Proud to be Humble.

I think I’ve noticed a bit of a recurring undercurrent in a number of my threads, lately. Pride seems to be coming up quite often.

It makes sense. I have a real problem with this one; not only is it the root of all other sin, but I actually have a problem with the bald, naked sin of pride itself. My guess is that the Spirit has been leading me to confront it directly; I have to do that from time to time, and I think I’m probably past due.

When I first got straight with Jesus, I spent a lot of time reading commentaries and the like, trying to get every last ounce of meaning that I could from Scripture. I also flailed around, reading different books about various Christian virtues and values and theologies. I hadn’t found a church, yet—or, rather, I hadn’t come home to Bethel, yet—so I was kinda flying blind in a snowstorm. One book that I found helpful, though (there were a lot of books that weren’t helpful at all, and more than one that actually wound up in the round file), was Humility: True Greatness by C.J. Mahaney. It’s a quick little read, not at all difficult to understand, but it is definitely an eye-opener.

After reading it, I had a better understanding of how damaging pride is, how insidious it is, and—most importantly—how to get loose of its grip. The following list is adapted from C.J. Mahaney’s.

  1. Start your day by acknowledging your need for and dependence on God. For some of us, it requires an act of divine grace just to roll to the edge of the mattress and slide off the edge feet-first; for everyone else, you’ll have to make a conscious effort to remember to do this.
  2. Start the day by giving thanks to God. I’m usually thankful that the previous maneuver (rolling out of bed) doesn’t culminate in a face plant into the rug. Usually.
  3. Be spiritually disciplined.

    a. Pray! Do it all day long. Have a running conversation with the Lord. He’s right there, all day long—what are you gonna do, ignore Him? That’s a bit rude, isn’t it?

    b. Study His Word! Seeking meaning in Scripture reinforces our recognition of our dependence on God, and helps us in our daily walk-and-talk with Him.

    c. Worship! This goes along with “a” and “b”, but it goes much further, as well. Acknowledge how awesome God is, every chance you get (a good friend of mine is in the habit of saying, “God is wicked awesome, dude. Wicked awesome.”) See a cool cloud formation? Give praise for the artistry of His creation. Enjoying that crisp autumn air? Thank Him for the season. Just washed your car and drove under a flock of pigeons unscathed? Head directly to your nearest house of worship and immediately break into song.

 

If you commute, what are you doing with that time? Are you using it constructively? If not, maybe you could take the opportunity to catch up on God’s Word while you drive into work, or home again (jiggety jig!). I hear that they’re even putting the Bible on CD these days! Technology—who knew?

  1. Quit sweating the small stuff—and it’s all small stuff.

 

“Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:3,4)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6,7; emphasis mine)

  1. Every night before bed, acknowledge all that the Lord has done for you and through you, that day. Give Him the glory for all of your successes, acknowledge your fault in all of your failures, and be reminded that we have and do nothing absent His grace—even the act of breathing is a gift from God!
  2. And finally (and a lot of readers are gonna like this one): sleep! Remember that sleep is one of our most precious and important blessings. It renews and refreshes us (better than Irish Spring, even!), recharges our minds and energizes our bodies. (At least, it’s supposed to. If it doesn’t, there may be some lifestyle issues involved. I’m not judging, I’m just sayin’.)

When you lay down to sleep, remember to thank God for this awesome gift that most of us get to experience every day. On warm summer Sundays—if looking around at the congregation is any indicator—sometimes more than once a day. (At least, that’s what I’ve been told. Summertime is when I have the most eye trouble, so I have to pay special attention to the insides of my eyelids.)

Well, that’s it: the primer on keeping ourselves humble! On a more serious note, I really need to practice what I’m preaching here, because trust me: this stuff takes discipline to do it every single day. But I speak from experience when I say that it is helpful—and effective, as long as you continue to practice it. So I’m going to recommit to doing these things every day. Starting with #6.

(Okay, #5. Yeesh.)

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Bad Dreams and King David

Sunday night, I had a bad dream.

This wasn’t a nightmare, just a very unpleasant dream. It was also a dream that contained a lot of symbolism. For me, a dream that has a great many recognizable symbols usually catches my attention. It’s usually important.

I say that it’s usually important, because in my experience over the last eighteen months it usually turns out to be God, trying to tell me something. In this case, it was telling me that my life was getting to be a mess again.

Well, I kinda already knew that it was headed in that direction, but I was having trouble figuring out why, exactly. I had been praying about it for a couple of days, but to be honest, I was starting to wonder if I was going to get an answer, or if the answer I got would be obvious enough for me to take notice of it.

Yes, I know, I shoulda known better. The dream was a wake-up call (figuratively and literally). Troubled by the fact that it was my own voice that had awakened me from an otherwise sound sleep, I got up to an almost oppressive impulse to get into God’s Word, and try to find some meaning beyond what I had just seen in bed.

As is my habit when I’m looking for something specific in Scripture, but I have no idea where to begin looking, I just flipped the Bible open to a random page. It came up on the story in 2 Samuel 2, about the battle at the Pool of Gibeon. This sort of got my attention because I had just written a blog about the Pool of Gibeon and had actually just been speaking to my Dad about it, last night. So I started to read, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere; it was all, “David was victorious. The LORD gave David’s enemies into his hand. David kicks major tail all over the land of Israel,” et cetera, et cetera… how does this apply to my situation? David isn’t having any trouble! In fact, in all of this, the only really negative thing that happened was Uzzah getting smoked by the Lord for grabbing the Ark, when it nearly fell off the wagon!

(It was only while writing that last line that I remembered God’s sense of humor leaning toward the ironic. Hopefully you’ll get it, in a minute or two.)

Frustrated, and more than a little impatient, I read this line in 2 Samuel 8:4:

And David captured from him [Hadadezer] 1,700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers; and David hamstrung the chariot horses, but reserved enough of them for 100 chariots.

Okay, really? I’m getting nothin’ here! So, I figure, “One more chance,” and just flip the back pages of the Bible with my thumb, figuring maybe something will pop this time. A chunk of pages rolls over, and the first thing my eyes fall upon is this line:

And David took from him 1,000 chariots and 7,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers, and David hamstrung all of the chariot horses but reserved enough of them for 100 chariots.

~ 1 Chronicles 18:4

Um, ahem, okay, sorry, Lord. There’s obviously a reason that I’m supposed to be reading this. I get it.

I read on. Still, all I’m seeing is “David rocks, David kicks butt, David is da man,” but now, at least, I know that this is leading somewhere. And then:

Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)

I still didn’t quite get it. Sometimes I’m a little thick. And then, I got to this line:

And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)

and,

And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great.” (1 Chronicles 21:13)

I still didn’t get it. But as I read that last line, I had a feeling that I had gone as far as I was supposed to. I needed to discern what the Lord meant, though, so I prayed that the scales be removed from eyes so that I could understand the message He meant for me to receive. The answer came to me almost before I finished asking for it.

Satan made David forget—for a moment—that God was the strength behind all of his victories. David took a census of his fighting men in order to ascertain his “strength.” David, in a moment of pride (I assume it was pride behind the error), put his own abilities and resources above the blessings of the Lord. When David realized his error, he begged forgiveness from the Lord; God gave him three choices to pick from by way of punishment for his transgressions.

Two of the punishments took place at the hands of men; the last would be a punishment from the hand of God. David, recognizing the Lord’s merciful nature, asked to be delivered into the hand of God.

The parallel to my own situation became very clear. Recently, I have been falling deeper and deeper into a sense of false security, thinking that God would be with me almost no matter what I chose to do. I was relying on my own judgment, on my own wisdom, to make decisions and do things “my way.” (Note on irony: David was transporting the Ark improperly when Uzzah got smited; rather than do what God wanted, I was doing what I wanted. There was also the obvious “fell off the wagon” reference, floating around in there somewhere.) A lot of this, I think, came from the notion that things weren’t going for me as I had hoped; money is still tight, the things I wanted to accomplish have been held up by circumstances, people that I have wanted to help out have been struggling and I have been unable to help because my own situation has left me unable to.

So I had taken to trying to make it happen on my own, getting impatient, and trying to talk God into hurrying up, already, I just needed a little break and I could take care of this stuff.

I could take care of this stuff.

Lack of faith. Pride. Those are my sins.

Everything happens according to God’s plan for us, and in His good time. I forgot. I ask that He forgive me for my sins. I know that He will. And from now on, I’m going to try to just relax and let Him handle it.

But I also gotta ask that he doesn’t smite 70,000 people because I screwed up. It’s hard enough, getting readers for this blog.

Thanksgiving

I think that when we give thanks every year, one thing above all stands out.

Too many of us forget to mention this at the front end of our Thanksgiving dinner blessings:

 

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 

~John 3:16

‘Nuff said. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

The Gospel and Harold Speed

”… New facts are but the addition of new instruments to the orchestra with which the artist creates his symphonies. They increase the range of possibilities open to him and enlarge the scope of his work. But they immensely increase the difficulties of composition, and… become so intricate and engrossing that they are apt to occupy the whole of his attention… The orchestration becomes the subject of the symphony, instead of its means of expression. The point is reached when the instruments of expression are too difficult to be controlled… and themselves begin to control the work.”

 

~Harold Speed, Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

So today’s article will be mostly targeted at folks that are fairly new to their faith. You should know that what I’m writing about, I write from intimate personal experience; struggling with finding a balance between what God expects me to do, and what I want to do for God, has been a serious and very real challenge for me since I came to Christ.

On the one hand, I want to do everything I can for the Lord. I went through a period in which I tried to do everything that I thought would please Him, with the result that I wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a little bit of time to realize that the Holy Spirit had endowed me with certain spiritual gifts for a reason; that reason was to focus on the specific tasks that God knows I am best suited for. For instance, public speaking is probably not my forte’.

On the other hand, I have these spiritual gifts, and I want to use them constantly. The trick is to find that balance. Jesus, in the parable of the soils, talks about believers who fall into this category. He tells of those who “fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil,” and as a result they immediately sprang up, because they had no “depth of soil.” But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and having “no root, they withered away.” (Matt. 13:5, 6)

My son calls people like this, “try-hards.” What it amounts to is that we get so wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment that we forget to root ourselves before we start trying to branch out. Getting back to the art metaphors, “Do far less with your brush, and much more with your head at first.”

When I first got saved, I remember becoming fascinated with apologetics (I still am). I thought, “Oh, awesome! I can argue and be a good Christian? This is wicked cool!” The only problem with this was that I was learning the arguments before I learned the reason for the arguments. As a result, there were a couple of occasions where I fear that my arguments did more harm, than good; not having a firm foundation in the spirit of the argument, I let the argument itself become the point of the discussion. I regret to say that the two people that I am thinking of in this example have probably become even more entrenched in their resistance to Christ, as a result.

God, in His perfect wisdom, used this as a lesson to me. He has also put people in my life who have an almost eerie tendency to say exactly the right thing at the exact moment that I need to hear it; in this case, the lesson was reinforced when one of these people suggested that sometimes we get so busy doing for God that we forget about God. Yikes.

So, I backed up, and started reading more Scripture. I got into the Word about spiritual gifts, and at just about exactly the moment that I start wondering, “Well, what the heck is my gift? And how do I find out?” Pastor Reggie gave a sermon on—yup—spiritual gifts. Double yikes. Twice in ten days. Like I said—eerie.

Here was the information that I needed! After a couple of false starts—the direction in general was the right one, but it was the wrong path, both times—I finally found a couple of things that I could do for the Lord without having to compromise the quality of my work for Him. One of them, obviously, is this blog; the best part of this for me, in a spiritual sense, is that where I might get lazy about reading Scripture the way I should, writing this forces me to stick my nose in the Word pretty much daily so that I can be sure that what I’m writing is true to Scripture. It works great—I get to work for the Lord, I get to do that work by doing something I enjoy, and it actually forces me to grow spiritually! Awesome!

Of course, I try to do everything with God foremost in my mind. It wouldn’t do if this blog were the only thing that I dedicated to Him, so no matter what I do now I try to do it in a way that I know would be pleasing to Him, and with the knowledge that if it weren’t for His blessing I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. But by just listening to the Spirit, I was led to the right outlet for my gifts—and my weaknesses.

“Everyone stumbles upon some methods that suit his particular temperament.” Experienced painters say that it is more important to focus on the foundational basics of the craft, than to focus on style. The problem is that most beginning painters get wrapped around the axle trying to be unique in their own way, rather than learning how to paint and letting style come about as a natural extension of their growth as artists. As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same mistake. We get a taste of how great it is to be saved, and we want to just run out and start “being saved,” rather than building on that first stone and letting the building take shape as God intended. The result is that we get tired, frustrated and lost—which is what the Devil would love for us to do. “It’s better to burn out, than fade away,” as the song goes (yes, I’m dating myself, hush, you) but as Christians, this isn’t what we want to do. We want to finish the race, and finish strong. Just listen for God’s instruction, and take your time. He knows how best to use us, so stay out of His way, let yourself be attentive to His voice, and realize that what He wants us to do will be to His glory, and to our benefit.

God bless us all, and I’ll talk to you again on Tuesday!

“Love Your Enemies”

 

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those that persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous… Therefore you are to be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-45, 48

If ever I had trouble keeping a commandment of the Lord, this one may take the prize. How do we “love our enemies?” When someone goes out of their way to do us harm, how are we to summon up the patience and compassion to love that person, anyway? In the words of the song, “…to love even when we don’t feel it?”

Well, first we need to define what we mean by, “love.” This isn’t “romantic love,” that we’re talking about. For our purposes, I will define this type of love as an unprejudiced desire for the personal welfare and wellbeing of all people individually. Not much help, is it? Now we can just hate one person at a time!

Um, no. We still have to summon up this “unprejudiced love.” The answer, of course, is that we choose to love someone. The world we live in forwards the idea that “love” is something that just happens—we have no control over it. We “fall in love;” we “fall out of love.” We are never told that we “choose to love.” In modern terms, love is a passive emotion; it comes and goes, regardless of our inclinations. But this isn’t true at all; love is something that can be triggered, but we make a decision to love someone. This applies in romantic love, but it is especially true when we are asked to love our enemies.

Consider this: in romantic love, we have a compulsion to love another person based on what that person’s love will mean to us in return. There is an element of physical desire, of kinship, and of intellectual attraction that prompts us to decide to give this person love, in the hope that he/she will return the affection. But the initial compulsion comes from a personal want; you want, and expect, something in return for your attentions.

But when we love our enemies, we have no such motivation. In fact, we can reasonably expect that our love will be returned with acrimony. The only “return on investment” we can expect is more trouble! But God tells us to love them, anyway.

A while back, I wrote about forgiveness. This idea of “loving your enemies” goes hand-in-glove with what Jesus said to Peter about forgiveness:

I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22)

Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, here; He obviously doesn’t mean, “Okay, give the dude 490 chances, and then, if he doesn’t come around, stomp a mud-puddle in his backside.” No, what he means to imply here is that we should never put a limit on our capacity to forgive. Forgiveness comes out of love.

Now, saying that love is a choice doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be a pleasant choice; sometimes, it’s going to make us very unhappy to make ourselves love someone (or, in the case of the federal government, a lot of someones). But God never promised us a rose garden. You never see God say, “Be ye happy, because I your God am happy, and since I’m a happy Dude, it’s alllll good!” Nope. What God says is,

…You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. (Lev. 19:2)

You’ll notice that God doesn’t say “should be holy.” He says, “shall be holy.” It isn’t a suggestion. He isn’t giving us options. So consider this: Despite all the ways that we abuse God, every day, He chooses deliberately to love us, anyway. He would be perfectly justified (by our standards) not to love us; in fact, by our standards, the best we could probably hope for from Him would be a sort of lukewarm antipathy. Instead, He loves us so much that He came to be among us, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and to be humiliated and to experience death at the hands of His own chosen people and the gentiles. He gave us the way to avoid the torment of an eternal Hell, but that isn’t all; He loves us so much that He allows those who reject His gifts to experience the consequences of their own conscious decisions! That last bit, well, it stretches my brain a little bit. I know it’s a love-thing, but I can’t really get my head around it.

I once worked with a guy whose mantra was, “Always be nice to people—even when you’re hurting them.” His point was that anger is self-destructive; sometimes it is necessary for us to hurt or allow hurt to happen to other people—just as God sometimes has to hurt us in order to make us more holy. But it isn’t necessary to feel anger when we are doing what is necessary. Anger is self-destructive (the only real exception to this is the righteous anger that we experience when we defend the Gospel against heresies and false teachers; Jude talks about this quite a bit). God’s wish is not that we destroy ourselves, but that we have life, and have it abundantly. But we don’t have to hate. We can choose not to hate. Even more, we can choose to love, and in doing so, we disarm our enemies. A Christian being tortured by Communists was told by a Communist officer, “I am almighty, as you suppose your God to be. I can kill you.”

The Christian replied, “The power is all on my side. I can love you even while you torture me to death.”

The Changed Life

First of all: let me say a slightly early Happy Birthday, Marines!

Okay! Now on to the show!

…but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

~ 1 Corinthians 6:11

It’s a new life! We are aliens… we are “not of this world.” Christians are changed, in ways that the unsaved don’t quite understand.

  1. A lot of the unsaved hold Jesus in high esteem—“He’s a great philosopher,” or, “He was a wise teacher,”—but Christians love the Lord! Real, abiding love; we want to do things pleasing to Him, we want to spread His Word; we want others to feel what we feel.
  2. We love the Bible. We try to absorb His message, to understand His will for us, and to apply it to our lives. Even as Christians, it’s often difficult to maintain the discipline necessary to be in the Word every day, but we should make the effort. You can never “know” the Bible—you can only become more familiar with it. There is always something new to the Christian with an open heart.
  3. We love other Christians. 1 John 3:14 says, “We know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” Even when we wouldn’t necessarily want to hang out with someone, we love them as brothers and sisters—because we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
  4. We love our enemies. Okay—we should love our enemies. Admittedly, this one can be tough (ask any of my ex-wives). We’ll talk more about this one on Monday (the “love your enemies,” part; not the ex-wives. I have enough to repent for, without firing up that conversation).
  5. We love the souls of all people. I have some personal experience with this one recently. All of that research and thinking about hell (see my earlier articles if you don’t know what I’m talking about) really got me thinking about all those unsaved people out there; all of those that are afraid of giving up their lifestyles, or that have been convinced into thinking that God is a myth or an archetype or a delusion. It got me thinking about their ultimate fate—a fate that’s real and imminent, and too horrible to comprehend. And I wept for them.
  6. We love righteousness and seek to live a pure life. Sin hurts us—which isn’t to say that we don’t sin, anyway… but we feel the pain of wounding Christ, as if we had hurt our loved ones. As if we had hurt our Father. We want to please Him by seeking righteousness and living our lives in the way that He intended, with love for Him and for each other and with a focus on the Kingdom.
  7. We love to talk to God. We pray. We have conversations with Him. We whisper our secret hopes and desires, and hope that He will grant them to us. We ask Him for blessings on others, blessings on ourselves and on our work. I talk to Him while I work—it looks a bit like that crazy Irishman from “Braveheart,”—“Yes, Father! The almighty says that you should be using blue paint and a bigger brush, there…”—but who cares if I look crazy?

But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.

~1 Corinthians 4:3,4

And how awesome it is when He answers! When He speaks to us, it is awesome and terrible and humbling and more wonderful than words can properly express.

Yes, we are changed. We are changed. Thank God, and to Him be the glory.

Just be sure that you have your passports ready when He comes to take us home!

Election Day.

Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.

~1 Peter 2:16,17

Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

~Matt. 22:21

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

~Judges 21:25

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

~James 4:4

Fear God. Vote wisely.