Overpromising: When Your Mouth Writes an NSF Check

Apparently President Obama is not denying it. According to my source, back in January of 2009 he said, “If this economy hasn’t rebounded in three years, I’m a one-term deal.”

Count on his opponents in the next election to make him wish he’d never uttered those words.

This week TIME magazine’s cover article on the U.S. Constitution says every president wants the debt ceiling raised, including President Obama. However, before he ran for the White House, Senator Obama resisted President Bush’s call for the debt ceiling to be raised and called it a “failure in leadership.”

Be careful whom you step on, on the way up, the old saying goes, because you’ll be meeting them on the way down. We might create a variation on that, and say: Be careful what you say about the presidency when you aspire to the office, because one day you might be its occupant.

We’ve all heard the expression that his mouth wrote a check he couldn’t cash. (There are variations, some cruder than we’ve stated it here.)

It’s about over-promising.

The young man trying to persuade the lovely young thing to be his bride promises he will go to church, hold a steady job, and be everything she ever wanted in a husband. She buys that line, meets him at the altar, and soon sits in the pastor’s office seeking counsel on how to get her now-husband to church.

The fellow vying for a sales jobs promises the sales manager, “Set a high goal for my territory, then watch my smoke. I’ll be your number one salesman within two years.”

The would-be coach tells the athletic director, “If we don’t win the conference within three years, you can fire me.”

The pastoral candidate tells the search committee, “God has gifted me with the ability to resurrect dying churches. I should have no trouble with your church.”

The prospective staffer tells the pastor who is considering employing him: “I have great leadership skills. I’ll double your youth group (or choir or Sunday School) within a year.”

File these under “Famous Last Words.”

Just once I would love to hear a candidate for elective office answer a question on what he/she would do if elected, respond: “I don’t know. I have a lot of ideas, but I’d have to get into the office and find out what the realities of that position are, what resources are available, and who my colleagues will be. Only then can we come up with a plan of action.”

Of course, that candidate will never occupy the office because he’ll not get elected with such a nebulous program. For reasons not very complimentary to the human animal voters want to hear solid answers, “red-meat” promises they’re called.

What they do not want is someone who sounds tentative. Or, sometimes, even reasonable.

In truth, no presidential candidate knows what he/she will do when they’ve taken that oath and moved into the Oval Office. I guarantee you that every last one of them expresses surprise, at least privately to their spouses. “Can you believe we’re actually here! I didn’t believe it would really happen! Oh Lord, help us now. I don’t have a clue where to begin.”

As I write, three hours ago I sat in a meeting with a dozen denominational executives in this part of our state. Some are veterans, several are new to their positions. At one point, our leader said, “Best I can figure, most of us are still trying to figure out what we’re supposed to be doing.”

An honest admission by a humble servant.

Someone once said of his pastor, “My pastor’s not always right, but he’s never in doubt.”

I shudder at that description. That kind of preacher is a caricature of what a godly man of the Lord should be. This guy has all the answers and knows that he has them–until he changes his position. Then he’s as dead-sure that he’s right now as he was previously when he took the opposite position.

When James was a young evangelist, he angered people with his self-righteousness and his negativism toward the churches and pastors in the towns where he was holding crusades. Even when those churches and their leaders were sponsoring his meetings, he still roasted them from the pulpit.

Then one day, James had a melt-down. Later, telling the story, he described how God had humbled him and showed him what a Pharisee he had become. He had experienced what he called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” and had been transformed.

From that moment on, when James preached, his subject matter was the need for humility, for repentance, and for the Spirit’s filling. However, he proclaimed the message with the same take-no-prisoners vehemence as before. Little had changed.

Humility is a wonderful thing. It’s also rarer than fine jewels in the one place on earth you would think would be overflowing with a generous supply: the pulpit.

The overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, serious-minded, respectable, hospitable, skilled in teaching, not given to win or combative, but gentle (peaceable), not contentious (a controversialist), and free from the love of money (I Timothy 3:2-3).

Checking it closely, I don’t see “humble” in there. Wish I did. But maybe it resides in terms like self-controlled, serious-minded, respectable, and gentle.

What does humility look like in a pastor? I’m glad you asked.

1. The humble pastor is not stuck on himself, his image, his advancement, his reputation, his career, and his authority. For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to think so as to have sound judgment (Romans 12:3).

2. The humble pastor freely applauds others for their labors. He takes joy in seeing good people grow and succeed and receive proper recognition.

3. The humble pastor’s walls are not shrines to himself and his accomplishments. Ask to see his plaques or trophies and he might direct you to a closet or his garage.

4. The humble pastor does not believe “I can do all things,” but “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He has limited self-confidence but unbounded confidence in the Almighty.

5. The humble pastor does not make promises he may not be able to keep. Listen closely and you will hear phrases like “God willing” or “The Lord being my Helper” coming from his mouth.

6. The humble pastor has no trouble admitting he was wrong and asking for forgiveness. Either personally or from the pulpit when necessary, he does not have to swallow his pride because that entity was nailed to a cross outside Jerusalem.

7. The truly humble pastor will be the last to acknowledge that he is humble. Because his life is all about Jesus Christ, the closer he gets to the King, the more he sees “I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people just like me” (Isaiah 6:5). He feels unworthy.

8. The humble pastor thinks of himself rarely. He does not worry about “how am I coming across” or “what will others think of me if I do this or do not do that.”

9. The humble pastor is a better listener in a group than one who dominates the conversation. (This is why I know I’m a far cry from being humble!) He loves others, enjoys hearing from them and knowing them better, and learning their stories.

10. The humble pastor is no door mat, however. The old saying, “Beware the fury of a patient man,” applies here. If his humility is of the Holy Spirit, and not of the flesh (meaning it’s not that he’s naturally this way), then strength and courage will frequently be on display in his life and ministry, also. In fact, one of the most intriguing blending of qualities you will ever see in a truly godly man is when courage and humility join forces within him to resist evil.

Courage and humility are on display in the answer of the three Hebrew lads to King Nebuchadnezzar: Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King. But even if he does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Daniel 3:17-18).

Did they write a check they couldn’t cash? No. For one thing, they did not predict anything. This could go either way, they realized. And, secondly, either way it went, they were claiming as God’s ground. He was God and they were perfectly content with whatever He chose to do in this situation.

Christlikeness is a precious thing. Jesus said of Himself, I am gentle and humble in heart. (Matthew 11:29).

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