus. A bad spiritual leader is someone who says yes to other people in order to be liked by them. He is not able to understand what will and will not work – especially in areas where he has no experience. A bad spiritual leader is someone who is more concerned about making a name for himself by using Christianity to become popular and admired. A bad spiritual leader is someone who lacks self-control. Instead of looking around to others to see how he can help them, he looks out for himself and undermines others for his own benefit. Instead of seeking the good of others, he helps himself to good things for his own appetites, and takes away the good things that others need. I also think that in general, a bad spiritual leader is someone who lacks life experience. For example, do not take advice on professional and financial matters from someone who is still a student in her late 20s and who has never worked a paid job. She will not know what you should do financially or professionally.

The final thing I have to say is about the kind of person who rejects a good spiritual mentor and chooses a bad one. I want to advise you to be careful about rejecting people with real experience of following Jesus. That is, people who have actually engaged in acts of self-denial, self-sacrifice, etc. in order to be more like Christ. People who have studied things they did not like. Worked at jobs they did not want to. Given away money to people who did not appreciate it. Mentored people to serve God who were rebellious and emotional. Do not choose people who are easy to control, e.g. – people who are younger or less mature than you are, to be your mentor. Do not choose people who say yes to your desire to feel good or to have fun because they only want to be liked by you. Be careful of choosing advisers who lack maturity and who are easy to manipulate because of their need for attention. It’s better to prefer the people who labor in service to others without wanting attention drawn to themselves. It’s better to prefer the people who tell you no and point you towards self-denial, self-control and self-sacrifice. This is real spiritual leadership – pointing you towards the example of Jesus.

If you look back in your past and see yourself making bad decision after bad decision because you hid things from good spiritual leaders so you could have fun, you know you are vulnerable to doing this. If you know you have sought out the approval of poor inexperienced leaders deliberately, then you ought to know better. You cannot make a bad plan work by pushing away mature spiritual leaders and surrounding yourself with young, immature, emotion-driven advisers. You need to prefer people who tell you the truth about what you are doing, even if it is uncomfortable for you – that is the wise thing to do. Do not seek out advisers who tell you that your feelings are the voice of God speaking to you – that is just telling you what you want to hear. The first part of exercising self-control is not letting your emotions affect strategic decisions.

If you want to read more about self-denial, here’s a lecture to read by Charles Finney.

Does the Christian life require unpopularity and self-sacrifice?

This post on Eric Chabot’s Think Apologetics blog made me think of someone I’ve been talking to about her life plan. He lists out the components of the gospel in long-form, then asks whether millenials are hearing that in church.

Excerpt:

What Gospel are millennials hearing? The “Jesus will meet all my needs” Gospel?

To summarize  “The Kerygma” of the early Christian community:

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

Conclusion: If millennials are hearing a Gospel that doesn’t mention any of these points, they aren’t hearing the Gospel at all!

[…]Churches need to emphasize that we are called to be servants. Hence, we are looking for Servants! And this means there will be self denial. And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.– Luke 9:23.

Do you know what this mean to its original hearers? The cross may be viewed as a symbol of love. But when we look at the first century context, to a Jewish person the cross was not a badge of honor but instead a sign of rejection and embarrassment. In other words, the cross meant misunderstanding, rejection by others, ridicule, etc. In other words, to take up our cross is death to our own reputations, our honor and how we are perceived by others.

In a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for millennials who have been told The American Dream is the way of happiness. 

I think we need to warn young people that just being willing to serve God does not reward bad planning. I know people in full-time ministry now who are facing a very challenging environment with fewer and fewer donations. It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew, and then blame God for not following through.

I think in my own life, I’ve probably been too defensive, but I still think I’ve been able to score points while on defense. I never believed that I could make risky decisions and then have God automatically bail me out. I just tried to serve the best I could, within the bounds of prudence and frugality. I guess I am trying to say that I can easily see how being overly ambitious could end badly, and I would hate to see someone bail out on God because they incorrectly thought that he would reward sincere desires with happiness. In the real world, what produces results is good planning and accurate budgets. Count the cost.