Finding God In Humility

Standard

Luke 18:10-14

A young pastor was gloating with pride over the large crowd in the sanctuary. On this Sunday night the church was packed to see the Christmas play. While the pastor was savoring the moment, a young boy stepped up behind him. The youngster was amazed by the crowd as well. As the two stood by each other taking in the crowded view, the little guy revealed a very humbling truth. He said, “Preacher, have you ever noticed that we have our largest crowds when you’re not scheduled to preach?”

William Willimon directs the Duke Chapel at Duke University. Students aren’t required to attend the chapel services, so he received a humorous response from one attendee. Willimon approached a young man who had been ushering for several Sundays. He asked, “How do you like chapel?” The student politely said, “I like it.” The chaplain then daringly inquired, “What do you think about the preaching?” “Well, I like that too,” noted the collegiate. Willimon pressed on though, and asked, “What do you like about it?” The maturing young man stammered, “I just…I like it.” Willimon held his feet to the fire until he confessed, “Look, Dr. Willimon, I’ll be honest with you. I come to chapel to meet women.” The good-hearted Dr. appropriately responded, “Thank you. This has done me good. In case I should ever become presumptuous, I will remember this conversation.”

Humility is facing the truth. It is useful to remind myself that the word itself comes from humus, earth, and in the end simply means that I allow myself to be earthed in the truth that lets God be God, and myself his creature. If I hold on to this it helps prevent me from putting myself at the center, and instead allows me to put God and other people at the center. Humility is a very important factor in our relationship with God.

Satan was thrown from Heaven because there was no humility to be found in him. Pharaoh’s heart was hard because he was not a humble man. Scripture teaches that pride always goes before the fall.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Humility has a direct value on how we approach God. There was a reason Jesus was born in poverty. When I was growing up, I learned that, as far as economics go, there are four kinds of people in the world. There are poor people. I had some relatives who were poor. Then there were people like me, people who managed to get by. The third kind of people were those who we called “well off.” I knew some of these people in our church. I even had a few well off relatives. The fourth kind of people were the “filthy rich.” These were the leaders of government and industry, the power brokers. I am sure that such people are just like the rest of us, but since I can’t ever move in their circles, I cannot possibly get to know them. If Jesus had been born into a ruling class family, no shepherds would have witnessed his birth. They never would have gotten through the gates that led to his mansion.

Several years ago, I got a bill from AT&T for a collect call from Florida. I knew the place and the time – it was Jonathan. But I had not accepted a collect call from Jonathan. I had given him a prepaid card and he had used it on this call. It was a billing mistake. After talking with three different people, I finally got the one person who could make the correction. They end the conversation with, “Mr. McConnell we will make the one time adjustment.” There is the aggressive side of me that wants to say, “No, you will make the adjustment anytime you make a mistake.” But there is the gentle side that understands that is what this employee is told to say. And you call the words of Christ, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28) Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others whatever the cost, but the urge to serve others whatever the cost. There are two things everyone should learn: There is a God. And, you’re not Him. A horse becomes useful when it is broken and becomes willing to submit to the will of his master. The Christian is also only useful when willing to submit to the will of his or her master. Mistakes are the bridges between foolishness and wisdom when built by humility. Only God is in a position to look down on anyone.

Trouble, I’ve learned, can be a blessing. Trouble is the great equalizer, the common denominator of living. It helps us identify with other human beings, and it knocks us down to size.

Humility: It is always the secure who are most humble. Marilyn vos Savant is listed in the “Guiness Book of World Records Hall of Fame” for having the highest IQ. Her intelligence is kept in perspective by a little motto she uses: “Remember, we’re all biodegradable.” When you’re feeling irreplaceable, just think about the biodegradability factor.

We are learning a lot about ocean currents and the winds because of ducks — and they aren’t even real ducks. A cargo vessel in the Pacific Ocean lost some containers during a storm. One contained 29,000 plastic ducks for children’s bathtubs. The ducks stayed afloat. Three years later they are still turning up in strange places all around the globe. Scientists love it. They call it the “quack heard round the world.” It’s a humbling experience to discover how little we know when compared to how much there is to learn.

God may need to ask us, as He asked Job so long ago, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep?” If you are in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, a little after seven o’clock in the morning you will see a 75-year-old man with a plastic grocery bag. If you follow him for his two-mile walk you will see him picking up the trash other people littered the streets with the night before. You will find it hard to believe the volunteer litter gatherer is one of the most widely read columnists in America, James J. Kilpatrick. His column is in scores of newspapers. He is considered an authority on the English language. He is financially secure. But he does not think it beneath him to clean up the streets of his beloved city. How often people of lesser stature will not bend down to do the work that needs to be done.

May we never experience success without prayer.

Fasting For Faith

Standard

Acts 14:21-23

People Magazine (January 1981) Dolly Parton credits her family and faith for her force of character. The fourth of 12 children of poor farmer parents in Sevierville, Tennessee, Dolly was raised in a Christian home. Now she says her relationship with the Lord is more “personal” that organized. “But I quote the Bible real good,” she boasts proudly. And instead of psychiatry, Parton turns to fasting, not to diet but for spiritual reasons. “I don’t drink nothing but water and I don’t ever say when I’m on a fast — Scripture says you’re not supposed to.” Dolly insists she has never made a major decision without fasting and praying first.

Benjamin Franklin said, “The best of all medicines are resting and fasting.” Fasting and prayer sensitize the spirit, feasting and revelry dull the soul. A man went into a pizza parlor and ordered a medium sized pizza. When it was ready, the cook asked him if he wanted it cut into four pieces or six. The man thought a moment, then said, “Better make it four – I don’t think I could eat six pieces.”

Pastor Stephen Bly, of Winchester, Idaho, is fortunate to have witnessed the beauty of discipleship in one of his church members. August Jensen is an 84 year old widower who sits toward the back in church. Many perceive him as one who no longer has much to offer. His pastor learned otherwise. On a visit to Gus’ house, Pastor Bly saw the old man’s daily regimen. He spent two and a half hours in Bible study and prayer followed by a three mile walk where he conversed with God. Lately he had been fasting two meals a day and praying for the salvation of Anthony, a neighborhood teen who was good for little more than mischief. The pastor asked, “How long have you been fasting and praying for him like that?’ Gus replied, “Forty days.” “How much longer will you continue?” wondered his pastor. With a smile, Gus said, “As long as it takes.” On day 51 Anthony committed his life to Christ.

The word fasting is not found in the Pentateuch but often occurs in the historical books and the prophets of the Old Testament. The expression used in the Pentateuch is “humble your souls,” implying the sacrifice of the personal will, which gives fasting all its value. The Jewish fasts were observed with various degrees of strictness. When the fast lasted only a single day it was the practice to abstain from food of every kind from evening to evening. Whereas in the case of private fasts of a more prolonged character it was merely the ordinary food that was abstained from. To manifest a still profounder humbling of the soul before God is repentance and mortification on account of one’s sin and the punishment with which it had been visited. It was not unusual to put on sackcloth, rend the garments, and scatter ashes over the head. In 1 Sam 7:6 it is said that Israel “drew water and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day.” To “pour out your heart like water” (Lam 2:19) seems to denote inward dissolution through pain and misery. In connection with the fast it would be a practical confession of misery and an act of deepest humiliation before the Lord.

The Mosaic law prescribed only one public occasion of strict fasting, namely, once a year on the great Day of Atonement. This observance seems always to have retained some prominence as “the fast” (Acts 27:9). Moses did not eat bread or drink water during the 40 days and 40 nights he was on Mount Sinai receiving the law (Ex 34:28).

Going without food or water was not automatically effective in accomplishing the desires of those who fasted. In the prophet Isaiah’s time, people complained that they had fasted and that God had not responded favorably (Isa 58:3-4). The prophet declared that the external show was futile. The fast that the Lord requires is to loose the bonds of wickedness, undo the heavy burdens, feed the hungry, shelter the poor, and clothe the naked (Isa 58:5-7).

Fasting also occurs in the New Testament. Anna at the Temple “served God with fasting and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37). John the Baptist led his disciples to fast (Mark 2:18). Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights before His temptation (Matt 4:2). Cornelius was fasting at the time of his vision (Acts 10:30). The church in Antioch fasted (Acts 13:2) and sent Paul and Barnabas off on the first missionary journey with fasting and prayer (Acts 13:3). Paul and Barnabas prayed with fasting at the appointment of elders in the churches (Acts 14:23).

Our Lord sternly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocritical pretenses in the fasts that they observed (Matt 6:16-18). He abstained from appointing any fast as part of His own religion (9:14-15; 11:18-19). Prayer and fasting are mentioned as means for promoting faith and as good works. In the last passage the apostle probably refers to voluntary fasting, as in 2 Cor 11:27 he makes a distinction between fasting and “hunger and thirst”.

What does fasting do for us? A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Bring the boy to me.” When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. …if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “`If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” He rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Fasting does three things for the believer. Fasting helps us learn discipline. Fasting is a time when we learn the power of evil. Fasting helps us to focus our attention to God. Fasting becomes an act of worship. Fasting communicates how important this issue is to you. …if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chron. 7:14)

Cheap Grace At A High Cost

Standard

Ephesians 2:6-10

After twenty years of shaving himself every morning, a man in a small Southern town decided he had had enough. He told his wife that he intended to let the local barber shave him each day. He put on his hat and coat and went to the barber shop, which was owned by the pastor of the town’s Baptist Church. The barber’s wife, Grace, was working that day, so she performed the task. Grace shaved him and sprayed him with lilac water, and said, “That will be $20.” The man thought the price was a bit high, but he paid the bill and went to work. The next morning the man looked in the mirror, and his face was as smooth as it had been when he left the barber shop the day before. Not bad, he thought. At least I don’t need to get a shave every day. The next morning, the man’s face was still smooth. Two weeks later, the man was still unable to find any trace of whiskers on his face. It was more than he could take, so he returned to the barber shop. “I thought $20 was high for a shave”, he told the barber’s wife, “But you must have done a great job. It’s been two weeks and my whiskers still haven’t started growing back.” Expecting his comment, the expression on her face didn’t even change. She responded, “You were shaved by Grace. Once shaved, always shaved.”

An Englishman went abroad leaving his much loved dog and servant home.
While away, the man received a cablegram from the servant with the message, “Your dog died.” The man was most distraught both at the news and the abrupt manner it was sent. Upon returning home he upbraided the servant for not breaking the news to him more gently. Confused, the servant asked his master how such news could have been delivered more gently. The man said he could have sent a first cable saying, “Your dog is stuck on the roof.” This could be followed the next day with the message, “Your dog fell from the roof and is doing poorly.” Later a third message could have said, “Your beloved dog has gone to his eternal reward.” Some time afterwards, the man went abroad again. While there, he received a cable from his servant, “Your mother is stuck on the roof.”

Grace was not just flowery words, grace was God’s action on our behalf. God’s love is an action toward us, not a reaction to us. God does not love us because we are so valuable; rather we are valuable because God loves us. The church is the one organization that refuses to accept qualification for membership, except one: I am in need of grace, and that grace through Jesus Christ. But there are a number of expectations once you are here. No qualifications, but expectations.

The truth is, most of us do not know how to handle God’s grace. We talk a great deal about being free, but freedom bothers us. A great deal of the fundamentalist movement today is a reaction to freedom. When the Israelites came out of Egypt they didn’t know how to handle the freedom they had been given. We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. (Numbers 11:5) When Moses spent time on the mountain top, they built the calf to enslave themselves. After Jesus’ departure the Church had difficult understanding this grace. Does one have to become a Jew in order to be a Christian? Do they have to keep all the Laws? Do they have to be circumcised? The Church’s conclusion? For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.

We are uncomfortable with free gifts and feel we have to pay someone back for the gift. Ever receive an unexpected gift at Christmas time? If you are like most people, you will run out a buy a gift to give them back. Why? Because you feel beholding. We are appreciative of what God has done for us and we want to “pay God back.” How does one pay God back? Our way is usually to be good, obey the Laws and even be churchly.

The better we get acquainted with the grace of God, the less we are concerned about our authority in our home, and the less threatened we feel. The more we become acquainted with the grace of God, the more we want to model servanthood, the more we desire to affirm and release our wives–the less we want to dominate and control them. Grace loves and serves, it gives and forgives. Grace does not keep a record of wrongs and then dangle them over the one who has wronged us. Grace gives room–room to grow and to be, to discover and to create. Then we understand how we can love others as we love ourselves.

Grace is the favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves. It is thus apparent that God’s grace is to be distinguished from His mercy and love (Eph 2:4-5), But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. Mercy is therefore the compassion of God that moved Him to provide a Savior for the unsaved. Divine love is the motivating plan behind all that God does in saving a soul. But since God is holy and righteous, and sin is a complete offense to Him, His love or His mercy cannot operate in grace until there is a sufficient satisfaction for sin. Grace thus rules out all human merit. It requires only faith in the Savior.

Although the grace of God is always free and undeserved, it must not be taken for granted. Grace is only enjoyed within the COVENANT-the gift is given by God, and the gift is received by man through repentance and faith. The greatest battle that Paul had was helping the Church to understand God’s grace. It is easy to get caught up in the Law. It is easy to be literalistic and miss the grace of Heaven. Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cummin.
But you have neglected the more important matters of the law-justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. When Titus was converted to Christianity, the Jewish Church wanted him to be circumcised. Paul’s argument was clear, the gift of God was not in obeying a set of Laws this couldn’t save us. God’s grace was the gift that needed embracing.

Grace is to be humbly sought through the prayer of faith. People who cannot handle grace retreat into legalism. The grace of God was supremely revealed and given in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the Pearl of great price that is worth selling everything to obtain.

This is a story about Aaron the tailor, who was rushing down the street, when he passed Moishe the banker, who calls out to him: “Aaron, where are you rushing!” “Moishe,” he says, “I’m going to the synagogue, to see the rabbi!” “Why?” Moishe asks, “it’s not Saturday!” “Moishe,” says Aaron, “a terrible thing has happened — my son’s become a Christian!” Moishe says, “Let me tell you a very funny thing: my son’s become a Christian!” “Oh no!” says Aaron, “then come with me to the rabbi!” So down the street they go, until they pass Sol, who owns the laundromat. Sol says, “Moishe, Aaron, what’s going on? Where are you going?” Aaron says, “Sol, we’re going to see the rabbi — our two sons have become Christians!” Sol says, “Come over here… let me tell you a very funny thing… my son is a Christian!” Aaron says, “Sol — come with us to see the rabbi!” They finally arrive at the synagogue, pounding on the door. The rabbi opens the door, and says, “Aaron, Moishe, Sol — why are you here? Go home… leave me alone… don’t bother me!” Aaron says, “Rabbi… we got a catastrophe in our families… our three sons have become Christians!” The rabbi says, “Come into my office!” He locks the door, goes behind his desk, and says, “Sit…” He buries his head in his hands, and after a long pause, he says, “Let me tell you a very funny thing — my son is a Christian!” “What are we going to do?” says Aaron, “we are lost!” Moishe says, “What are we going to do? Rabbi, you were our last chance! We are lost!” “No, we aren’t,” says the Rabbi. “Follow me!” They march into the synagogue, into the sanctuary, and the rabbi says, “Kneel!” They all kneel down, and the rabbi begins to pray: “Yahweh… God of Abraham; God of Isaac; God of Israel… What is going on? Orthodox Judaism is going down the tubes! Everybody’s becoming a Christian! Yahweh… give us a word… Yahweh… speak a word to us!” There was a LONG PAUSE……. and finally, God answers, “LET ME TELL YOU A VERY FUNNY THING!”

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

The Church In Conflict With Culture

Standard

First Corinthians 8

The standard typewriter keyboard exemplifies our resistance to change. The most commonly used keys are intentionally placed far apart from each other.
The arrangement on the keyboard was strategically placed to slow down the typist so that the early machines in the 1800s would not jam. About forty years later, the keyboard was simplified and called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. The most frequently used keys were moved to the primary row of keys. Typists could type as much as five times as fast with this keyboard. The innovation never took. The reason: even when things could be more efficient, we don’t want to change.

During a service at an old synagogue in Eastern Europe, when the Shema prayer was said, half the congregants stood up and half remained sitting. The half that was seated started yelling at those standing to sit down and the ones standing yelled at the ones sitting to stand up. The rabbi, educated as he was in the Law and commentaries, didn’t know what to do. His congregation suggested that he consult a house-bound 98-year-old man, who was one of the original founders of their temple. The rabbi hoped the elderly man would be able to tell him what the actual temple tradition was, so he went to the nursing home with a representative of each faction of the congregation. The one whose followers stood during Shema said to the old man, “Is the tradition to stand during this prayer?” The old man answered, “No, that is not the tradition.” The one whose followers sat asked, “Is the tradition to sit during Shema?” The old man answered, “No, that is not the tradition.” Then the rabbi said to the old man, “The congregants fight all the time, yelling at each other about whether they should sit or stand.” The old man interrupted, exclaiming, “THAT is our tradition!”

Any church that is alive will always be living on the edge of heresy. A religion that does nothing, gives nothing, costs nothing, suffers nothing – is worth nothing. A church on the move must confront reality and meet people where they are. Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination.
Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

“Today’s children are tyrants. They disobey their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers. Do you know who wrote that? Socrates in 400 B.C.

So how does culture affect the Church? Things offered unto idols were the remainders of animals sacrificed to heathen gods. The problems, then, were these: Might a Christian partake of meat offered to a false god? Might a Christian buy and eat flesh offered to idols? Might a Christian, when invited to the home of a friend, eat flesh which had been offered to idols? Paul first sets forth general principles to guide the believer in these ticklish problems

Number One: Christians do possess knowledge, but it may be only superficial and incomplete. Knowledge is not sufficient for the solution of all problems, for by itself it is arrogant. Our knowledge of God is always incomplete. To love God brings both a knowledge of God and a sense of God’s knowledge of us. For example, in a palace everyone knows the king, but not everyone is known by the king. The second stage would indicate personal intimacy and consequent first-hand knowledge.

Number Two: An idol cannot really be a representation of God. How could wood or stone represent God’s incorruptibility? The apostle admits, however, that there are those called gods. It is the clean heart, and not clean food, that will matter; and the weak brother confounds the two

Number Three: From here to the end of the chapter Paul expounds the words, love builds up. Paul points out that meat in itself will not bring believers near to God. Paul warns the strong to take heed that their liberty does not prove a stumbling block to the weak. In other words, knowledge will not solve the problem. If Christ loved the brother enough to die for him, then the strong believer ought to love him enough to give up his right to eat certain meat. The decision to follow the path of love rests with Paul, not with the weak. The strong are to yield to love’s appeal voluntarily, not because the weak demand it Paul’s conclusion? Love, not knowledge, solves the problem. On moral matters, about which the Word has spoken, the Word is supreme. On morally indifferent matters, such as eating meat offered to idols, liberty is to be regulated by love.

Jesus said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10) Christianity is more then just a set of Laws. It is a way of life. It is every breath we take.

Ever wonder why the guy is supposed to carry his bride over the threshold?
It goes back to the Romans. They believed that good and evil spirits fought for control at a home’s entrance. For good to prevail, Romans felt you must enter a room with your right foot first. Thus entered the wedding scene when Romans concluded that a new bride in a highly emotional state might be careless and forget about the right foot stuff. To prevent possible tragedy, they decided it best for the groom to carry his bride. Maybe it is time we got off on the right foot with God as our foundation.