Christianity 201

November 10, 2017

Humility – Part One – As Jesus Demonstrated It

Today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) we’re doing a rare “Best of C201” and looking at a topic which appeared several times in 2014 with each containing a key passage from Philippians 2…

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

September 14, 2017

When Your Greatness Messes Others Up

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

The person next to me had figured out very quickly that I was not a good volleyball player. So whenever the ball came my way he would yell, “I’ve got it” and then he would get it. Everyone else on the team was playing volleyball. I, however, was playing dodge-ball. My role was to get out of the way and let the better player save the day. I do not know who won the game. But I do know that I did not grow as a volleyball player that day. I did not develop any volleyball skills that day. I didn’t even like playing volleyball that day. If I had any potential as a volleyball player, it was missed that day. This kind of thing happens in all areas of life. This kind of thing would not happen if people followed the Biblical principles laid down in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. Romans 12:3 (NRSV)

When we think we are the best person to hit the ball back, we may think we should be the only person to hit the ball back. Our high opinions of ourselves easily translates into low opinions of others. We can do it, they probably can’t. We are capable, they probably are not. We are the solution, they are probably the problem. So we should do it, they shouldn’t. When we think of ourselves more highly that we ought, we can end up stifling others without even realizing it.

Paul goes on to speak about knowing our calling, finding our role and place, and so not squash out others as they are finding theirs:

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Romans 12:4-8 (NRSV)

These verses are as much “back off, and let others shine in their calling” as they are “discover your own”. They are an encouragement to shine, but they are also and encouragement to give space for others to shine also.

Messing others up by our own perceived greatness can happen in any relationship. Let us consider marriage, about which there is an interesting, and often misunderstood passage in the Bible. On first reading, Proverbs 31:10-31 seems to be quite sexist with the man doing nothing while the woman does everything. But keeping in mind the patriarchal society into which this Scripture is given, look at how much the wife accomplishes. While the titles given to this passage by translators are usually things like “Ode to a Capable Wife” (NRSV), or “The Wife of Noble Character” (NIV), another title might be “The Good Husband”. The good husband does not think he is better at everything and so does it all. The good husband does not think he is a better decision-maker and micro-manage his wife. The good husband gives space for his wife to shine. The final verse of Proverbs captures it well: “let her works praise her in the city gates.” Proverbs 31:31 (NRSV emphasis mine).

Not thinking of yourself too highly is part of “thinking towards yourself with smart thinking” to translate Romans 12:3 very literally. We are to have a good, reasonable self-understanding. Although Paul does not say it, included in this would be not thinking of ourselves too lowly either. At the very least, each person can say they are created in the image of God and so are therefore deserving of being treated with dignity. We have important functions within our families, networks of friends, and in God’s Kingdom. Romans 12:4-8, quoted above, is an encouragement to stand up and grow up into what God calls us to do, even if others seem to be better than us at the time of our standing. While we ought not think of ourselves too highly, recognizing that we are not indispensable in everything, neither are we to think of ourselves as disposable either.

Everyone around us benefits when we have a good self-understanding and a proper self assessment of ourselves. But no one benefits more than we, ourselves. When we have too high an opinion of ourselves we don’t see our need of anyone, even God. And when we have too low an opinion of ourselves we cannot imagine allowing ourselves to be loved by anyone, especially God. Having a proper assessment of ourselves is not just a matter of thinking clearly, it is a matter of loving dearly.


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

January 28, 2017

Loving Your Neighbor in a Global World

In nearly 2,500 posts here at C201, only two or three times have I suspended the usual format in order to respond to current events or topical concerns. This is one of those days.

Over at Thinking Out Loud today, you’ll find an article the purpose of which is to link to Stephen Mattson’s article at the Sojourners website, American Christianity Has Failed. There are also some Tweets there from respected Christian leaders. The article begins,

For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “ keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people.

What struck me as something appropriate here was the collection of scripture verses with which Stephen ends his article:

…The gospel of Jesus has been traded in for a narrative of fear. But the Bible keeps reminding us to right the course:

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35)

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Lev. 19: 33-34)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Prov. 14:31)

 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31: 8-9)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jer. 22:3)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zech. 7:9-10)

…How anyone can see the pictures below and determine not to respond; not to help; is totally beyond comprehension. In a global world we don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘This isn’t our problem.”

In a time before mass communication, before satellites, before the internet, we could be excused for our ignorance. But this is not that world. Images appear in our Facebook and Twitter feeds and beg us to ask the ask the question, “What would Jesus have us do;” or better, “What would Jesus have me do?”

The gospel has not reached us if we simply turn our heads, or click to something else.

face-of-refugee-crisis

 

June 11, 2016

When Saul Went AWOL

1 Samuel 10 22

NIV 1 Samuel 10:17 Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the Lord at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.’ 19 But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, ‘No, appoint a king over us.’ So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.”

20 When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri’s clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken. But when they looked for him, he was not to be found. 22 So they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?”

And the Lord said, “Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.”

23 They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.”

Then the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

The entire narrative in 1 Samuel 10 contains a number of things that would, each on their own, make for interesting study today. But the second half of verse 22 had somehow eluded me until this week.

Therefore they inquired further of the Lord, “Has the man come here yet?” So the Lord said, “Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.”  (NASB)

Israel is about to get the king they’ve always wanted. The surrounding nations had kings, but they had the King of Kings. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t stand up to federal peer pressure. In our world, Saul would make for good optics on the international circuit. The story begins in chapter 9 where we learn,

9:2 Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.

But there was more to it:

9:17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”

In chapter 10, Saul is formally anointed king, and then there’s an interesting contact with a group of prophets which, as I said, will have to wait for another day. To get us to today’s key verse, here’s a transitional section which appears in The Voice Bible:

Why is Saul chosen as the first king? He is from the tiny tribe of Benjamin, so he seems to be outside the mainstream of political power. But he is a handsome and tall young man, meaning he is appealing in appearance and able to inspire confidence in warriors. At this first appearance, it even seems as if his inner qualities might match his outer qualities—God transforms him and gives him the power to prophesy—but as the story goes on, his insecurities and his jealousy of David are his undoing. (emphasis added)

So Saul, what are you doing in the baggage caravan?

  • This he might do, because he either had, or at least would be thought to have, a modest sense of his own unworthiness, which was a likely way to commend him to the people.(Matthew Poole commentary)
  • … Saul hid himself, hoping that if he was not found they would proceed to another choice, so free from ambition was he, and such was his modesty; nor does this seem to be affected and dissembled, but real; though afterwards, when he was settled in the kingdom, he did not care to part with it, and sought to kill David, whom he looked upon as his rival… (John Gill commentary)
  • …he understood, by what Samuel had said, that the people had sinned in asking for a king. (Matthew Henry)
  • …Because the affairs of Israel were at the time in a bad position [militarily]; the Philistines were strong, the Ammonites threatening; he must be bold indeed who will set sail in a storm (Matthew Henry)

At Chandler Vinson’s blog A Trivial Devotion, a longer explanation which includes consultation with some very detailed writers. This is an exhaustive study of this verse, and I commend the research here to you. You may not finish reading all of this, but it gives insights into one of the Hebrew Bible’s most interesting characters:

Saul’s hiding place is a good one as the Israelites cannot find him without divine intervention.

A more pertinent question than where Saul is hiding is why the nation’s potential leader is lurking among its supplies. Some have speculated that with time to contemplate this life changing event, the future king is getting cold feet. Timidity would be a natural response to such responsibility. A Targum reference claims that Saul slips out for prayer and Bible Study. Most, however, interpret Saul’s absence in one of two polarizing ways: commendable modesty or a flaw in character.

Some have viewed Saul’s action as evidence that he possesses the necessary modesty to be Israel’s king (I Samuel 9:21). Prominent rabbis Rashi (1040-1105) and Radaq (1160-1235) support this theory. Saul’s absence is not necessarily incriminating as David, Israel’s model king and Saul’s successor, will also initially be absent when being chosen (I Samuel 16:10-12). Even so, given the tragic way Saul’s life will unfold, it is difficult for many to see his truancy as a sign of the king’s goodness.

Many have viewed Saul’s concealment as unwillingness to lead. From this perspective, it is Saul’s personal baggage that leads the leader into the nation’s baggage. Reluctant to take the position, Saul’s physical position screams, “Not me!”

If this is the case, Richard D. Phillips (b. 1960) understands Saul’s trepidation:

The context strongly suggests fear instead of humility as the reason that Saul hid himself. And who can blame him, since he was being called to step into God’s place! Perhaps Saul could see that God was angry and that his selection was God’s judgment on the nation. Given the difficulty of the task, we can hardly blame him for trying to get away. Nonetheless, Saul’s selfish neglect of duty foreshadows a pattern that will be repeated during his kingship. The people of Israel had desired a king who would give them the leadership edge enjoyed by the worldly nations, no longer willing to rely simply on God’s saving power. Here, then, is the kind of self-serving cowardice that they will have to get used to under human kings! (Phillips, 1 Samuel (Reformed Expository Commentary),163)

Robert Alter (b. 1935) critiques:

This detail is virtually a parody of the recurring motif of the prophet-leader’s unwillingness to accept his mission. Saul the diffident farm boy had expressed a sense of unworthiness for the high office Samuel conferred on him. Now, confronted by the assembled tribes and “trapped” by the process of lot drawing, he tries to flee the onus of kingship, farcically hiding in the baggage. (Alter, The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 48)

From this perspective, Saul lacks true humility which would include depending on God. This stance is supported as fear fits the paranoia that will characterize Saul’s life. Though his action is highly irregular, it is typical of Saul.

Robert D. Bergen (b. 1954) explains that this inauspicious start is fitting:

Saul’s actions, however off, were consistent with the portrayal of Saul to this point; previously the king-designate had shut out both his servant (I Samuel 9:27) and his uncle (I Samuel 10:16) from any knowledge of his destiny. Saul’s vacancy at his own coronation suitably foreshadows a reign that would vacate responsibilities associated with the exercise of godly rule and perhaps suggest the lack of wisdom of those who preferred such a king to Yahweh. At the same time, divine assistance in the search for Saul reinforced the conclusion that Saul was indeed the Lord’s answer to Israel’s demand for a king “like the other nations.” (Bergen, , 2 Samuel (New American Commentary), 132)

Clinical psychologist David A. Stoop (b. 1937) concurs, characterizing:

Saul’s fearful posture toward life is…seen in his response to being publicly anointed as king. He simply wants to avoid the whole process. The way he attempts to avoid being anointed king in front of all Israel is to hide. (Stoop, What’s He So Angry About?, 80)

Whatever his motives for hiding, when discovered, Saul assumes the crown. Saul’s reluctance is completely ignored and the people accept him as king (I Samuel 10:23-24). On cue, they chant, “Long live the king!” (I Samuel 10:24, NASB).

Despite his awkward discovery, Saul’s impressive stature makes an even more immediate first impression. The only descriptor mentioned is that he stands a head taller than any of his peers: Saul is tall (I Samuel 9:2, 10:23). This detail adds to the story’s humor as the nation’s tallest man is theoretically the most difficult to hide, comparable to 7’6″ Yao Ming attempting to hide in a Chinese national assembly. Aside from Saul, impressive height is a quality reserved for non-covenant people and Saul’s more ideal successor, David, will not share this trait (I Samuel 16:7). In picking Saul, the Israelites receive what they ask for – a king like all the nations (I Samuel 8:5) and his selection foreshadows the typical lack of godly commitment exhibited by most of Israel’s monarchs.

What motivates Saul’s hiding, modesty or timidity? Who is he hiding from? If Saul does not want the position, why does he attend the convention at all? Why would God select a king that did not want the responsibility? Have you ever known anyone to turn down a promotion? Have you ever gotten a position that you didn’t want? Would you follow a leader who did not want her position? Would you want to be a monarch? Are you currently hiding from anything?

Whatever Saul’s reasons, his concealment has a significant consequence: it provides another opportunity for God to demonstrate divine involvement in his selection. It is God, not the Israelites, who finds Saul (I Samuel 10:22). Despite one of the implicit desires in asking for a monarch being independence, once again, the Israelites are reliant upon God. And they have enough access to God to use divine assistance to find the ruler they have chosen instead of God.

Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) comments:

Once chosen, Saul is nowhere to be found! He has gone into hiding. Did that last sermon by Samuel put the fear of God in him? Did he have a premonition that despite all the signs of God’s Spirit in his choosing, the kingship was flawed from the start by the people’s God-rejecting ambitions, and it was going to be a rocky road ahead? The story does not provide us with Saul’s motives for hiding. What it makes quite clear, though, is that this whole king business was going to be a mixed bag, involving both God’s mercy and God’s judgment…And here is a telling detail: They are now forced to pray to God to help them find the king they have just chosen with God’s help, but against God’s will (I Samuel 10:22). God graciously condescends to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. (Peterson, First and Second Samuel (Westminster Bible Companion), 66)

If the Israelites are close enough to God to find the concealed candidate, why do they seek a king? Is your trust in God’s leadership or in human rulers?   …

…so all this we get from one verse! But what an interesting study of the reluctant leader who becomes Israel’s first king.

 

 

May 2, 2016

Lest Anyone Should Boast

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Genesis 11:1 NIV Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”


2 Corinthians 12: 7b NLT … So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.


Micah 6:8 CEB He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to … walk humbly with your God.


Proverbs 3:34 GNT He has no use for conceited people, but shows favor to those who are humble.


1 Corinthians 1:31 The Voice As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think... Romans 12: 3a NASB

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think… Romans 12: 3a NASB

In the first two passages above we see God altering the circumstances in order to keep people — collectively in the first passage, an individual in the second passage — from become prideful or boastful.

Introverts might not get this, but as an extrovert, I can say that in my life there is very much a tendency towards arrogance.

In the movie Network the female lead is asked, “What’s it like to be the person in the room who always has the right answers?”

Smugly, she replies, “It’s awful, absolutely awful.”

Psalm 20:7 is a verse that some of you learned in the KJV and other translations as “Some trust in chariots and some in horses…” Having a gut feeling about this verse I checked and sure enough, these alternatives to trust exist:

  • Some nations boast of armies and of weaponry, but our boast is in the Lord our God. (TLB)
  • Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. (NASB)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God. (NRSV)
  • Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God. (HCSB)

What are our modern equivalents? We don’t have chariots and horses, but many of us have nice cars which we spend our Saturday mornings polishing and caring for. What else?

  • education; including academic certificates, degrees, etc.
  • knowledge; both specialized and general
  • intuitive abilities; logic, reason, quick wit, tech savvy
  • friends; the size of our friends list on social media as a possible example
  • status; standing in the community, perhaps our name is in the local newspaper or mentioned on TV
  • spouse; we take credit for what is really a gift from God to us
  • possessions; our house, car, cabin the woods, consumer electronics, etc.
  • passions; the hobbies and interests we are always talking about

Thinking about these things and speaking of them sometimes boosts are adrenaline, brings a smile to our faces, or causes us to speak with greater volume and passion. We’re energized thinking about these things, and we can become arrogant.

The last category above is a good lead to these two questions:

  1. What’s the first thing you think about when you get up in the morning?
  2. What do you talk about when it’s your opportunity to control the conversation?

God had to wipe out the Tower of Babel. He didn’t wipe out Saul/Paul however, but introduced a condition — and Bible scholars vary as to what exactly it was — to keep him humble. Laura Story, in the popular Christian song Blessings asks:

What if your blessings come through rain drops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?

We very rarely thank God for Babel-type changes in plans, or Paul-type ongoing conditions, but they do prevent us from being less of a person than we might be; from being a person that others may not find particularly attractive; and from presenting ourselves in a way that people see us, but don’t see Christ living in and through us.

 

February 9, 2016

On Being a True Servant

Today we’re paying a first-time visit to a writer whose blog was bookmarked in my computer, but I don’t believe we’ve ever featured here. Tanya Nemley blogs at God Speaks I Listen and you may click the title below to read this at its source, complete with graphics.

Are You a Servant of God?

John 12:26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

I decided to write about the subject of being a servant of Jesus Christ. Why… you might ask? Because I feel that I need and maybe we all need to remember why we remain on the earth after our salvation experience. To put it simply…we are now working for God!

A servant is a…helper, follower and supporter of an important person, one who performs duties for a person in charge, a personal attendant, worker, hired help, steward, hireling, underling, an assistant.

We are not to be the one in charge but a servant to the one in charge. We are not supposed to out there making a big name for ourselves but making a name for the one we serve. Our whole Christian walk is not about us and what we can get out of God. It’s about what God can get out of us. This is for our benefit in our eternal life with Him. Some may ask… why don’t we just go to heaven after we get saved? We are servants after salvation and we assist in leading others to Jesus.

Mark 10:44-45 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

There is a word in the above scripture verse that really quickened me down in my spirit and that word is “even”. Even Jesus who is the Son of Almighty God served. He knew His place and duty down here on earth. He knew He had a job to do for Father God. We all have a job to do for God.

The older I get and the more I pray and study God’s word I am coming to realize my purpose for my existence and reason for my earthly stay. Excuse me for putting it this way…I want to work my butt off for God! Now that I know who I am and what my whole life is about I KNOW what I need and want to do. My life is dedicated to serving my husband, my 6 kids, my parents, family, friends, acquaintances and strangers.

Galatians 5:13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

I need people to see Jesus in my life and the only way to show them is to do what He did:

John 13: 12-15 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

servant heartBeing a good servant means being keenly aware of the one that you are serving. Without knowing who’s in charge one might begin to take control of things. They might take over authority. They could abuse power that they don’t really have. Worse yet they may get puffed up and accept credit for any successes.

Paul makes it clear who he is as he makes these statements several times in the bible…” Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”.

John the Baptist made this statement:

Act 13:25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.

See people will try to follow you because John said “who do you suppose that I am.” He knew that they what they were thinking about him and that they might want to follow him. But John was a Worker and was trying to complete his job here on earth. He could have taken a little credit here and told these men to come and join his group but instead he told them of the master… his employer. He humbled himself by saying he was unworthy to even tie His employers shoes. What a servant John was!

Jesus mother Mary said this:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:18

What a woman of God! There was no doubt that she knew what she was!

The bible says we must be a servant and the Holy Spirit will help us accomplish this task all day every day. God WILL honor you us serving. We will be rewarded too.

Don’t follow anyone who is looking for praise and adoration, but stick around with those with a humble and giving spirit. You don’t even need a lot of discernment for this…you will just know the difference between who wants to be served and who is serving.

I’m seeing a vision right now: I see Jesus high and lifted up and there is a very long line of people standing in front of Him.   They have servant’s outfits on with a towel on one arm and the other behind their back. They are saying…. “What can I do for you my Lord?” Jesus says something to each one and they leave Him. I asked Jesus what did He say to them and He said He told them to obey the word. He said He has told everyone what to do already. He said everyone was born with gifts and talents and then when we accept Him as Lord and Savior the Holy Spirit has been leading us from day one. We must obey God.

Checklist for our job as a servant of God:

  1. We all have a gifts and talents naturally given to us by God. Think about yours.
  2. The bible gives us clear instruction in what we are to do for the kingdom. If we don’t know what to do start by finding out what the bible says we should do.
  3. Walk with God so you will find it much easier to hear Gods voice when He by way of the Holy Spirit gives you direct orders for His divine purpose or mission.
  4. Make sure you are always prepared and ready to serve. Know your word, have tracks and bibles available, have your testimony ready and be prepared to share it, have a sharp eye for those divine appointments…in other words look for opportunities kingdom work.
  5. Make sure your house is in order. Have you ever seen a beautician with her hair looking busted and she wants to do your hair? We represent the King of Kings. You don’t need a Louis Vuitton handbag to witness to someone but a clean, humble, willing and dedicated heart.
  6. Be willing to do dirty work. God may not start you at the top. He may want to see if you’ll be faithful with smaller task until He sees that He can trust you.
  7. Let love be your motivation in all that you do for Him. Have love for Him and love for others.

Looking back over the past day, week, month year(s) can you really say what you’ve done for the Lord? Maybe a little, a lot or nothing at all. We need to take our Christianity seriously. Being a servant is what a Christian is and who a Christian is. I pray this blog today will cause one to ponder and make adjustment if necessary. God bless you!

 

October 2, 2015

A Servant’s Heart

Phil. 2:19(NIV) I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

Today we pay a return visit to the blog of Harvest Pointe Fellowship in Evans, Georgia. This resource has been on their site for over a year, but is a good fit for us here. Click the title below to read at source.

Deeper In God’s Word – The Heart Of A Servant

Most often, we don’t have much faith in the results of public polls but sometimes we get useful information from the Gallop polls. One Gallup poll taken recently (and supported by Barna) has produced statistics that will shock many of us. In some ways the outcome was positive. In some ways the outcome of the poll was very negative. The poll found that never in the history of America has church attendance been so high. It is encouraging that church attendance is at an all time high in America. We look back to previous generations and we tend to glorify the days past as a time when church attendance was common. But according to the Gallup poll never in the history of America has the attendance of Christianity been so high as it is now.

But then the second part of the poll reveals the discouraging aspect of this poll. Never in the history of America has church attendance made such little difference. In other words, many are attending church and many are coming more than ever before but the problem is the influence the Christian has on society. Never has Christian influence been so weak. It could be said, that we have a real problem with the absence of Christian character today.

The passage of scripture that Chris taught us from on Sunday addresses this problem. In Philippians chapter 2:19-24, we meet two friends of the Apostle Paul. These were real men who quite literally display the character of Jesus Christ that Paul has been writing about.

First, we meet Timothy in verses 19-24. As Paul writes about him we see that the underlying quality that marks the man is Jesus Christ. We see that Timothy is an exceptional man. Paul says, “I have no one like him.” Wouldn’t you like to have that written about you? I know there must have been many things at which Timothy did not excel. With his frail body, I am sure he was not much of an athlete. He could very easily have been beaten at sports, or possibly surpassed in learning. But there was one area where no one even comes close to this man, and that is in his selfless care, his demonstration of genuine and anxious concern for the welfare of others. Here he is demonstrating that peculiarly Christian virtue, that distinctive mark of the presence of Christ within: selflessness (Berkley). That is what the Lord Jesus said of himself, “Learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.”

Recently, I read a definition of meekness that I think is awesome. I’ve been searching for a definition of that word for sometime. I don’t know any word in Scripture that is more thoroughly misunderstood than “meekness”. Most of us think of meekness in terms of weakness. We picture some spineless wimp who lets everyone walk all over him. But of course that description would never apply to our Lord. What did he mean when he said, “I am meek”? I found that “meekness is that quality which receives injury without resentment, and praise without pride” (Pettigrove). Timothy is demonstrating that utter unconcern for the rights and privileges of self, and an outgoing, deep and genuine concern for the needs of others.

I am not sure exactly what Paul means when he says, “for all others look after their own interests.” But, I think this reveals a frustration that as Paul searched among his acquaintances there in Rome for someone to go to Philippi, he sadly found no one with a selfless character. Evidently all of them turned him down. Not because they couldn’t do it. I’m sure Paul would not have asked them if that had been the case. But they turned him down because they were interested solely in their own concerns. They all had perfectly good excuses why none could undertake the journey to Philippi. The only one to whom Christ’s business was his business was Timothy. You can imagine what an encouragement he must have been to the apostle’s heart as he is longing to send someone to the Philippians to help them with their problems and everyone turns him down simply because of their own selfish concerns. But Timothy says, “All right, Paul, I’m ready to go-any time, any place, anywhere.” Like a sprinter in the starting blocks, he was sitting on ready. This was the selflessness of this young man. No wonder he was always a channel of power wherever he went, as he went ready to be an instrument of God’s grace (MacArthur).

This is the question. Are we self-satisfied with ‘random acts of kindness’ which may cost us little? Are we really in a constant state of readiness? As we consider the incomparable sacrifice of our Lord on our behalf, can we do less than worship Him with all we have and are?

Prayer: Father, teach us to be a people who genuinely care for the welfare of others, and who are willing to demonstrate that care in selfless acts of service.

Deeper In God’s Word,
Tom Renew


C201 New LinkMission Statement: Christianity 201 is a melting-pot of devotional and Bible study content from across the widest range of Christian blogs and websites. Sometimes two posts may follow on consecutive days by authors with very different doctrinal perspectives. The Kingdom of God is so much bigger than the small portion of it we can see from our personal vantage point, and one of the purposes of C201 is to allow readers a ‘macro’ view of the many ministries and individual voices available for reading. Your suggestions of articles and websites to consider are always welcome.

Scripture portions from various translations quoted at Christianity 201 are always in green to remind us that the Scriptures have LIFE!

September 22, 2015

Adjusting Your Ego

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.’ – Hosea 2:14

Post 2000

As I mentioned a few days ago, over the weekend I was reading a back-issue (May/June 2011) of Every Day With Jesus by Selwyn Hughes titled Close Encounters. The series of daily writings talks about the times God may lead us into a desert experience; two of those devotions follow…

Genesis 32:22-32
‘The man asked him, “What is your name?”‘  (v27)

A reason why God may allure us into the desert is this:  to properly position our ego.  Now here we have to be careful, for many incorrect things are said about the ego by Christians.  The ego is God-created and God-approved, and will function properly if it is surrendered to the Spirit.  I am not in sympathy with those who say the ego is to be banished, cancelled or suppressed.  When the ego is in its proper place – surrendered to Christ – then it becomes Christo-centric; when it is not linked to Him it is likely to become eccentric.

If you will forgive a personal reference, in the early days of my Christian life there was no one with a bigger ego than mine. Many times I tripped over it and sprawled in the dust of humiliation.  After I entered the ministry and was obliged to make announcements, I would say something to this effect:  ‘These are the meetings that will take place in this church over the coming week. The ones at which I shall be present are as follows…’  I often wondered why the congregation smiled when I made such an announcement.

Then came the time when the Lord allured me into the desert, slowed down my life and forced me to cry out, “Lord, what is happening? There are so many possibilities but Your blessing doesn’t seem to be flowing in the way it did.’  God asked me the same question as that asked of Jacob by the angel in the story we have read today:  ‘What is your name?’  It took me a long time to answer but at last I spat it out:  ‘My name is Ego.’  In that wrestling match with God my ego was repositioned.  Instead of being central, it became marginal.  I walk with a limp now.  You cant’ see it in my stride; it’s in my soul.

Psalm 51:1 – 19
‘Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.’  (v6)

In an earlier issue of Every Day With Jesus you may remember we concluded that the questions God asks of us are far more important than the questions we ask of Him.  God’s questions are direct, straight to the point, and can sometimes cause us to feel apprehensive and nervous.  In the same way, we become nervous when we get close to the root of our problems – an unsurrendered ego.  We shy away from the issue and promise to do anything but resolve it. But a barrenness may set in and God may need to allure us into a desert so that we do something about the matter.

What if God spoke to you in an audible voice right now and put to you the same question that the angel put to Jacob in the passage we looked at yesterday:  ‘What is your name?’  How would you respond? Jacob’s name meant ‘supplanter’, so when he owned up to his name, he was owning up to his nature.  Make no mistake about it – Jacob was a deceiver.  When God asks us our name He is not asking us for our given name but wanting us to admit to our real nature.  Jacob was given a new name only after he had confessed his old one.  In God’s service you have to admit where you are before you can move on to where you should be.

Have you been in a spiritual desert in recent times?  Perhaps this may be the reason:  God wants to reposition your ego.  So on God’s behalf and ever so gently I ask you the question: ‘What is your name?  Is it Ego?’  If so, make this an honest moment and confess it.  The game is up.   Surrender it to him right now.  Your ego in your own hands is a problem; in His hands it is a possibility.  With a changed Jacob came changed circumstances.  When we change, our circumstances sometimes change too.


Learn more about CWR, the parent organization which publishes Every Day With Jesus at this link. You can also read previous Selwyn Hughes material here at C201 at this link.


The irony of celebrating our 2,000th post the same day we have a devotional about ego is not lost on me. I scheduled the post, and noticed the number later. I thought about changing things around, but then the coincidence was such that I decided to leave things as they were. It serves to remind me how easily the ego can creep into things.

August 1, 2015

Poured Out for You

For a third time, we return to blogger Bryan Lowe and if you didn’t the first two times, I want you to take a few minutes to read his story…  Bryan’s journey is tough to read. However, by God’s grace he writes daily devotional material that is both real and informative. On some days, his writing reflects struggle and discouragement…just like David did in many Psalms! (And just like you and I deal with, except that we never share it with anyone or let it show.)

Click the title below to read this at source and look around his blog, Broken Believers

A Poured-Out Life

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” Philippians 2:17

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul is the ultimate and conclusive example of self sacrifice for the Church. He is an example to us of loving until it hurts. The children of men are a needy lot and the burden of the apostle. He cares intensely (and it shows) as Paul describes his mission to the churches. He wants to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul understood that he was being poured like a “drink offering” to the Lord for the saints.

The Lord Jesus was the pattern Paul focused on. In Jesus we see a man dying on a terrible cross to bring a very real salvation to those without any hope at all. You and I stand “accepted in the beloved” because of that sacrifice.

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”Elisabeth Elliot

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

I honestly believe that fruitfulness hinges on the decision to “die”, and perhaps that is precisely why we are barren. Jesus must give himself up in order to save us. Are things so different now? Over the many centuries, the chosen Church practiced a “dying to self” as the primary way of growth.

Being poured out for others usually isn’t too dramatic; it offers very little in the way of earthly reward or recognition. A few days ago I sat in the “Annex” of our local mental health clinic. I spent a whole aternoon with clients who were struggling hard to make it, I sat and listened, and had no agenda but theirs. I was being “poured out” and it was wonderful!

My heart swelled with the presence of Jesus for these dear ones. It had nothing to do with ambition, or a hunger for applause. I wasn’t out to prove that I was a Christian. Rather I was wholly there for others, I sort of think that is what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples about ministry, and servanthood. I believe that is what Paul was doing in the churches he served.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:4

This is how it all works. About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. There are over 163 million orphans in the world, and more than 27 million human slaves. Furthermore, 1.2 million lives are snuffed out by abortion each year in the U.S. alone. And over 150,000 people die each day without knowing Christ. I suspect there is enough “work” to go around.

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.  

Anonymous

“When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world, Jesus, in us. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.” — Mother Teresa


Bonus item:
3-minute video

July 24, 2015

Let Your Gentleness, Reasonableness Be Known to All

When Paul tells the Philippians in a verse we know by heart to “Rejoice in the Lord always…” the message is quite clear. But in the words that follows there is a lot more going on.

First the full context:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

–Philippians 4:4-7 ESV

At the website Verse by Verse Commentary, Dr. Grant Richison writes:

Philippians 4:5

“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.”

Gentleness in our society means weakness or prissiness. This is not what Paul is asking here. This command relates to the running feud between Euodia and Syntyche. We must see “gentleness” here in the context of division in the local church. It deals with how we treat other people.

“Let your gentleness”

The Greek word is broader than our English word “gentleness.” There is no single English word which can translate this word adequately. The word conveys ideas such as graciousness and clemency. Probably the closest English word is “forbearance.” It is sweet reasonableness toward others. After all is said, the word involves the willingness to yield our personal rights. This word connotes the willingness to show consideration to others. This person is reasonable when they look at the facts of a case. It is the opposite of self-seeking and contention.

Euodia and Syntyche tried to remold each other. They were two different people. Each person wanted the other to be like them. They tried to put the round peg in a square hole. The issue was personal preference or personal taste, not principle. These two women were trying to remold each other into their own image. Each lady had a mold into which they were trying to pour other person. If the mold does not fit they try to force her into it. Euodia may have had a square mold. She was particular and punctilious. Syntyche had a round mold. She tried to make Euodia fit the round mold.

The word “gentleness” submits the need for flexibility, pliability. We are not married long before flexibility becomes an important mode of operation. We cannot always have our own way. When that little baby comes along, we develop yet more flexibility. It does not take long till we become very relaxed. That baby interrupts our program; we have to change our schedule frequently. Our time is not our own. We have to yield to the desires of someone else.

Are you sensitive? Touchy? Do you take things the wrong way? Are you always spoiling for a fight? People at your work are like that. They are quick to take offense. Soon you do not dare open your mouth to them because they take everything personally. They misinterpret everything. They cannot take a joke. You avoid them and they wonder why. We have to carry their feelings around on a pillow.

Principle: A forbearing person does not treat people on the basis of what they deserve.

Application: Some husbands try to remake their wives. Some wives try to remake their husbands. They have tried it for thirty years and they still have not succeeded yet. We cannot make everyone comply with our pattern of life. We set up the pattern. If everyone does not fit into that pattern we conflict with them. Everyone has preferences. We have rights about which car to buy, style of dress. That is a matter of personal taste. Some women wear ghastly hats. That is their choice. We have to learn to keep a poker face in these things! Keep neutral. Make allowances.

July 5, 2015

Blessed Are…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)

Here are two different takes on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. If you are not familiar with the full text, or wish to do some comparison, click here.

Author and theologian Monika Hellwig gives us the following:

  1. The poor in spirit know they are in need and can’t help themselves.
  2. The poor in spirit know not only their dependence on God and on powerful people but also their interdependence with others.
  3. The poor in spirit rest their security not on things but on people.
  4. The poor in spirit have no exaggerated sense of their own importance and no exaggerated need of privacy.
  5. The poor in spirit are less interested in competition and more interested in cooperation.
  6. The poor in spirit instinctively appreciate family, love and relationships over things.
  7. The poor in spirit can wait, because they have learned patience.
  8. The fears of the poor in spirit are more realistic and exaggerate less, because they already know they can survive great suffering and want.
  9. When the poor in spirit have the gospel preached to them, it sounds like good news and not like a threatening or scolding.
  10. The poor in spirit can respond to the call of the gospel with a certain abandonment and uncomplicated totality because they have so little to lose and are ready for anything.

~found in files; original source unknown; one blog notes a citation in The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey.

The Beatitude Creed:

I believe that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of Heaven.
I believe there will be comfort for those who mourn.
I believe that being meek is a good thing and that those who give everything will inherit the earth.
I believe that those whose heart is set on seeking righteousness will find it.
I believe the merciful will receive more than they think they deserve.
I believe the pure in heart will be blessed and will see God.
I believe that those who long for peace and do more than others think is safe are children of the living God.
I believe in a place of safety for those who are hurt for trying to do the right thing.

I believe that being poor, and ignored and weak, and sick and tired and broken and messed up and kicked around is not as spiritually dangerous as being self-satisfied and clever and well-clothed and well-fed and degreed and creed-ed and important.

~posted July 17th, 2008 at A Life Reviewed blog – Joe and Heather live in Coventry in the English West Midlands

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

November 30, 2014

To Whom Jesus Submitted

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I realize that I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.”  This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God  (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

 Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

October 3, 2014

Traits of the Prideful

Luke 18:9-14 New International Version (NIV)
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Today I felt led to another post on the subject of pride. I’ve been told that I am perceived as a very humble person. Maybe I’m proud of that!  Today’s post appeared recently at the blog section of the website Unlocking The Bible, which I strongly recommend. The writer is Dillon Mack, and to read this at source and then look around the site, click the title below.

The American airwaves are awash with crime drama television shows.

No matter what night it is, you can flip through the channels on your TV and find either new crime dramas or reruns of old favorites. One crime drama show recently tried to capitalize on a relatively new area of scientific study. The show “Lie to Me” featured a private detective firm that solved crimes by studying micro expressions and body language. The science behind the show is rather amazing. Detectives read a person’s feelings by the subconscious and uncontrollable reactions of the body.

Just like physical posture gives us insight into the emotional life of an individual, so a person’s posture in prayer gives us deep insight into their spiritual lives. And ultimately, the body language of a person’s heart is intimately connected with their acceptance before God.  This truth we learn from one of Jesus’ parables in Luke 18:9-14 where he seeks to answer an important question: Who then is accepted before God?

Jesus begins his parable by telling us that “two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector” (v. 10). You couldn’t find two more different people:  There’s the Pharisee—known for his moral character, for following God’s law, and for his complete devotion. And there’s the tax collector—known for being a greedy sinner, known for extorting his own people.  The Pharisee prays, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get” (v. 10).

The tax collector, standing far off, had a very different posture. He would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast.  The tax collector feels the guilt of his sin before God to the point of not even wanting to look up to heaven. And his prayer is simple. He says in verse 13, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

So who will God accept? Will it be the righteous Pharisee or the sinning, greedy tax collector? Jesus gives us the verdict in verse 14: “I tell you, [the tax collector] went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Three Traits of a Prideful Person

We learn from this parable that the body language of our hearts towards God in this life has eternal consequences. And so we desperately need to consider the body language of our hearts before God. How have we presented ourselves before him? What is our posture?

Let’s make three observations about the person who exalts themselves before God and examine our own hearts beneath them.

People who exalt themselves feel confident before God.  That is to say; people who exalt themselves feel confident in their acceptance before God. This is the driving force behind the body language of their hearts. The Pharisee stood confidently before God, and he prayed confidently about himself: “I…I…I…I…” The Pharisee’s prayer represents a dangerous attitude to assume before the righteous God: Confidence in our acceptance because of our own righteousness. Is this your attitude when you come before God? Do you stand proudly before God and boast proudly about your own ability?

People who exalt themselves define righteousness by how others perceive them, rather than how they look before God. Look at the Pharisee’s prayer again. What is his standard of being accepted by God? He states that he is not like other men, and that he fasts twice a week and gives tithes of all he possesses. At the forefront of his definition of righteousness is how he is perceived by others, not how he looks before God. How we come to God in prayer reflects our spiritual posture towards him. Does outward appearance and comparison permeate your prayer life?

People who exalt themselves demonstrate their view of themselves by how they treat others.  We get an important insight at the beginning of the parable: “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (v. 9). Here we have an internal attitude linked with an external evidence. How do we know how we view ourselves before God?  Look at how you view yourself before other people. The Pharisee’s prayer shows his contempt for other people. He says, “I’m not like them.” Consider this in your own life. What is your reaction towards those whom you know to be sinners? Do you treat them with contempt?

There is Hope for the Prideful

Maybe you are reading this, whether you know Christ or not, and are saying to yourself, “That sounds a lot like me.” Well, good news! There is great hope in this passage.  Jesus does not leave self-exalted sinners on their own, but he calls them to humble themselves.

He gives us this promise at the end of verse 14: “But the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” To be exalted is to receive salvation. It is to be lifted up in the last days to be with God forever in eternity. Contrary to the one who exalts himself, who will face God’s judgment on account of his sins, the one who humbles himself will be exalted by God and will receive blessings and honor when Jesus returns to judge the world!

By acknowledging our sinfulness, just as the tax collector did, and crying out for God’s help through Jesus, we can be exalted before God. Humility is both assessing ourselves honestly before God and clinging to the help that he provided for us in Christ Jesus. And so my plea for you today is to embrace humility. Realize your utter sinfulness before God and accept the help that he has provided for you in Jesus Christ.

Do you see any of these prideful traits in your own heart? How does the gospel give you hope?

July 27, 2014

What’s the Opposite of Humility?

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight.  In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect.  The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
    not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
God is the only Judge.
    He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God.  (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

 

 

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