Posts Tagged humility

But What If…?

Martin Luther dared to proclaim that God’s forgiveness for sins could not be purchased for money.  He also declared God’s grace as the only source of forgiveness, the Bible as the only source of divinely revealed knowledge, and that all believers are a priesthood before Christ, not a select few.  For these “heresies” he was excommunicated.

When Galileo suggested the radical notion that the earth was not the center of the solar system he was tried and found “vehemently suspect of heresy.”  He was not excommunicated, but was required to “abjure, curse, and detest” his opinions and was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

These actions seem silly as we look at them through the lens of our modern beliefs.  The selling of indulgences seems to us to be as foolish as believing the earth is flat.  But to the religious leaders of their day, the dangerous thoughts of liberals like Martin Luther and Galileo were a challenge to their belief system and a threat they could not endure.

What if beliefs we hold dear are just as silly?

I’m not saying they are.  But what if they are?  What if some future generation will look at ours with the same disbelief as we look back at Martin Luther or Galileo?  Those who persecuted them had the same Bible we possess.  What if, like then, our current understanding of the truth has been so clouded by our cultural, political and social prejudices that we cannot see any other way but ours?

Truth is real.  It is absolute.  It can be nothing less.  The truth that the sun is the center of the solar system did not change because the church leaders considered it heresy.  The truth is what it is, regardless of whether we acknowledge, believe, or follow it.  The truth exists regardless of opposition by politicians or popes.

But truth is not the problem, we are.

What if we have believed and taught things that are based on our own understanding of the truth, but in reality are far from it?  What if we have held others to standards they were never meant to follow?  What if, like in the days of Luther and Galileo, our own politics, preconceptions and prejudices have tainted our understanding and caused us to refuse to accept an alternate reality.  What if we are clinging to the earth being the center of the universe?

What if we have excommunicated others for less?  I’m not talking about some official, church sanctioned excommunication.  I’m talking about the millions who have been driven away from Christ by our lack of humility.  I have said in a previous post that truth must be handled delicately and with humility, otherwise it becomes a weapon.  Beliefs in the absence of love are dangerous things.  Wars are fought over beliefs.  People die when others become so defensive of their position that they feel the infidels must be eliminated.

The Apostle Paul recognized the danger of that arrogance when he said, “…though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”  Love tempers us.  It softens our actions.  It creates a gentleness and patience with those who don’t believe as we do.  Jesus did not say men would know we are His disciples because of our correct doctrine, but by our love.

The gospel frees us from the need to always be right.  When I truly grasped the enormity of God’s grace shown to a worthless loser like me, it released me from my arrogant notion that it all depends on me.  My right beliefs or correct doctrine don’t make God love me more than He already does.

Put down the pitchforks.  I’m not telling you what you believe is wrong.  I’m not demanding that you accept the sun as the center of the solar system. I’m just asking you to have enough of an open mind to consider the possibility that it might be.

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The Path to Freedom

Think about it.

Each of us, like the Jewish people of old, can point to idolatry in our lives.  We have made idols of our bodies.  We have made idols of money and possessions.  We have made idols of family, friends, time and entertainment.  We have even turned our own religion into an idol.  All of us have those things to which we turn for fulfillment or validation that exist outside of God and His will for us.

And because of our idolatry, like Israel, we are surrounded by Babylon.  The Babylonian king was a tool used by God to punish His people and break them from their idolatry.  And, like Nebuchadnezzar, the pressures of this life are used by God to bring an end to our idolatry.

Maybe we have idolized a lifestyle we cannot afford, and God is using financial crisis to turn our heart back to Him.  Perhaps we’ve made an idol of food or substances , and God is using health problems to call us away from our dependence and back to a place of health.  A failed relationship, a lost job, or any number of things could be that Nebuchadnezzar besieging our lives, putting pressure on us to give that area over to God.

I understand this is not always the case.  I’m not saying all sickness or financial trouble is a result of sin in our lives.  Jesus made that clear in Luke 13. Sometimes things happen for reasons we do not understand, and we cannot walk in a constant state of guilt, like we have brought all our own problems on ourselves.

But what if it is?

What if it is our fault?  What if God is using our own private Nebuchadnezzar to bring us back to where we need to be?  Isn’t it worth exploring?  If so, we would be wise to listen to Jeremiah’s advice to the people of Judah,

Thus says the LORD: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him.  For I have set My face against this city for adversity and not for good,” says the LORD. “It shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.”

God has laid out that same choice to you and I as well.  If you stay entrenched in your idolatry and worldliness, you will die.  Failed marriages, broken lives, lost opportunities, and addictions are but a few examples of the death that comes from refusing to let go of our idols. Our churches and families are littered with the destruction that comes from Christian people refusing to lay down their idols.

But if you humble yourself and accept the destruction of your false gods, you will live.  Accept His correction and repent of our idolatry, and watch as His healing power begins to transform our lives.  I’m not saying we are guaranteed all our problems will disappear when we submit to God (in fact, they most likely will not.)  But I am saying the path to spiritual and emotional healing begins with giving in to God’s call to forsake ourselves and follow Him completely.

Like Israel, it might take 70 years of captivity.

It might be humiliating and uncomfortable to confess our idolatry.  It will be scary to let go of the gods to which we have clung so tightly in false security. To lay down our arms and stop fighting God will take incredible faith and trust in a loving Father who ultimately is using crisis to prove His love for us.  Think about that for a minute.  God ultimately allowed Israel to be destroyed because He loved His people enough to not allow them to continue in their wayward state.  Are we willing to trust that same love in our lives as well?

In the end, do we have a choice?

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The Religious Wrong?

They didn’t get it.

They thought they knew the scripture.  After all, they were experts in the scripture; why wouldn’t they understand what it said about the Messiah?  Yet for all their expertise, all their knowledge of the Jewish Bible, they missed it.  The words were right there in front of them.  In fact, they probably knew them by heart, and yet they did not understand.

He was born in a way they did not expect.  He lived in a way they could not understand.  He even died at their own hands, the hands of those who should have seen and heralded His coming.  Their dogma let them down.  Their certainty became their blinders.

There is a word for those who think they have God all figured out.

Pharisee.

The great weakness of the Pharisees was their arrogance.  They were convinced they knew exactly what the scripture promised.  They doggedly held on to their preconceptions, doctrines and dogmas even in the face of the miracles Jesus performed.  They saw what He did and heard what He said, but could not make the connection between the prophecies and their fulfillment.

They thought they had God all figured out.  They thought they had the Master of the Universe in a box.  They thought they had an intellectual and spiritual handle on the God who Himself claimed “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts, and My ways are higher than your ways.”

Perhaps we are not as smart as we think we are.

We all seem so certain of our doctrine.  We have divided off into groups, sure of our own take on the truth.  We have argued and fought with those who disagree with us.  We justify the mistreatment of those we don’t understand, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day oversaw the elimination of the One who wouldn’t play by their rules.  Our rules and doctrines have, just like 2,000 years ago, become more important than people.

But what if our understanding of the scripture is clouded by our own preconceptions?  What if, like the Pharisees, we are so settled in our arrogant self-assurance that we cannot see the simple truth in front of our faces?

It’s not that complicated.

Jesus didn’t spend much of His time on doctrine.  I believe this was intentional.  Those around Him, the religious leaders of the day, seemed to have a corner on that market.  Jesus doctrine was pretty simple.  In fact, I believe it can be focused down to one word: love.  “A new commandment I give to you,” He told His disciples, “that you love one another, as I have loved you.”  Simple.  No complicated system of theology.  Just love others in the way He loved us.

So how did He love us?

He loved us before we loved Him.  His love extended to those who didn’t agree with Him, didn’t believe in Him, even those who nailed Him to the cross.  He loved those who fought against Him and tried to eliminate Him.  He loves regardless of whether His love is returned.

He loved us unconditionally.  There were no requirements to be met before we could experience His grace.  He offers it freely to anyone, regardless of what they do, where they are, or where they have been.  There are no prerequisites, no demands, no qualifications on His love.

He loved us lavishly.  “How great a love has the Father bestowed on us, that we should be called His sons?”  He did more than forgive.  He did more than forget.  He restored us, cleaned us up, and adopted us as His very children.

I could go on.  The list could fill this whole blog of ways that Christ has loved us.  How do we measure up?  Do we love sinners mercifully, unconditionally and freely?  He did not say the world would know we are His disciples by our correct position on the nature of the sacraments or our eschatology. He said they would know we are his followers by how we love.  Perhaps that’s why the world doesn’t really feel they need Christianity any longer.

There is truth.

This is not some postmodern rant against absolute truth.  This is not an attack on doctrine.  The truth of scripture can be known as it is revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.  But that truth should be held delicately.  Our understanding of the truth must be tempered by humility and an understanding of our own frailty.  Otherwise, truth turns into a weapon.  Christians in the middle ages thought they were justified in burning witches at the stake.  Christians in the 50′s thought the Bible condoned burning crosses on the lawns of black men.

What don’t we understand?

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What is true humility?

Most of what I have always considered to be humility is really pride, masquerading as self-hatred.

I look at my life, see my sin and my failure, and I hate myself for it. I stand before God and run myself down, telling Him how worthless I truly am, thinking I am being humble before God. True humility, however, is not self-hatred. Humility is not a self-deprecating criticism of ourselves. That is really pride, the opposite of humility.

We must look to Jesus if we are to see true humility, since He is our ultimate example.

He was God, yet He became man. He was authorita- tive, yet a servant. He was powerful, yet gentle and kind. He was glorious, yet He made Himself unassuming. His example, then, shows us that true humility is in laying aside what our position or stature deserves.

To be humble means to follow the example of Christ, laid out for us in Philippians 2, to take ourselves off the throne and serve rather than be served. Humility is laying down our rights and what is coming to us. Humility is not hating who we are; it is knowing who we are. It is choosing to serve: to serve God’s ways rather than ours, and to serve man rather than our own selfishness. To be humble means we use our authority as a means to serve. To be humble means we use our power to protect and defend. To be humble means we use our resources to provide for others instead of gratifying ourselves. In humility we see our lives as existing to serve God and others instead of ourselves.

Surely I look at my own failures and sin, and I am sorrowful over my rebellion. However it must be the Godly sorrow that leads to life instead of the earthly sorrow that leads to death.  The prophet Micah worded it beautifully, “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God?…Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

Godly sorrow will not lead me to hate myself, for that only leads to depression and death.

That self-hatred only keeps me on the throne and at the center of my consciousness. Self-hatred and pride are twins, for they both keep “me” in the front and center. Micah continues with the answer to his question,

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

This is humility in its purest form: not some great penance to absolve me of my mountainous iniquity, not living in self-hatred, not flogging myself either physically or spiritually. True humility takes “me” off the throne and out of the equation altogether. I no longer focus on my sin, my failure or weakness, for I am no longer the issue. I live to serve, not to be served. I live to forgive, not to be forgiven. I live to show mercy, not to be shown mercy. I live to love, not to be loved. I live to comfort, not to be comforted. I live to give, not to be given to.

Then and only then do I cease from the selfishness of self-hatred and begin to live in the Christ- like way of true humility. Ultimately, humility results in my death, in laying down my life for others just like Jesus did for me.

This post is an excerpt from my book “The Church Must Die”, available on Amazon.com.

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