Archive for the ‘Humility’ Category

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“ASPIRING TO BE FRAGILE” – July 2

July 2, 2013

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7

Flimsy, frail, fragile, feeble are all adjectives that should be avoided on a professional resume.  These are not personal traits that are typically exalted and espoused.  I don’t know of a motivational speaker who bears the mantle of encouraging the strong to throw aside their strength and embrace the joy of feebleness.  The New York Times best sellers list does not have authors advocating success through the power of weakness.  Our world works very hard to deny our weaknesses.  Numerous are the methods and programs that strive to identify our strengths and diminish our limitations.

There is a message being embraced by:

the child longing to be an adult;
the student learning from the master;
the athlete training;
the aged remembering their youth;

This message shuns the idea of being a flimsy, frail, fragile, and feeble clay jar. However, that is exactly what we are.  Our true identity emerges when:

illness steals our strength;
success slips our grasp;
intellect denies our aspirations;
age bars our activities.

When our true identity weighs down upon us, we are then able to see that we really are nothing in comparison to the surpassing power of God.  When we are powerless, the knowledge that God is everything has clarity.  When we are desperate, the love of God comes easily for those who are in Christ.

However, what about when we are strong?  What about when the accolades are accumulating?  What about when all you touch turns to gold?  What about when you are at the pinnacle?

I wonder if the strong and prosperous are not in the most danger when they are at their highest.

English: pots made of clay.

English: pots made of clay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They are in danger because it can be so easy to forget who they really are.  Success can cause us to believe in a false identity.  We can begin to believe that we are something in ourselves.  At the moment that I believe that I am something other than clay, then God is not everything.  Confidence in my abilities has an insidious way of blinding me to my real identity.  I know that there are many things that I am good at.  The danger arises when I begin to believe that all the strengths that I possess originate from personal qualities.  We step into a morass when we claim success as the result of all our hard work.

This denial of our true identity strikes directly at what we love.  Loving God with everything that we are flows easily out of an understanding that He is everything and we are but clay jars.  However, a love of self is the natural parasite of a self-confident attitude.  The self-confident have lost sight of God’s surpassing power the moment they swallow the myth of their own fame, no matter how small that fame might be.

A man shapes pottery as it turns on a wheel. (...

A man shapes pottery as it turns on a wheel. (Cappadocia, Turkey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In that instant, we lose everything by believing the lie that we can do anything within ourselves.

Fortunately, we get everything and can do anything the instant that we attribute all that we are to the rightful Originator.  There is nothing that is impossible for the one who knows who they really are. The clay jar has surpassing power within it when it embraces what it really is; flimsy, frail, fragile, and feeble.

Therefore, let us aspire to be what we really are… fragile.

PRAYER: Lord, you know that I fail in holding the right attitude in my heart.  You know how my heart loves to be made much of.  You know how I am so inclined to take credit for your work.  Father, remind me of how I am.  Thank you for all that You have given me.  Thank you for all that things that You have made me good at.  Thank you for the strengths that come from You through me.  Help me to keep the right attitude.  Help me to glorify You through all that you have given me.  Give me a heart that only wants You.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“A PERFERENCE FOR GOD” – June 12

June 13, 2013

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!  But the thunder of his power who can understand?’  Job 26:14

I am rather particular about what I like:

I like my coffee with a little cream but not too much;
Salsa should have a little kick but it shouldn’t scorch my taste buds;
I am driven inside when it is too hot or too cold;
I don’t like it when it is too windy or breezeless;
I like my dessert sweet but not too sweet.

Everyone has preferences.  Those preferences have ranges that depend upon the person.  When the ranges of our particular preferences are exceeded, we become uncomfortable.  However, there are another set of ranges that affect our very existence.  Our lives cannot be sustained if the ranges of these parameters are exceeded:

The sun cannot be any closer or further away;
The atmosphere cannot be any thicker or thinner;
My heart rate cannot get too high or too low;
My immune system has to be sensitive but not too sensitive;
I need some gravity but not too much.

We are very delicate creatures in terms of the mighty forces at work in this universe and there is no greater power than God Almighty.  He embodies forces that can turn our fragile forms to dust in an instant.  Who can stand before the weight of His glory?  Who can take the thunder of His voice?  Who can bear the intensity of His image?  Who can comprehend His ways?

God is beyond the range that our forms can accommodate.  I am incapable of taking all of God.  He has to moderate His power in order that we can know Him without being hurt.  He has to show us glimpses of the divine in the safety of His hand.  There is no place for pride in the full revelation of God.  Humility is our only response when we consider the grace that God has shown us by limiting Himself in His own revelation just so that we can bear it.  I am astounded by my own arrogance by taking God’s limited revelation and limiting it even further by my own preferences.  I wonder at how often I find myself living as though I control the boundaries of God in my life.

I cannot bear the silence of God.
I strain against the whisper of His voice in frustration.
Yet, I am afraid to hear the full force of His voice.

So many of us live in an attempt to set limits on God’s involvement in our lives; like that is even possible.  We like a little bit of God but not too much.  We don’t want God to exceed the range of our preferences for fear of Him making us uncomfortable.  We cringe at the thought of God calling us to a lifestyle that may bear the ridicule for being a Jesus Freak.

Humility recognizes that we don’t have that kind of control. Humility comes before God willing to take all that He has to give.  That may mean patiently waiting in His silence.  That may mean obediently following the roar of His leading.  Only the sinful heart thinks it can manage God Almighty.  God is never a preference of our lifestyle.  He is the very essence of our life.  He is the air that we breathe.  He is the source of every heart beat.

May we humbly seek all that He is revealing to us, no matter where that leads.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for allowing yourself to be known by me.  Thank you for opening my eyes.  Thank you for breathing life into my dead soul.  Father, I want to know You.  Help me to be open to all that you have to reveal to me.  Sustain me in your silence.  Give me courage to follow when you speak.  Teach me to know your voice.  Jesus, keep me humble before your mighty throne.  Do not let the arrogance of my heart think that I can manage my obedience.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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SURVIVING SLIPPERY ROADS – Jan. 25

January 25, 2013

“This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience.  By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith…” 1 Timothy 1:18-19

Icy Roads, Take Me HomeWe have experienced a prolonged inversion that has kept the temperature from surpassing 10 degrees F.  Then a storm blew through our area.  I had hoped that the storm-front would provide a little relief from cold temperatures by acting as an atmospheric blender. Unfortunately, the storm was like a fondant that encrusted our world in ice.

That made my commute into work an adventure.

I realized that the roads were bad when my greeting to the county highway was a car trunk awkwardly peeking out from the opposite shoulder of the road.  I am still questioning the wisdom of my decision not to turn around at that moment and head back to the safety of my home.  However, I did not turn around.  Rather, I put my pickup in four-wheel drive and cautiously pressed forward into a white landscape of questionable decision-making.

The road had my full attention on this morning; very excessive depression of the accelerator told me that I was traveling on ice.  There was no day-dreaming, working on memory verses, changing radio stations, or checking texts (which I would never do anyway). The road would periodically check if I was paying attention by giving my nerves a little jolt.  The road would give a slight tug on the steering wheel, followed by a strange floating sensation, followed by another slight jerk as the tires grab what little traction was available.

I don’t like that feeling.  I don’t like what that immediate shot of adrenaline does to me.  It is an electric pulse down the spine as your muscles all try to contract in an instant. It makes you momentarily wonder whether your flight response may have gone too far.

It was amazing how quickly my foot would unconsciously lift off of the accelerator.  I didn’t even have to think about it.  I was equally amazed at the unconscious resistance to placing my foot on the brake or jerking my arms to compensate for a slight misdirection.  I have learned from experience that either of those actions will immediately put me in a place I don’t want to be – the ditch.  It took all my experience of driving on icy roads to make it into work yesterday.  I made it but I don’t think it was the smartest decision that I could have made.   When you think about the consequences, it just wasn’t worth it.

This experience of creeping along dangerously slick roadways made me contemplate the equally dangerous and slick paths of our spiritual lives.  Most of the time, there is a decision before venturing down a particular path.  We will stand at a cross-roads and make a conscious decision to proceed with an activity or a relationship that has inherent dangers to our souls.

dentro al fosso - into the ditch

dentro al fosso – into the ditch (Photo credit: Uberto)

Is it wise to proceed down those roads?

Do you have the experience to navigate those slick pathways without putting your faith in the ditch?

Those are good questions to ask before you proceed.  I remember my first couple of years out of high school.  I was working full-time in a cabinet shop and going to a community college in the evenings.  It was my intention to take all my under division classes at the community college before transferring to the university so I needed to take some humanities classes.  At the time, my cousin was taking a philosophy class.  I could see that those classes represented a slippery road for me.  I decided that I was not ready for that experience and took some humanities classes where I felt I had better footing.

Subsequently, I did take several philosophy classes as part of my education and I am glad that I waited.  From my experience, the philosophy departments of the universities that I attended were dominated by professors who were more evangelists for their secular humanist beliefs than professors, but that is not limited to philosophy departments.  I have sat through classes in philosophy, biology, geology, and even economics where the professors were proselytizing their beliefs in a direct assault on my faith with a blatantly one-sided presentation – people of faith are ignorant.

Those were some slippery roads for me.  However, it was an experience that made my faith stronger.  I am very glad I took those classes but the timing needed to be right.  I needed my faith to be sufficiently mature so that my faith grew on those slick roads rather than put me in the ditch.  I did not have that maturity when I first got out of high school.  I praise God that He showed that to me at the time.

Car Crash - 1I have watched many a person put their faith in the ditch on similar slippery roads.  I have had theological discussions with folks who are tied into intellectual knots.  I wonder what slippery road caused their faith to land in a ditch without them even knowing it.  I have known brothers and sisters in Christ who have had a slippery road result in great detours in their sanctification.

I think that it happens more than we realize but it is not inevitable.

My experience is that pride and foolishness are the main reasons for the times that I have found my vehicle and my faith in a ditch.  Timothy was told to hold onto his faith.  There are many folks who are not holding onto their faith and I have been one of them.  I have over-estimated my maturity and I have under-valued my faith.  For too many, the implications to their faith is not even a consideration in their decision-making:

What is taking this job going to do for my faith?

What is going to this school going to do for my faith?

What is this relationship going to do for my faith?

What is this hobby going to do for my faith?

When we send our kids off, what are we allowing their young faith to be subjected to? 

The reality is that many don’t want their decisions to weigh the implications on their faith or their kids’  faith because their “good conscience” is already pushing them against it.  How many times have you pushed forward with something that you knew wasn’t good for you or your kids?  I have made decisions against my own “good conscience” where I was not valuing my faith, and it resulted in having to be dug out of a ditch.  It never works out well.

A part of navigating the treacherous roads of this life is assessing the ones you even need to be on.  All of the roads don’t have to be traveled.  Like a good general who picks his battles, the wise followers of Christ will carefully pick the roads they choose to travel.  There will be some roads we travel where we don’t have a choice but even then there are decisions we can make that will make those roads safer to our souls.  We need to humbly evaluate the conditions when we come to those forks in our spiritual paths.  We need to accurately assess our own experience and maturity before we blindly push forward onto roads that we are likely to lose hold of our most valuable treasure – the sanctification of our faith.  It is OK to say, “I am not ready for that.” It is wise to build a support team around yourself to keep you on the narrow road or to pull you back if you start sliding away.

Those decisions require you to acknowledge that you have not arrived, which is humility.  We all could use more humility.  Humility would have kept me from unnecessarily traveling dangerous roads to make it into work.  Humility would have kept me from taking paths that have rocked my faith.  Humility acknowledges who we are and the importance of our faith.  We must maintain the mindset of holding onto our faith, which makes our faith a player in all of our decision-making.

There is nothing in this world that we need to fear but that doesn’t mean we should act foolishly.  Safe travels my friends.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for protecting me from my own bad decision.  Thank you for placing my feet back on a sure foundation after I have so casually treated my faith.   Father, you are my all in all.  Give me wisdom and discernment to assess the roads ahead.  May the holding onto my faith be always at the forefront of my mind.  Father, keep me from making a shipwreck of my faith; keep me from putting my faith in the ditch.  Amen

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LONG TERM INVESTING – Jan. 24

January 24, 2013

“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!” Psalm 39:14

Belime in his Nerd characterI recently was at a gathering of my profession. There is a reason that they don’t make sexy engineer calendars. It would take too long finding 12 candidates and no one would believe it anyways.  Generally, our specific slice of society is not a physically robust lot.

However, that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

Throw a bunch of competing consulting engineers in a room and the air becomes limited due its consumption in puffed up chests.  We are like a bunch of scrawny bantam roosters strut’n their stuff.  It is rather humorous the gravitas that is assumed.  I wonder how often God looks at such events and our self-proclaimed importance and goes “not so much.”

The recent Presidential Inauguration displayed a lot of grandeur and honor associated with the highest elected office in the United States.  There were a lot of  “very important” people in the specific places of honor.  The media documented every morsel of respect shown and every “roll of the eye.”  I wonder how often God looks at such events and these esteemed officials and goes “not so much.”

English: The inauguration of President Barack ...

English: The inauguration of President Barack Obama Français : Cérémonie d’investiture du président Barack Obama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The reality is that Presidents come and go.  Legislators come and go. Consulting engineers come and go.  People come and go.  It is all so very fleeting.

Tremendous investments are made daily in maintaining appearances.  Energy is expended in anxiety over what others think about our fleeting little lives.

Is that the best investment of the time that we have?

We have all heard the older generation lament how quickly time moves by.  It truly is disturbing to hear their words coming out of my own mouth but it has happened.  All one has to do is to peruse through old pictures to know the truth behind their lamentations.  Our lives truly are fleeting.  Even if my time here is 110 years, it still is nothing from God’s perspective.  It is fleeting.

Fleeting doesn’t mean irrelevant. Fleeting means scarce. We are careful with scarce things. We measure them out with purpose.

Fleeting is having one day to live; What will you do with it?

Our time on earth is like one day from an eternity perspective. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to strut around in your own self-importance? Are you going to be worried about what other people think about you?

Or, are you going to make investments that will last for all eternity?

PRAYER: Lord, help me to have good priorities.  Father, I don’t want to waste my life of things that will be ashes.  Give me an eternal perspective in that which I choose to be involved, in the words I say, and in how I treat other people.  Lord, give me the humility of being dust in the wind.  Amen

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SORRY, BUT YOU REALLY DO STINK – Jan. 9

January 9, 2013

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”  John 5:44

2012 BCS National Championship Game

2012 BCS National Championship Game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I watched the BCS National Championship game the other day.  Alabama put an absolute beat down on Notre Dame.  I think it is pretty clear this year that Alabama is the best football team in College Football.

We were talking in the office the next day about how this Alabama football team might be able to play a very competitive game against one of the “bottom feeder” teams in the NFL.  That may sound like I am disrespecting Alabama but I am not.  I am actually paying a very high complement to a college football team.

The reality is that the level of competitiveness between high school football and college football is similar to the difference between college and the NFL.  There will probably be less than ten players from this Alabama football team that will have a career in the NFL of any duration.  There are probably less than five that will actually start next year in the NFL.  Whereas, every player in the NFL would start on Alabama’s team.

Alabama’s players should enjoy their accomplishment of winning the National Championship but that achievement should also keep it in perspective.

That perspective is a hard one.  We all like to be the big fish and we want to forget about the size of pond that we are in.  This is evident when we spend any time observing people.

Go into any High School and watch the seniors strut around in all of their glory.  They are in for a harsh awakening in the coming year when they jump into the bigger pond of the work place or college.

There are poor managers who strut around their office giving orders like they are ruling a fiefdom.  This same manager would probably get flushed out of a quality organization.

There some fathers that rule their family with an iron thumb because that is the only place that they can demand respect.

There are some Christians that strut into Church with a piousness that appears to be ordained from God Himself.  They will only sit through a sermon that confirms how great they are.

It is human nature to want affirmation.  I like affirmation.  I need affirmation.  However, a steady diet of affirmation can sour our appetite.  However, the affirmation that we receive is praise for a “little fish in little pond”.  That is the caveat on every single encouraging word that we may receive.  Therefore, the wise among us are careful to watch that they don’t start strutting around thinking that they are something special.

This mentality is so dangerous in the Christian community.  We are so very good at patting each other on the back.  We are good at encouraging one another for the great things that we have done.  Now, I am all in favor of encouraging one another.  I wrote a whole blog about the importance of encouraging one another a while back.

The caveat on that blog is that we as believers should never start selectively reading the scriptures for only those passages that are encouraging.  We should never start selecting the Church we attend based on the Pastor only teaches encouraging sermons.  We should never select our friend based on the fact that they are encouraging without being confronting.

It is when we start seeking glory from others that we should be concerned that affirmation may have soured our appetite.  This is what happened to the Pharisees.  They missed their Messiah because they had become so accustomed to receiving flattery.

“… they were open to messianic claimants who used flattery or who panted after great reputation or whose values were so closely attuned to their audience that their audience felt they were very wise and farsighted; they were not open to the Messiah that Jesus was turning out to be, one who though the only doxa (glory/praise) worth pursuing was the glory of God.” D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John

That is still a danger for us today.  We can miss Christ by becoming so attuned to hearing messages that flatter us or only come from those with a great reputation or messages that tell us what we want to hear.

How do we defend ourselves from that sort of danger?  You have to remember that:

YOU STINK!

Please don’t be overly offended if no one has ever told you that before.  If it makes you feel any better, I stink too.  In fact, every person who has walked this earth, other than Christ, has stunk.  That is the point; Christ did not.  That is why He is our standard.

We must remember that you are not the standard; I am not the standard; the mega-church pastors are not the standard; the people in the Bible are not the standard.

Christ is our standard.

Every time you receive some glory, compare yourself to Christ.

Every time you are affirmed, compare yourself to Christ.

Every time you are praised, compare yourself to Christ.

When we consistently compare ourselves to Christ, we will realize the futility of pursuing our own glory.  We are little fish in a little pond.  All the glory that we may receive has the caveat of  “but God is greater.”

Remembering that you stink should not discourage.  It should be humbling but not discouraging.  It leads us and teaches us how great our God really is.  He is the biggest fish in the biggest pond of all.  This is the foundation of true humility.

A mind-set of humility will inoculate us from seeking our self-esteem from the glory of one another.  An appetite for the praise of man can so easily distract and corrupt our motivations. Humility allows us to pursue our primary purpose – to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever – and not to be distracted by the praise of man.

Remember that it is because God is so great that He can use someone who stinks as much as you and I do.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for getting my priorities so far out of whack.  Forgive me for seeking my glory while I am trying to convince myself that I am seeking yours.  Lord you are so far beyond me that any glory that I might receive in this world is pittance to the glory that is due you.  Lord, make my motivations clear to me.  Help be to glorify you in all that I do and to enjoy you all my days.  Amen

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