Monthly Archives: May 2015

Humility is Supposed to be our Brand

“He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”Humility Luke 18:9-14
The Pew Survey (“America’s Changing Religious Landscape” by the Pew Research Center) has pretty definitively put to bed the myth that our culture and nation is and always will be a Christian one.

“Christianity” is not understood
While Christianity is still the majority religion in our country, those who define themselves as members of no religion are the fastest growing group. If we ever thought the “Christianness” of our culture would keep the generations informed about the gospel of Jesus Christ, we’d better stop thinking it now!
The gospel has impacted our culture in some ways that few people realize come from Jesus, and these differences are welcome. For example, that all people are equal is a gospel idea – we are equal before the cross! There are no elites in the body of Christ – the Holy Spirit fell on Pentecost on sons and daughters, men and women, old men and young men. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that in the church there is neither “Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female.” So when we lift up our American ideal that all men (and women) are created equal, that’s really a Jesus truth!
But there are other ways we sometimes think in church that don’t look so holy in the eyes of our neighbors, and it’s time American Christians took a good look, because we no longer are respected just for being churchgoers (in fact, in some people’s minds, that makes us suspect!).
I used to think, as a younger Christian, that the indwelling Holy Spirit and my relationship with God through Jesus meant that I was/we were obviously and automatically all going to be more moral and ethical than our unbelieving neighbors. I liked to go to Christian mechanics and hair-stylists and hire Christian plumbers because I just knew they would do a better job and would never cheat me.
But that’s not what the gospel of Jesus says. Of course we are “on The Way together” to being more like Jesus and less like the flesh, and like 1 Corinthians 13 urges us, believers are called see one another as we are going to be in the renewed kingdom and in that sense in love we “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things” – but the Bible also warns us that we are still prone to fall into temptation, that we can be deceived and that we all still struggle with our sin natures (or “our flesh”).

We are both who we are becoming, and who we’ve been
A wise follower of Jesus knows all of that is true – we are both who we are becoming, and who we’ve been. We are capable of being like Jesus, and just as capable of falling flat on our faces into sin.
And so, Jesus reminds us to humble ourselves and give thanks for grace.
It’s why he cautions us to see to the plank in our own eye before we get all exercised about the splinter in the eye of a brother or sister in the faith, judging not lest we be judged, too (while still helping one another get the wood out!).
My seminary professor taught me an old saying, that as followers of Jesus the good news we want to show others is not, “look how good and perfect I am,” but more like that of one hobo telling another hobo where to find bread …one sinner telling another sinner where to find forgiveness and grace, and mercy in time of need. We are sinners helping one another learn to walk in the way of Jesus. And helping one another up when we fall down.
This is what the brokenness of the world needs to see in believers, NOT the message that because we belong to Jesus we’ve got it all together and are in a good position to tell others they’re doing it all wrong and are judged by God (even if it looks like they are doing it all wrong).
Not only is this strategic in an evangelistic sense, it is also what is true, and by living in this humility we will avoid the disastrous fallout that has come in recent days, weeks and months. We are seeing prominent and proud Christians, who have loudly instructed the nation about morality, now weeping over their own fallenness as the world around them laughs and bitterly declares that “morality” is a joke.
The culture around us which does not understand or believe in the good news of Jesus, and more than that wishes to reject it as even being good news, is having a lot of fun mocking these stories, of Christian spokespersons who get caught molesting children (their own sisters!) or carrying on adulterous affairs or even pompously applying “church discipline” that demonstrates no empathy toward the one who has been sinned against, all in order to perpetuate an institution.
Sometimes, what the world around reacts to in these stories is the Christian devotion to the concept of grace, something they do not understand. Thus we will not capitulate to public calls to discard someone who has done wrong, even something heinous, even if they deserve it. We do so out of a hope of redemption. They consider this coddling someone but they don’t understand the gospel.

Not because of too much grace, but because of too much judgment that went before
But in lots of prominent cases, the Christian organizations or churches aren’t being castigated because of too much grace, but rather too much judgment that went before the present event.
They are caught in public pronouncements about others’ sin as though they did not ever do such things (“I thank you, God, that I am not like this tax collector….”) – and then there they are, with the evidence that they do, for everyone to see. It is then that their desire to apply grace looks like whitewashing, and it seems to betray Christian faith.
If we promote ourselves as “successful” in holiness and purity, too good to fall into the potholes that are around us all the time, then when someone in our midst falls in a hole, we are called hypocrites.
But, if we present ourselves as sinners saved by grace who are learning day by day to trust Jesus more, to obey him more, but whose power to do this contends with our own still-sinful selves, then our successes are to be moments for worship, and our pratfalls are moments for prayer and forgiveness, as well as living with the consequences.
Humble yourselves, Jesus says, that you may be exalted. For the proud are going to be humbled anyway – that’s just the way it goes.
The Christian world needs to resist the temptation to use anything about ourselves (and certainly the grace in which we stand) as a reason to hold ourselves up over others. “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7)

Humility is not Humiliation
Jesus showed us his life as an example of humility (how amazing!) and then led us to follow him in it. Humility is not humiliation. Humility is a personal decision not to seek status for oneself but rather to arrange oneself lower among others, even to lift up others.
In the case of Jesus, it was because he knew who he was and what he had come to do, and he used his power to undergird people who were being made new, and to shoulder himself the task of making all things new.
In our case, we are to pursue humility because we know who we are, in Christ, and no one can take that away. In that identity, we imitate Christ by refusing to exalt ourselves but instead by putting ourselves out for others in love and grace, knowing that Christ will thereby one day exalt us all.
Let us not be caught with our pride up in the air, and our humility down around our feet. We never know when what we are doing or saying will be made public, and yes, perhaps be misunderstood …and we might be talked about unfairly. If it is for being like Jesus, then great is our reward before God.
But if it is because we lost the plot, and thought belonging to Jesus made us better than our neighbors, and instead of who we pretended to be, we are found being sinners in need of grace like everyone else, then we will have contributed to the hardening of the hearts of others who say, “See? There is no truth in what they say.”
And let us pray for one another, and especially for those Jesus-followers who have fallen into this trap, so present in the news this week. Lord, have mercy on us, sinners. Thank you for Jesus who is making us new!

How can Jesus tell us to be at peace??

26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14)
nepal earthquake

As I write this, hope has gone dark that they will find any more survivors in Nepal after the 7.9 earthquake, but survivors there continue to sleep outside even if their homes are ok, because they fear the next aftershock will bring the building down.

As I write this, Baltimore wavers between rioting that included burning stores down and looting and street parties that police have been arrested in the death of Freddie Grey – but no one feels like this conversation is over.

As I write this, many Christians on Facebook are tempted to rule one another out of the body of Christ because of high emotion over the Supreme Court and gay marriage.

How is it that Jesus can tell us not to be troubled or afraid?

This is when I notice before that Jesus’ instruction to us about peace and not being afraid comes right after his description of what his Holy Spirit would do among us?

The Holy Spirit, he says, will teach us all things and will remind us of everything Jesus has said to us. And with that comes his peace, unlike the world’s peace. From that, we are to take action: do not LET your hearts be troubled and do not BE afraid.

Jesus had radically different ideas about what was wrong with things than we do. From Jesus’ perspective, we are all pretty confused about what is good and what is evil, what is safe and what is dangerous. We really aren’t good judges of what the real problem before us is.

Humans like to find one person, or a group of people, we can blame for things. In fact, the word “scapegoat” actually comes from the Bible! We are quick to blame things on someone or some group, and we want to push them outside the gates so we can live in peace. We forget that God is Love and that his goal in sending Christ to all of us, was that all humanity could return to him. It was worth it to him! He is breaking down the walls and the barriers. And while Jesus told us to be shrewd as serpents as well as innocent as doves, Jesus said that having contempt for others is on the spectrum with murdering them, and that to love our enemies and pray for them is akin to being like God. We may know exactly what someone is up to, and still love them as God does! Our agenda is his.

Baptized “into” Christ, we are safe in him – we have already conquered death in him, we already have “seats in the heavenlies” with him and there is nothing in all this world that can separate us from the safety of our future in him.

The Holy Spirit in us, then, reminds us that we can take some risks. We do not have to be defensive when people who are different from us display anger and hurt – we can safely listen to what they have to say. We don’t have to find a reason why the sufferings of someone else are their own fault and thus not our problem; everything we have has been put into our hands by our Father and we can share it freely, as he did. He does not run out and he doesn’t desire that we should be stingy. We can risk compassion and grace as God did.

God’s patience, love, mercy and grace in us, is God alive in the world! Christ’s Spirit in us empowers us, reminds us of what Jesus said and gives us courage to be peaceful in times which are not. We aren’t overcome – we know not only that this world isn’t all there is, but that these conflicts aren’t forever.

We also know, even if those around us don’t, that “might” doesn’t make “right.” Power, by itself, may get someone else to do what you want, but it doesn’t bring real compliance, submission or peace. All this world’s power is derivative. Cops who might beat up an innocent person derive the power to do so from the God who made them, as do the criminals who prey on the innocent. As do rioters who burn businesses down. But all of that is illegitimate use of power; it is sinful. God has noted it. Justice requires that it be recorded, and paid for.

How is it paid for? Even those instances of sin were paid for already by Christ on the cross, he who did not resist but shouldered the injustice done to him, and then demonstrated his conquest of it (and all those who wanted it for him) by rising from the dead, forever alive now.

For us to trust in brute power others is a shortcut like Satan offered to Jesus in the wilderness. It’s not only unnecessary it is foolish – we would sell our souls to get what we already have! In Christ we have the better thing: the powerful love of God that is capable and willing to see others as they might be in God’s realm, to forgive the weaknesses of today because Jesus has taken sin to the cross…and because we see a much better thing coming under the sovereignty of God.

This love and trust alive in us, Jesus said, is like a little yeast in a whole drum of dough. It fundamentally changes wherever it goes, without drawing a lot of notice to itself. And this is why we aren’t to spend our time being defensive or afraid, or judgmental and angry – by the way we interact with every bit of God’s creation, we can give the Holy Spirit rein within us to make a difference. Often we won’t even know the difference we made. It’s why Jesus just told us to follow him.

Let’s not be so surprised or troubled about the follies and disgraces of our day – there is nothing new under the sun. Let’s not feed our minds full of messages of fear and defeat (I’m talking about you, CNN), but instead hear the word of God. The Spirit within us is greater than the spirit that is in the world, the Bible says. Don’t be troubled; don’t be afraid. Peace be with us – and let us spread it around, in Christ.