Humility


But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5: 15

 

This idea might seem quaint, old-fashioned, or even foolish today. For the world where we live takes great delight in the way that we put down others and looks to gain power and dominance by means of the words that we use to describe people who differ from us. This is something that is going on across political, social, and economic lines, and it is, sadly, also far too much a part of the nature of the dialogue within the holy realm of Christ’s own church. Thus, what Jesus shed His most precious blood to consecrate is often being reduced to something that would shame a back-alley shout-down. This is true even when the civility of lowered voices and the decorum of the setting are maintained as a façade, for when the heart is enraged, its murderous intent still stings, wounds, and commits acts of murder upon the spirit

 

In Christ, we are called to something better than this. We are also led by the Spirit into a manner of engagement that should not utilize verbal and emotional assault as a weapon and that should not accept it in people who we follow and whose direction we take for the conduct of the business of our days. This is the sort of thing that diminished the God-image based humanity of all who enter into such exchanges, and I fear that this is the intent, either overt or underlying, of people who resort to verbal character assassination, graphically negative description of others, and rapid fire, long distance put-downs as a valid method of dialogue or debate. Yet, this is what we are doing. This is the way that we have become accustomed to hearing the views of those who rule this world expressed, and far too many of us in the church are applauding these utterly worldly words and giving credence to their cleverness, force, and truth-saying when they deserve nothing more than rejection and rebuke for the this-world centered nature and character of their content and the hurtful desire of their delivery.

 

In case you are beginning to look toward singular people and say that this is about one person or a specific point of reference in the on-going discourse of our world, please reconsider, think again. For my heart is troubled by much more than what a person or even a political party might be saying. I am joining with Paul in my concern over what is happening inside of Christ’s church. We can and perhaps even should disagree on the issues of our day. Yet, we should never look toward another follower of Christ in a manner that is dismissive or unloving and that does anything to sever the bonds of fellowship that Christ gave His all to construct among us. I will say this again, we can disagree. We even must disagree, for the dialogue around the way and the manner that God’s Word informs and speaks into the issues of our times is an important aspect of the way that the Spirit works out His will and intent in and among us. We should also hold our public figures accountable for speaking truth, for the direction that they lead us, and for the manner in which they engage in the discourse. However, we must never resort to the ways of this world in doing these things, for that path is one that does nothing other than bring division and destruction into Christ’s most precious body of faith.

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Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.

1 Corinthians 7: 17

 

At first this verse might seem to be about contentment; about accepting who and what you are. Those ideas are exposed here, but there is also much more. This is about the fact that people are complicated and complex. We are diverse in ways that are both large-scale and obvious and at the same time, subtly nuanced or shaded. People are a direct reflection of the one who created us as we are so made in God’s image. None of us are the totality if that image in ourselves, but in the sum total of all of us, we begin to demonstrate a more complete expression of the Creator.

 

This does not mean that we each come into a relationship with God in a fully formed condition or that there is not growth and reforming to be done over time. God takes us where we are and as we are at that time, and He begins a life-long process of working on and in us to shape us into being a more fully developed person who brings the presence of God into the world. Yet, God’s acceptance of each of us means that His earthly family, His body, is populated by people who are different from each other in almost every way that it is possible for us to differ. This means that we are going to be in close relationship with people from other social and economic situations, with vast educational disparity, who speak various languages and do so with interestingly odd to us accents. God also brings together racial differences, cultural divides, and various political persuasions into one great gathering based upon faith in Christ and founded upon the fact that He breaks down all divisions and barriers between His people.

 

God calls upon us to live in this diverse and even troubling or uncomfortable environment. He directs us to focus upon our commonality in Christ rather than upon the differences that we perceive in our humanity. God directs His people to live out to the fullest the gifts, skills, talents, and personality that we have been given as all of this is a part of that complete image of the Creator that is formed by Christ’s body when we are gathered together. We can turn to Christ to help us gain in our ability to be accepting of who and what we are in His kingdom, and we can do the same regarding others in the body of Christ in order to come to a place of acceptance and understanding of them, for Christ’s grace, love, and wisdom are the gifts that He grants to us so that we can learn to live in the manner that He desires for us to do. In Christ and through His grace, we, His Body, are bearers of light in our world, and we bring forth the hope of peace that Christ alone sets out as the goal of life on earth and as the gateway to eternity.

 

 

The LORD is slow to anger and great in power,

and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.

His way is in whirlwind and storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1: 3

 

During this season of Advent we tend to picture Jesus as a soft and cuddly baby, for that is how He came into this world in human form. There is something that is both comforting and is also quite extraordinarily powerful in that image. It conveys, among other things, the fact that God, Himself, was willing to enter into the same life that each of us lives in order to become the perfect and singularly acceptable sacrifice for all of the sins of humanity. It also portrays the reality that Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father so that each of us who follow Christ are shown that we are to do likewise and seek out the will of God in all matters. But these humble and submissive images are not the totality of the ways that God is present in our world. This aspect of the account of God’s interaction with this world is not even close to the complete description of what advent involves.

 

God is truly with us. He has always been so, for this is true from a point in time that precedes all of the processes of creation that brought the heavens and this world into existence. God, as described by the prophet here, is mighty, patient, gracious, and righteous. He is not quick to judge as He desires for people to turn away from wrong-doing as they embrace His truth and His way of living; yet, He is also willing and able to enter into a judgement that is both swift and terrible for those who reject Him and His way of thinking and living. It is not easy for us to connect the reality of judgement with the image of the baby Jesus, but that is something that we must do. Jesus the Christ is the Savior of all of humanity, and He is also our judge. His justice is the foundational truth that underpins all of Creation. His righteousness is perfect and as such is beyond any of our ability or capacity to grasp except by and through the redemptive grace that Christ pours over and into all who submit to Him as Savior and Lord.

 

So, as we celebrate the joyousness of this season, we should also be entering into a time of reflection, confession, repentance, and acceptance of that grace. Christ came to us, and He did so in the most vulnerable of all possible manners, but that was done so that God could fully demonstrate His sovereignty, might, and unrelenting heart for justice in our world. God took that infant and raised Him up to be the only absolutely significant person to ever walk upon this earth, the Father accepted the grief of brutal loss so that sin could be extinguished, and He poured out His infinite power and might in the resurrection so that we would all see the Lord’s mastery over the elemental forces of this world. Advent can mean renewal, a form of revival for followers of Christ when we turn away from all that holds us back from fully participating in Christ and in His righteousness during our days. We know that Christ will judge the wickedness of this world; so, we are called upon by Him to live righteously, to proclaim God’s justice and peace, and to love all people and each aspect of creation with the same unceasing passion that the Father has lavished upon us.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.

Deuteronomy 7: 6

 

Let me start out by saying that I do know that this verse is about Israel and that it is situated in a passage about God’s choosing of these people to be His enclave of righteousness and also His point of human outreach into the world. However, God’s plan for redemption of this world was bigger than that, and it remains much greater to this day. In Christ, we all are granted the gift of inclusion in the Lord’s grand plan for adoption into the heavenly family of grace. By the blood of Christ all people are now included based solely upon our belief in Him as there are no longer any racial, familial or other external qualifiers for such earthly and eternal status. We are now the ones who carry on the charge to be holy and the calling to be righteous that was originally placed upon Israel. We are the laborers that God has called to do His work in this rich field of spiritual harvest that is the earth in our days.

 

Although this task can be great and carrying it out can seem overwhelming due to the numbers of people who do not know God, in reality it is a very light burden that we carry, for the Lord goes before us in it and He provides the strength and wisdom for doing the work. Additionally, Christ takes full responsibility for the outcome. Our role is to be willing, available, and forthright in our proclamation of our relationship with Christ. It seems that God wants for us to respond to His love for us by bringing that same love into our world so that the way that we are held as treasure by God is reflected onto the people that we encounter along the path of life, and the love that God pours out onto us by virtue of His intensely paternal attitude toward us provides the way and the means for us to truly love others as well.

 

God does set His people apart from this world in that we are to avoid embracing its broken and evil aspects as our own. We are to remain separate from its idolatry, violence, and selfish ambitions so that we are led by God’s Word and infused with His Spirit to live out Christ’s calling to bring the Gospel of Christ to every person that we can contact as we lovingly embrace them in full appreciation of their unique, God-image bearing creation at the hands of the Father. This is a primary purpose for God’s sacrificial work of calling us into relationship with Him. He has set us apart from this world so that we can enter into it as people who are clearly different from the rest; yet, this is not a difference that is born out of superiority but rather it is one that is formed up in humility and by service to the Lord. As we are God’s treasured possession, God desires for us to be people who hold that status with open hands by pouring out Christ into our world and by sharing the truth of His redemption as we go along our way.

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you.

Acts 7: 51

 

The early church martyr Stephen is stating the hard truth about the way that so many of God’s own people were living. They were granted the presence of God, Himself, in Jesus, and they violently rejected Him. They had a long history of being blessed by God in ways that were special and miraculous; yet, they refused to obey the Lord’s will. These people always seemed to want more than they had, and still they didn’t enjoy contentment when they were given what they requested. Although they had been chosen by God, rescued out of slavery by Him, and provided with all that they could possibly have needed; they refused to fulfill their part of the bargain by giving God all of their hearts and all of their minds. They were holding back, unyielding, and not willing to trust in God to the point where they could have a real impact on the righteousness of their communities.

 

Unfortunately, this sounds like a way that God might describe our times, this community, and our response to Him. This world is one in which the hand of God with His mercy, grace, and love is quite evident. Yet, His heart must be saddened by the way that we continue to reject His offer of life. We rage against the injustice in our lives while we accept the oppression of millions. We complain about the erosion of our incomes and the loss of our quality of life; yet, we turn a blind eye as the unborn are denied the right to even draw breath. We spend a great amount of time and place very real energy into seeking to change our government while we give only passing interest and involvement in our own church bodies, and we put even less of ourselves into promoting the unity of Christ’s body outside of those walls.

 

Although Stephen’s words were filled with condemnation and rebuke, I am certain that his heart’s desire was that at least some of the people in his audience would hear God’s truth in those statements and that those individuals would turn away from their self-centered course of life and back to God. As we hear those same words, that is what I believe God is saying to us. He wants us to examine our own lives. Christ implores us to meditate deeply on His Word and listen carefully to what He is saying to us. Christ desires for His people to become the voice of love, grace, mercy, and peace in our troubled world. He wants us to stop dwelling in the isolation of our own homes and reside in the community of His body. The Holy Spirit is moving in our land, and He is calling for us to repent of our wandering ways. Christ calls, and He wants for us to respond by giving Him our all.

 

 

 

If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him.

2 Timothy 2: 11

 

There are elements of my being that are very hard to change. They just continue to come to the surface whenever the situation or the circumstances are right, and I am not talking about good things like courage or resolve, either. These are the parts of me that cause me to seek to go it on my own, to hurt others rather than take the pain myself, or to operate out of fear and doubt rather than from complete trust in God. Fortunately, the Spirit of Christ continues to point out all of this to me, and He faithfully takes on the fight that is needed to effect the changes in me that will get me beyond my weakness.

 

Jesus died a very public death so that everyone who desires to become completely alive would have the opportunity to do so. He gave His blood to free us from a state of eternal servitude to sin. That eternity of oppressive bondage begins at birth and never ends unless we accept the gracious gift of salvation that comes through Christ. Even after we have accepted this transformative gift, the change process is not close to completion; for, there are elements of our temperament and personality that have been infected with sin’s unhealthy way of thinking and acting, and the process of cleansing, healing, and retraining takes wisdom, recognition, understanding, and time.

 

It is important for me to continually seek the wisdom that the Holy Spirit brings so that I can recognize these undesirable traits in myself. Sometimes He speaks to me through God’s written word, at other times He uses the voices and the heartfelt concerns of people, and there are situations where the voice of understanding that leads to my desire for change comes from inside me. God wants me to take these ways of thinking and the behaviors that result from them and surrender control over them to Him. He wants me to publicly put them to death by talking with Him about what I am seeking to change in my life and by sharing this area of needed transformation with someone who will walk with me through the process. Finally, I need to realize and to accept the fact that as I surrender control and seek Christ’s work in me, then I am truly alive.

 

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