Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Changing the Man in the Mirror

Last Thursday, two entertainment icons died – Farrah Fawcett was an icon of female beauty, and Michael Jackson an icon of pop music: for both of them, personal change was one of their biggest challenges. Michael Jackson’s extraordinary talent was apparent to all from birth; he was the King of Pop; but his biggest challenge was trying to grow personally even as he was growing in fame publicly; to overcome his fears and his insecurities, to grow up when everyone wanted him to stay the cute little 5 year old who sang with the Jackson 5. Jackson was a gifted man who felt completely free on stage, yet terrified of crowds. He sang songs about 'making the world a better place'…but like most of us, his biggest challenge was changing 'the man in the mirror'. Change can be scary; overcoming fear or personal shortcomings may seem unlikely at times…but real, lasting, positive change in our lives and the world around us is possible. Here are three things "the man in the mirror" really needs to know.

First, we will never be fully rid of sin or the need to change in this life. The Bible is set apart from a lot of the self-help books on transformation today for one important reason…it takes seriously the reality of evil. The Bible is about more than the power of positive thinking. It rejects the notion that with enough vigilance and will-power and the careful adherence to rules and regulations, that we can reach a state of perfection in this life.

The prophet Jeremiah once spoke of the waywardness of Israel, and her pattern of self-destructive behavior with a question: “Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23). It's a sad commentary on God’s own people! Our capacity to do evil, to make a mess of our lives or the lives of others, given the right circumstances, is as much a part of us as our skin or hair color. It’s part of our fallen nature as human beings. We can’t begin to experience real change if we don’t appreciate how much we need it.

When we see failure and weakness in public figures, it only reminds us of our own. The eccentricities of Michael Jackson, the infidelity of Governor Mark Sanford, or even President Obama’s struggle to kick the cigarette habit, remind us of our own weaknesses, and how difficult it can be to change. Paul spoke truly when he said, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

We will never be fully rid of sin or the need to change in this life; on the other hand (and this is my second point) revelation and experience shows that we can change, grow, and increase in God’s grace. The LORD’s indictment of Israel in Jeremiah 13:23 is not hopeless. The chapter ends with another question, “How long will it be before you are made clean?” It's like saying to a child, “How long will it take for you to learn to pick up your room?” The question seems to assume that change is possible down the road.

If Jeremiah 13 is a chapter of judgment; Jeremiah 31 (ironically) is a chapter that speaks of the hope of future redemption, for the LORD says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31: 33).
The Bible consistently gives real hope that God’s people can and do really change, grow, and increase in his grace. Take Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love we must grow up into him who is the head, into Christ”; or Philippians 1:9, “This is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless.”
Then there's 1 Thessalonians 4:1, “Finally, brother and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus Christ that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God…you should do so more and more.” Or consider 2 Thessalonians 1: 3, “We must always give thanks to God for you…because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of you for everyone is increasing.” The story of Moses is the story of a murderer who became a model leader. The story of David is the story of a boy who became a king. The story of Ruth is the story of an outsider who became a model of faith.

There’s a pop Christian theology that is the opposite of triumphalism (the idea that I can be perfect in this life); and that is Christian apathy; the idea that Christians should be blasé about sin; and content with being just forgiven. John Ortberg asks us to imagine an alcoholic welcomed at an AA meeting like this, “We’re so glad you’re here. We want you to know that you are loved and forgiven through nothing you have done. Of course, don’t expect to change too much. Don’t expect to actually stop drinking. We don’t like it when people suggest sobriety is possible. We believe that trying not to drink breeds arrogance and self-sufficiency. Our motto is, ‘12 steppers are not sober, just forgiven’" (Leadership, Spring 2009). The whole point of AA was to re-capture classic spiritual practices and to bring deliverance from a spiritual power that was destroying their lives. Let’s take a moment now to consider how that deliverance from evil begins -- and real change happens according to Scripture and 2000 years of experience.

First, real personal change starts with a grace-filled community. When Jesus set out to announce the good news of the kingdom of God he began with twelve rag tag disciples. Mark 3:14 says that “Jesus appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message.” He called Matthew, a tax collector (a Roman collaborater); he called Simon the Zealot (a left-wing revolutionary); he called Judas his betrayer, he called ordinary and untutored fishermen, he called a doubter like Thomas, and a hothead like Peter. He called them all (warts and all) and he called them to be with him… with each other, to share their lives together and to learn from him in the context of a close-knit fellowship, a Lifegroup in which we are experiencing the transforming grace and mercy of God.

Frank Laubach was a missionary in South East Asia. At one point he was sharing the gospel with a tribe that had a long history of violence. The chief was so moved \that he accepted Christ on the spot. Then, he turned to Laubach in gratitude and said, “This is wonderful! Who do you want me to kill for you?” (cited by John Ortberg, Leadership, Spring 2009). That was his starting point. He obviously didn’t have the advantage of being raised in a Christian home, with parents who loved him and each other or a culture with Judeo-Christian values. I may be less likely to kill somebody than that tribal chief…but that doesn’t mean I’m superior; I just have different problems.

The question is, “Wherever our starting point, are we moving toward the light of Christ and actively helping others to do the same; are we part of a grace-filled community that is willing to speak the truth in love; holding us accountable to keep growing in Christ-likeness?” Robert Hilburn said of Michael Jackon, that he was “one of the most fragile and lonely people I’ve ever met." Most of us would be pretty lonely and fragile without a grace-filled community to stand by us...and to encourage us when we fall short. What Jackson desperately needed, we all need in order to experience real change in our lives.

In addition to a grace-filled community, real personal change requires a new vision of who God says we are. Farrah Fawcett worked hard at trying to change her Charlie’s Angel’s image and be appreciated as a serious actress; to be more than a tabloid cover or a pinup girl. She had to play the part of a battered wife to finally rid herself of that stereotype. It’s difficult to overcome labels…especially those we have embraced.

God tells us the truth about who we are. In 1 Peter 2: 9-10 we read, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." There are other “You are’s” in the Bible. You are the Bride of Christ. You are the salt of the earth. You are made in the image of God. You are crowned with glory and honor, with dominion over the works of God’s hands. You are a new creation.

The beginning of any movement of social or spiritual transformation is a new vision; a new understanding of who I am and who I can be. The driving vision of the Constitution was “that all men are created equal.” The Bible takes it one step further: We were created in God’s image, to be fruitful, multiply, and have dominion as the earth’s caretakers. I believe it is this biblical idea which is feeding the unrest in Iran right now; the movement to end human trafficking, it’s the only hope of North Korea, and the fire behind a new respect for God’s creation.

Third, real personal change assumes a radical new example for imitation; and I believe that new example is none other than Jesus Christ, who calls us to enter into his total lifestyle. The apostle Peter challeged us to imitate the lifestyle of Jesus with these words: “Make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love" (2 Peter 1: 5-7). Notice that Peter says “make every effort.” When Jesus calls us to follow him, he gives us the responsibility to exert some effort; to get up and start walking. The grace of God is opposed to earning, but not effort. Dallas Willard reminds us that “we’re saved by grace…but that doesn’t mean there is nothing for us to do.”

Everyone knows you don’t play like Michael Jordan simply by putting on his shoes or jersey number and sitting in front of the TV eating your Wheaties. You’ve got to practice. The Lakers didn’t become the world champions two weeks ago by accident. They worked at their game; they corrected some of the mistakes that lost them the championship last year. They practiced. They became an unbeatable team. In the same way, our bodies and minds need to be retrained, as we practice the lifestyle of Jesus; embracing new habits of the spiritual life in his grace… fellowship, worship, Bible study, prayer, stewardship, service etc.

Alfred Lomas is a converted gang member, who experienced unconditional love for the first time when he met the Christians at the Dream Center. He experienced a new kind of community, he received a new vision, and now the LA Times reports that he’s devoting his life to “distributing food, prayer, and a sense of change.” The LAPD is in awe of him…a model of the change that is possible in South Los Angeles. His faith is more than just belief…it is faith in action (Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2009).

Change requires a supportive community; change requires a transforming vision; change requires new habits to practice; and finally, change requires the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8: 11). Don't too easily discount the need for a real supernatural intervention by the very God who raised Jesus from the dead.

I heard a secular psychologist on the radio comment on the many stars who have stayed at one of several high end drug/alcohol rehab treatment facilities in Malibu only to relapse. A caller asked if there is any program that really works. One, he said, and that is the 12 step program. He also went on to say that the 12 step movement has recognized that a key step in personal change is (1) that we admitted we were powerless over our addiction…and (2) we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Christ came to give us that power!

One of Michael Jackson's most popular songs was “Man in the Mirror” – a song about changing the world by changing and growing yourself as a person. Here's the refrain of that song...

"I'm Starting With The Man In The Mirror / I'm Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself And Then Make A Change"

Jesus once said of the man who wanted to pull the speck out of someone else’s eye; that he must first take the log out of his own; start with the man in the mirror. Before I can change the world; I’ve got to begin with myself; but -- and this is what I wish someone could have told Michael Jackson -- to begin with myself doesn’t mean doing it by myself. I need a grace-filled community, I need God’s vision of who I am and who I can be; I need to practice with others the lifestyle of Jesus, I need the power of his Holy Spirit...to make that change. Change is difficult. Change may seem impossible at times...but Jesus promises us (and experience confirms) that with God... "all things are possible."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Time to Put Your House in Order

Is your house in order? In our house, we like to have things basically cleaned up when someone comes to visit; and we usually have our work cut out for us…because things are usually not in order (as much as we may try). There’s stuff strewn all over the floor; the trash needs to be taken out; food needs to be prepared. Then there's that “unfinished business" in the bathroom that needs cleaning up.

When we prepare a will, we do so because we want "to put our house in order" so that when the day comes for our departure from this world we have ensured that our loved ones are cared for and our wishes fulfilled. Again, we don’t want to leave any "unfinished business" that others will have to sort out later. But if all we’ve done to put our house in order is to clean the house, or make sure that our property is properly disposed of when we die, we still have some unfinished business, (and praying) left to do. Here are three questions to help you put your house in order.

First, Have you acknowledged your finitude as a human being? One day, the prophet Isaiah came to Hezekiah, king of Judah, with some shocking news: "This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Nothing subtle about that! But what Isaiah says to Hezekiah…is really true of each one of us, regardless of our health situation. Because the truth is that we are mortal…even if most of us try to avoid thinking about it.
My doctor once wrote me a special note to take with me on a long trip to the middle east. "Steven Craig is an insulin dependent diabetic who requires insulin injections to sustain life." I thought to myself..."Gee, he's being a little overly dramatic" (I was still in denial). But he wasn't overstating the case! It was true. Without insulin I'm a gonner. What's more, even with insulin, I'm a gonner! We all are!
Freud once wrote: “We have tried to keep a deadly silence about death…. After all, one’s own death is beyond imagining, and whenever we try to imagine it, we can see that we really survive as spectators….at bottom” Freud said, “nobody believes his own death….” (cited in Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, 159ff.). In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Woody Allen had this to say: “Someone asked me if my dream was to live on in the hearts of people. I said I would prefer to live on in my apartment. You drop dead one day, and it means less than nothing if billions of people are singing your praises every day all day long.”
What Isaiah said to King Hezekiah was unsettling…but it was also a blessing, because it’s only when we acknowledge our finitude…when we face the truth of our own mortality and how much we want to live…that we can begin to address the most important questions of life. Why I am I here? What is my purpose? Is there a God who loves me or cares about me? Is there life beyond this life?

Here is a second question to help you put your house in order: Do you recognize the only lasting Source of help and salvation? After getting the bad news from Isaiah, “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD...." (2-4). Hezekiah came to the throne at the age of 25 and reigned for 29 years. He was a young man. Later generations remembered him as a gifted leader who began a spiritual reformation in Judah. When the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, Hezekiah was served notice by Sennacherib that his kingdom was next. His first instinct was to pray…and seek God’s protection (see 2 Kings 19: 14-19). Hezekiah had faced many trials in his young reign as king…but at the age of 39, he had yet to have a health crisis. When that crisis finally came, his first instinct was again to turn to the LORD for help.

A few weeks ago I asked the members of my congregation to stand if they had ever been given a diagnosis by a doctor that changed their life…if they ever laid down on an operating table and put themselves in the hands of a surgeon…if they had ever had a panic attack, or felt overwhelmed by a crisis to the point of trembling and tears… if they had ever come face to face with their own mortality, their vulnerability or their limitations as a human being. It was standing room only! Friend, you're not alone. Naturally, Hezekiah was afraid; but he turned to the LORD as his Source of help and salvation; and we can too.

One more question: Are you ready to receive the gifts that only God can give?
I'm thinking of the gift of God's word: Before Isaiah left the middle court, we're told that the word of the LORD came to him: "Go back and tell Hezekiah, the leader of my people, 'This is what the LORD...says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears" (4-5). What strikes me about this passage is that God’s answer comes to Hezekiah so quickly, before Isaiah could get out the door. It was, first of all, a word of encouragement. “I have heard your prayer, Hezekiah…and I have seen your tears.” It’s so important for us to know that God is not playing games with us. When we pray…God hears us instantly, sees our hearts, knows our thoughts and our feelings….knows where you are.
There is the gift of resurrection life: Isaiah goes on to say, “On the third day from now you shall go up to the house of the LORD” (5b). Hezekiah was to be healed on the third day…a phrase in biblical history which signifies not only healing…but the gift of life, deliverance, and resurrection hope. On the third day of creation, life appears on the earth for the first time (Genesis 1:11). On the third day, God provided a ram for Abraham’s sacrifice on Mount Moriah, instead of Isaac his son (Genesis 22:4). On the third day after the Israelites left Egypt, God gave to Moses the ten commandments (Exodus 19:11, 16). On the third day Joshua led the people into the Promised Land (Joshua 1:11). And Hosea comforted Israel with these words, “on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:2). Most importantly, it was on the third day that Jesus was raised -- Friday being the day of his crucifixion, and Sunday the day of his resurrection. And if the third day signifies the day of new life, of resurrection – it is a promise…not just to Hezekiah, but to all of God’s people. For “On the third day…we shall go up.” Putting your house in order means putting your trust in the One who rose again on the third day, who is the resurrection and the life.
There is the gift of time: “I will add fifteen years to your life,” says the LORD to Hezekiah (6a). John Grisham, the author of The Firm, Pelican Brief, and The Client has made a concerted effort to focus on things that have lasting meaning, including his faith in God. Grisham remembers, as a young law student, the remarkable advice of a friend who had a terminal illness. "He was 25. I couldn't believe it," writes Grisham. "What do you do when you realize you are about to die?" Grisham asked. "It's real simple," his friend said. "You get things right with God, and you spend as much time with those you love as you can. Then you settle up with everybody else." What a great summary of what it means to “put your house in order.” #1 Get things right with God. #2 Spend as much time as you can with those you love. #3 Settle up with everybody else. That is, get things right with those you have hurt or were hurt by. John Grisham’s friend said this, “You ought to live every day like you have only a few more days to live." Putting your house in order means using the time you’ve been given…wisely.

Finally, there is the gift of God’s healing: “Indeed, I will heal you…." says the LORD, then Isaiah said, 'Prepare a poultice of figs.' They did so and applied it to the boil, and he recovered" (5, 7). Why should we pray for God’s healing? We pray because Jesus commanded it. When we pray for the sick we are simply doing what Jesus did and commanded his disciples to do. We’re carrying on his ministry.
We also pray because doctors recommend it. Medical doctors may not always know why, but a survey conducted by the American Academy of Family Physicians shows that 99% percent of doctors believe a relationship exists between faith and physical healing. By telling us to seek prayer for healing, the Bible does not deny the importance of medical cures. When Isaiah calls for a “lump of figs” to be applied to Hezekiah’s boil, he was employing a common Mediterranean remedy of the day. I take that to mean that we are to both pray, and take our medicine. Sound medical advice is a gift from God, but too often, we take our medicine, and forget to pray, or ignore its importance in the healing process.

Lastly, we pray for healing because experience confirms it. In our own church, we’ve seen emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual conditions improved through healing prayer. Illus. terminal illness, unemployment. But remember that the LORD said to Hezekiah, “I will heal you.” (15). John Wimber used to say, “It’s our responsibility to pray. It’s God’s responsibility to do the healing.” When you pray, and don’t experience healing: (1) Do not despair. (2) persevere in prayer and (2) remember that you already have the most important healing of all, the healing of your soul through Christ, and the gift of eternal life through him.

Dr. Paul Brand, an outstanding medical doctor who co-authored a book with Philip Yancey, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made had this to say at a retirement home dedication. “I remember well when I was at my physical peak. I was 27 years old and had just finished medical school. A group of friends and I were mountain climbing, and we could climb for hours. For some people, when they cross that peak, for them life is over. I remember well my mental peak, too. I was 57 years of age and was performing groundbreaking hand surgery. All of my medical training was coming together in one place. For some people, when they cross this peak, for them life is over. I'm now over 80 years of age. I recently realized I'm approaching another peak - my spiritual peak. All I have sought to become as a person has the opportunity to come together in wisdom, maturity, kindness, love, joy, and peace. And I realize when I cross that peak, for me, life will not be over; it will have just begun. Time does not last forever, and therefore I do not want to waste a single moment of it. If I make good use of it, I will actually have more of it.

Putting your house in order means trusting God to bring you to your peak; to bring order, harmony, and healing, to your house….in whatever way he chooses…and then to bring you to his Father’s house to live with him forever!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

When the Way Up is Down

Solomon speaks extraordinary wisdom when he warns us that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Like a lot of lessons we learn, it was born of experience. Solomon knew that for all his accomplishments, it was finally his unwillingness to obey God and his prideful determination to go his own way that led to the tearing of his own kingdom in two (1 Kings 11: 9-11). He was guilty of that ancient sin that first set in motion what, theologically speaking, we call “the fall.” It’s the sin of trying to “fire” God; and replace him as CEO which is exactly what Genesis says “the first couple” did when they presumed to know better than God what was best for them.

John Ortberg tells the story of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who pulled into a service station to get gas. He went inside to pay, and when he came out he noticed his wife engaged in a deep discussion with the service station attendant. It turned out that she knew him and used to date him in high school. The CEO got in the car, and the two drove in silence. He was feeling pretty good about himself when he finally spoke: "I bet I know what you were thinking…you're glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service station attendant." "No, I was thinking if I'd married him, he'd be a Fortune 500 CEO and you'd be a service station attendant!" Let's face it, if pride goes before the fall then we’ve all fallen flat on our faces; but by the grace of God I believe we can learn how to stand up again… turn from the sin of pride, and begin to develop genuine humility.

Let’s begin by looking at The false signs of humility & spiritual pride. Jesus tells this parable "to some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else.....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" (Luke 18: 9-14).

Jesus' words teach three things. First, that spiritual pride doesn’t see its own sin. Notice how this Pharisee clearly saw the sins of everyone else around him but himself. The reason he stood in the corner by himself was that he didn’t want to be contaminated by the am-haaretz, who did not keep the law. Then, he actually thanks God publicly that he is not like these other low life’s.

It’s really too bad that Jesus chose a clergyman to illustrate pride and arrogance: the person who went to church every Sunday, who put money in the offering plate each week, who gave to the poor, who did all the right things – religiously speaking. Doing religious things does not exempt us from the sin of pride… oh no! Because we can do them for human approval; and not God’s. So let's agree right now…that we who “go to church” have nothing to boast of except the grace of God. Mike Yaconelli once put it this way in The Door (Sept./Oct. 1989): “Let's--all of us--decide to stop trying to convince the world that Christianity is true because Jesus makes us prettier, happier, thinner, wealthier, bigger, more successful, more popular, healthier, or stronger…than everyone else.” Friends, seekers are not drawn to Christ through a prideful church, but a repentant and broken church that is just as in need of God as anyone outside it.

Secondly, spiritual pride is proud of its own humility. See how the Pharisee recounts for God his religious virtues: not only did he keep the law, he exceeded its demands. The Pharisees were well known for their fasting and tithing of all they owned. The problem was not with fasting or tithing per se (Jesus fasted), but that these actions did not reflect a heart humbled before God.

Excuse the Trek metaphor, but spiritual pride is like a Klingon. Remember the Klingon’s? They had this very cool cloaking device that made their ships invisible; right up until the moment they attacked. Pride sneaks up on us like that. We can be engaged in the most noble and godly activity…and then, before we know it, our shields are down and “WAM!” We’re fantasizing about how impressed others will be when they discover how selfless we’ve been. It’s really laughable…and perhaps laughter, not taking ourselves too seriously, is the best remedy for this kind of pride.

Third, spiritual pride is eager to teach while being un-teachable. Note the irony that this Pharisee was a teacher of the law…and the most un-teachable person in the temple that day. When we’re convinced that we have everything to offer and nothing to learn, we’re in a spiritual free fall. We can see this not only as individuals, but in our collective pride as a church (thinking our particular church can stand on its own) or as a country; thinking that because we have more political and material blessings that we are somehow better than others.

John McDermott, author of Seeing God (a modern spin on Jonathan Edwards' Treatise on Religious Affections) observes that in the late 1980’s after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, many Christians there complained that missionaries from the West assumed they had little or nothing to learn from the churches in these formerly communist lands. Their pride was hurtful to these suffering Christians; and worse, the missionaries lost a chance to learn from those who had trusted Christ despite persecution & poverty. A great remedy for pride, is the commitment to remain teachable; to say “God has something to teach me in and through every person I meet.” Some of the most important lessons you will learn will be taught by those you assumed had nothing to teach you.

What is The evidence that we are growing in true humility? Here are 4 things: One, true humility grows out of the experience of God’s holiness and love; not just the conviction of one’s sin. Most people have a conscience…and feel guilt when they do something they know is wrong. But true humility is inspired by more than a guilty conscience. True humility is inspired by the holiness and love of God. Isaiah fell to his knees when he encountered the holiness of God (Isa. 6:1-5). The tax collector in Jesus’ parable said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” It was a view of God’s holiness that moved him to humble repentance (Luke 19:5). Remember the story of Zacchaeus? Zacchaeus came down from the tree not just because he felt guilty about ripping people off as a tax collector; but because of Jesus’ surprising love for him: "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today" (Luke 19: 5). I have to say that there have been moments in my life, holy moments, when I’ve been profoundly aware of the goodness and love of Christ…and in his holy presence I’ve felt a profound distaste for the things I know are wrong…and a desire to worship and serve him only.

Two, true humility listens to God and to others. A prideful spirit tends to be noisy. Proverbs 30:32 suggests that “If you have been foolish, exalting yourself…put your hand on your mouth.” And James counsels us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger… Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls” (James 1:19-21). We can’t listen to other people if we’re angry…try it and see. On the other hand, James says we can’t deal with our anger if we won’t listen to God and his word. The solution, says James, is to rid ourselves “of all sordidness…and welcome with meekness the implanted word.” The word sordidness is derived from a Greek medical term that means “earwax”! James is telling us to get rid of anything that would stop our ears from really listening to the true Word of God. What is the earwax that you need to remove so that you might hear God on a daily basis? God can give us a new security about who we are…he can free us from the need to always have the approval of others or to always be in the right. He can empower us to listen to others with meekness & humility.

Three, true humility works on behalf of others, not just self. When Zacchaeus came down from the tree, the first thing he did was to pledge a change in his behavior: "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount" (Luke 19: 8). If we have truly listened to God or understood the needs of those around us…we will eventually want to use our gives and talents to bless others and God. I believe we are entering a time in which we are recognizing our profound personal responsibility for the messes of this world…the talents we’ve been given by God (as individuals and nations) that are in danger of being wasted. “Do and dare what is right,” Bonhoeffer said. We can because God did. For Christ, the Eternal Word of God, chose to empty himself (Philippians 2), taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of human flesh. Jesus said that he came “not to be served but to serve” and to give his life as a ransom for many. God chose the path of the humble servant…can we do less?

Four, true humility sees things for what they are. Many people assume that to be humble means that they must think less of themselves then they are…or deny their gifts and talents. Certainly, to know God and his holiness is to know our sinfulness and fallibility. But I want to underscore that true humility means we see ourselves accurately; neither overestimating nor underestimating ourselves, our gifts, or our abilities. Jesus tells us that we must not seek honor for ourselves. On the other hand, we should accept honor gratefully when it is given. It is not humility to deny your giftedness or your uniqueness as God’s child…it is ingratitude.

Thirty years ago, it was common to see "full service" gas stations. I'm talking about the guys who would check your oil, pump your gas, and wash your windows for about 1/10 of the price of gas today! We laugh at the idea now...but God still wants us to have a "full service" attitude as we approach him and other people; a humble spirit that is eager to put others before ourselves. How do we get there from here? How can we grow in humility? John McDermott has three suggestions. First, you can be sure that if you know you have a long way to go, you’re on the right path. Those who think they have arrived have wandered off the path a long time ago.

Beyond that, don't be afraid to ask for it. Christians are sometimes afraid to ask for humility, thinking that God will ruin their lives in the process. But Jesus taught us that “pride” is a heavy burden that we bear. ‘Take my yoke upon you,” says Jesus, “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” (Matt. 11: 29-30). Whatever God takes from us in order to teach us humility, will only bring us a deeper joy and peace and contentment.

Finally, be open to what God may be trying to teach you each day. We need to be open to whatever God may want to work in us through the mundane events of daily life. You may be criticized this week, overlooked, or feel under-appreciated. You may experience failure, weakness, or your own human limitations…but you can ask God to use these experiences to help you see things as they really are…and to develop in you a heart that is humble, freer of pride and arrogance, and increasingly open to God’s infinite love and grace.