Foot In the Door
Don’t let the devil get his foot in the door.
Dale Hays once wrote in Leadership magazine about a trip he made to Haiti. While there, he heard a Haitian pastor tell the people a parable, which went like this:
A man put his house up for sale. He found a potential buyer, but the man was so poor he could not afford the full asking price. After a lot of haggling, the owner agreed to sell the house for half price, with one stipulation: he would retain ownership of one nail sticking out above the front door.
After a few years, the original owner wanted the house back, but the new owner was unwilling to sell. So, the original owner found the carcass of a dead dog, and hung it from the single nail he still owned. Soon the stench made the house unlivable, and the man was forced to sell his house to the former owner.
The Haitian pastor was trying to teach his people, that, if we leave the Devil with one small peg in our life, he will return to hang his rotting garbage on it.
We all tend to judge things by size. Big things are important; little things much less significant. That is why the devil’s “foot-in-the-door” strategy is especially dangerous. “It’s just a foot, after all,” we reason, “how harmful could that be?”
But, deep inside, we know better. The small, daily choices we make are far more significant than the few “major decisions” in the arc of our lives.
When I’m on a diet, I never decide to pig out on an entire bag of potato chips. I just tell myself, “How bad could one measly handful of chips be?” After the first handful I say, “Okay, but that was a small handful. Just one more . . .” When the feeding frenzy is over, there’s nothing left but an empty bag.
We cannot completely avoid the presence of temptation. But we can control the “foot in the door.” In other words, no matter how holy you are, you are still going to bump into lots of bags of potato chips. The crucial moment of temptation comes earlier than we usually suppose. The best time to resist temptation is not after eating “just one handful”; the best time to exercise self-control is before we shove our hand into the bag.
Starlings are a major nuisance in many parts of our country. Unlike many other birds, they roost together. They can completely carpet an area with their whitewash, and emit a stink that could kill a cow at a hundred paces.
Did you know these pests are not native to North America? Starlings first came to America when Eugene Schieffelin fashioned the noble dream of introducing to America every bird found in Shakespeare’s works. If you’re working with our theme at all, you already know my point: someone should have murdered Shakespeare before he started writing about birds! (I’m kidding, okay? I love Shakespeare.)
I am certain, however, that if Eugene the Goofball had foreseen the consequences, he never would have opened the door.
When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t take the place of honor, because someone more honorable than you may have been invited. Then the one who invited you both will say to you, “Give this one your place.” And then, in disgrace, you will have to occupy the lowest place.
The sixth Academy Awards ceremony was held in 1934 in the Ambassador Hotel. Frank Capra already knew he would win the Oscar for Best Director, for his film, Lady for a Day.
The Master of Ceremonies that night was Will Rogers. He opened the envelope and remarked, “Well, well, well. What do you know? I’ve watched this young man for a long time. Saw him come up from the bottom, and I mean the bottom. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Come on up and get it, Frank!”
Frank Capra jumped up and made his way up front to accept his award. The spotlights swept over the audience. Capra hollered, “Over here!”
Capra strode up on the dais . . .and then the awful truth sank in. The winner was the “other” Frank – Frank Lloyd.
As Capra returned to his seat he later called it, “the longest, saddest, most shattering walk in my life.”
Frank Capra can easily serve as the “poster child” for Jesus’ teaching, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” If we do not choose humility, then we will receive humiliation.
Our egos can blind us to the painfully obvious truth that we are not the center of the universe. Rationally, of course, all people admit they’re not more important than anyone else. So, why don’t we behave the way we believe?
Wish I knew.
The desire to exalt ourselves is competitive – it also include the dark desire that others be lowered. We see this all day long in sports. We have tied our egos to a team; their victory on the field serves to exalt our sense of superiority. Sports is no longer about friendly athletic competition – it is about an obsession to feed our egos.
Which means what? Our obsession with winning is also our obsession with other teams losing? Don’t you think there is something sick about that?
The competitive desire to be singled out for honor, however, was not invented by modern civilization. Jesus’ own disciples wrangled frequently – arguing the case for their own superiority. We look back to that holy moment in the upper room as the night Jesus gave his church the Lord’s Supper. It’s difficult for us to also remember it as the night the disciples got into an argument over who was the greatest. The argument died down, apparently, when they saw Jesus kneeling to wash everyone’s feet.
Pride makes us step on others in order to stand higher. But Jesus is not impressed. True greatness, he thinks, is only found in humble service.
We All Win Together
Do nothing from selfish ambition or vanity. Instead, in humility consider others better than yourselves. Look out – not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Jesus lived in a “high status” culture. People were quite competitive about their ranking in society. Even where you sat at a meal indicated your rank.
Have you noticed how often Jesus’ disciples argue about rank? The gospels portray them as quite competitive. Jesus reveals for the first time that he is the Messiah, and that he will sacrifice his life for others. The disciples don’t get it. Soon Jesus catches them arguing about who is the greatest. When the kingdom comes in glory, James and John ask if they can have the highest seats of honor next to Jesus. Even at the Last Supper, Luke tells us the disciples were arguing about who is greatest.
In the end, however, Jesus transformed a handful of vain and self-centered followers into a body where no one was obsessed with outdoing the others. Just as all the parts of a body work for the good of the whole, so we are to be “one in spirit and purpose.” That is why Paul urges us that “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.”
Don’t get me wrong: competition is not always bad. High school sports are a form of competition. So is business. Even though these forms of competition can easily get out of hand, they are not inherently bad.
All the same, Jesus has made it clear that our purpose in the body of Christ is not to compete for the highest status, but to lower ourselves to serve. Those who kneel to wash the feet of others are the “greatest” in the kingdom.
Some Christian missionaries lived among the Agta Negritto people in the Philippines. They introduced them to the game of croquet. They gave everyone a mallet and a ball and showed them, not only how to hit the ball through the wickets, but how to knock someone else’s ball out of the way.
The Negrittos didn’t understand. “Why would I want to knock his ball out of the way?”
“So you can win!” the missionaries explained.
The Negritto people survive by working together as a community, so they did not understand this kind of competition.
The Negrittos ended up ignoring the missionaries’ advice. They shouted encouragement to each other until the last person completed the course and then they shouted, “We won! We won!”
That is how we live in the body of Christ. We all win together.
Don’t worry about anything. But in everything, with prayer and requests, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Years ago, I saw an odd thing. A pickup truck in an alley slowly crossed a street and made its way past me. That was not, however, the “odd thing.” What was unusual was that the truck was being driven by a dog.
A man parked his truck in the alley and left the engine running while he ran a quick errand. Apparently, his dog got behind the wheel and managed to bump the shift lever into gear. When the man returned to his vehicle, he found it a hundred yards down the alley – angled into a hedge.
There is a good reason why we don’t issue driver’s licenses to dogs. They’re lousy drivers.
Throughout my life I have wanted to be in the driver’s seat. If God would only answer all my prayers the way I ask them, everything would be so great. But He doesn’t. And, that is why I sometimes get anxious.
But this passage makes an amazing statement: it doesn’t say we will be at peace once God answers our prayers the way we want. Instead, it makes the wild claim that we can find peace as soon as we “present our request to God.”
Do you understand why this is so? If you think you can only be at peace when God gives you whatever you ask for, then it means you want to be in control. The fact is, though, we can steer the universe about as good as a dog can drive a truck.
Once a friend took me flying with him in a small plane. As we crested a mountain range we hit fairly severe turbulence. I white-knuckled the arms of my seat as we bounced along and the wings flapped like they were going to snap off. Now, suppose my pilot friend told me to take over the controls. Would that lessen my fear? No way.
Trying to take control from the one who knows best what to do always increases anxiety.
The Bible teaches us we can find peace before we get the request we want from God. Peace is found as soon as we pray. Why? Because, in prayer, we are taking all our worries and problems and making them God’s problem. We are trusting Him to know best how to guide and direct our lives.
Why don’t you take all your worries and bundle them up in a big bag? Make sure you have all of them in there. Then hand the bag over to the Lord. Tell Him what you need. He can take it from there.
And you can know a peace that is beyond understanding.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts. Neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
You’ve heard this passage many times, haven’t you? We use it when we are confused. When we don’t understand how God can love us and yet still treat us the way he does, we shrug, and quote these verses as a statement of trust.
What I’m going to next is not easy. When we are puzzled by the actions of God, we must learn to be humble like children – who often do not understand how their heavenly Father could love them and still treat them the way he does. All of you dads who take your little children to the clinic for immunization shots know exactly what I’m talking about. Your child is too little; you can’t explain why you are taking them into a strange place so that a strange nurse can administer a searing pain into their arm.
Because learning to trust God like a children is such a vital lesson to learn, what I am going to say next is not easy.
But here goes: this passage from Isaiah is not talking about the wisdom of God when he treats us in severe ways. It is not talking about learning to trust God – even when it seems as if He is not in control of things.
No. When God talks about His ways being higher than ours, do you know what he is referring to? His tender mercy! He’s not talking about his sovereignty but about his love.
Take a look at the verse right before it. “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
Don’t misunderstand me: God does allow us to experience painful times, and we can’t always understand why a loving God would do this. But here it is not God’s wise purpose that Isaiah is talking about, but the incomprehensible nature of a God who shows mercy and compassion to bad people (like us) and still wants to forgive them. God’s grace is so much higher than our ways or thoughts.
In the mid-1800s., Franz Liszt was one of the most renowned pianists alive. A young woman who was giving a piano recital advertised, falsely, that she was a former student of Liszt himself.
You can imagine her anxiety when she discovered that – the day before her recital – Liszt himself had arrived in her German town.
Grief-stricken, she found the famous composer’s hotel room and poured out her confession. She sobbed as she admitted her lie.
Liszt looked at her with sympathy. And the point of the story is: he forgave her. Right?
Yes. But he did more. He told her to sit down to the piano and play. After he gave her a few pointers he said, “Now that I have instructed you, you can truthfully claim that you are a pupil of Liszt.”
What an additional act of kindness on his part. So, that is the point, right?
Yes, but that is not all. He then told this young woman to also advertise that, at the end of the concert, the final number would be performed by Liszt himself.
Grace upon grace upon grace. That is how the Lord treats you. And that is why He says that His ways are higher than our ways.
Gift of Grace
Each one should use whatever spiritual gift he has received to serve others. . .
1 Peter 4:10
When we talk about spiritual gifts, we can easily get the wrong impression. The emphasis seems to be on the word “spiritual” – distinguishing it from “normal” gifts, such as being a talented musician or mechanic.
Surprisingly, the Greek word for “spiritual” is not even present in the term. Instead, if you translate it literally, it comes out like “grace gift.” The emphasis is not that the gift is “spiritual” or “miraculous,” but that it is a gift of God’s grace to us.
When God gives us grace, he is giving us something we haven’t earned. We don’t get it because we deserve it. It’s just a gift. When God washes us clean from our sin, it’s a gift. When he promises us eternal joy in heaven, it’s a gift.
As Jesus gave his life in sacrifice to us, he wants us to know the same kind of life. Whatever talent we have is a gift of grace, which we are not to use to promote our own glory, but to serve other people.
Using your talents to serve others doesn’t sound especially fun – at least not when you compare it to receiving admiration and becoming the focus of attention. But once you get the hang of what it really means to help others, there is no comparison.
Father and son, Frank and John Schaeffer, wrote a book, Keeping Faith. Marine recruit John Schaeffer explains how, if you drop out of training for medical reasons, you are put in another platoon and pick up where you left off. But no one wants to leave their platoon. They have suffered so much together. They are a band of brothers.
Schaeffer writes about Recruit Parks. Parks was a small, skinny kid from New York. He developed double pneumonia just before the final, tortuous test to becoming a Marine called “The Crucible.” Their Senior Drill Instructor, Staff Sergeant Marshal told the platoon: “Parks is going to finish with us if I have to carry him in my pack!”
The night before the Crucible, unbeknownst to the Drill Instructors, a few of the stronger recruits took out the heavier items in Park’s pack and put them in their own.
For the 2 ½ day Crucible, they marched 54 miles with all their equipment. They only slept four hours a night and received only two meals for the entire ordeal.
Each squad had to pretend one of their men was wounded and drag and carry him through combat conditions. Park’s squad designated him as “wounded” and carried him. They put recruits on each side of him on the ropes course.
As they stood at attention and saluted the flag at end of the Crucible, Parks stood with them, weak and pale. He received his “Stars and Bars” – becoming a Marine with his platoon. Tears streamed down the cheeks of his comrades. They carried each others burdens. And no one was left behind.
Ask those Marines if it’s worth it to use your strengths to help your brother.