Wednesday, April 29, 2009

John 13:34-35

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35 [ESV])
From the Greek New Testament:
John 13:34 ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἡγάπησα ὑμᾶς ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους.
  • Entolen kainen didomi humin hina agapate allelous, kathos egapesa humas hina kai humeis agapate allelous.
  • Commandment new I give to you, that you love each other: even as I love you that also you love each other
John 13:35 ἐν τούτῳ γνώσονται πάντες ὅτι ἐμοὶ μαθηταί ἐστε, ἐὰν ἀγάπην ἔχητε ἐν ἀλλήλοις.
  • En touto gnosotai pantes hoti emoi mathetai este ean agapen exhte en allelous.
  • By this know all that my disciples you are, if love you have for each other
Ok, first off, I do not know Greek, and if anyone is reading that that is proficient in New Testament Greek, I'm sure you can see that. However, I am extremely interested in learning it and I try to read the Greek N.T. along with the English when ever I can. I try to understand what the wording is in the Greek, and learn what those words mean in that context, also in other instances where that word was used. (I would really like to get a hard copy of the G.N.T. someday, but for right now my software study tools and the Internet will suffice.)

Perhaps you're wondering why I've posted about this passage. Well, I find it to be quite an interesting piece of dialog from our Lord and Savior. There's quite a lot here if you study it thoroughly. My software tools really make the studying quicker. If you've ever used a good set of Bible study tools, you understand what I'm saying. The software doesn't do the work for you, but it just makes all kinds of resources available at the click of a mouse.

Anyway, in studying this passage, we really need to draw on context and related passages where Jesus may have said something similar. Did He say something similar to this in any other part of the New Testament? Sure He did! How about in John 15, during His discourse on the True Vine and the branches?
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
That's pretty close to the same exact wording, right? So, let's look at these circumstances in which Jesus gave us this commandment.

In John 13, Jesus has just finished washing the feet of the disciples. (I think it's interesting to note that He washed Judas Iscariot's feet too.) He has just confirmed for them that they are correct in calling Him "Teacher" and "Lord", but He also points out that while He is these things, He serves them. And in the same manner they are to serve each other.

By looking at this particular "manner" in which He has just served them, by washing their feet, we can learn something. Just imagine the following scenario: You go home this evening, after working all day, and your spouse has also had a hard day of work. Both of you are taking a moment to sit down and just relax a bit. Then you, with a bowl of warm water and a towel, get on the floor at the feet of your spouse, take off her shoes and socks, and begin washing her feet. Imagine the bewilderment in her mind! "What is he doing?", she must be thinking.

But this would have been just a little different in Jesus' day. There were no "shoes and socks" to take off. They wore sandals (maybe) and their feet were exposed to the dirt (not paved) roads
(there were no concrete sidewalks either) all day. The mud/dirt might be caked on, or at least between the toes; and the smell of whatever they'd walked in recently would be quite evident. This daily practicality of washing your feet upon entering a house was just another normal part of life. And as a matter of hospitality for guests, this gesture was extended to show appreciation and respect. However, even then it wasn't often done by the owner or master of the house, but by a servant or slave. We can see that the foot washing itself wouldn't have been the point of shock to the disciples (they did this everyday), but Who was doing the washing was the point of which they would have taken notice.

So, there is no evidence in Jesus' words that He intends His followers to institute some sort of religious ritual from this "foot washing" - this was already a menial, daily chore. Instead, He is modeling for them how they ought to condescend to, or humble themselves, doing the smallest, most menial things for each other. It is in the showing of love in this way that others will recognize that we abide in Him.

Jesus knew that He needed to communicate this to His disciples because they were going to be the founders of the Church and would be in positions of honor and authority. It would be easy for them to garner an "air of entitlement" around their position. There would be ample opportunity for them to take charge over others to guide them and teach them, but they needed to be reminded that they were no better, as students, than the Master. Read Philippians 2:4-8.

And so, we can see the first point being made in this passage: we are to love others in the same manner that Christ loved us. I believe this is why He prefaced this commandment as a "new" one - the old "love others as yourself" had been around forever. In this new commandment, Jesus raises the bar. He raises this beyond just loving them as yourself, but to the point of laying down your life for others. This is the ultimate show of love - putting aside your own interests (and life), and looking to the interest of others.

In my next posting, we'll look at the 2nd mention of this commandment in John 15, and study the context in that instance.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 11 - What Others Think

Being consumed with what others think about you

Pulling directly from Stuart Scott's book:
"Some proud people are too concerned about the opinion of others. Many of their decisions are based on what others might think. Some are in a continual pursuit of gaining the approval and esteem of others. Focusing on what others think of you or trying to impress others is being a man-pleaser rather than a God-pleaser."
He then refers us to Paul's words in Galatians:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
(Galatians 1:10)
The direct question to ourselves, after reading this, should be: what is the drive in my life? To please man or to please God?

Are these things mutually exclusive? You might be thinking, "Then am I not to be concerned with pleasing those that I love?" The point behind this is not to avoid doing things that please those around us, but to first seek to please God in all things, and in doing so, in serving others, we please God and others. Yet, when concerning ourselves with following God's will in all things, there are going to be times when others will not be pleased with us. It is in these circumstances that we are to remember to Whom we belong, and to Whom we are accountable in the end.

Pride and Humility - Part 10 - Seeking Control

Seeking independence or control

Remembering that these points of pride and humility are derived from Stuart Scott's book, "The Exemplary Husband", we should first try to apply these to our marriage.

I don't know how different my own experience is from that of the "average Joe", but I would venture to say that most men find it easier to submit to the authorities at work than anywhere else. Understandably, most men take the doctrine of Biblical headship to mean that they're the boss in the marriage/family and everyone must do what they say. This couldn't be further from the truth. In this very attitude we see today's point being made.

While we all feel that we're entitled to some degree of autonomy or control over our own lives, some of us find it extremely difficult to work under another's authority in any way. This means in the home as well as anywhere, guys. While the husband may be the spiritual leader in the family, the wife many take the lead in other areas, those areas in which God has gifted her with ability and skill. These may be areas that our culture thinks are to be "the man's" role, but we are not to allow our "machismo" to dictate in what areas we lead.

As one small example, my wife does a much better job at managing our finances. I'm sure that if I had no other choice, it'd be something that I'd be very capable of doing, but she has a gift for it. She is able to visualize that area of our life and make decisions that are both honoring to God and exemplify good stewardship. I make every effort to submit to her authority in that area; if she tells me that we don't have enough money for this or that, I know that she knows best where are accounts are. I trust that she is making the best decisions for our family and is not being personally vindictive or on some power-trip in controlling the purse strings.

So, in all areas of our lives, we need to be aware of our pride rearing its head, possibly causing us to stumble. Asking ourselves, do you have to do things yourself just because you can't give it up to someone else? Do you have to be your own boss? Would our spouse or another family member describe us as "often rigid, stubborn, headstrong, and intimidating" in any area of our life?

How often might we say or think the following?
  • “It's my way or the highway.”
  • “I don’t need accountability.”
  • “I don’t need anyone's help.”
We need others to keep us accountable. We were not made to be independent, autonomous, self-contained, "worlds unto ourselves". Our Father has placed other people in our life to help us, to guide us, and to walk along side of us. We are all to help each other, as the different parts of the body all exist to serve the rest of the body, so we too are to serve others in the body of Christ. And this means that we will often have to be under the authority of others, those that have the skills of leadership and abilities to organize the other members of the body.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
We are called to submit to each other; the true "head" of the family serves the family. Just as Christ didn't come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45), we are to called to always be...
...submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

And so, in always putting off the old man and putting on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10), how are we to repent of this manifestation of pride in our life?

By being gladly submissive and obedient to those in authority

We are called to be obedient, first of all, to God, and then to any authority over us. We are not to behave as the rest of the world behaves, always glorifying the rebels and subverting those in authority over us. There is much more to be said on the subject of submitting to authority, but suffice it to say that we are to submit to God's will in all things, and His Word teaches us much about how we are relate to Him and to the world.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
A "real man" isn't personified in the John Wayne's and James Dean's of this world, but in the person of Jesus Christ. In all ways He submitted to the will of the Father, and then, being in the flesh, to those placed in governing roles above Him (1 Peter 2).
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2)

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:12-23)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 9 - Talking too much

Talking too much and/or talking too much about yourself

This is a difficult one to admit; yet I know that I often talk too much. However, reading this one defined as "feeling that what you have to say is more important" really puts it in perspective. I guess it logically extends to "feeling that the other person really wants to hear what you have to say".

In my own head, I've often rationalized this as "the silence is uncomfortable, so I'll speak up and break-the-ice
", but too often I know this isn't really the case. Being honest with myself, more often than not I find myself waiting for the other person to stop talking, just so I can relate my own story or opinion.
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. (
Proverbs 10:19)
"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." I'm sure we've all heard this, or another form of it. How many times have we said something in haste, only to find our "foot in our mouth" and then spending 10-minutes trying to back out of it? Of course, most of the time, we just find ourselves making it worse, digging a deeper hole rather than helping the situation.

A couple more manifestations of this prideful sin:
  • Centering the conversation on yourself or your interests (i.e. your kids, your family, your job, your latest medical problem, etc.)
  • Always having to relate what others are saying to something in your life ("Yeah, I know what you mean, I have the same problem when...")
These aren't the only ways, but they are all too common examples. And of course, sometimes we feel that we're just helping the other person to realize that they aren't the only one in a particular predicament, and that you truly do understand their situation.

While it is our natural, fleshly inclination to focus on ourselves, we are commanded by Our Lord and Savior to deny self (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23), and to love others as ourselves
(Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Mark 12:31; Romans 13:9; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).
Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips. (Proverbs 27:2)
For it is not he who commends himself that is approved,
but he whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:18)
For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing,
he deceives himself. (
Galatians 6:3)

Instead, we should strive to be a good listener.

Two simple little things to remember when conversing with our family, friends, co-workers, or anyone for that matter:
  1. Consider what others say as more important.
  2. Ask questions about others interests and truly listen.
Since we were 5-years-old we've been taught the 'golden rule', to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". These two points about listening to others -- it's really just another way of applying that rule, isn't it?
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) [emphasis mine]
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19) [emphasis mine]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 8 - Perfectionism


You ever heard the old adage, "Cleanliness is next to godliness"? If you're already inclined that way, it can become an all-consuming obsession. There's nothing wrong with keeping things neat and clean, but an obsession with needing everything to be perfect evidences a deeper issue. Namely, it suggests a desire either for recognition or to make yourself feel good.

Another way of saying this: It's making the less important things, much more important than they are in reality. Or
getting hung up on inconsequential details. Perfectionism reaches well beyond just keeping the house clean or the yard mowed - it creeps into every aspect of our life, often causing an inability to accomplish anything. How so? If we cannot move past "Step 1" because it isn't perfect yet, the project as a whole never reaches completion. Sometimes the drive for perfection becomes so ingrained that you're unable to even start on a project or activity because you already know that "something" isn't going to be perfect and you'd just rather not bother at all.

A couple ways that I see this in my own life:
  1. Correcting people, movies, books, TV shows, etc. Little things that really don't matter. My wife tells a story from our high-school days when we were on a date. We were at her parents house (yes, they were there) and we were watching a movie, "Sleepless in Seattle" to be exact. Meg Ryan's character made some comment and I offered up a correction. The line wasn't crucial to the movie or even that particular conversation - but I just had to say something, I couldn't let it go. The point: that little show of prideful perfectionism is something that my wife still remembers to this day, and says it was one of the primary reasons we didn't have many more dates after that (well, until many years later anyway!).
  2. I'm just a bit too concerned with wanting anything I buy to be the best. I've always rationalized it by insisting that if I'm going to spend my money, I'll spend a little more to get the best, rather than being unsatisfied with it and possibly having to buy another one later. If I stop and think about it, a great deal of that motivation is so that others might see me with the top-of-the-line and either be impressed or envious. It's a horrible feeling to think that that has been my motivation for so many purchases (wastes of money) but it's also a realization that God has brought to the surface, a sin that He has made me aware of and in doing so, I can, by His grace, repent of it (turn away from that; replacing it with a behavior patterned after Christ) and bring glory to Him in the process.

Have you ever said, "If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself." How often does this declaration cause stress and hardship in your life? For instance, if you're unable to delegate anything to anyone because you're just sure that it will not be done to your exacting specifications, what other things don't get done because you're consumed with all of the little details. All those times that you're late to appointments, or cannot meet your obligations to people because, for example, when you took the shoes out of the closet this morning you noticed the sheets were all bunched up and not folded, so you just took "a couple minutes" to straighten up, and got to work late.

These little things have far-sweeping consequences that we may not be aware of. The previous example, if it's indicative of a greater problem, may be seen by your employer as a punctuality problem that perhaps is a symptom of a more deeply rooted issue, leading to responsibilities and opportunities not being offered to you, but going to a co-worker instead.

On a more spiritual note, this problem with perfectionism can reach monumental proportions when we pridefully assume that our own sanctification (or even justification) cannot be left in God's hands, but would best be handled by us - besides, who know what areas we need improvement in better than we do?! When this idea grabs us, besides the huge issue of showing a total lack of faith and trust in our Savior and Creator, it just leads to a legalistic and "white-washed" existence for us. We become "Pharisaical" in our daily lives and in our dealings with others.

Jesus addresses this in
Matthew 23:24-28:
"You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
The Pharisees and scribes were perfectionists in regards to the little detailed rules and regulations of the law (actually what they had heaped on top of the Law) so as to appear to others in keeping with God's Law. But these efforts were just covering up the filth inside their hearts. In regard to "
clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean", Albert Barnes* notes,
By this allusion to the cup and platter he taught them that it was necessary to cleanse the heart first, that the external conduct might be really pure and holy.
And speaking to the "whitewashed tombs", Mr. Barnes comments,
Their outward conduct appeared well, but their hearts were full of hypocrisy, envy, pride, lust, and malice - suitably represented by the corruption within a whited tomb.
So we see that this show of righteousness, is only for other people, not for God. We do not appear "righteous" to Him. He is the searcher of hearts (Romans 8:27), and knows what is in man (John 2:23), and in this passage we see that Our Lord knew all the secret wickedness that was in them.

I'll end this post with an exhortation or encouragement to us all that we would ask Him to show us these things in our hearts, that in seeing where these points of pride manifest themselves, though they are perhaps hidden to us now, that they would be dealt with and by His power and through His grace we might repent of them.

May all honor and glory be to Him forever! Amen.

* Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible, Albert Barnes (1798-1870)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Teaching is dangerous??

Throughout much of history the greatest part of the population has been illiterate and relatively uneducated. It really hasn't been until the last century or so that governments or communities placed a high priority on educating the masses. I'm not suggesting that there haven't been public schools or that education was non-existent. I'm merely suggesting that prominent social factors (food, water, shelter, etc.) have played a role in the status of education over the centuries, wherein the formal education of a nation's citizenry, on a large scale, has been only a minor concern. However, in the last 100-200 years, secular culture has placed more and more of a priority on setting a standard of education for its citizens. [1, 2, 3]

So, it is by and large due to these factors that "teachers" have been highly regarded throughout much of that time. In part, it is because teachers have generally been able to read and comprehend those documents and books regarded as important in their time, thereby disseminating that vital information contained within to their fellow man and throughout the community as a whole. Not the least of these is the Holy Bible.

Teachers of the Scriptures have always held a high status in their communities, not only for the education in themselves, but in their ability to interpret and communicate the most vital of precepts and ideas found in the Word of the One True God. It is curious then that James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, warns us that many of us should not become teachers.

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.
- James 3:1,2
James isn't the only one that speaks on teachers in the New Testament. Paul writes about people that have forsaken "a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith" and,
have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.
- 1 Timothy 1:6,7

Many people desire to be teachers, but many do not know truly know what they're talking about; maybe they just like the sound of their own voice. The point is, anyone presuming to teach Bible truths to another is opening themselves up to being "judged with greater strictness". Teachers are held to a higher standard, by society and by God.

Jesus spoke on this idea in the gospel of Matthew, when He warned that anyone who teaches another to relax even the smallest commandment would be called "least in the kingdom of heaven".
Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
- Matthew 5:19
The concept isn't a difficult one. Look at it this way: even among relatively inconsequential topics in elementary school, we hold the instructor to a higher standard, expecting them to have mastered the subject matter, or at least to have achieved a higher level of understanding than the student. And this is just teaching others to read, write, etc.

In the context in which Jesus is speaking, the teacher's words have eternal consequences. This isn't about teaching the son or daughter of someone down the street - we're talking about instructing a son or daughter of the Almighty God!

So, there is great responsibility upon the shoulders of one that seeks to be a teacher of the Bible. The qualifications are high (James 1; Titus 2:7,8). But the responsibility of the student is not completely absolved. As students of the Word, we are not to just blindly follow our teachers, but are called to keep each other accountable (Ephesians 4:25; 1 Peter 5:1-4) and to filter everything through a sound, Biblical theology and a solid, educated understanding of true doctrine (Acts 17:11).

I'll close this entry with a word acknowledging the conviction and weight that this subject has had on my own heart and mind this week. I look at the nature of this blog and the postings on it, and I cannot escape the fact that, at some level, a mantel of teaching may be on me. I haven't been thrust into this situation. Instead, I have willingly created this forum; but I do know that going forward, a great deal more prayer and thought will be put into subsequent posts. (Not suggesting that it hasn't thus far, but this study has lent a good deal more weight to the subject.)

1. A History of Public Education in the United States
2. Public education
3. History of Public Education

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 7 - Down on Yourself

Being focused on the lack of your gifts and abilities; being down on yourself

Perhaps this one catches you off guard. It did me. But if you really think about it, it makes sense that the whole "Oh, woe is me!" act is just as much about "self" as the opposite attitude. Just because you are down on yourself doesn't mean you aren't proud. The 17th century English preacher, John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim's Progress, defines pride as, "...that which causes a man to think of man and his things, above what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6)." *
"that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another." (1 Corinthians 4:6)
So, an acceptable definition of pride is a focus on self; even if that means one is always down on one's self. Consequently, self-pity is just another form of pride.

"I just can’t go on. I can’t do this; it’s too hard." The whole act of putting yourself down is just to get attention from others. We're just fishing for a word of encouragement with this attitude. "Won't you look at me, and feel sorry for me? Just tell me I'm better than this."

The other part of this "self-pity" is feeling sorry that you don't have the abilities or attributes that someone else may have, and therefore you think that you must not be as good as that person. Perhaps you are even envious of other Christians, those that seem to get all the attention - like your pastor or missionaries or the elders.
Something we must repent of is giving glory to those whom we see as being in the public eye. We must remember that our good works (and theirs) are to point others to God, and glory must be given to Him for those good things we see others doing. (Matthew 5:16)
Without going too much into the topic of Who we're serving, and that we are not to be looking for accolades from men, we must remember that no matter where we're placed in the body of Christ, we
are a part of that body.

Paul lays this out very well in his first letter to the church in Corinth:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."

On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. 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 12:14-25
I don't remember where I first heard or read of this concept, but from time to time I remind myself that while there are many focused on being on top of the mountain, there would be no mountain if not for the "huge pile of rocks" underneath. If each part of the mountain "desired" to be the top-part, the whole thing would be a worthless, scattered pile of rocks.

I known that it's not an elegant metaphor, but it helps to remind me that while my job or my abilities may not be the things that this world necessarily places value on, I know that where He places me, and the skills that He has given me help to support the other members of the body, enabling them to function in their capacities.

If you spend your time wishing for gifts that others have, you are showing dishonor to those gifts that He has given you. Let us not waste time and effort on wanting to be another "part of the body", but instead let's give praise and worship to Him for who we are and how He made us.
Jesus spoke about the least among us being made first, and the greatest being made last in Matthew 20 and Mark 10. Our Lord and Savior modeled for us the humble servant, not seeking a position of honor and glory while on this earth.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- Philippians 2:5-11

* THE WORKS OF JOHN BUNYAN, 1854 Edition, W. G. Blackie & Son, Glasgow

Look back at my Resolutions for 2009

I realized recently that I haven't been diligent in checking myself against my resolutions. So, in order to keep myself accountable to, well, whomever might be reading this blog, I'll go back over them and see what, if any, progress I may have made.

Here's a recap of those resolutions I "stole" from Mr. Edwards:

1. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
  • I've taken this to mean that, since the Lord has given us only so much time, I must be resolved to not waste any of it. I find it grievous that I manage to "waste" much time in front of the TV, while there is more than enough work to do in the yard, in the house, and most of all, in the Kingdom.
2. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.
  • I do not interpret this to mean that I should live, as is popular in our culture, as if there's no tomorrow, thereby having no accountability for my actions. Instead, I want to go about my daily life expecting the imminent return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Mark 13:35-37) I once heard a preacher say that it should be our goal to live our lives in such a manner, that if we could know that Christ would return on such-and-such a day, there would be no difference in how we carried ourselves on that day from any other.
3. Resolved, never to do any thing out of revenge.
  • This one is pretty obvious. (Romans 12:17-21)
4. Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
  • I once listened to a man explain his philosophy of 'heaven & hell', at least as he understood it. He did not believe these places were real, but merely "a reflection" of one's state of mind at death. He took it to mean that if he was satisfied that he had lived his life well, he'd die in a state of peace, or in heaven. However, if he died with regret, he'd die tormented and grieved, or in hell. I, in no way, subscribe to this unbiblical view of blessing and punishment, but I can take something away from it. And to the smallest degree, I believe it illustrates the point of this resolution.
5. Resolved, to inquire every night (also at the end of every week, month and year), as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, and/or what sin I have committed.

6. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance, in eating and drinking.
  • GLUTTON: A person who is debased and excessive in his eating habits. Gluttony is more than overeating. In its association with drunkenness (Proverbs 23:21; Deuteronomy 21:20), it describes a life given to excess. When Jesus was called a "gluttonous man" (Matthew 11:19), His critics were accusing Him of being loose and excessive by associating with tax collectors and sinners.
  • DRUNKENNESS: A drugged or deranged condition which results from drinking intoxicating beverages (1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10; Ephesians 5:18). Drunkenness regularly appears in lists of vices in the New Testament (Luke 21:34; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:21).
- from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers

And those that I set myself:

8. Resolved, to be transformed by the renewing of my mind
  • Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Resolved, to be growing in grace and knowledge
  • But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. (2 Peter 3:18)

10. Resolved, to always be putting on the new man
  • Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! -- assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)
  • If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:1-10)

So? Where am I at in all of this? Let me just say... if I thought that in any way I could accomplish these resolutions by my will alone, all hope would be lost. Instead, I know that He has created in me a new heart and that I've been regenerated - I am a new creation! And since I have His Word that He will finish His work in me, I know that in His time and in His way, these things will be accomplished (and probably by ways or means that I'm not even aware of at this time).

In the meantime, I strive to be obedient to the call and to show my love of and submission to His will in all areas of my life. I know that while I may strive to keep His commandments, that obedience will in no way be counted as even the smallest bit of merit towards my salvation - my salvation is found only in His amazing grace, by faith in the life and work of Jesus Christ alone.

I encourage you today, if have any questions or thoughts on anything I've just written, feel free to contact me. I would love to discuss any issue or point in any part of this blog with you. I also urge you to make a list of those things in your life that you'd most like to see changed. If for no other reason, it provides a reference point to look back on to see the work, the changes, He has made and is making in your life everyday.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 6 - Having a Big Head

Having an inflated view of your importance, gifts, and abilities

"The proud person needs a dose of reality, as they have a very wrong perception of themselves." - Stuart Scott, "From Pride to Humility"
What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
- 1 Corinthians 4:7
In the commentary notes* of the Geneva Bible for 1 Cor. 4:7, we read that, "though you have something more than other men have, yet you only have it by God's bountifulness... There is nothing then in us by nature that is worthy of commendation: but all that we have, we have it of grace...".

In other words, what do we have that God didn't give us? How can we brag about our intelligence, or athleticism, or any other ability? These are all gifts from God, bestowed upon us graciously and to be used to His glory, to further His Kingdom.

The world, however, does so much to build
up our self-image that it's quite easy to begin assuming credit for the God-given gifts and abilities that enable us to excel in our careers and all areas of our lives.

We must have an accurate view of our gifts and abilities

A humble person does not complain about their lack of gifts & abilities, and neither do they exaggerate their God-given abilities.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
- Romans 12:3

* GENEVA NOTES: Being the Commentary Notes for the Geneva Bible, written by John Calvin, John Knox, Miles Coverdale, et al, from the 1599 edition.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pride and Humility - Part 5 - Better Than Others

Seeing yourself as better than others

Ok, so this may be more along the lines of what we think of when we think of "pride". I would even say that this would fall squarely in the "arrogance" arena. And I'm ashamed to admit that this is one that I've been guilty of for years, and really, really struggle with today.

Now, we'd just love to somehow blame someone or something else for this, but we know that the blame falls right on ourselves. Oh sure, our culture's obsession with "self-esteem" doesn't help matters, but all that's doing is fanning a flame that's already burning well enough on its own.

Stuart Scott gives us this example of how we express this in our mind:
“I don’t have to put up with this type of behavior; I deserve better”
This pretty much sums up the incessant "self-esteem" mantra that we've had drilled into us since kindergarten; "You deserve the best - don't let anyone tell you any different!"

Or, another way this manifests: how many of us ever heard our parents say, "We don't behave like that" while pointing out the behavior of others in a department store or restaurant?

Sure, we need to teach our children right behavior, respect and obedience, but not at the expense of placing ourselves "above" others. Jesus Christ is our example. There are, and will be, plenty of opportunities to show our children how their behavior falls short of His perfect example. Yet, showing them how "we" are not like "them" only sets them up for a lifetime of "I'm better than others".

Another way we see this played out in our lives: If we get easily disgusted with others and have little tolerance for differences.

"The things I do are good, the way I do things is the right way. They are doing it wrong, and their lifestyle is wrong."
There are almost infinite ways we fall into this mindset every day, or at least I do. The food "they" eat, the clothes "they" wear, the job "they" have, what "they" watch on TV, etc. The list could go on and on. Many times my own heart/mind deludes me into thinking that I have very good reasons for thinking that way, that it's not just a preference, but that I've logically and reasonably reached that conclusion - why haven't "they" reached the same?

But in all things we must strive to remember Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV), "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked..." and Proverbs 14:12 (NKJV), "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." We must look at every aspect of our life through the lense of Scripture, and not according to our own thougths and feelings. We are too easily convinced of our own righteousness when compared to others.

Remember when Jesus told us in Luke 18:9-14 about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple? The Pharisee prayed, thanking God that he "was not like other men". Jesus assured us, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

"Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Seeing yourself as being no better than anybody else

When you are understanding the sinfulness of your own heart, you cannot see yourself as better than anyone else.

English Reformer and martyr, John Bradford, upon watching a group of men being led to execution, once uttered, "But for the grace of God, there goes John Bradford". Mr. Bradford understood that, through no merit of his own, but only by the restraining power of the grace of God, he was not the one being led to his execution. He was a man that reputedly maintained a low-view of himself compared to others, often noting virtues he saw in others, and lamenting the lack of those in himself. This attitude is so foreign to us, compared to the way we are encouraged by the world to think so highly of ourselves.

There is no basis in scripture for this attitude. The Apostle Paul saw himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and "the very least of all the saints" (Ephesians 3:8). No where in the Bible do we find an encouragement to place confidence in our abilities or in ourselves in any manner.

That we might, only by the grace of God, strive to put off the proud man and put on the humility of Christ. Scripture commands us to "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).

Pride and Humility - Part 4 - Anger and Pouting

Outbursts of anger, withdrawing, pouting, and frustration

Here's a scenario that has happened quite often in my family:
Someone has just been blessed with new job, received a raise in pay, or some other milestone has been reached, so several of us want to meet at a local restaurant to celebrate. Obviously, the question is, "But where?", and everyone has their opinion. Occasionally, the "best" choice ends up being one of those restaurants that I do not like. And, too often, I would pout. I may have let my opinion become so known that the decision may be changed to appease me. I counted that as a "win" - I had gotten my way!
As trivial as just picking a restaurant is, can you empathize? How often do we find our feelings hurt because a decision didn't go our way? For me, I know it's been too often.

This manifestation of pride exhibits itself in just this way. You often become angry, or frustrated, because your "rights" or expectations are not being met.
In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells us about just such a situation, where we may feel our "rights" are not being honored, and He relates it to how this plays out in the Kingdom of heaven [comments inserted by me].

"For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning [around dawn**] to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. [a Roman 'denarius' was the usual daily rate for a laborer.*]

And going out about the third hour [about 9:00AM or so**] he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, 'You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went.

Going out again about the sixth hour [noon**] and the ninth hour [3:00PM**], he did the same.

And about the eleventh hour [5:00PM**] he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, 'Why do you stand here idle all day?' They said to him, 'Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, 'You go into the vineyard too.'

And when evening came [about 6:00PM**], the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.'

And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius [those laborers that worked just one (1) hour received a full day's wage (ref. Luke 23:39-43)].

Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.'

But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'

So the last will be first, and the first last."

In this parable, our Lord paints a picture of those called to work in His fields (ref. Matthew 9:37-38), and each is called at different times. As is typical of our self-centered nature, however, those called first assume that they will receive more than those called after. Yet, we see that the Master of the house is free to reward as He will. Who do the laborers think they are to question His good pleasure (ref. Luke 12:32 & Philippians 2:13)?

The point: ultimately our goal is to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). I've heard it said once that if we could manage to eat and drink to the glory of God, doing everything else to His glory would follow after.

We have many choices to make every day, and from our viewpoint it seems there are many paths to take. Yet, we must realize that there is only One Way and one path. Often our plans will be changed and our dreams shattered. The things we want for ourselves or our children or others in our families are, thankfully,
not left up to us.

We should want to put on a desire to serve God and to serve others, not looking out for what we want and our own desires. We are called to be gentle and patient with one another.

A humble person wants to act like God - they are not focused on their desires.

Something that I often ask is for God to give me a heart for others, to enable me to see His children as He sees them, to enable me to love others as He loves them.
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
- Colossians 3:12-14

* WORD PICTURES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT by Archibald Thomas Robertson
** John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Dr. John Gill (1690-1771)