"Descending into Greatness"
by Bill Hybels & Rob Wilkins
(Zondervan, 1993, 216 pages).

     The title to the book seems alien to me.  To me the concept seems absurd in a society which value self-promotion and ego gratification.  Greatness, to most people, means fame, upward mobility, a condo, and luxurious vacations.
The Word of God, however, teaches just the opposite.  In his epistle to the Philippians, for example, Paul tells the believer that he must devote his life to servanthood and to dying to selfish ambitions.  This is not a popular view of many today.
The Bible tells us about the selfless life of Jesus Christ in coming to earth as a man to die for the sins of the world.  Jesus had no home, no large income---nothing the world would value---yet He humbled Himself as a man because of His infinite love for us (Phil. 2:5-11).
     Jesus Christ, writes Hybels, had come from the pinnacle of praise in universe to the ultimate debasement and torture of death on a cross as the "innocent victim of human wickedness" (p. 19).
Now, does God want all of us to lead a life of suffering and degradation?  No, writes Hybels.  God has no problem with seeing His children in places of honor and glory.  In fact, He longs to glorify them.  What concern God, however, is how the world defines upward mobility: self-promotion, advancing our own causes, and pushing our own agenda at the expense of others.
     If we pursue materialistic gain and selfish ambition, we will end up empty and living fruitless lives.  God desires better things for His children.  In God's view, seeking the world's way of going "up" always leads downward.
"God," says Hybels, "is calling on Christians to develop the discipline of losing" (p. 21).  This doesn't mean we are to forsake the legitimate needs we have, but it does mean yielding our desires to God's and asking for His guidance.
The conflict between King Herod and the baby Jesus is one of the most obvious examples of the difference between what the world considers greatness and what God considers greatness.
     By human standards, King Herod had it all.  He was addicted to power and eventually went mad because of it.  To Herod, power was the ultimate goal in life and the desire for revenge possessed him.  As soon as he realised a new king of the Jews might take his place, he began plotting to have this king killed in infancy.  To accomplish his goal, he ordered that all make babies in Bethlehem be slaughtered.
     Herod's actions are not much different from our own, says Hybels.  We share a part of Herod when our attitudes push us to rule rather than serve, to wield power rather than submit to authority, or to be honored rather than to honor others.
"Let's be honest," says Hybels.  "Doesn't the world's way make more sense?  Isn't Herod's example the logical one to follow?" (p. 33).  The answer, at first, seems clear, but not if we are truly seeking God's will in our lives.  The way to greatness comes not from self-promotion, but by yielding to God, just as Jesus yielded to God by going to the cross.
Hybels then gives an example of a successful man who found greatness by dying to self.  He tells the story of Lance Murdock, a member of the Chicago Board of Trade.  Murdock's primary goal in life was to be rich and famous, and he set out to accomplish that objective at an early age.  Nothing was going to get in his way.  At workaholic, he neglected his wife and family in a single-minded pursuit for wealth and prestige.
     After considerable success as a broker, everything began to collapse around him.  His marriage fell apart, and he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from bad investments.  Murdock finally realised that "I placed my value and importance as a human being on superficial successes.  I saw that I was really no better as a person" (p. 51).
     Murdock eventually reached the bottom and realised he needed to reasses his life and goals.  After attending Bill Hybels' church, Murdock's life started to turn around.  He developed new priorities---in line with God's will---and his life took a different turn.  He still has struggles in the business world, but he also has a great sense of contentment with God.  His life goal now is not to become rich; it is to serve the Lord.  The path to greatness for Lance Murdock came when he rejected the idea of worldly success and decided to follow Jesus Christ.
     Hybels also tells us stories of several people in his church who chose to downscale their lives in order to avoid the trap of materialism and worldly wisdom.  One couple sold their large home and moved into a smaller one to avoid the demands made on them by the larger dwelling.  A young woman decided to step downward into servanthood after seeing the poverty in Mexico.  When she returned from her vacation, she decided to begin serving the inner-city poor in Chicago.  Another man decided to resign his lucrative position at a video game company because of the company's production of sexually explicit and violent games.
     All of these people chose to take a path that is opposite of what the world would consider greatness or success.  "Moving downward," writes Hybels, "involves humility, brokenness, dependency, servanthood, and obedience---none of which come to any of us naturally" (p. 64).
     One of the keys to being willing to descend into greatness is having the right attitude about who we are and what we are going to do with our lives.  We need to ask ourselves some pointed questions: What is most important to me?  What drives my thoughts and actions?  What gives me a sense of value?
     To Hybels, the correct attitude is a willingness to be emptied of our own desires and goals and to be filled with a desire to follow God's will, no matter where it takes us.  Hybels speaks from experience.  He had been trained most of his life to take over his father's business, but as a young man, he knew God was calling him to follow a radically different path.
Hybels says his descent was more like a plunge or a man jumping off a cliff.  He lost prestige, power and influence by going into the ministry.  He also lost his friends and security because he left his community and state.  Hybels feels that the Lord, however, blessed his move because he was willing to give up everything to follow Christ.  All did not go well for Hybels in those first years, though.  Rapid church growth brought a good deal of pain along with it.  Hybels became a workaholic and neglected his wife and family.  His associate pastors did the same as they poured themselves into building the new congregation.  One of the cofounders of the church left and was divorced within a year.  Others departed because of burnout.  Eventually, Hybels realised that he was not doing it God's way.  He bottomed out and spent an entire night on his face before the Lord in prayer and repentance for his sins and neglect of family.  He vowed he would things God's way from that point on.
     Hybels concludes the book by encouraging readers to seriously consider the choices we make in following the call of God.  The choices, writes Hybels, are available to us each day in small decisions we make.  "I can't tell you how to choose any more than you can tell me how to choose," says Hybels, "But I can tell you there is high adventure on the downward path.  And the destination is greatness in God's eyes" (p. 216).
This book is available in the BGST Library.  Ref.: LC 248.4.)

(Reviewed by Dr John Lim)
Last week (20 Nov), Rev John Ting, Dean of Discipleship Training Centre (DTC), shared on the topic of "Depression". This week (27 Nov), Dr Eileen Poh, Dr Satterthwaite's wife, who also teaches at DTC, will be our Chapel Speaker.
  1. TENT 2002 GRADUATION. About 50 people from various churches gathered for the Thanksgiving Service on November 23, 2002, at OMF Auditorium. Rev John Ting, Dean of Discipleship Training Centre, gave the message and Rev Dr Quek Swee Hwa, Dean of BGST, presented the graduants their certificates. There were 9 graduands from 7 churches. We thank God for these brothers and sisters and we pray that they will be greatly used by God for the furtherance of His kingdom.

  2. MESSAGE FROM THE LIBRARY. To help us serve you better:
    w Students who missed any tutorials or lectures are requested to make a reservation with the library for the loan of audiovisuals to avoid disappointment.
    w Loan counter closes 10 minutes before closing time. Do check-out your items early.
    w Missing and damaged items must be reported to library staff so that replacement and repair can be carried out.

God's Richest Blessings to our Birthday Stars!
Mr Lim Teck Sin  25/11
Mr Paul Losute Kendagor  25/11
Ms Rebecca Ng Lay Hua  28/11
Dr Moira Lee Gek Choo  30/11
Rev Dr Tan Chor Kiat  30/11

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This page is updated on 28 Nov 2002 by Jacob-Tan Lee Pin
    Nov 2002