Humility


Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Romans 8: 35

It might seem that there are forces at work in our world that want nothing more than to keep people away from being close to God. For things just happen to us, around us, and to those that we care about. It can become relentless at times, and the assault certainly does not ever cease for very long. Paul is speaking to the reality of life as he knew it personally, and he is also warning others about what he observed and anticipated in the lives of others. These cold water in the face words are intended to set us free from the sudden assaults of the unexpected and unanticipated, and they are also here to give assurances to each of us that the things that we are experiencing are normal and are a part of the natural course of life in this world where brokenness and sin are cured only by the blood that Christ has shed for us.

A response to the thoughts that have just been expressed might be to question why I see a form of warning or expectant caution in the Apostle’s words of encouragement here. Paul’s point in this section of Romans 8 is that there is nothing on earth or in the heavens above or in the powers of those who dwell in Hell below that can rip, tear, or pry one of Christ’s own souls from His grasp. Christ holds onto the people who come to Him with both tenacity and overwhelming power. Yet, that long list of forces that are attempting to work their potions of trouble, disbelief, and pain upon Christ followers is, in fact, just a sampler or partial list of all that works against us in this world. The faith that we hold in Christ will be tested over and over again as we go about living, and the more that we exercise this trust in Christ by engaging in doing His will and serving His kingdom, the more that various forces around us will see us as targets to be attacked mercilessly.

So, the assurance that God is providing for us is founded in the nature and the character of His own heart. The Lord not only desires for us to draw near to Him and to enter into a relationship with Him that will be active and alive today and for all of eternity, but He also will do anything that is required to protect our souls and to defend our place in His kingdom of grace and glory. There will be days when it will feel almost irrational for us to continue to cling to faith in Christ and to stay true to His calling to serve God by seeking out Him and His truth and righteousness; yet, those doubts are nothing more than tools that an enemy is using to develop separation from Christ in His people, and these are times when we are called upon to turn the doubts into trust by submitting it all to Christ in prayer, meditation, and the fellowship of His body of faith. In the end, Christ’s love is so deep, so prevalent, and so all pervasive that it is never far from us, and His hands that are placed upon us in loving embrace cannot be pulled or pushed away from us.       

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Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of God.

Matthew 18: 4

Children are very interesting. There is usually a simplicity to the way that they face into life wherein they can say what they think without a lot of filtering or needless rambling around the topic at hand. They tend to trust those who care for and about them in a way that allows them to engage with direction or even with discipline with relatively easy acceptance. These young people can laugh in a manner that fills a room with their joy, and they are also not afraid to cry when things hurt and they need someone to hold and to hug them until the hurt fades. They also try things and risk failure with a certain carelessness that turns the failure into learning. This image of what a child is like was a part of what Jesus seemed to have had in mind as He talked about the life of a person who wanted to truly know and to follow God.

Unfortunately, people tend to lose much of this easy exuberance, trust, and simple faith as we age and leave behind the dependence of childhood and take on the independence of our adult years. It seems that we start to think that we need to possess all of the answers and have our responses to life figured out. This sets us up for both the appearance of arrogance and also for a false sense of self-determination and control. There is a fine balance to be achieved in all of this, for God has designed us to be thinking beings who take on responsibility and grow in wisdom and the strength that we require to serve Him well in our world. However, He also desires to remain involved and engaged with us as we go about doing His will, for God does not want any of his children to be separated from the influence of His Spirit or the fellowship and encouragement of His body.

Maturity in Christ is thus very different from the model of that advanced stage in life as it is often portrayed in our world. It is freeing in that it grants us permission to need the input and the involvement of others in our thoughts and actions. It also provides us with the ability to walk through our days in the company of others who are all seeking to serve the same Master with like-minded goals on view. We are set free to laugh out of the deep joy of Christ in our hearts and to cry with an openness that responds to the hurt and the pain that is all around us in this broken place. Childhood reentered in Christ is a blessing to our souls as it also brings that special sparkle of innocence and easy submission into a world that is too full of life’s heavy burdens. As adult children of the Father we are sent out on the great journey of service to God’s Kingdom while we are also held close in loving care and life-giving counsel and support.  

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,

   but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11: 14

Most of us were taught to be strong and to stand on our own in most aspects of life. This independence and individualism are considered to be virtues in us, and these same qualities are given even greater importance as character traits for those who would seek to ascend to positions of leadership. We are to evaluate the data, form conclusions that are reasoned out of that information, and formulate a plan of action. Then, with this plan in hand and a goal in view, we set everything in motion and press on to accomplishing that end result. We are driven by a form of competitive zeal onward to victory. This personal win or lose mentality is frequently the underlying energy in campaigns of all sorts whether grand and great or minimal and insignificant. The old joke about men not asking directions applies in far more significant ways when it comes to the manner that people in various positions of leadership are often expected to make important decisions and to take conclusive actions without seeking and listening to outside counsel.

Needless to say, this is rather different than the way that God would have us function. He provides us with a wealth of sound and wise guidance, advice, and moral direction to rely upon in making all manner of decisions. Even more significantly than looking to God’s viewpoint on issues and considering His direction in situations is the concept of deep and fundamental transformation that is inherent in the way that Christ works within His people. He enters into us and proceeds to work in a manner that transforms each of us from our sin-led and death-bound existences into people who are free from that bondage to sin and are growing ever more alive as we walk with Christ through the days of our lives. The very idea of submission to Christ should lead us into seeking His perspective and guidance in all matters in life. The Lord’s wisdom is foundational to the design and the construction of the world where we dwell, and it is superior to any other thought or consideration when it comes to living in a just, righteous, and holy manner.

So, back to leaders and to our expectations for them and for ourselves, also. If we are willing to subordinate our thoughts, concepts, ideas, and plans to the counsel that God provides for us by and through the many counselors and forms of granting wisdom and guidance that He provides to us, then we should also require this of the people in whom we entrust the leadership of organizations, entities, and governmental institutions that we live within. At the very least, they should be seeking out the counsel and advice of many wise and diverse people who are themselves doing the same sort of guidance seeking from their own array of people of considered wisdom. Living as a wise person starts with dwelling at the foot of the cross of Christ where all of my intellect, training, and experience are insignificant in relation to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. It is from that humble point of view that my eyes are most open and my vista the least obstructed by human frailty and sinful pride. It is by and through Christ, in the counsel of God’s Word, and with the instruction of the Spirit that we all thrive individually and as organizations and even as nations.   

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

1 Corinthians 12: 24, 25

People tend to operate differently than does God. I know that this thought is probably not all that surprising to most of us, for if we have spent any amount of time in a relationship with God and have also traveled through life in human company, we have observed this fact in many ways as it has played out in others and in ourselves. We look toward honor or position achieved as a sign that we should give respect and even deference to a person. Thus, when someone has achieved success or has been granted authority or power, we will grant that individual even more of the same. Although we may grumble, complain, and even struggle against the rule of others, in the end, generally we want to let someone take the responsibility for leading so that we can place blame on them when things go poorly and we can benefit from what goes well. God does things in another way, and He desires to see His people live out our relationships in a manner that is similar to His approach to relating with us.

The Lord seeks to elevate the weak, the disenfranchised, and the outcasts of our world. He desires to bring people who are cast off to the fringes of society into close proximity and engagement with those who are at its center. In Christ, God has provided to the world the common ground upon which we can all stand in an ingathering of races, genders, cultures, and even of belief systems or faiths. Christ calls upon all of us to see more deeply so that we look through the exteriors of others and into their hearts and souls. I think that this is something that we do firstly with those who we should be closest to in the course of our days. That would be our families, neighbors, co-workers, and others who we engage in fellowship with on a regular basis. We can ask the Spirit to show us that deeper worth and greater value that resides within every person created by God in His image. We can begin to see the giftedness that flows out of Christ within each person that we encounter as we consider them from the perspective of our best understanding of how Jesus, Himself, would have viewed that beloved individual.

Seeing the people who are closest to us in the light of Christ’s presence in them and with their giftedness on view may sound like an easy thing to do, but it is much more challenging to live out than it might seem. People are all complex and relating to them is never simple. When we look more deeply into those inner places in a person’s life we are taken into the pain, fears, hopes, dreams, and aspirations that are a part of how we are all constructed by our Creator. Yet, these are the places where we need to go if we are to follow the Lord’s desired plan for the way that His body would exist and flourish in this world. As we care about and then for those who are closest to us, we are trained and empowered to do the same for people who are more distant from us. When the portion of the body of Christ that we are associated with in fellowship is healthy, nurturing, and all-embracing, we have a compelling story to tell and to demonstrate to others who do not know Christ, for it is in Christ that we have learned to truly love, and it is through Christ’s love that we have begun to live in a society that values all people equally and that seeks what is best for everyone without regard to relative strength or weakness or human perceived value and worth. 

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.

Luke 1: 45

Mary believed what the angel told her. It might seem natural to say something along the lines of, “Certainly, of course. Why wouldn’t she accept and embrace this great thing that she was singularly selected to do?” Yet, think about this for a moment. How might any of us respond to being told that our world was about to be completely interrupted and turned upside down by an event of this magnitude? This might not be the sort of thing that would even seem plausible or possible to comprehend. Still, Mary’s acceptance and belief are portrayed as complete, absolute, and without hesitation or doubt. In looking at her story, it strikes me that this little line of scripture that is buried in the flow of the narrative is very significant to others of us, as well. Her faith in God’s goodness and love is so complete that she is ready in body, heart, and mind to follow the Lord’s leading and to serve His will with all of her being and in every aspect of her life.

The Lord makes promises to all people. He did not start or stop in this sort of engagement with us with Mary, with the Apostles, or at any other point in history. From the beginning of time until the very end of it, God is a covenant making and keeping being. His word is given with great care and consideration of the purpose behind the promise that is made, and He does not waiver of recant on follow through and completion of His word. Creation was promised that God would provide a Savior for us when we rebelled and grabbed ahold of death as our new destiny. Then, in due time, Mary gave birth to the One who is the fulfillment of that promise. Jesus the Christ was miraculously born to this young woman, and our lives are redeemed from the state of separation from God and the living and eternal death that was the natural result of that estrangement. This is the greatest of all of God’s promises, and He has made it available to everyone who will respond to Christ’s appeal, “Come to me!”

There are many other ways that God has made promises to me and to others who follow Him. The Lord is generous beyond my ability to count or to measure; yet, I do not fully appreciate the breadth, depth, and scope of God’s commitment to me and to His kingdom on earth. Although I do not doubt God’s presence or the reality of what Christ means to and in my life, I admit that I do not think and act in a manner that fully and continually reflects a state of existence that is absolutely infused by the love, grace, mercy, justice, and righteousness that is the outworking of Christ’s presence in my life. I do not operate out of the simple, direct, and unwavering faith that are so apparent in this description of Mary’s response to the Lord. This lack of such a faith is something that demands repentance on my part and submission to Christ in any and all areas of my life where I continue to hold onto my flawed and much weaker form of control. So, I pray, “Lord, my faith is incomplete. I hold onto parts of my life when You have asked that I give it all to You. I repent of my sin, and seek to follow Your will and way in all that I think, say, and do. Lord, please grant to me the full and absolute faith that Mary knew. This is my prayer and my plea. Amen.”  

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.

Mark 7: 8

During the Christmas season people are often focused on Jesus’ humble start to life on earth when He was a baby. We like to contemplate the reality of a God who would join with His creation in a manner such as this, and it is comforting to know that every aspect of growing up that we went through and that we endured is something similar to what Jesus knew, as well. As much as we may enjoy this meek and mild image of Jesus, He did not always think and act in this manner. In fact, the Lord had a great capacity for telling truth in very strong and stern terms, and He also had no fear regarding who He might offend or turn against Him when He did this. In this instance, Jesus is confronting His on-going foes in the Pharisees; however, these same words might be said to many other people over all of history. Although it may not be quite as obvious in its expression today, it does seem that we continue to act in this same manner on a regular basis.

We have allowed our own ways of doing things in this world to take precedence over God’s law of love, grace, reconciliation, and peace making. This is stated as a blanket condemnation, and I mean it as such. I do not live as God has commanded me to live, and I know and observe very few others who function differently. All that is necessary in order to start to see the application of this sad fact is to turn on a television, open a computer, or walk out your front door and travel a short distance into almost any community on earth. We live in an angry and a selfish world. We care more for our own minor rights and privileges than we do for the life of another person. We are caught up in protecting our turf when we have far more of it than we can even manage while others in our world are starving, being physically and emotionally harmed, and are being denied the basic necessities of life. I fear that Jesus would see all of this much as He saw the actions of the Pharisees.

Everything that we protect and cling to with ultimate tenacity is something that God has given to us out of the abundance of His love, care, and provision. So, why is it that we hold on with a death grip to tangible and to intellectual things that God gifted to us with open hands? We need to understand that all of God’s commandments predate any of our rights of possession and that God has given everything to us so that we could be good and loyal caretakers of the rest of creation. We are not here to be full and self-satisfied; rather, Christ calls upon us to follow him by giving away what we have been given, loving others even when they are hard to understand and even more difficult to embrace, and by calming violence instead of promoting it. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a statement of God’s love for people, and this is the commandment that holds precedence over any and all other laws, rules, or concepts and traditions that people might attempt to establish and follow. In Christ, we are called to bring reconciliation not division, and as we follow Christ, we will turn from everything that is contrary to God’s will and be willing to sacrifice all in order to bring the touch of our Lord’s love, grace, and mercy to our needy world.      

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.

Ephesians 3: 14, 15

Deoxyribonucleic acid, DNA, is amazing, and people have become utterly fascinated by the information that is gained by studying it. Every person on earth today and throughout all of history possesses DNA that is uniquely our own; yet, at the same time, that DNA reveals our relationship to people living and dead who come from places around the world. Our DNA presents a picture of each of us that helps to establish a form of identity for us, but this identity, individually unique as it may be, is nothing more than a partial picture of who we actually are. People are complex, and the components that make up our nature, character, and personality are formed out of many ingredients that are brought together through the agency of numerous forces and factors over the course of a lifetime. Still, beyond all of these earthly and human influences upon our formation, there is a greater and a more fundamental actor involved in granting us our deepest identity.

In the Bible, especially in Hebrew literature, the act of naming a person is important. The name conveys both desired outcome and a reflection upon the observed character of the person. Sometimes these aspects of life are at odds with each other; so, when God is the one who is doing the naming, He is frequently seeing something that is to come in the future and through the work of His hand in and upon that person. God is our Creator. That individual strand of DNA is something that His hand designed and fabricated. Yet, even that complex and definitive structure does not fully set out who we are or what we might become. God’s work in people is extraordinary in its capacity for causing change, growth, and transformation. We may be known for one sort of behavior today, but through the work of the Spirit in our lives, we might go in a completely different direction tomorrow. This is the wonder and this is the hope of God’s grace as He pours it out onto people like you and me.

Paul is pointing us toward what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of entering into this work of transformation and that is submission to God and surrender to Christ. As Paul speaks of bowing his knees before the Father, this is exactly what he is doing. He is saying that he is surrendering control over his life and over this day, and he is giving that control over to the Lord to take him wherever He wants and to do with him whatever Christ desires to do. This is total surrender to God, and this sort of thing is generally very uncomfortable or even terrifying for most of us to consider doing. Yet, God is faithful and true to His word to lead us along paths of righteousness and to protect our souls from harm throughout that journey of faith. As we submit to Christ’s will, we are given the name Faithful Servant. When we set aside all of our wishes, wants, and desires for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are proclaimed by the Lord to be Beloved in His Eyes. The name that we carry throughout our days is important, and the family that we come from is interesting to study, but the name that God gives to each of us is what signifies our true identity in Christ.    

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