Recently I was at a gathering of church leaders, preparing for a special presentation about Christian education. These words spoken to God in the opening prayer captured my attention and my heart: “Keep us from anything that is self-promoting.”

Self-promotion is about as ugly as sin gets. The ugliness is magnified, in my opinion, when church leaders are involved.

As I have pondered the ugliness and the sinfulness of self-promotion in the days since the gathering, a Bible passage and some lyrics keep coming to mind.

The passage? John 3:30, where John is speaking of Jesus.

  • NIV “He must become greater; I must become less.”
  • NLT “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”
  • MSG “This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.”

The lyrics? The song “Disappear” written and recorded by Out of the Grey. Below is a YouTube video that includes both the song and the lyrics.

From Peanut Butter and Jelly to Idolatry

Once when our children were young Lourene and I were getting ready to go on a church field trip especially for parents with young children. The children were supposed to have a sack lunch with them so they could eat a picnic lunch at a park.

There was one particular family that was going with us that was going through a trying time. The parents were straining to get done everything they needed to accomplish within the confines of a 24 hour day. They were burning the candle at both ends, as the old saying goes.

Most of the children were going to take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their sack lunch. Knowing how stressed this one family was, Lourene offered to make their son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When she made the offer to the stressed mother, her proud response was memorable: “Oh, no thank you, Billy only eats sandwiches I make. He says that mine are the best and he doesn’t want any made by anyone else.”

20 years later, I still remember this response. I think it was burned in my memory because it was clear at the time and became even clearer in subsequent years that this mother’s identity was totally wrapped up in her children thinking that she was it. The kids couldn’t eat food prepared by others. They couldn’t be left with a babysitter. They couldn’t go to the nursery at church.

Now I’m all for parents being devoted to their children. And I’m all for children loving their parents. But there is real danger when a mother gets her full sense of identity and fulfillment from her children. And there is real danger when children are not allowed to interact with and learn to trust people other than their parents. Put another way, there is danger when Mom tries to be God to her child. And there is danger when Mom becomes addicted to her child’s worshipping her as God. What looks like being a good mother (or father) can cross the line to idolatry.

O God, help us view our parental roles as that of stewards. May we realize that our children really belong to You and that You have entrusted them to our care for a time. And may we be content to be Your servants, giving You all praise and glory.