Posts Tagged With: humility

John 13: Known by Love

I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another!  Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.  This is how everybody will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. (13:34-35)

Christians are known by their sacrificial, inconvenient love.  Nothing is more of a calling card than love.  Not going to church. Not how one votes.  Not social policy one supports or opposes.  Not one’s moral code.  Not whether one takes or refuses that drink offered at a dinner party.  Not one’s language.  Not bumper stickers or symbols on the back of a car.  Not biblical knowledge.  Not leadership roles in a church.  Not community service.  Not parenting styles or the behavior of one’s children.  Not the percentage of money given away to others.  Christians are known by the degree they allow themselves to serve others at their own expense, their willingness to treat people with kindness and gentleness when they deserve much less, the degree to which we make life not about us but about others.

“They will know we are Christians by our love.”  We have sung this since we were children, but we need these regular reminders, don’t we?

What do you think?  

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Titus 3: Remember From Where You Came

There is a very real threat in this whole discussion of how to stay strong in the midst of a sinful world.  People who diligently fight sin, who view their world as immoral, who do not want to become like those around them can very easily become  arrogant, judgmental escapists with superiority complexes.

Titus was living in decadent Crete, charged with strengthening young churches to the point where they could stand strong against sin, both internal and external.  Right alongside Paul’s admonition to create strong leaders, maintain a strong aversion to sin, and to foster strong character is also the reminder that we too were once a whole lot like those we are now not trying to be like at all.  Strong, moral people remember their sinful roots.  This brings a strong sense of compassion while also standing strong against cultural accommodation.

We ourselves, you see, used at one time to be foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved to various kinds of passions and leasers.  We spent our time in wickedness and jealousy.  We were despicable in ourselves, and we hated each other.  But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, he saved us, not by works that we did in righteousness, but in accordance with his own mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewal of the holy spirit, which was poured out richly upon us through Jesus, our king and savor, so that we might be justified by his grace and be made his heirs, in accordance with the hope of the life of the age to come. (3:3-7)

A desire for holiness without a humble remembrance of our sinful past only breeds haughtiness.  Grateful hearts changed by the gospel of grace reach out to a broken world with compassion and a hope for something better.

What did you learn about spiritual strength in today’s reading?   

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2 Corinthians 10: Boasting Without the Ego

Some days it seems like we are swimming in a sea of ego.

Here in America, the presidential campaigns are heating up and there is enough ego to choke on coming from both parties.  I guess that is part of the game.  Football seasons are cranking up and a great number of athletes are more than willing to tell us how good they are.  In the world of Howard Stern, Usain Bolt, LeBron James, and Lady Gaga self-promotion is a must.  Then our kids learn this and life imitates art in the hallways of schools across America and on Facebook and Instagram pages.

How do we walk like Christ through the world of ego?  

We are headed now into the last big part of 2 Corinthians where the idea of “boasting” is key.  In this chapter alone the word “boast” is used seven times in eighteen verses.  As we will see more clearly in the next chapter but as has been seen several times already in the Corinthians correspondence, pride was certainly encouraged in the self-important culture of Achaia.  A person needed to make a name for themselves, develop the skills and personality traits that were admired, and then they didn’t need to feel bad about making these known.  Furthermore, pride always brings about competition, and it seems it was also okay to point out your opponents failures in comparison to your strengths.  We can tell that in the Corinthian church there were people present not lacking in ego and quite willing to point out Paul’s inferiority.

Paul states in this chapter that he felt justified in joining in the boasting, but he would boast in what God had done through him, not his own accomplishments.

But when we boast, we don’t go off into flights of fancy; we boast according to the measure of the rule God has given us to measure ourselves by, and that rule includes our work with you! (10:13)

For Paul, the most important things he has ever done, the greatest bragging point is simply the success he has had evangelizing.  Yet, Paul also knows that success does not come from his great rhetoric, because he is sometimes lost for words.  It is not his charisma and personality; he is too meek and weak for that.  It is not some ministry proudly named after himself, because the power of his ministry came from God and the ability to change hearts always comes from God.  The Corinthians need not look for Paul’s credentials to be impressed.  They only need to look at their own history to realize, they would not be in Christ had Paul not come to town.

In a world of ego, we would do well to boast like Paul did:

Anyone who boasts should boast in the Lord! (10:17b)

What stood out to you in this chapter?  

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1 Corinthians 11: Follow Me (The Second Generation)

Copy me, just as I’m copying the Messiah. (11:1)

Wow!  We balk at a verse like that, because it sounds pompous.  But what an incredible thing to be able to say with the right heart.  The heart that says that can’t be proud; Jesus was not proud, so how could a proud person validly say that?  To be able to say with true humility that other Christians should follow you as you follow Jesus — that is a truly great goal!

This week begins a new school year for me and for many of the people who read this blog.  Many of us are also parents and active members and mentors in churches.  Little eyes are watching, even if they are attached to a 17-year-old football player’s massive body.  Some day (it won’t be this year or any soon, I am afraid) I hope to be able to say that with credibility.

There were lots of other interesting things in this chapter; what caught your eye?

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1 Corinthians 4: Success Defined

Our American society defines a successful leader a certain way.  He is charismatic and charming.  She is an engaging speaker.  He has a strong backbone and can’t be railroaded by the people he leads.  She has a visionary spirit.  He projects genuineness and is authentically caring towards his people.  She empowers her reports and does not micro-manage.  In a post-Enron world, he must be virtuous and free from scandal.  She is available and open to input so as to elicit loyalty, but at the same time she is confident enough to make hard decisions.  He is a self-made man.  More often than not, successful leaders in our culture also have an attractive physical presence and have a lifestyle of affluence.  Bottom-line, a successful leader has power as our society defines power — the power of personality, persuasion, money, intellect, and respect or even fear if necessary.  (When you look at the complete list one almost has to be superhuman to be that leader.)

Is a successful leader the top dog . . . ?

The problem comes when we take this same paradigm and bring it into the church.  In this model, our preachers, pastors, elders, and teachers would be expected to be like the description above.  Consciously or not, we would then judge our leaders by this standard.  We should complain that this preacher is not dynamic or funny or a good enough storyteller.  That elder has not excelled in his own business career so surely he can’t help shepherd a church.  We certainly cannot abide a weak leader.  Nobody walks on a true leader and they have plenty of people to do the grunt work so they don’t need to get down in the trenches.  Successful church leaders get things done and win people over to their way of thinking and make it obvious that their ministry is achieving.  Church leaders need to make it known what they have done for the kingdom, so people will be impressed with them and slap their backs in approval and congratulations.  Successful leaders make sure churches have all they need, and their churches are not in want.  Ask yourself if any of this resonates with churches you know.  Do members you know have these expectations?

This seems to be something like the problem Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians.  It seems the Greek culture of Corinth had similar views.  Power is good, and weakness is bad.  Strong leaders are articulate and persuasive.  They get things done.  They evoke esteem and admiration.  They achieve and do not want.  They are celebrated and served by others.  We can tell from today’s chapter that this thinning was also in the Corinthian church:

Some people are getting puffed up. (4:18a; c.f., 4:7-8)

Paul makes it clear that this is not the right way to define success.  Churches need to guard against exporting this sort of thinking into their community.  It is counterproductive to judge leaders by this definition of success.  Actually, a church should be concerned if its leaders have this sort of thinking, as a new group of self-imposed leaders in the Corinthian church seem to have  (we will hear more about this group later).

This is how we [apostles] should be thought of: as servants of the Messiah, and household managers for God’s mysteries.  And this is what follows: the main requirement for a manager is to be trustworthy. . . . This is how I look at it, you see: God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession [a parade of prisoners of war, likely destined to fight to the death in the Colosseum], like people sentenced to death.  We have become a public show for the world. . . . We are fools because of the Messiah. . . . We are weak. . . . You are celebrated; we are nobodies!  Yes, right up to the present moment we go hungry and thirsty; we are badly clothed, roughly treated, with no home to call our own.  What’s more, we work hard, doing manual labor.  When we are insulted . . . persecuted . . . slandered. . . . To this day we have become like the rubbish of the world, fit only to be scraped off the plate and thrown away with everything else. (4:1-2, 9-13)

. . . or a servant-leader?

According to Paul, a successful, godly leader is first and foremost a servant and manager of God’s church, not their own.  They know there is no self-made minister and certainly no self-made church.  They may be very capable because of the gifting given them by God, but their greatest trait is that they are trustworthy of the great privilege they have been given to lead God’s people.  Their life is anything but comfortable, glamorous and affluent.  They roll up their sleeves and they do whatever it takes — nothing is below them — to advance the kingdom.  Their life is marked by sacrifice and they empty themselves of self, even to the point of putting to death their egos.  However, they are powerful, but in a whole new way.  It is the power of love, sacrifice, and the Spirit.

Now, that is a different way of view success.

What stood out to you?

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Luke 22: I Would Never Do That!

Luke is now dealing with the end of Jesus’ life as thoroughly as he did Jesus’ birth.  This long chapter takes us to death’s doorstep.  I was struck by many things — how afraid of the crowd the Pharisees were but by the end of the chapter they are somehow able to turn them against Jesus, how much Jesus wanted to be with and supported by his disciples at this point, how confusing his instructions are in this chapter — but it was the strange juxtaposition of two verses that come side by side that really caught my attention today:

They began to ask each other which of them was going to do this [betray Jesus]. (22:23)

Followed immediately by:

A quarrel began among them: which of them was to be seen as the most important? (22:24)

As he sits at the Last Supper with his beloved group, Jesus announces that one of them is going to betray him.  In Luke’s account he does nothing to hint toward Judas.  The disciples are indignant: “Surely not me!  I would never do a thing like that!  I will be loyal to the end!”

Then . . . one verse later . . . those very same disciples begin to argue over who is the most important disciples amongst the group.  Peter asserts it must be him because he walked on the water to meet Jesus and Jesus did say the keys of the kingdom would be given to him.  Andrew reminds Peter that he wouldn’t have even been there if he hadn’t introduced Peter to Jesus.  James argues it would have to be him because he was always there in the inner group of three to see special things like the Transfiguration, and he didn’t have the tendency to make the same stupid gaffes Peter often did.  John reminds the group he is the “disciple whom Jesus loves.”  Philip makes his claim: wasn’t he the one who boldly declared he would gladly go with Jesus and die?  Bartholomew is sure it will be him because he is so humble he is never even mentioned in the Gospels!

They are shocked that Jesus would think any of them would betray him.  That any of them would work against the very things Jesus came to do.  That they would disappoint their rabbi.  Then moments later they are asserting their own power, reputations, and egos.  They have quickly turned to the trespass that may be most contrary to the way of Christ: self-assertion.

Man, I am so glad we don’t ever do things like that.

What stood out to you today? 

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Luke 14: Upside-Down Sayings

This Jesus we follow has made us a part of an upside-down kingdom.  There is what we know to be normal and conventional; Jesus’ way is usually the opposite.  I am drawn to the many sayings of Jesus that really illustrate this.  They speak such truth.  They are attractive in how contradictory they are to everything we know.  At the same time, they are also maddening because they call us to a new way of thinking that is uncomfortable and disorienting, so they are not how we would normally go about life.

Today’s chapter is full of those upside-down kingdom statements:

  • Don’t let your traditions guide all you do (14:3-6)
  • Don’t take a good seat at a party (14:7-11)
  • Don’t expect those most like you to accept your invitation to dinner (14:12-24)
  • Don’t think family is most important (14:26-27)
  • Don’t try to hang on to your possessions (14:33)

Jesus way may be upside-down to the way we normally think, but could it be that this makes all the difference?

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Luke 11: Teach Us to Pray

The disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray (which would mean Jesus’ way of praying, not how to pray in general as they would have been taught to pray since childhood) and he gives them two contrasting teachings.

First, he gives them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.  The outstanding point of this prayer is how God-centered it is.  God is praised.  It is God’s kingdom that we wish to see advanced.  The rest of the prayer is one of basic provision: bread for today, forgiveness, and protection from the Devil.

Next, Jesus also challenges his audience to pray with audacity:

So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.  You see, everyone who asks receives!  Everyone who searches finds!  Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them!  (11:9-10)

This is the prayer of bold persistence. Prayers of this sort are focused on the person praying.  This is a very different kind of prayer from the first.

Most of us pray one or the other of these prayers.  We easily pray for ourselves and God’s agenda takes a backseat.  We have an easy time taking our needs to God but have yet to learn there may be a more important, kingdom-advancing point to our need.  Or, for others, God is the center of much of our prayer and we feel guilty asking for ourselves.  We might come around to “asking, seeking, knocking” but only after our own best efforts have been exhausted or we are convinced we should dare to ask for ourselves.

Jesus tell us here that both kinds of prayers are necessary.  There is not one right way to pray.   Some days all that matters is God’s agenda and we can be content with the basics. Other days, in desperation, we cry out boldly for our own needs, because we must.

Life requires both.

What did you learn today about prayer?

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Luke 10: Celebrate The Right Person

I guess I am still stuck on yesterday’s message.

Look: I’ve given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and every other power of the enemy.  Nothing will ever be able to harm you.  But — don’t celebrate having spirits under your authority.  Celebrate this, that your names are written in heaven. (10:19-20)

It is just plain easy to have pride in or “celebrate” what we have been able to do for and because of God.  In the apostles’ case that meant the ability to exorcise demons.  But Jesus’ warning is unequivocal.  Don’t celebrate what you can do, rather what was done for you.  It is not about your gifts, rather the gift that was given you.  Tell others not about your authority, rather about the authority of God, the power by which we serve.

May God’s name and praise be always on our lips!

What caught your eye in this chapter?

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Matthew 23: Are We The Pharisees?

For those who only imagine Jesus as meek and mild and accepting of all, hold on because this chapter blows that stereotype to pieces.

Matthew has brought us to the last week of Jesus’ life.  The tension between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus is escalating, and this chapter does nothing to help that.

As I have said before, I am thoroughly and unapologetically religious.  Institutional and traditional Christianity is in my DNA.  I don’t think religion is God’s Kingdom; it is not where one finds the life and divinity we are all after.  Yet, I still value religion as a vehicle that often times transfers me into the Kingdom of life and divinity.  I like the way Eugene Peterson balanced religion (or “church”) and Kingdom in this quote from Christianity Today a few years back:

What other church is there besides institutional?  There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church because there is sin the church.  But there is no other place to be a Christian except the church. . . . I really don’t understand this naive criticism of the institution.  I really don’t get it.  Frederick Von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree.  There’s no life in the bark.  It’s dead wood.  But it protects the life of the tree within.  And the tree grows and grows and grows.  If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death.  So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive.  And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long.  It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy and narcissism. 

“The Pharisees” by Karl Schmidt Rottluff

When I read a chapter like Matthew 23 I use it to inspect my own religious heart and determine whether Jesus could say some of the same things about me that he once said to the Pharisees.  The following are the phrases in today’s reading that I think all of us who are religious need to dwell on today to assess how true they could be in our lives as well:

You must do whatever they tell you, and keep it. (23:3a)

They talk but they don’t do. (23:3b)

They tie up heavy bundles which are difficult to carry, and they dump them on people’s shoulders. (23:4)

Everything they do is for show, to be seen by people. (23:5)

You tithe . . . and you omit the serious matters . . . like justice, mercy, and loyalty. (23:23)

You scrub the outside of the cup and the dish, but the inside is full of extortion and moral flabbiness. (23:25)

On the inside you appear to be virtuous and law-abiding, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (23:28)

Inserted into his invectives, Jesus offers two recalibrations for those of us who may feel like we are more aligned with the Pharisees than with Jesus:

The greatest among you should be your servant.  People who make themselves great will be humbled; and people who humble themselves will become great. (23:11)

First make the inside of the cup clean, and then the outside will be clean as well. (23:26)

The hypocrisy, legalism, and self-important arrogance of religiosity can be kept in check by a well-maintained interior life that  values humility not pride, service not power.

Lord, protect us from the “leaven of the Pharisees!”

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Acts 25: Give Me Justice

I have offended neither against the Jews, nor against the Temple, nor against Caesar. . . . I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, which is where I ought to be tried.  I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you well know.  If I have committed any wrong, or if I have done something which means I deserve to die, I’m not trying to escape death.  But if I have none of the things they are accusing me of, nobody can hand me over to them.  I appeal to Caesar. (25:8, 10-11)

Paul is willing to stand trial where he should stand trial.  He is even willing to pay the just price for what he has done, though they will find out that he has done nothing wrong against anyone and shouldn’t be punished at all.  He will jump through whatever hoop they put in front of him, wait in jail as long as it takes, even appeal to Caesar and be shipped off to Rome, just so long as he gets justice.

But injustice Paul cannot abide.  Be framed on trumped-up charges without a fair trial?  No way!  Allow the Jews to spout slanderous half-truths without a response?  Not for a minute!  Be turned over to the bloodthirsty Jews because of some back room deal?  Paul will not stand for that.  That would simply be unjust.

Paul wants one thing: justice.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean we have to just lay down and take it.  Yes, the way of Christ is the path of self-denial and sacrifice, but justice does not have to be ignored in the process.  Meekness is most certainly a virtue (Matthew 5:5), but that does not mean a person has to offer themselves to any malevolent soul that wishes to do them harm.  One can be humble and sacrificial while also upholding and pursuing justice.  We are not called to let injustice proliferate in an already unjust world.  Even Jesus didn’t die because of injustice.  He died to uphold the justice of a God whose holiness had to be honored.

Like Paul, we can humbly serve a world that is not always hospitable.  We can put ourselves in places of discomfort and risk.  But we can do all of this while insisting that justice be done by those whose job it is to ensure it.

What struck you today?

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Mark 15: The King of the Jews

As a child of the 1980s, Michael Jackson has always been a fixture in my memory.  Whether it was as a child with the Jackson 5 or his “Thriller” album (was there a household in America that did not own a copy of that record?) or the sad carnival sideshow that his life became, we all knew the “King of Pop.”  He spoke and we listened.  He acted and we paid attention.  He went on tour and he commanded hundred of dollars per ticket.  That is power, freakish though it may be.

Before there was the King of Pop, there was the King of Rock and Roll.  Just about anybody over age of 65 here in Memphis has their own personal Elvis Presley stories.  He shaped an entire genre of music.  He has a street named after him.  And a trauma center too.  His end was as sad as Jackson’s, but who can deny Elvis’ royalty?

The latest king plays basketball, King LeBron James.  Love him or hate him, none can deny he elicits strong emotions.  When the Miami Heat comes to town, count on a sold out arena.  This King has had his image plastered on magazine ads encouraging us to come “witness” the works of this king.  He has been emblazoned on murals the size of buildings.  He is at the height of basketball prowess, and even Michael Jordan knows it.

I grew up in Canada where the British royalty remains an honored institution.  Life stops for a royal wedding.  My mother still has a commemorative plate from Charles and Diana’s wedding in her china cabinet and that was twenty-five years ago.  Now, simply say the name “Kate” and we know you are referring to Kate Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge.  Beside her always is the dashing William, the next king of Britain.  I am too young to remember the coronation of Elizabeth II, but be assured that William’s coronation will be a fete unequaled in pomp and circumstance.

Then we come to a coronation of an entirely different sort today:

The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard–that is, the Praetorium–and called together the whole squad.  They dressed Jesus up in purple; then, weaving together a crown of thorns, they stuck it on him.  They began to salute him: “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they hit him over the head with a staff, and spat at him, and knelt him down to do homage.  Then, when they had mocked him, they took the purple robe off him, and out his own clothes back on. (15:16-20)

This is a very different king.  Power means something very different to this king.  People respond differently to this king.  There must be different principles in this kingdom.

What affected you anew in this heart-rending chapter?  

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