Humility: It looks so good on you!

“God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit therefore to God” (James 4:6).

“Clothe yourself with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (I Peter 5:5).  

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time….” (5:6).

A Facebook friend said, “I’m very proud of my humility.”

I think he was teasing.

Humility is not a subject most of us would claim to know much about.  In fact, we would shy away from anyone claiming to be humble.  The very claim contradicts itself.

In fact, a truly humble person would probably be the last to know it.   So, when told that “You are a genuinely humble person,” the appropriate response might be something like “Who, me? I wish!”

Now, there are few traits more attractive in a leader than humility.  The Lord of Heaven and earth stooped to wash the feet of His disciples, in so doing forever disallowing His preachers from playing the royalty card (John 13).  “The Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto,” He said, “but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

Biblically.  Anecdotally.  And personally. The evidences of a truly humble person are no secret.

Seven traits of a humble person….

One.  An overwhelming sense of the blessings of God.  His generosity. His grace.  “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for HIs wonderful works to the children of men!” (That praise eruption of praise comes from Psalm 107 where it is repeated in verses 8, 15, 21, and 31.)

God is so good to me.  Far better than I deserve. “I feel like I’m God’s favorite child,” a friend says.  “My cup runneth over,” said King David (Psalm 23:5).

Words you will hear a lot from the truly humble: “Thank you!”

Continue reading

Now, take Christmas. That’s certainly not how I would have done it.

(With tongue firmly planted in cheek, let us rethink this greatest of all stories.)

What was the Lord thinking, doing Christmas the way He did?

A Baby is born to an unwed couple after a long, arduous journey.  The cradle is a feeding trough in a stable in Bethlehem.  Welcoming committees of shepherds and foreigners show up. A murderous king sends his soldiers to slaughter babies. The young family flees to Egypt.

And thus Jesus arrives on the scene.

Admit it.  You would not have done Christmas that way.  It’s not just me.

As the God of the universe, the infinite and omnipotent Heavenly Father, you could do anything you please, right?  In the beginning, You created the Heavens and the earth, right?  The opening statement of Scripture certainly establishes who is in charge.  So everything is on the table.  Nothing off limits.

“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” It says that right there in Psalm 115:3.

Now, all I’m saying is that had I been God and in charge, with no one to tell me ‘no’ or no administrative authority to question my actions, I think I might have done things differently.

Now. take that stable.

Continue reading

Marginalizing Jesus

“And she gave birth to her first-born son, and…. laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

One reason God’s people have made so much of this verse, even to the point of inventing harsh innkeepers who slam doors in the faces of the young couple from Nazareth until they find a friendly face who apologetically gives them room in his stable, is that it so perfectly summarizes what the world has done to Jesus ever since: shunted Him off to the side and tried to ignore Him.

Scripture says, “He came unto His own and His own received Him not” (John 1:11).

Of course, in the birth narrative Scripture mentions no innkeepers, harsh or otherwise, and doesn’t even reference a stable. Only a manger, a feed-trough.

I said to a church in rural Alabama, “Of course, those of us who grew up on the farm know that stables are where you find feed-troughs! There might be one manger outside in the ‘lot,’ what some would call a corral, but the little family will not be seeking shelter in an open cattle pen. So, our vision of Jesus as being born inside a stable is probably exactly right.”

Ever since that time, the world has tried to continue that practice, crowding out the Lord Jesus and giving Him tiny places in our world and our hearts.

We honor Him with words–think of the thousands upon thousands of books written about Him–and even give Him His special day!  Then, we want to ignore Him the rest of the year.

School boards and city councils tell those they invite to pray, “Just don’t get sectarian.”  That translates to one thing and one thing only: “Do not mention Jesus in your prayer.”

That’s why it will be a cold day in Washington, D. C., before Franklin Graham and Rick Warren get invited to pray at another presidential inauguration.  They made the fatal errors in their inauguration prayers: They mentioned Jesus.

Continue reading

How Jesus learned to love parables

No one automatically comes into this world with their teaching techniques firmly in hand. We learn them from the people who teach us, we learn them by trial and error, we figure out for ourselves what works best.

Even though the Lord Jesus Christ was Who He was when He arrived–with all that the Incarnation means–we can safely assume that He learned somewhere along the way, growing up in Galilee, the value of a well-placed story.

But more than any other way, the Lord Jesus learned to love parables from Scripture. And by Scripture, we mean the Old Testament, since that was the only sacred text available at that time.

The parable has played a leading role all through the years of God’s dealings with His people.

The first memorable parable, to most of us, was given King David by the prophet Nathan. David had stolen another man’s wife, Bathsheba, and had arranged to have her husband Uriah killed in battle in order to hide his wickedness from his people.

Continue reading

10 things about the Christmas story you may have missed

They were not “kings” from the east and there wasn’t three of them (as far as anyone knows). And when they arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus were not still in the stable, but in a house, contrary to half the Christmas cards that will be arriving at your house.

Furthermore, there’s no indication cattle were in that stable or anywhere nearby. In fact, the only thing that leads us to believe Jesus was born in a stable is that Luke 2:7 tells us Mary laid the Baby in a manger, a feeding trough.

But you knew all this.

And you knew that all of this was predicted through the centuries by God’s prophets. We particularly treasure the promises of Isaiah 7:17 (“Behold a virgin shall conceive….”) and 9:6-7 (“For unto us a child is born….”), as well as Micah 5:2 (“Bethlehem…out of you shall come forth One to be Ruler over Israel…”).

And I expect you knew that, contrary to the Christmas hymn “The First Noel,” the shepherds in Bethlehem’s fields did not “looked up and saw a star shining in the East beyond them far.” (Modern hymnals have revised that line to read “For all to see there was a star….”)

But, allow me to point out some aspects of this wonderful story it’s possible you might have missed. There is no particular order intended.

Continue reading

Options the Lord did not leave open to us

“If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

The Christian faith is not a cafeteria from which one may pick and choose what to believe and leave the less appetizing choices behind.  It is a turn-key operation, to change the metaphor.  “It is finished,” said our Lord from the cross.  Salvation will not be needing my touches, God’s wisdom will not be helped by my cleverness, and the gospel will not be enhanced by my talents.  The gospel is a done deal.

Scripture says the revelation God has given us is sufficient.  “So that the (child) of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy  3:17).

Nothing is missing from this amazing salvation given us in Jesus Christ.

But we keep trying, don’t we?  Consider these attempts of ours to cherry-pick doctrines and truths…

One.

Some people insist, “The Bible is not a book of science. It is not a history book, in the same way it’s not a cook book or a travel guide.  It is reliable in terms of spiritual matters, but should not be expected to get all the other things right.”

Many would say that sounds right.

Continue reading

When it’s okay to call your enemy an idiot

The July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic carried an article that blew me away. “Why We Should Mock Terrorists” has as its alternate title “The Case for Calling Them Nitwits.”

I confess that something inside me likes this.

Finally, someone has struck the right note about these terrorists. They are truly fools. The author makes a case for such extreme behavior:

They blow each other up by mistake. They bungle even simple schemes. They get intimate with cows and donkeys. Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?

Something inside us insists that these jihadists are purists in their faith and disciplined in their devotion to their God. Not so, we are told. In fact, a great many terrorists can’t even read and write. All they know is what their wrong-headed leaders tell them. And like dunces, they believe all they hear and never turn a critical eye to anything.

Such people are not only our foes; they are their own worst enemies.

That brings us to my question: When is it all right to call your enemy an idiot and a nitwit?

Wrong answer: when it’s true.

Right answer: When your goal is not to win him over, but to destroy him.

Continue reading

Jesus and only Jesus. What is so hard about that?

Only Jesus.

No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there.  John 3:13.  How clear is that?  He is the One who knows.

No one can come to God the Father except through Jesus.  John 14:6.  How clear is that?  He is our Mediator.

–No one can know God unless Jesus reveals Him to them.  Matthew 11:27.  How clear is that?  He is the Revealer.

There is no other name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. Only Jesus.  Acts 4:12.  How clear is that?  He is our Savior.

Jesus said He was given authority over all mankind.  John 3:35; 13:3; 17:2 and Matthew 28:18.  How clear is that?  He is Lord.

Here’s an outline that sums it up for me. 

It got me out of bed in the middle of the night recently.  Use it if you can and if the Lord leads…

Continue reading

People do love their illusions

“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).

God is under no illusion about us. He knows we are made of humble stuff.  He knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. When we sin, the only one surprised is us.

Whether we are under false conceptions, i.e., illusions, about God is another question.

One thing is sure. We sure do love our illusions, our pipe dreams, our false ideas and wrong impressions.

No one should see how sausage or their laws are made.  The internet traces that quote to Otto von Bismarck, German chancellor of the late 1800s, who is supposed to have said it more like “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

Leave us with our illusions.

I grew up on Southern Gospel music and my family frequently attended their concerts.  In adulthood seeing some of the groups up close and off stage, the profanity and carnal lifestyles forever ruined me.  In time, I was able to enjoy some of their music, but without attending a concert or becoming a groupie.  I had lost my illusion about these people.

Continue reading

Seven of the most amazing things Jesus ever said

No man ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46).

(Please note below that all seven of these “things Jesus said” are from the same passage in Matthew 11.) 

Somewhere around the house I have an old book with the wonderful title of 657 of the Best Things Ever Said.  It would not surprise you to know most of them are silly.

As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, doubtless it’s true that the “best things ever said” is also arbitrary.

With one exception.

Literally hundreds of millions of people across this world agree with the judgement of the early Galileans that “No one ever spoke like Jesus.”

Our Lord spoke a solid one thousand mind boggling things never heard before on Planet Earth, all of them surprising and wonderful and memorable. And, let’s be honest, many who heard Jesus also found His words provocative, offensive, and even blasphemous.

When Jesus stood to preach, no one was bored.

Continue reading