Humility


Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.

Ephesians 6: 10

 

There comes a time in everyone’s life when it is necessary to recognize certain fundamental truths. One of those is the fact that there is a lot more power afoot in our world than I have the capacity to stand up against. I can be skillful in debate, possess substantial financial resources, and even have armed responders to support my causes; yet, I will not have enough power and might on my side to defeat every true enemy that I will encounter. Thus, I will come to that end of the road where what I bring to the fight is no more than enough to lead me into defeat and wherein I can either remain beaten or I can surrender myself to the One who is already victorious over all that is in this world.

 

As I surrender to Christ, His victory is mine. When I yield any part of my fight to His will, Christ enfolds some more of me into His form of conquest over all that is evil and lost. In one sense, this process of yielding of myself and of entering into the hard won conquest of sin that came about on the cross is the real point wherein I become strong enough to even enter the battle that is life. Christ calls upon us to be strong and courageous, for this world is a place where terror roams our streets and pain and suffering are promised to us as a part of our spiritual birthright. Living righteously requires far more of these God-given qualities than does dwelling in the flesh. So, we need strength and courage to go out into the storm with God’s truth, love, and justice as our guiding principles.

 

Yet, this is what Christ promises to give to us. He tells us and has demonstrated through His life that He stands up to all forms of opposition and prevails. Now Christ takes His people into that same victory. He grants to us the strength that will be demanded of us along the path that we will travel today. That capacity to engage with the forces of this world does not come from our own skills, intelligence, or other form of resource; it is all a gift that is given out of the love that God has for us and that is found only in Christ. As followers of Christ, we are the truly strong people in this world, but that power is demonstrated in ways that are often strange and contrarian to the environment where we reside. Christ answers the forces of this world with love, grace, justice, and peace, and He uses our yielded selves as His workers in doing it all.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.

Romans 12: 17

 

The late 15th to early 16th century Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch created many vividly detailed and fantastical scenes that depicted the unseen life of the spirit and within the spiritual realm. Some of these works portray the nature of evil in ways that are powerful and that, I think, grant us with a sense of the essential nature of evil, itself. The claws and snarling jagged teeth that are deployed in flesh ripping glee and the violent grasping of others in attempts to gain the upper hand are outward expressions of hearts that are intent on destruction and that are fully and fatally separated from God with His love, grace, and mercy. The kingdom of evil is a place where raging passions go unchecked and wherein destruction is the reward that loyalty to the cause receives. This is not a place where most people actually desire to dwell.

 

Yet, evil has an attractive side to it. Its power is intoxicating, and its passion can be highly energizing, too. It feels good to respond to slights, hurts, and affronts with their equal or even with the next step up in the process of response. This is the way of our world, and this is the natural manner of handling challenging and hurtful situations in our various cultures. However, this is not how God designed for us to live. Anger, violence, and misapplied passion are not the tools that the Lord gave to us as our devices for living together. These are things that we have developed out of our lost allegiance to the Prince of the Earth, and they come straight out of his toolbox. Still, it feels good and it seems righteous to respond with a stinging rebuke or with the removal of relationship when others have spoken to us or done to us like kinds of things.

 

Paul responds to all of this by reflecting on what Jesus taught and lived out in His own life. The Apostle tells us to pause, take that meditative breath, and allow the Christ inspired thoughts of our redeemed minds to take control of our emotions. Then we are counseled to do all that we do, say the words that we speak, and respond to others as an act of worshipful honor to Christ. This approach will change everything in our interactions with others. It doesn’t matter if the person that we are engaged with is close friend, family, distant acquaintance, or a stranger for they are all due to receive the same respect and honor in the name of Christ. This ability to engage with everyone in a loving and God-honoring manner was a distinct marker of Jesus’ way of living in our world. It should be the same for those of us who follow Christ. As we respond to evil with grace we infuse the heavenly into the harsh landscape of our world and touch its fevered brow with Christ’s peace and redemption.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

James 1: 5

 

This thought makes me wonder about the times in which James lived. Was there more wisdom afoot then than there is now? You see, to me there just isn’t much of that great and Godly commodity visible in our world today. I don’t think that this is the result of my just hanging out in the wrong company or on the bad streets of my town, either. This unwise nature and function of people in general today is the product of deliberate choices that we have made. Unfortunately, lack of wisdom tends to inform the unwise, and the unwise frequently become the information experts for people who lack Godly wisdom themselves. This process of the clueless being counseled by the unwise isn’t just circular in nature, either; rather, it established a path of declension that heads ever further away from the truth.

 

The good news in all of this is that this downward path is changeable. Like a pilot is trained to take corrective actions when the plane is heading dangerously toward the ground, there are things that each of us can do to change the way that we are processing and responding to our world. Getting back to James and his statement, I think that he was posing a rhetorical question here in that I sincerely doubt that he was seeing all that much wisdom or that many wise people in his neighborhood either. The “if” refers to everyone in his day, and it calls me out and everyone else around me today. This is our problem as fallen people who live in a broken world. We lack God’s wisdom, and we don’t always realize just how much we are missing because of this state of being.

 

Yet, like that well trained pilot, we don’t need to crash and burn. We can do what our old friend James suggests here and seek out God and His wisdom of life. The Lord has placed it right before our eyes, and He has granted His presence in us and in our world to illuminate, illustrate, and explain His truths to us. We can read God’s Word on a very regular basis, and we can meditate and contemplate on what He is saying to each of us as we do this reading. The Spirit does speak and He will bring the eternal word of life into meaningful context for all that we are facing in the days to come in our world. As the old expression goes, in our relationships with God, “There are no dumb questions.” The Lord hears our doubts, concerns, and pleas, and He does answer them with the sort of wise truth that transforms our approach to life and that brings the order of Christ into our days so that we can give a touch of reason to the unwise environment around our doors.

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4: 6

 

Shout it out! This is what our world seems to do with great vigor and zeal. People make their message known in ways that are clear and that do not lack for an aura of dominance. That is the point, I believe. In a loud and graceless world, the intensity of the volume in combination with the shock value of the language is being used more and more of the time as the starting point for a form of discourse that seems intended to shut off dialogue and overwhelm real listening. God inspired the writers of Scripture to mention our speech or the nature of our words so many times for a reason. That is because it does matter.

 

The way that we address others is a marker of the attitudes that we hold in the heart and of the way that our mind has been trained to think of people and situations. When we use derogatory terms, foul language, and negative stereotypes in describing anyone, we are operating on the exact opposite side of human nature from the way that God describes as righteous. The words that we select to use can be tools for constructive interchange or they can be intended to build oneself up while diminishing the other. One of these approaches can lead to peacemaking, relationship building, and demonstrates the Godly qualities that He places within people. The other devalues relationship while pouring fuel upon the fire of disagreement and difference, and it denies the existence of the God-image in others and in the speaker.

 

There is another way to conduct the business of this world. We have seen it portrayed by Christ and by Godly people throughout the narrative of the Bible. Although they felt passionate about causes and were driven to frustration, fear, and anger in the course of doing God’s will, they mostly remained gracious in the words that they used and made bringing others, even adversaries, closer rather than driving them away. The sort of calm and peace at the heart level that leads to measured and edifying speech in the most intense of situations is a marker of a person’s relationship with God. The devolution of the language that is used in our public and private interchanges needs to stop. Each of us needs to search our own hearts and seek God’s reckoning with the way that we think and then express ourselves. We also need to stop accepting mean-spirited, course, and derogatory expressions n others. Language is a gift from God; let’s use it to bring the flavor of Him into our world.

 

 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8: 9

 

People want to be rich. There is no question in my mind that the desire for wealth operates as a basic drive in most of humanity. It doesn’t seem to matter where we live, what our culture looks like, or how much we have, we want to obtain enough more so that we are separated out from the rest of those around us. We desire the power, and we covet the capacity to seemingly make our own choices and enter into control over the decisions that effect the course of our days. In the story telling of various cultures there are few examples of people who are help up for their poverty, and there are multitudes of them about those who achieved great things and obtained the wealth that came from those feats. Simply, we value power and the powerful; so, we seek after the means to posses that power.

 

Yet, God did not design our world to be like this. There was no inequality in the Lord’s construct and design of Creation. There was really no need for people to seek after more, for God provided them with an abundance of all that was needful and granted them full access to choose from His earthly garden’s bounty with very few restrictions. This was not enough for to meet the desires of our ancestor’s minds and hearts, and we know how that decision went and what it means for all of us who have come after them. That is the point here as the one entity in all of the universe who had the right to posses everything, who was truly rich in the fullest sense of what defines wealth, was willing to set it all aside in order to enter into the singular journey that would lead to redemption for all of humanity. Jesus was not under compulsion to leave behind the splendor and the great glory of Heaven; instead, He chose to do this. He elected to pour out His wealth and the related power of His lordship over all.

 

In doing this, Jesus was willing to hand Himself over to being subject to the abuses and made Himself vulnerable to the oppressive acts of those who seemed to hold all of the real power in the world. Of course, His abusers were existing in a false reality, for in the culmination of that oppressive power’s outworking upon Jesus at the cross, the reality of evil’s feeble hold on life became apparent beyond all disputing. Jesus made Himself poor so that every person who desired to know God could enter into the possession of the true wealth of Heaven and so that we could know that riches here and now and for all of eternity. It seems that in God’s view of what constitutes wealth that there are valuable gems and valid systems of measurement that are weighed out in unending increments of love, grace, soul-deep peace, fellowship, and truth. As we follow Christ along the course of life that leads ever further into His will, we are led by Christ and in response to His example to release our grip upon the wealth and the related power that this world values so highly and enter into our Lord’s sacrificial love for everyone in our world.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Romans 12: 16

 

Harmonious living in the body of Christ is a very different creature than the concept of harmony that is often portrayed in our culture where it is frequently discussed in terms that relate to compromise. It is expressed in the idea of not making waves, of seeking the middle ground, and of peaceful coexistence. These ideas sound good and the image of the calm, restrained communication that should result promises a more civil society. Yet there is a flaw in this idea, for we humans don’t actually function well in this sort of environment, and honesty, truth, and righteousness suffer under the requirement to surrender God’s values to the world’s ethics.

 

It seems that there are two primary requirements for remaining true to God’s word while continuing to live in harmony with others in the world. The first involves an attitude of total submission. We need to remain continually humble before the Lord’s mighty capacity to communicate accurately and honestly and our own flawed skill in this area. Christ speaks to our hearts and into this world with language that demonstrates His total love and His willingness to go to the lowest of places and to embrace the least lovely of people in order to bring them into the presence of God. We need to continually realize that each of us is the recipient of this sort of absolute grace; then, we need to give it, in Christ’s name, to others.

 

Next we should stay continually aware of the true source for all of our wisdom, understanding, and capacity to solve challenges and problems. Every skill, talent, and gift that I posses was granted to me by God, my Creator. The wisdom that forms the foundation of my thinking comes from His word, and any ability that I have to understand and to apply that wisdom comes as a result of the instruction and the guidance that God’s Spirit continually provides. The Lord does want to see people living in harmony; however, His harmony is focused on truth and righteousness, and it is centered on Christ.

 

There will be no poor among you, for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess.

Deuteronomy 15: 4

 

This is a hard thought to figure out. It certainly goes against the reality that we experience, and it also suggests some things that are quite uncomfortable to consider. One way of responding to this mandate would be to become very restrictive in who we allow to enter into our land. Another is to define the area of responsibility as being as close to our physical homes as is possible. Certainly we can say that this is a thought that God expressed about living in the times of Moses and that it has no direct application to our times and culture. There are many ways in which we can attempt to escape the possibility that there are truly large numbers of poor in our land and that we have a God-ordained responsibility to care for them. Yet, is that how God, Himself, views it?

 

I believe that there are some underlying truths that place the application of God’s will here in perspective. The first of these is faith in God. This is followed very closely by trusting Him to be the sole provider of everything that is needed. The Lord had promised His people that they were going to be dwelling in a land that lacked nothing. They were being given a land to claim and to occupy as His commissioned agents of restoration. Yet, our human tendency is to never settle down and be comfortable until we are fully in charge of the situation at hand. We always want more, seek to have it sooner, and don’t much like to share what we have acquired. The next underlying truth is that God wants us to function as His agents for change and restoration in the land. In order to do this we must look, sound, and act a lot more like Christ than most of us do today. We need to realize that we have many patterns of thought and of living that are both spiritually and practically antagonistic to His will.

 

Simply and perhaps brutally stated, most of us have far more than we need. We have more than we could possibly use in several lifetimes. We expend tremendous amounts of our resources in going after it all, too. We live in a culture that appreciates power and that exploits the disadvantaged. Many of us strive to gain a position of superiority at every opportunity. This is not just a characteristic of national leaders or even of people who hold political office, for I believe that most of us, if we look closely enough, will see this ungodly characteristic in ourselves. Christ desires for us to embrace a heart that joins Him in seeking to eliminate poverty and oppression from our land. This starts with a deeply-rooted faith in God. We need to trust Him to the degree that He is trustworthy, and in my understanding and experience, that is absolutely and totally. As I see it Christ wants me to be fully engaged in doing His restorative work in the land that He has given me to occupy for Him. I believe that no borders or boundaries define this land. In our times we have the God-gifted ability to touch lives in every corner of the world. God’s mandate that there be no poor in the land starts with a call to righteousness, and it is accomplished by fully embracing Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

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