Thursday, December 9, 2010

Humility Redefined

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5-7)

Be subject to? Humble yourselves? These are not familiar pictures for North American Christians. We don't bow down before the Mayor, the Governor (resisting political comment here in Illinois) or the President. Nor should we. But we do have a King. And our proper place before Him is one of humility and lowliness. When I think of Jesus and who He is (Creator, Redeemer) and who I am (created for His worship, blood-bought sinner), I am naturally -- make that supernaturally -- brought low where I belong. So I get verse 6 of I Peter 5 and by extension verse 5 since as followers of Jesus we are to be like Him (Christian = little Christ).

But Peter goes after something seemingly altogether different in verse 7. And I am guessing it is a point of struggle for many Christians. Here Peter tells us that humility before God is exemplified by calling out to God in prayer, by quickly and regularly turning our cares and anxieties over to God. (See Matthew 11:28-30 for what Jesus says about carrying His yoke versus our burden.) An outward and upward call and cry of total dependence is a big part of humbling myself before God. A lack of prayer, a lack of "Help me, Jesus!" in my life is an everyday indication of a sinful pattern of pride and self-reliance.

Years ago, Pastor James referred to 1 Peter 5:5-7 in a message. It wasn't the core passage of the message that night, bit it struck me -- so much so that I memorized it. I didn't know why then, but I soon would. (Think Hebrews 4:12)

At the time, I was leading part of a large program at work. This was a role I was excited about and a program that would have a significant impact on company systems and processes. There were many executives on that program. It was very competitive and did not have a clear hierarchy of leadership. This program and role I was so excited about quickly became one of the worst times I had been through at that company. I talked to God about just wanting to quit and asked Him a lot of "Why?" questions. Honestly, I wrestled with Him in prayer and quiet times for 2-3 weeks. After dealing with the whole thing sinfully in attitude and action, I took God at His word in 1 Peter 5:5-6.

God kept me on that program for a while longer. And in the strength of the Holy Spirit, I practiced verse 6 -- "humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you" -- numerous times. I can remember being in a large conference room with the whole project team in the room or on the phone as a co-worker took credit for something I helped lead. And instead of my sinful reaction from weeks before, I looked down at the conference table, briefly closed my eyes and recited 1 Peter 5:5-6 and gave it to God. I chose to trust Him. No need to exalt myself no matter the temptation.

As silly as it may seem, what I failed to connect at the time was verse 7. What I was doing was casting my anxieties upon God. He has been patient and has taken me through many trials -- even as I write this -- to teach me to truly cast my anxieties upon Him. That means calling out to Him -- in my quiet times, immediately when issues come up at work, when He entrusts ministry to me. I am learning to view the weight of the situations God has me in -- whether family, job and/or ministry -- as a blessing. That weight pushes me to cast my anxieties on the Lord and to call out to Him regularly, "I cannot do this, Lord, without You. Help me!" That is the humility Peter describes in this passage. While it is not natural for us, it is what we are called to do. And it comes with an amazing promise of Almighty God exalting us. But remember it has a condition of casting our cares upon Him.

Will you call out to God? Will you give Him the anxieties you are carrying right now? He is waiting.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Leave a Trace

For the second consecutive summer, my wife and I are spending a good chunk of our vacation touring US national parks. I see signs at park entrances, visitor centers, in the park brochures, etc. urging park visitors to "Leave no trace" of their visit. The gist is to pick up your garbage, recycle and not impact the park, really to reduce man's impact on the land. While we could debate how we as bible-believing Christians should interact with, use and steward the earth, the thing that strikes me about this "Leave no trace" campaign is that is opposite of what we are to do with our lives as followers of Jesus.

We too are visitors, even aliens, on this earth. But God has called us to impact this world -- think people instead of the terra firma -- for His kingdom. How are we to do so?

  1. Focus on the eternal
    If we are going to leave a trace, we must focus on eternal things. There are only two eternal things in this world -- God's word and people. As Pastor James has exhorted us many times, invest yourself in them.

  2. Invest in God's word
    Dig into it. Memorize it. Delight in it. (Think of Pastor Dave Learned's recent message on Psalm 1.) Be an active participant in being changed by God's word. And give the Holy Spirit some ammunition for when you interact with others -- believers or the unsaved -- by memorizing God's word. Remember "Faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17).

  3. Invest in people
    Look around. Who has God put in your life? Invest in them. Be like the Apostle Paul. Find your Timothy. Teach him what a faithful brother or sister has taught you (2 Timothy 2:2). Continue to reproduce spiritually. The Apostle John took this role very seriously and seems to have delighted in being a spiritual father to many faithful spiritual children. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4).

  4. Decrease to increase
    Be intentional about God increasing in your life. Get out of the way. Drop your preferences and prideful "look at me" attitudes and actions. Become more and more of a bondservant for Christ and His purposes. As John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). This was spoken by the man about whom Jesus said "I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John" (Luke 7:28a). But look at how Jesus finishes the sentence: "Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he" (Luke 7:28b).

Go ahead. Leave a trace spiritually. All the glory will rightfully go to God.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Keep Your Hands and Feet Inside the Boat

When I was a teenager, we went to Great America every summer. I still remember the safety announcement for the Yankee Clipper flume ride, as you were getting in the boats, while you waited to go up the incline for all the fun. "Keep your hands and feet inside the boat at all times." I thought of this recently as I read Mark 4:35-41.

When Jesus says, "Let us go across to the other side" in v. 35, the disciples go with Him. They are close to Him, in the boat with Him when a "great windstorm" comes. Notice that the storm comes at night when it’s dark and after a day of ministering when everyone was tired. The waves are filling the boat with water. The disciples are afraid. They fear for their lives. So what do they do?

The disciples go to Jesus calling out for help. They aren’t concerned about bothering Jesus. The disciples don’t consider jumping out of the boat and swimming for it. They don’t try to get in a different boat thinking it might be a better fit to survive the storm. Rather the disciples call out to their Lord for help.

This seems simple enough. The disciples were in serious physical peril. Of course they called out to Jesus. But what are you doing in the current storm in your life? Are you in the boat with Jesus? Have you called out to Him? Do you trust Him to steer through the storm?

If you aren't near Jesus, turn to Him today. When He says, "Let us go," get in the boat and go with Him. You are either in a storm or about to be. The best position in the storm is in the boat with Jesus. Keep your hands and feet inside the boat at all times.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Don't Leave Your Wife Out

Small group leaders and flock leaders carry a lot of responsibility in their ministry roles. Besides their own walk with the Lord, small group leaders carry responsibility for leading and shepherding their small group members. And flock leaders are responsible for shepherding the small group leaders in their flock and helping them grow as leaders. But for those of you who are married, your first area of ministry and spiritual leadership is with your wife.

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)

I want to concentrate on three areas:

  • Prayer - Pray for your wife and your marriage. Pray with your wife. Have your ears and eyes open for opportunities to take an issue or a trial to prayer. Then take the lead. Be the one to say, "Let's pray about that" (i.e., HBC "Let's pray now" principle). Put your arm around your wife or hold her hand and pray with her, for her and for your marriage.
  • Small Group - Encourage your wife to be in a small group. Make it possible. Get home from work to watch your young children so she can go to a women's small group. Or, if at all possible, be in a small group with her (yes, even if that means you have to step away from your men's small group). This is a very practical week-to-week way of helping your wife focus on her walk with the Lord. You know how much we all need the mutual ministry of small groups to encourage and exhort us in our walk. Don’t leave your wife out of this.
  • Accountability - Ask for and allow yourself to be held accountable in these areas. Model this to your small group. Know the state of the marriages of the men in your small group. Go deeper than "In what ways have I demonstrated love and respect to my wife this week?" Have your small group pray for members' wives by name and for the future spouses of single members.

The best Christian marriages are a threefold cord with husband and wife both passionately pursuing Jesus Christ.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him--a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Be the spiritual leader in your marriage. Don’t leave your wife out.