Humility

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. (Matthew 11:29)

I went to a professional conference recently and met some leaders in education. After the main presentation, there was mingling time, during which I mentioned to the moderator about my interest in the latest pedagogical innovation. She pointed out someone in the crowd who had done some respected research and practice in that area, and I made a beeline for this person and engaged her in conversation.

I was excited to talk to this person. I thought that surely, as a leader in the field, she would be generous and kind in helping me improve my practice. But after a few minutes of listening to her speak, it became clear to me that this person was only interested in one thing: self-promotion. Her demeanour and words screamed, “know it all” and “I’m not interested in helping you, but only in letting you know how great I am”.

I felt a huge, wrought iron gate shut down in my spirit. Repulsion.

I have come to realize that the least attractive quality in a person is the inclination for unrestrained self-promotion. We are all susceptible. That tickle in our gut that needs to be scratched – that insuppressible urge to let the world know how smart we are, how accomplished we are, how sought-after we are. It is a compulsion that goes deep – that need of the world’s affirmation even when everything in our spirit knows that we should seek the affirmation of only One.

We live in a competitive world where everyone strives to stake their flag in a pock-marked canvas. Everyone trying to get the best job, win the best spouse, buy the nicest prom dress, out-friend each other, one-up each other. We are exhausted by the rat race that pervades every aspect of our lives. No wonder my spirit rails when I am confronted with yet another person who tramples my true, God-given worth by asserting their own, “superior” value, whether it be by good looks, scholarly degrees, or properties owned.

And the most attractive quality?  Humility. It is the gossamer bridal veil that softly shrouds the stunning beauty just beneath. It is when Jesus befriended common fishermen or blessed prostitutes and dined with tax collectors.  When He came down from Heaven to mingle in the fithly human current. That is the humility, the kindness that wins souls.

When we are in the presence of He who is “lowly” or “humble”, our souls find rest. It is then that our heads are anointed with oil and our tables are prepared in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5). Our cup overflows.

When we have been in the presence of someone who is humble, our spirit knows it. It is the person who focuses on your needs, and offers just enough information about themselves as necessary to fulfill those needs. Somehow, you walk away feeling lighter, brighter, more whole. Likewise, when we have been in the presence of someone of a contrary spirit, we also know it, although it is not always easy to put our finger on it.

Praise be to Jesus who shrouds me in His humility. He is my Crown and my Gown.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

Lord, make me one who helps to fill another’s cup to overflowing.  Amen.

 

 

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Presence

“Come and see, Lord.” (John 11:34)

As an introvert, I often opt for the cave over the crowd.

But more and more, I feel the Lord drawing me out of myself. Not grudgingly or kicking and screaming; rather, in His gentle, prodding way, he draws me. And when I obey, I am always glad I did.

There is a joy like no other when you bring the presence of God into another’s midst. I know this must sound very conceited of me – to say that I bring God into someone’s midst. But it is true: For we are to God the sweet aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15). But can I not simply send my prayers and well-wishes and still be a blessing?

People wanted Jesus to come near to them. The thousands whom He fed with five loaves and two fish, the lady who bled, and the woman with the alabaster flask, to name a few. When Lazarus died, his family wanted Jesus to come near to them. When He went and saw their pain,  Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” (John 11: 35-36). Although God’s love and compassion transcends the physical, Jesus came to be with us in our human need to experience the proximity of the divine.

But more than that. I believe that He came to model for us what it means to be present in the lives of others, so that by seeing, by touching, by hearing others’ need, we may do as we have been anointed – to proclaim good news to the poor…to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favorand the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-4).

I can’t do any of that if I remain in my cave. Nor can I do it keeping my head down at work, or sit forever on a pew inside the walls of a church. Like Jesus, I must go out to touch the woman who bled, to find Zacchaeus in the tree, and to comfort Mary and her family.

If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. (Luke 17:33).

Thank you for giving my life purpose and joy, Lord. Amen.

Faith

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.  (Romans 14:22-23)

People like to judge.  And why not? Are we not supposed to judge what is right and what is not?

There are things in this world that are clearly wrong. Assault. Killing. Stealing. To name a few. But what if the assault is in self-defense or defense of another? Killing in the context of war against tyranny? Or stealing to feed the poor?  Indeed, the law of our land makes provisions to excuse crimes committed with “justification”.

But what, then, of those crimes of the conscience?  Coveting. Dishonoring. Judgement. There is no law or tangible criteria to excuse such crimes.  Nor do the laws of this land even consider such sins a crime, although, our Law – that of the Holy Bible – clearly deems such crimes every bit as sinful.

God judges not only our actions, but more accurately, our motivations. Only He knows the secrets of each person’s heart: All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the LORD. (Proverbs 16:2)

Recently, I watched a movie called, Hacksaw Ridge, a true story of Christian soldier of World War II, Desmond Doss. He was the first Conscientious Objector who received a medal of Honor and numerous other wartime distinctions.  His faith in God and His Commandment, Thou shalt not kill, prevented Desmond from bearing arms, yet he single-handedly saved countless lives as an army medic. He clung to the pure Biblical commandment not to kill, yet he could not watch others fight a bloody battle for justice while he stood idly by.

Based on this man’s testimony, one might posit that under no circumstances should a man kill because that is what the Bible says. But God also says to do what is right, seek justice and defend the oppressed: Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 82:3. So how would we reconcile those seemingly competing verses?

Paul says in Romans 14:22-23 that one man may deem it right to eat something, but another not. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself in what he approves.  In other words, if we know God’s word and do what we honestly believe is in accordance with His Word and perfect Will, then we can have confidence that God will honour our actions, whatever they may be.  Our actions may not always be perfect, but our motives can always be pure if that is what we honestly seek. What is important is an honestly held belief.  The caveat is that we must not act in ignorance of God’s word because only when we have studied and meditated on His word can we have an honest belief that we are not contravening it. There are endless Scriptures that deal with the benefits of reading God’s word, but one of them stands out to me: For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12).  Only God’s living and active Word is able to convict our hearts of not only the righteousness of our actions, but the intentions of our hearts. When we read it, touch it, chew on it and digest it, He literally breathes his life and truth into us: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Whatever we decide to do, let us be true to our belief and understanding of God and His Word. Let us earnestly seek Him, and His perfect will for each of us, careful to discern actions but not judge (and thus, condemn) others or even ourselves. In this way, when we acknowledge Him in all ways and lean not on our own understanding, He will make our paths straight. (Proverbs 3:6). True faith is when our actions align perfectly with our purest heart-acknowledgement of God.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

Worship

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.  (Luke 7:37-38)

 

By definition, a devotional is to God. No one else. To Him and for Him.  It is a writing, an expression of love, devoted entirely and uniquely to God. This, by definition, is also a form of worship: an intimate, irrepressible act of love towards God, my personal Saviour. The Lover of my soul. The One to Whom I am blissfully and eternally betrothed.  He is always my foremost audience.

But of course, I am posting this in hopes that other souls on the journey will read it too.

There are many distractions in our world that may draw us away from God: Matthew 13:1-9. But I believe that our ability to truly worship God in spirit and in truth might be one of the surest safeguards to prevent such a “falling away”.

When our faith consists of absently showing up to church, sitting in a pew and participating in bake sales for charity, there will come a point when we simply tire of the dry monotony.  If we are not experiencing the joy and intimacy of a romance with the Lover of our soul, we will soon tire of the ritual.  The simplest analogy?  A stale marriage where sharing the bills and chauffeuring the kids become the defining features of your daily life with your betrothed.  And I know that those of us who are married have been there at some point. Or what about being invited to a wedding banquet, but being seated in the nosebleed section – near the restrooms – because you do not really know the bridal couple.  You relish in the feast and sights and sounds of a celebration, maybe even help out with the preparations, but you do not know the deep joy that is experienced by those who have an intimate relationship with the newly wedded couple.  Where is the fun in that?

Worship is the experience of God, the habit that determines whether a Christian is alive in Christ or surviving in Christ. To move from survive to alive.

If we are to truly understand what it means to be alive in Christ, it is the irrepressible compulsion to worship. It is not merely a desire or inkling or even an instinct.  It is compulsion.

The passage that moves me every time, is that of the “woman who lived a sinful life.” When she met Jesus, she said not a word, but immediately broke an alabaster jar of priceless perfume to pour on his feet. She did not think about whether it was a good idea. Indeed, she was quietly chastised for her impulsive action, for “wasting” a commodity that might have been sold to feed a multitude. But it was an instinct. As natural as breathing.

I can relate to this woman; she is someone who has responded to the sinful world around her with her own acts of sin. She is inexpressibly grieved. Desolate. Dead in her filth. But every cell in her being comes alive again when in the presence of the One Who loves her. There are no words. Only recognition. Deep, heart-rending gratitude. She must worship.

Why an alabaster flask of perfume? And what’s with the hair towel?  I’ve never asked this before, but it occurs to me that this precious oil and her hair was all she had of any value. She gave back to God that which had been given to her as a gift. This, too, is worship.

Have you never wept at a sunset or sunrise? At the the miracle of a birth or the beauty of a mockingbird’s song?  That is worship. It is a feeling of being wholly unworthy of a great gift. Only, I do not worship the creation.

I worship the Creator.

My prayer is that we, Christians, no longer strive to acts of service that drain us from true service to God. The only true service to God is an authentic act of worship. I believe that the common church culture of lauding institutional service before worship, or even at the exclusion of worship, runs the risk of perpetually relegating believers to the ‘nosebleed’ section of the banquet. In so doing, it robs God of the true gifts due to Him.

Let us be drunk with worship of the Lord of our lives. May every act of service be one of authentic worship to the One who saved us from the pit and put a royal crown on our heads.

My writing, for now, is what I have to offer. I pray that it be a fragrance to His feet.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. (Psalm 42:1)