Archive for August, 2012

Prayer

August 31, 2012
My Father
I have no strength apart from You
You are wisdom, hope, and victory
I have fallen because I deny Your image
You are peace, meaning, and compassion
Help me to abandon the delusion of my own rights
May I see Your image in my neighbor
As You love me, cause me to love others
Create in me the boldness to be different
Vindicate Your name with Your grace

Guide me with the fire of Your word
Accept my wretched self into the bosom of Your forgiveness
Your love, goodness, and grace honors Your name
You are forever perfect
Let me forever dwell in Your presence

The Hardest Commandment

August 28, 2012

Now when the LORD saw that they humbled themselves, the word of the LORD came to Shemaiah, saying, “They have humbled themselves; therefore I will not destroy them, but I will grant them some deliverance. . . .”(2 Chronicles 12:7)

I have been thinking a lot about humility lately.  Mostly thinking I’m afraid.  I continue to have the need to be a more humble person.  It’s hard to do because you have to fight yourself.  No one wants to have a fight with themselves.  Being hard is no excuse for not being humble though.  It was hard for Jesus to go the cross.  But He did it anyway. 

Thinking about my own imperfections helps with humility, if I can avoid the temptation to rationalize my behavior.  As I read about the life of Jesus, it becomes glaringly apparent how short of the life He lived I fall.  Why don’t I do better than I do?  Because I listen to self too much.  “This” is what I want to do when “that” is what I need to do.  Too often, “this” is what I do.  When Jesus talked about denying self, He sure knew what He was talking about.  If you can’t do that, you can’t do anything. 

Comparing my life with other good people helps with humility.  Why can’t I be humble like my dad?  Dad was not without flaws, but he was humble and everybody liked him.  Why couldn’t some of that have rubbed off on me?  Because I was too good in my own eyes to let it is why.  Humility was an unknown word for me.  Before long that started to bite me, then gnaw on me, and before long it right near killed me.  Whose fault was that?  It was mine, and no one else’s.  I was arrogant because I chose to be arrogant.  If not for the good Lord’s mercy, I would be completely dead inside right now.  The grace of God knows no bounds. 

Eventually understanding that humility is a foundation for just about everything else helps to be more humble.  I won’t trust God, much less obey Him, if I don’t think I need to.  When I think I know better than God, I’ll never listen to Him.  A lot of people think they know better than God when it comes to mercy, forgiveness, and love for those who hurt you.  I used to be one of them.  I thought since I didn’t cherry pick the plan of salvation, that I was justified in cherry picking the Sermon on the Mount.  I didn’t verbalize it just that way, but that’s how I thought and acted.  I was wrong.  I try not to do that now. 

A sense of how others view and respond to an arrogant person helps with humility.  People respond poorly to someone who thinks they are better than them.  People tend to respond well to a humble person who doesn’t have too high of an opinion of himself.  God is the same way.  I used to think people didn’t really like me and were out to get me.  I would wonder why they tended to like humble Dad and not feel exactly the same way toward me.  I know now.  He was humble and I wasn’t. 

Well, I’ll stop now.  I don’t think the importance of humility can be over emphasized.  Without it, I’ll never become a Christian because I don’t think I need to.  Without it, I’ll never take the Christian life seriously because I don’t think I need to.  It took me a long time to figure that out.  I hope you are smarter and quicker than I was. 

For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10)

“The House”

August 9, 2012

Image Elijah’s men found the door partially open, so they entered the old house.  They walked carefully, thinking someone might be at home.  When they pushed on the door, its hinges made that familiar reluctant groaning sound customary for old doors and old men, neither of which likes being forced to move.  There were four chairs in the room.  None were sitting upright.  They had all been turned over and lay at various angles and in various positions scattered across the front room as if they had been tossed aside by someone in search of something that the chairs might somehow conceal.  A picture, formerly hanging next to a window, had been ripped from its perch on the wall and cast on the floor near the fireplace where even now a gathering of ashes emitted a small amount of feeble rising smoke. 

In the next room a table, which had apparently been the modest place where the family took their meals, was turned upside down on the floor.  Dishes and utensils were scattered about as if someone had thrown them hurriedly out of their way while searching for some unknown something.  Everything was a mess, a complete disorder. 

In the bedroom, the men found the man and his wife.  They were both in the bed, still partly covered by the quilts.  The man’s upper body was lying across that of the woman’s with his back to the men.  The feather pillows were covered with the couple’s blood.  They had both been shot in the head from what appeared to be fairly close range, perhaps from the door where the men were now standing.  Some blood had dripped from the bed and made a small pool on the plank floor.  It had coagulated and darkened.  A Bluetick hound was licking at it and he now growled under his breath at the men.  They ignored him and went to tell Elijah what they had found. 

Claudie spoke.  “You might want to look in here, Cap’n  Elijah.”  Claudie held Elijah’s horse as he dismounted. 

When Elijah walked into the house, what struck him was the utter disorder and the complete randomness of it.  Most everything had been upset, but here and there, a few things had been left alone, as if they had been holy, to sanctified to touch.  A photograph on a small table had not been moved.  Elijah picked it up.  It was a man and a woman, probably in their early twenties, looking straight at the photographer with expressionless faces.  Were they trying to see into the future?  Were they afraid of what it held?  Those thoughts occurred to Elijah. 

He replaced it on the table and entered the next room.  Two tin cups were hanging undisturbed on two pegs.  Elijah reached for one of them and cradled it in his hand.  He brought it to his nose.  It had a slight smell of strong coffee.  Two people once drank steaming coffee on frosty mornings from these cups.  Where were they now and what had happened to them? 

When Elijah stepped into the next room, he knew.  He stood silently in the door for a few moments. 

Elijah spoke, “So I guess this is what people do when they have ‘rights.’  If man is made in the image of God, why is he so stupid?  Why is he thirty years old and acts like he’s four?  Do you know, Claudie?  When you figure it out, then you tell me, ‘cause I haven’t a clue why man acts the way he does.” 

“I guess someone’s rubbed that image off, Cap’n,” Claudie said. 

“Yeah,” Elijah said.  “And I know who it is.  It’s me.” 

“It’s not you.  It’s them,” Claudie said, “them that did this.”

“It’s always ‘them.’  Who is ‘them?’  I’m ‘them.’  We’re all ‘them.’  We just don’t know it.  We can’t see that.”  Elijah’s voice trailed off.  

“Get some help and bury these poor people, Claudie.  We can’t stay here.  We’ve got to leave as soon as we can,” Elijah said. 

Elijah walked out the front door of the house and got back on his horse.  He rode about fifty yards to the edge of a corn patch and sat there looking across the field that had recently been picked and waited on his men.  He thought of the corn, probably now stored safely in a crib, which would never be eaten by those who had grown it. 

“God has done His part.  He hands us life from His earth, and what do we do with it?” he thought. “We throw it back in His face and tell Him it’s not good enough, that we deserve better.  We say that to God, by the way we act. We’re all lost.  There’s no hope for any of us.  God’s just leaving us alone and letting us kill each other off.” 

In a little bit, the men rode up and they were all ready to leave.   Elijah looked at Claudie. 

“You know this whole world, and especially this Satan-sired war, is like that house back there, Claudie.  It’s all messed up with random destruction.  Sometimes, some little something is saved.  But, there seems to be no reason to what is saved and what is destroyed.  It’s like no one has any sense.  We destroy what matters and keep what doesn’t.  But, mostly, we just don’t know the difference.  We’re just stupid, and selfish, and violent and what we are left with is that house back there,” Elijah said. 

“They teach you that when you were at Harvard”? said Claudie.

“No.”  Elijah paused for a moment.   “They act like they’re real smart up there.  But they’re just as clueless as everybody else.  I figured that out myself.” 

They spurred their horses and moved out into the dirt road.  Claudie rode next Elijah, as he always did.  Their destination was the mist-covered mountains, so much mist that it reminded you of smoke.  When they got to the smokey mountains they would turn north toward Virginia.  They would spend the winter moving up through the Appalachians, gathering a few men as they went, moving on toward Maryland and then Washington and Elijah’s meeting with Lincoln.    But, none of them knew all of that yet, not even Elijah. 

 

Beholding God in my Neighbor

August 8, 2012

Image  My task is to see God in you.  He is surely there.  He has made you.  He has not only created you, but made you  in His image.  You are His likeness.  You have similarities with God, the God of the universe, the God who created everything you see, breathe, and touch.  I must comprehend how you resemble God and help you become a more accurate likeness of Him.  By helping you, I help myself.  For it is my task to not only see God in you, but to show God in me. 

When I see God in you it affects my feelings toward you.  If I perceive you as Godless, I will be repelled by you and hate you.  If I can see something of God in you, even a tiny spark, I will be drawn to you and love you.  I must love everyone, even my enemies.  For this reason, I must search to find something of God in you.  Since you are made in His image, there is some good there, even if your words and behaviors hide it, it is still there.  I will find it and we will both be drawn together and upward by it. 

If you are my enemy, I will pray for you.  If you have wronged me, I will forgive you.  If you shun me, I will reach out to you.  If you ignore me, I will speak kindly of you.  If you hate me, I will love you. 

The night is dark where there is hatred.  Empathy should come easy for the sinner.  When I understand repentance, I will learn compassion.  When I experience forgiveness, I will know grace.  When I count my righteousness deeds, humility hides from me.  I make my world dark when I refuse the Light. 

O Light, shine on me.  Gently guide me away from my self righteousness.  Conduct me into Your presence where the Sun will rise in my heart.  Help me see You in them. 

 

The Day Jesus Became Me

August 6, 2012

Image  We are supposed to be like Christ.  But, is He ever like me?  Yes, He is.  I am referring, of course, to the Incarnation, when Jesus became man while remaining God.  One of the most amazing passages in the New Testament is this one:

    [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Notice how Jesus “emptied Himself” (v 7) and “humbled Himself” (v 8).  I think that is part of His example for us.  We are to empty and humble ourselves too.  We are to empty self of self and humble ourselves before God and others. 

Humility is the most difficult of virtues.  It is a struggle to possess it because the main obstacle to its acquisition is that most terrible of foes – our self.  We must look our fear and insecurity in the eye and say, “I don’t care.”  If someone else gets credit, we don’t care.  If we get used or run over, we don’t care.  If others don’t think we are as important as we want them to think we are, we don’t care.  And then, when we finally we think we are humble, we have to start all over because no one who is really humble thinks they are. 

Humility is hard.  But, it’s still required.  It is never attained.  It is always pursued.  The real Christian never stops chasing it. 

We pursue humility by looking to the example of Jesus.  We believe He is our model.  We must act like it.  Jesus did everything good and everything bad happened to Him.  He should have been accepted.  He was rejected.  He should have been praised.  He was blasphemed.  He should have been believed.  He was denied.  He should have been obeyed.  He was ridiculed.  Yet, in the midst of all that, He maintained His mission and completed it. 

We must not care what happens to us physically in our pursuit of the likeness of Christ.  If we care about ourselves, our ‘rights,’ or our worldly image – we will fail.  When we empty ourselves and humble ourselves, Jesus gives us the victory.  That is the only way.  And it will work every time. 

 

Loving Like Jesus

August 3, 2012

Image  Do we try to live like Jesus?  We say we are Christians, so, it should follow that we are making a serious effort to live like Jesus lived, as the apostle John said, to ‘walk like He walked.’  We can convince ourselves that we are doing that, not perfectly, but making a sincere effort.  But, are we really? 

Jesus’ teaching that we should love as He loved is clear.  No one will argue with this principle. 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35 NKJV)

“…as I have loved you.”  That’s pretty straightforward.  Do we do that?  Here’s a test.

Jesus said we are to love our enemies, even pray for them. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV)

Loving includes forgiving.  Recall the familiar statement of Jesus from the Lord’s Prayer or “Our Father.”

And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12 NKJV)

Then there is the amazing request of our Lord from the cross.

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”  (Luke 23:34 NKJV)

Now the test.  Could we have done that?  Could you have done that?  Could I do that?  Perhaps we could create a hypothetical similar to this and imagine it possible.  Maybe we could look back in time and say, “I think I could.”

Actually though, that’s not the real test.  The real test is, “Am I doing it now?”  Who has wronged you?  Have you forgiven them?  Not a difficult test to take.  But a real hard one to pass. 

Forgiving like Jesus may be the hardest part of the Christian life.  “I have done nothing to deserve this, yet they have done such-and-such to me,” we say.  “I have a right to fair treatment and this is grossly unfair.”  How can I forgive someone who has deeply injured me, or worse, hurt my family member?  I must figure it out, because if I’m not like Jesus in forgiveness, I’m not a Christian; I just say I am. 

Here are two thoughts that help me.

One, this a unique opportunity to be salt and light.  Hardly anyone forgives their enemies.  The norm is to get them back with vengeance, not forgive them.  If I can forgive them, because I am a Christian, then others get a taste of how powerful Christianity is.  They taste the salt and see the light of Christ in my life, which is a lot of the point of God saving me – so I could lead others to Him by my example. 

Two, if I can forgive, I can be free.  Anger, resentment, and bitterness are enslaving.  If I allow them to control me, I will never be free.  If I allow them to dwell in me, they will control me.  The way out, the way to freedom – is forgiveness.  It’s impossible, without Christ.  He showed the way by His own forgiveness of those in the very act of murdering Him.  And, He forgave me.  If I am serious about loving like Jesus, I will be a forgiver. 

 

 

Arrogance v Humility

August 1, 2012

Image  I have had occasion to read my Bible more since I became a full-time minister 9 years ago.  I have learned a great deal of humility during this process.  I have learned that had I been more humble earlier in my life, I could have saved myself a lot of problems.  I have learned that I still struggle with humility.  Here is an example.  Why do I care what other people think?  I care because I want to look good in their eyes.  I care because I want them to say good things about me that will increase my arrogance and make it harder still to be humble. 

Why do I care about things that are limited to this life?  I was thinking yesterday about getting Direct TV so I could watch baseball games.  I might get to see some of the players on my fantasy team play in real life.  Why would I spend $80 a month for that?  That is insanity.  No, it is arrogance.  I know what I am doing.  Yes, it is arrogance. 

Why don’t I spend more time in prayer?  Because there are other things I would rather do.  It is about me, the physical me, not the spiritual one.  Again, it is arrogance.  I must learn humility the easy way.  I must learn it myself.  The hard way is for God to teach me humility.  He can do that.  He has done that with me before because of my stubbornness and blindness.  God’s lessons on humility are very effective.  But they are no fun, believe me. 

I sometimes criticize others because of my perception that they do not see and comprehend the big picture.  They see no further than a few inches in front of their nose, I think.  I sometimes even say that to my wife (about someone or some group).  But the one who cannot see is me.  All I see is this world and this life.  Why do I want anything that is limited to this life?  My failure to see spiritual realities and properly value them is arrogance.  But, it is mainly blindness.  I say I see, but I am blind. 

I must force my thoughts on to Jesus.  Who did He not love?  When did He not show mercy?  Upon which of His enemies did He seek vengeance?  When did He fail to be humble and reward humility?  When did He not think of others, notice others, show mercy to others, empower others, take time for others, lead others, give for others, die for others?  When?  I fail.  He conquered.  He said He would help me be like Him.  Why do I not believe that?  Why do I not let go and trust Him?  Why?  The answer is arrogance and fear. 

I can only lead from a position of humility.  If the shepherd is fearful, the flock will tremble and fail.  If the shepherd is courageous, the flock will follow that lead and find strength and will they didn’t know they had.  The shepherd’s leader is Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Who is good but Christ?  Who has courage but Christ?  Who has humbled himself but Christ?  Who will truly lead but Christ? 

Here are my verses for today. 

Jesus said to them, If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains. (John 9:41 NKJV)

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:10 NKJV)