Proverbs 15: First you learn humility, then you experience glory.
Humility has to be learned because we’re all born thinking the world revolves around us. Unless I learn humility I spend my life, not necessarily thinking I’m better than others, but thinking that everything that happens should happen the way I want it to. For me to be humble is for me to realize that I’m not the center of the universe and that the world has no obligation to please me. Beyond that, to be humble is for me to come to the realization the most satisfying life is not all about my getting my own way about things, but is, instead, found as I live with others in mind. Jesus said that I’m to “love my neighbor as myself.” The result of such a life, according to the wise man of the Proverbs, is “glory.” That is, others will be irresistibly drawn to me and my life will influence them in positive ways. Not only that, but God will be pleased with me for patterning my life after that of his own Son who humbly lived and died for others. This proverb reminds me that the route to glory isn’t by my taking power and trying to shape the world to suit me. Instead, it’s achieved by loving others and placing their needs at a level equal to my own.
Take Away: Contrary to what we may think, humble people are some of the most influential people there are.
Psalm 8: Why do you bother with us?
In all of life there’s a need for balance and in Psalm 8 we’re given a nice example of this. On one hand, I’m a mere speck in the Universe, practically invisible in comparison to God’s wondrous Creation. Honestly, sometimes I get this and sometimes I don’t. Rick Warren starts his famous Purpose Driven Life book with the words, “It’s not about you” and I can read that and respond, “Yes, I know!” Other times I get caught seeing things only from my tiny perspective: “Why are they singing that song again? I don’t like it nearly as much as I like the others. Let’s sing some southern gospel, that’s my kind of music!” At times like that it doesn’t hurt for me to remember that the worship service isn’t really designed for me in the first place. Still, I know I can go too far with this humility stuff. Back in the Stone Age of my childhood church kids were taught to say, “God didn’t make any junk.” I’m valued by the Lord. Still, once in a while it’s a good idea for me to look around and realize that everything isn’t in orbit around me after all and to join David in humbly asking the Almighty, “Why do you bother with ” me at all?
Take Away: It really isn’t all about me – or you!
God is God
Job 42: I babbled on about things far beyond me.
Job responds to the Almighty’s questions as a humbled man. Here he is, still sitting in the ashes. His children are still dead. His wealth is still gone. He’s still in the agony of his affliction. Job isn’t now humbly spiritual because God has fixed everything or even explained everything to him. So far as I know, Job never learns what this is all about; that it’s all a test designed to answer the question, “Does he serve God for nothing?” Job has proved the Lord’s point though. Through it all, even when he’s struggling with the issues at hand, Job maintains his righteousness and trust in God. Now, God has spoken, revealing himself to Job, challenging him to respond to his own questions. Job responds, “I babbled on about things far beyond me.” This meeting with God makes all of Job’s questions moot. God is God and, even when life is unfair and perplexing, well, God is still God. In his trial, Job tries to state his case; to explain himself to his friends. More, he tries to explain God. This suffering man now realizes that he’s been trying to deal with the details of life but has lost sight of this huge, overpowering truth: God is God. In my life, even as I struggle with circumstances that don’t fit my theology, I must, after all my babbling on about how I think things are, remember this: God is God.
Take Away: Even when I don’t understand…even when I don’t like how things are going…even then, God is God.
The Dung Gate
Nehemiah 3: The Dung Gate itself was rebuilt by Malkijah son of Recab.
As the work begins on the big wall rebuilding project, Nehemiah, as general contractor, takes us on a tour of the job site. This is a huge undertaking so he’s organized the leading families of Jerusalem to take on different sections of the wall, including some who are rebuilding the gates to the city. We meet Hanun and his team who are rebuilding the Valley Gate and then we come to Malkijah and his crew. Malkijah is an important person among the returned exiles; in fact, he’s the mayor of the nearby district of Beth Hakkerem.
Just a second, it looks as though Malkijah is taking a short break, maybe we can have a word with him, “Excuse me, your honor, do you have a second?”
“Sure, but not long mind you; there’s work to be done.”
“Being such an important person in Jerusalem, I imagine you have an important gate to rebuild. So tell me about this gate…is it one of the historic royal gates, used only for the king?”
He smiles and shakes his head.
“Maybe it’s used for religious purposes, like the Sheep Gate…or for commerce?”
Malkijah grins at us, “This, my friends, is none other than the Dung Gate.”
We’re somewhat taken back by this. “Do you mean this gate is primarily used for human waste disposal?” We’re surprised that this important man is rebuilding such a lowly gate.
Then Malkijah son of Recab, mayor of Beth Hakkerem says, “But it is an important gate – it’s important because it’s being rebuilt in the Name of the Lord. Anything you do in his Name is a worthy effort.”
As we rejoin the tour we find ourselves thinking about our attitude toward some of the more lowly things we do in the Name of the Lord.
Take Away: If the Lord gives us a task, for us, that task is the most important one in the world.
Pride goes before a fall
2 Chronicles 26: Arrogant and proud, he fell.
Uzziah is just a teen when he becomes king of Judah. By and large, he does a good job as king and his long reign is a good one for his nation. From the beginning he seeks God. The Lord is pleased with him and blesses his life with successful building projects and a strong army. Then, when it seems Uzziah will be one of the rare kings who have nothing but positive things on their record something ugly happens. His successes go to Uzziah’s head. We don’t know the full story but Uzziah decides, like Saul did many generations earlier, to take over the worship activities. He takes the one role in the nation that’s denied him – going into the Temple and acting as priest of God. The legitimate priests, descendants of Aaron, try to stop Uzziah, but he ignores them. With the holy censor in hand, he refuses to hear the objections of the priests. Then, God objects, and when he objects, he can’t be ignored. The dreaded disease of leprosy breaks out on Uzziah’s hand as he holds the censor. This is God’s judgment. It’s too bad isn’t it. Uzziah comes so far and does so many things right. His downfall comes, not as a result of some big temptation or some great threat. Instead, it’s brought about by his success. When things are going right and it’s clear that God is blessing us we need to remember Uzziah. Here we see a lesson in how success can lead to failure.
Take Away: The distance from impressive success to dismal failure is shorter than we might think.
I was w-w-w-wrong
2 Chronicles 25: But what about all this money – these tons of silver I have already paid out to hire these men?
The “chronicler” starts off telling us that Amaziah “lives well” and “does the right thing” and then begins an accounting of all the foolish blunders he makes. It’s likely that Amaziah handled things just fine until things begin to unravel near the end of his reign. At one point he’s preparing for war. After numbering his army he concludes that he needs more soldiers so he turns to Israel for help, paying a great deal of money to mercenary soldiers to fight on his side. However, the Lord sends word to him that this is a huge mistake. These soldiers won’t be helped by the Lord because they don’t trust in him. Amaziah’s response is reasonable. He wants to know about all the money he’s already spent on these fighters. The man of God reminds him that it’s better to have God’s help than it is to have a bigger army. The king yields, writing off the wages already spent as a bad investment. This account doesn’t earn Amaziah stellar marks, but it does earn him a passing grade. Failure, in this case, would have been throwing good money after bad. The lesson here is one well learned. Those of us who are of a strong will tend to lock our jaws and press on even when it’s more and more apparent that we shouldn’t have started down a certain path in the first place. Our argument is the same one the king used: “I’ve come too far and invested too much to turn back now.” No one believes in perseverance more than I do, but sometimes perseverance is just a flimsy cover up for pride. At some point a heaping helping of humble pie is in order. “I thought I was right and that this would work, but I was wrong.” Write it off and get on with life.
Take Away: Better to write off a loss than to compound the situation by doubling down on a bad decision.
1 Samuel 10: He’s right over there — hidden in that pile of baggage.
Things are moving too fast for young Saul. Not long ago the old man of God, Samuel, floored him with the announcement that he has been picked by God to be the first king of Israel. Then there’s the surprising episode with the prophets; he still hasn’t figured that one out. Now, he finds himself at the big gathering to announce the new king. He already knows the outcome; Samuel let him in on God’s plan and the prospect of being king both terrifies and thrills him. This big man dislikes being noticed — something that can hardly be avoided. After all, just his standing up gets him plenty of attention. Almost by instinct he slips out of the main gathering to find a comfortable, out of sight place among the baggage. Here he sits, wondering what he will do when his name is announced. The answer to the question is known soon enough: he does nothing. Frozen in fear and indecision he sits there until someone finds him. Like it or not, he is the man picked by God to be king and the Lord won’t take “no” for an answer. I feel kind of sorry for Saul in this incident. In fact, I identify with both his hesitation and thrill at what the Lord’s doing in his life. Often I find myself feeling unworthy and incapable of doing what the Lord places before me. The greatest source of hope in such times is the knowledge that when God calls to some task he also provides the strength necessary to accomplish that task. Still, it would sometimes be easier to hide among the baggage.
Take Away: If the Lord calls you to it, he’ll enable you to do it.
All in the family
Numbers 12: God overheard their talk.
On the surface it’s a family squabble. Moses’ brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron, don’t like his wife. This isn’t especially earthshaking. There are many in-laws who don’t get along. In this case, though, Moses’ brother and sister go public with their family dispute, apparently undermining his leadership by pointing out that Moses is married to a non-Israelite. It’s here that we find this chilling sentence: “God overheard their talk.” Actually, this passage usually brings a smile to my face. The statement that Moses is the most humble man on the face of the earth is quite funny when we think of the tradition that Moses is the author of Numbers. Supposedly we have him describing himself here as the most humble man on earth! In spite of the smile, however, this is quite a serious passage. God doesn’t like it when people undermine the leadership he’s put in place. The issue here isn’t about disagreeing with leaders, questioning some decision they’ve made. Instead, it’s about undermining God-given authority. In this case, God doesn’t like what he hears and acts to shore up his chosen leader’s status by diminishing theirs. Surely there are times when church leaders need correction but if they need to be taken down a peg or two, we’d better be careful about our place in it.
Take Away: A God called leader remains human and prone to error but he or she also deserves respect as one set apart by the Lord.
The disposition of the believer
1Peter 3: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble.
The original readers of this letter are under pressure, suffering for their faith. Not only that but they’re in the first generation of Christianity. In this passage Peter describes the general disposition of a believer. Christians are to be agreeable, sympathetic people. We’re to be known for our compassion on others and our humility concerning ourselves. We’re not to advance the cause of Christianity by force and people aren’t to have to worry about watching their “P’s & Q’s” when they’re around us. Even non-Christians are to feel comfortable and it should go without saying that we’re to treat one another in kind, agreeable ways. Sad to say, some believers haven’t gotten this memo. They think that they’re doing God a favor by forcing their moral code down people’s throats. They think they’re being good soldiers in his army by creating lots of collateral damage on fellow believers with whom they have a few differences of opinion. The question I need to ask myself is how do I score on this “agreeable, sympathetic, loving, compassionate, humble” test? Peter, it seems, can almost hear people’s self-justification at this point, so he adds: “That goes for all of you, no exceptions.” He continues, “That’s your job, to bless.” Of course, my non-Christian friends are to know that I believe there’s a superior way for them to live. At the same time, they’re to conclude an encounter with me feeling that they’ve been blessed and not cursed.
Take Away: Do people think of time with us as a blessing or a curse?
Being the leader God calls one to be
Titus 2: You’re in charge. Don’t let anyone put you down.
Here in Crete Titus is operating in new territory. He’s been part of Paul’s team, traveling from place to place. Sometimes he’s gone out on special assignment, delivering a message or the like, but still operating under Paul’s wing. Now, though, things are different. Yes, he’s been appointed by Paul to this task, but, by and large he’s on his own. The Apostle reminds him of what he’s supposed to do, but this time, it’s Titus, by himself, meeting with congregations and organizing their leadership. It may be that Paul knows Titus well enough to know that he’s going to struggle a bit with this assignment. Even as he spells out Titus’ responsibilities Paul makes it a point to tell him that he’s in charge and as he meets with these budding congregations he needs to be ready to stand his ground concerning the kind of leaders they need and the kind of people they’re supposed to be. Here, again, I find myself considering a leadership principle. Humbleness is critical if one is to be the servant-leader Christian leaders are called to be. At the same time though, if one has been called to and granted authority for leadership by the Lord, that individual needs to have a firm grasp on that leadership. Most everyone recognizes God-called leadership. The thing is that while most recognize and appreciate it, a few are threatened by it and will challenge or manipulate it if they think they can get away with it. A Christian leader must recognize this and be ready to stand firm in his or her calling in a Christ-like manner.
Take Away: Christian leaders are servant-leaders, but they do carry with them a sense of authority.