Humility


For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind,

and declares to man what is his thought,

who makes the morning darkness,

and treads on the heights of the earth—

the LORD, the God of hosts is his name!

Amos 4: 13

 

The Israel of Amos’ day was not in a good place, and neither was the world around them. Yet, this was a time when things looked great in Israel, for the nation was wealthy and its economy was growing rapidly. It was enjoying a time of relative calm and peace, and Assyria to the north was dealing with its own internal issues and was no longer threatening Israel and Judah. Yet, this prosperity and peace were gained by the few who were powerful at the expense of many who were being oppressed. Their worship was only nominally focused upon the one true God as they sought to find favor from any form of deity that seems good or helpful in the moment. The Israelites were certainly glad and thankful for the help when an enemy was defeated or was being held in check by various forces and causes that did not require the expenditure of Israel’s wealth or other resources, but they were mostly reliant upon themselves and in their leader’s wisdom and guile for this worldly success.

 

At this time, God sent a prophet to speak about the situation in their land and the one in the world around them, too. He speaks of God’s anger and distress at the way that people are living, and Amos focusses on the unjust and oppressive tactics that have been utilized in order to gain power, wealth, and position. This is true for the nations around Israel, and it is sadly true for God’s own people as well. Although God allows us to make our own choices regarding the way that we will live and for the direction that our nations will go, He will not let us continue in an ungodly direction indefinitely. He has the power and the universal authority that it takes to change things when the time is right from His point of view to do so. This reality is what Amos is reminding us of in this verse. This God who we are ignoring and trivializing by the way that we are living is the same God who formed the ground that we stand upon and who shaped the mountains where we go to worship.

 

Even more impressively, the Lord has formed and shaped us into beings that can think and act upon those thoughts. Our capacity to build up and to create the world that gives us our wealth and comfort is something that God, Himself, has gifted to us. However, His intent in so devising people was that we would care for this world in a loving and a just manner and that we would worship Him with the totality of our beings. Just care for our world and for all the life that is upon it is the objective of our God-given mission on the earth. Worship of God is the means by which we stay true to that calling and is to be the central focus of all that we do in the course of life. When we stop orienting the totality of our love, adoration, and praise toward God, we start to lose our ability to truly love and care for others as Christ desires for us to do. As we turn away from worshiping God with all that we are, we tend to start worshiping ourselves and the possessions that we desire and enjoy, and this state of heart and mind leads us into thinking and acting in a manner that is much like the Israelites in Amos’ days were doing. As the prophet reminded them and tells us, God is not pleased by this behavior, and He will not wait forever before He makes things right in the world.

 

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But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

Luke 18: 16

 

On the surface of it all, it would seem that Jesus liked children. Now I think that He probably did enjoy them. Although, He had none of His own, it is easy for me to envision Jesus playing with a group of children, telling them stories, and comforting them when they fell and were scraped and bruised. All of that seems reasonable, and it all fits into my image of how God views the behaviors of children, too. The Lord delights in the simple innocence that they bring to much of what they do, and He also is overjoyed when that innocence in life transitions into a simple and easy faith in God, Himself. God is fully aware of just how much harder in becomes to have faith in Him as we gain in years and grow in the depth of our human understandings. The knowledge and the experience that we acquire tends to get in the way of accepting Christ based upon faith alone.

 

So, Jesus wanted to have the opportunity to engage with the young ones who had not become too wise and gained worldly understanding that was greater than their own good. They were easier to talk with about living in the manner that God desires for us to live. They were open to having their lives shaped by God’s Law as they gave themselves over to following the Lord in all aspects of life. Unfortunately, this sort of total and absolute surrender becomes ever more difficult for us as we become older, for then we believe that we know better than do others, including God, and we think that we have too much to lose in surrendering our lives to Christ. All of this is untrue; yet, this is the sort of thinking that holds people back from entering into a relationship with Christ, and this is also a part of what keeps those of us who already know Him from opening up and yielding all of ourselves to the transformative work of the Spirit.

 

In fact, we do not need to be young in years in order to come to Christ and to enter into a full and complete relationship with Him; however, it helps greatly if we have an attitude of youthful enthusiasm for Christ and for His Word and if we can set aside complex reasoning and simply accept eternal truth as being real, valid, and absolute. There come times in all of our lives when we must enter into this sort of surrender. We will all encounter situations and conditions in life that are beyond our ability to reason them out or to think our way to a satisfactory conclusion. The necessity of faith is inevitable, for we all will come to a place where the only option available to us is the one where we come to Jesus and let Him give us the comfort, care, and strength that we need to continue on through the day. There will be a time when everyone needs to be like a little child in the presence of the One who loves us beyond this life and into eternity.

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8: 3, 4

 

People may think that they can take control of the sky and have dominion over the moon, the stars, and the space around them, but this realm has already been claimed by another. We might consider ourselves to be the true captains of our destinies and plan out our days with that in mind; however, on even our very best days, we will arrive there a distant second to the Lord. God made everything that exists in the seen world and far beyond that. His creative handiwork was accomplished in order to fulfill His own purposes; so, none of the universe belongs to any other, and there is no way for any of us to take dominion over even the smallest corner of that place that we call outer space. It is the height of human arrogance and the pinnacle of folly to strive for such a thing.

 

The same God who made all of these wonders and set the massive clockwork that is the universe into motion cares about and even counts the hairs on the heads of each person on the earth. The Lord also made every one of us, and His compassion, mercy, grace, and love are poured out upon our lives and into our journeys through life. God desires to see justice tendered to everyone regardless of race, gender, wealth, nationality, or other factors. He seeks to bring each of us into a relationship with Him, and the Lord uses the love and care that we humans can provide to others as His primary means of exhibiting that precious redemptive zeal. We are to be diligent and self-sacrificing in our efforts to meet needs where they exist and to welcome home the stranger wherever those homeless ones are forced to wander.

 

When we care for the weak, provide a place of dwelling to the homeless, feed the undernourished, and grant lasting asylum to the oppressed, we are expressing the same loving attributes that we have benefited from in the sacrificial love that Christ has bathed us with by His cleansing baptism of redemption. The Lord has made it clear to us that He holds even the most insignificant of people as precious and as worthy of all care and protection. Thus, the Creator of the universe, the sovereign God over the heavens and the earth, desires to have each of His people join with Him in living out Christ’s calling for us to love others, to protect the weaker ones, and to grant the blessing of welcome to all who are needful of shelter and its rest. People may think that they can gain dominion over the earth and the heavens by might and by force, but in truth, that already belongs to God, and we enter into His purposes and embrace Christ’s calling when we set aside fear, self-protection, and false power in order to bless our world with the peace that comes through caring for others.

Be angry and so not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Ephesians 4: 26, 27

 

Anger is a natural and a normal response to forces, factors, and situations that do come about during the course of our days. The capacity to feel anger is something that God placed within us in His creation of our nature. We are told that God, Himself, feels anger. So, we cannot just discount these feelings as something that is wrong or that comes solely from some dark place within our fallen natures. Anger, itself, does not demand redemption; however, the way that it tends to play out in our lives is another story, indeed! For, anger is far too often something that we do not resolve. We carry it around with us and even summon it up again and again in order to fuel a particular need or desire to convey personal perspective or to gain an advantage in situations. This retained anger adds force and fury to words and expressions that might otherwise have gone unnoticed or under-appreciated, or so we think.

 

Yet, anger can turn from something that is a part of the nature that God gave to us and that is good and useful and become sinful in a very short amount of time. When we hold onto it and do not seek to resolve its causes it begins to eat away at our souls and to erode the love out of our hearts. The force and the power that may have driven us to seek justice and to demand righteousness quickly becomes a corrosive substance that defaces our understanding of the value and the beauty that God placed in others. We begin to see an enemy when we should see a sinner that is in need of understanding mixed with truth in order to bring about Christ’s redemptive work in them and in our relationship with them. That is why Paul places so much urgency in his directive about resolving our anger. Although there are some cultural aspects to what he says about not carrying anger with us over night, the more important aspect of this is the fact that resolving our differences needs to matter above and beyond all else as it is more important than sleep, itself.

 

Almost everyone will be angry from time to time, and there will be a number of different causes for this anger. Some of it will be generated by the injustice, violence, and oppression that are rampant in our broken world. At other times, anger will arise when people that we know are either harmed by the sinful actions of others or when sin is perpetrated upon us. Still, other anger boils up out of disagreement and dispute with others. Regardless of the cause, the emotion that is anger has a short life span as a healthy response to people. It needs to be worked through and responded to in a manner that leads toward resolution. Sometimes that next stage in its expression is found in prayer, in writing letters to governmental officials, in bible study that leads to the teaching of correct, Scripture-based responses, and in forgiveness of wrongs real or imagined. Sometimes anger is resolved by repentance and by entering into a dialogue with another person. Anger is powerful. It is a big emotion. It is best worked out in the much bigger power of the Spirit as that working out, that resolution, requires commitment and hard work to accomplish; yet, that end result leads us closer to Christ and to the center of His unfailing love and grace.

 

 

 

 

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,

but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

Proverbs 15: 18

 

There exist a great number of expressions that deal with the effect that anger has on highly charged or emotion filled situations. A couple of my favorites are “Pouring fuel on a fire” and David Bowie’s moody crooning, “Putting out fire with gasoline.” The point is clear, for anger does very little to resolve or to settle a difficult situation, and it usually has the exact opposite effect. Anger takes a disagreement and turns it into a war or into a win-lose engagement wherein, in fact, no one wins. This is emphatically true when the people involved are followers of Christ and in situations wherein the anger is being expressed between us in the body of Christ. In these situations, those Satanic forces that relentlessly seek to divide the church and to separate Christ’s people from each other are the only winners.

 

For those of us who gravitate toward anger as a response to many of the situations that we encounter in life, God desires for us to learn control over these emotional times through submission to Him. This is also true for those of us who seem to find that anger is necessary for us to fully enter into hard discussions and challenging situations. In general, there is very little place for anger in human interaction. God does exhibit anger in many situations, but He does not command people to model this aspect of His nature and character in the way that we prosecute life. The anger that God expresses is always tempered with grace and is always turned out with redemptive purpose. People are not so good at achieving this sort of balance, for when we engage anger, it tends to take over and to control all that we think, say, and do. It becomes who we are so that grace and redemption become rare commodities in our immediate world.

 

Since God does not set out impossible challenges for us and He directs us to set aside anger, there must be an answer to this powerful drive that is so deeply imbedded in many of us. The simple answer is Christ and the operative aspect of that answer is submission to Him. However, we all know that this is not so simple to accomplish and to remain true to when life comes our way. So, I think that a fundamental understanding that is also required in all of this revolves around the way that we see, comprehend, and understand other people. That is that we see others as valuable, beloved God image-bearers, who Christ loves regardless of all that they might do or say. Thus, there is no place for anger in our interactions with other people. We can be angered by situations and by actions, but we are not to allow that anger to pour out of us and onto others. Even when we are in confrontational situations, Christ’s people are to be peace-makers, and in doing this, we bring the Spirit of Christ to the forefront as we recede behind His redemptive grace.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17: 7, 8

 

The setting of these verses would suggest that the person described here by Jeremiah was something of the odd duck, the outlier, in his day. The nation, itself, had taken a turn away from God. It was operating out of the wisdom of man, and the people were choosing to follow the counsel of profane and worldly rulers. The Lord was clearly upset with His people, and He was troubled by the impact that His nation, Israel, was having on the world. There was no longer a national witness for justice, peace-making, righteous living, and outreach to all who were world-weary and oppressed. This was God’s calling for Israel and for that nation’s people, and it remains a significant part of God’s calling for people who know and follow Him today. We are to be the voices for compassion, love, acceptance, and peace in our world. We are to stay true to truth as it is presented to us in God’s Word; so, we are to follow the example of this outlier, this odd duck in Jeremiah’s narrative.

 

The prophet is not speaking about a place; for, it is neither a nation nor is it a religion that will set God’s people in the right situation and location to be fed deeply by God’s truth. He seems to be suggesting that it is an attitude of heart and mind that creates the setting for this sort of nourishing of the soul and body, and the only physical local that matters in all of this is the one that comes about as we seek after the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and body. God works in and through people who are different and even more so through those who choose to be on the outside of the cultural norms in our times. Since humanity turned away from close communion with God, we have developed and promoted a law of moral and ethical conduct that has shifted by degrees away from the pure and wise guidance of God’s Word. This reality of our world makes it inevitable that Godly thinking and acting will be differentiated from the way that the majority of our societies engage in the same processes.

 

So, from God’s perspective, there is nothing at all wrong with drinking from that rare stream called Absolute Truth when those around us are gathering to satisfy their thirst at the river of The Worldly Way with its abundant supply and somewhat murky lack of real clarity. It is worthwhile to be left off of the invitation lists for society’s gatherings in order to spend that time in contemplation, prayer, and listening for the God’s voice of wisdom, insight, and direction. There is a time and a place for engagement with the world and with its activities, but these are not the places where our roots sink down into the life-giving source of the counsel and the nourishment that will sustain us through the harder days that will inevitably come. Finally, there will be days when God’s people will stand out from the crowd by virtue of our vibrant and healthy peace, calm, and assurance that stand in stark contrast to the distress that droughts of various causes and types have brought upon the world at large. These are days when the true fruit of God’s love, grace, mercy, and redemption will draw people toward their Savior. These are the days when all of that time spent living as one who is different, that odd duck, will be counted for the glory of the Lord.

Turn away from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Psalm 34: 14

 

There may not be a more relentless force in our world than evil; for, it never sleeps and it never stops. The news from all corners of the world is saturated with its impact; there is death and pain, torture and hatred, control and slavery. Sadly, most of these acts are done with some form of reasoned out and seemingly noble stated purpose. The same kind of destructive force is at work in our own neighborhood, and sometimes it is even in our own homes. For example, consider the impact of angry words and of superior attitudes or consider how much harm is done by looking at other people with our own self-focused eyes rather than looking through the eyes of God. At these times we think that we are being strong and in control; instead, we are being incredibly weak, and we are dangerously close to being in Satan’s control.

 

You see, the peace that God seeks to have with us is not characterized by weakness; rather, it is marked by strength. This is a strength that comes from Christ within, and it is the true strength that empowers us to live in fearless abandonment of human power and worldly control. The Lord wants us to engage a dialogue with Him that becomes our ongoing discourse with our world. He wants us to operate every day from a perspective that is established on a solid foundation of wisdom and understanding; for, this is the state of living that we embrace when we look closely at Christ, engage with the truth of God’s Word, and when we listen to His truth as His Spirit speaks to our hearts. The Lord desires for us to live in peace with Him and with others.

 

We can look at the situations and the relationships that make up our lives and seek peace in all of them. We won’t always be able to accomplish this all of the time, for there will be people who will not go along with God’s will just as there are situations that defy the Lord’s desire and intent for how we should live. Our responsibility in all of this is to follow Christ’s example and to be peace makers. For there is one force that is active in our world that is more relentless than evil and that force is God’s love. He calls upon each of us who know Him to follow Christ’s example as we give the Holy Spirit the opportunity to work in our hearts to replace the evil that we are by nature inclined to do with the good that flows out of Christ’s love and strength. We are to use every ounce of our energy in a continuous drive to bring true and lasting peace to others through touching them with the love that comes from Christ alone.

 

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