Tag Archives: Humility

The first miracle

Frederick Dale Bruner wrote: “I like to consider this Jesus’ first miracle: the miracle of His humility. The first thing Jesus does for us is go down with us. His whole life is like this, It is well known that Jesus ended His career on a cross between two thieves; it deserves to be as well known that He began His ministry in a river among penitent sinners.”

The writer of Hebrews emphasized the humanity and humility of Jesus: “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for He faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin” (Hebrews 4:14). Jesus didn’t sympathize with humans; He empathized.

Someone once described the difference between sympathy and empathy this way: You’re walking along a road and notice a man who has fallen into a ditch. Sympathy says that you feel sorry for the man’s predicament. Empathy says that you get down in the ditch and help the man out. Jesus did not observe our predicament; He entered it.

The mystery of the Incarnation that He was capable of experiencing the human condition without being tainted by it. Tempted but without yielding, He lived among us as one of us. It was crucial to His mission. The manger, the cross, the tomb were not symbolic gestures; they were demonstrations of His commitment to dwell among us and then pay a price no other could pay.

Paul captured the humility of Jesus perfectly in his letter to the Philippians. Reciting what had to be one of Christianity’s earliest hymns, the apostle called upon believers to follow the example Jesus set: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5).

What does that attitude look like? From the Christian Bible Reference: “Humility as a virtue is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Why do qualities such as courtesy, patience and deference have such a prominent place in the Bible? It is because a demeanor of humility is exactly what is needed to live in peace and harmony with all persons. Humility dissipates anger and heals old wounds. Humility allows us to see the dignity and worth of all God’s people. Humility distinguishes the wise leader from the arrogant power-seeker.”

Jesus provided the leadership through His example. What kind of followers will we be? I still believe in miracles.

Who’s on first?

It has to be one of the greatest comedic routines of all time. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello first performed it on a radio show, The Kate Smith Hour, in March 1938. Over the years, they would delight audiences with the famous descriptions of a baseball team: “Who’s on first?”

The rotund Costello would appear to be increasingly frustrated with his cool, calm partner as Abbott tried to explain the names of all the players. It was brilliant, funny theater.

In Mark 10, Jesus had to participate in a very different “Who’s on first?” dialogue. The author recorded that two of the disciples (who also were cousins of Jesus) approached Him and ask for special favor. In Matthew’s account, the mother of James and John (who was the sister of the mother of Jesus) made the same ask. “When You sit on Your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to You, one on Your right and the other on Your left” (v. 37).

Costello acted like he was frustrated in his act; Jesus didn’t have to act. He told the two, “You don’t know what you are asking!” The Lord had just announced for the third time that He would journey to Jerusalem to die. Did they not hear Him? As soon as Jesus made the statement, James and John requested privileged status. Insensitive, clueless?

In His response to their thoughtless question, Jesus explained a new order in His Kingdom: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slaves of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (vs. 43-45).

Humility was considered a vice, a sign of weakness until Jesus came. Read again Philippians 2:5-11, the ancient Christian hymn that describes the true power of love through humility and obedience. Revisit the scene in the Upper Room when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (see John 13).

The Bible tells us that the other disciples were indignant when they heard what James and John did. Were they mad because they didn’t think of it first? They all seemed to be tone deaf at this point, but perhaps we should consider the price of pride in our own lives. According to Jesus, trying to be first might be the fastest way to the back of the line!

You think you have problems

On December 31, 192 AD, Roman emperor Commodus was assassinated. You might wonder what’s so unique about an emperor being eliminated violently … it happened with alarming frequency, In fact, history records his death as the beginning of an era called “Year of the Five Emperors.” They tried to poison his food but he spoiled the attempt by vomiting. Then they arranged for his personal trainer-wrestling partner to strangle him in his bath.

You may remember his name at least if you saw the movie Gladiator. The fictionalized Commodus was portrayed by actor Joaquin Phoenix. Hollywood altered the facts a bit, but the man was truly a degenerate. He loved the trappings of power but had no interest in using that power to rule justly. Some have speculated that his reign ushered in the decline of the empire. It is ironic that his murderer was named Narcissus. Commodus loved to parade around dressed like Hercules. He was proud of his physical prowess which he demonstrated regularly in the arena against wounded and crippled soldiers. He didn’t need much of an excuse to order Roman citizens, high and lowly, to be executed.

Power does strange things to people. Few of us manage well when entrusted with it. You don’t have to be a Roman emperor to abuse the influence and authority that comes with a position or in a relationship.

Perhaps that is why Jesus taught that we should treat others as we would wish to be treated. Perhaps that is why He felt it important to address the vying for special favor among His disciples when He said, “You know that in this world kings are tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be you servant. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not be served but to serve others, and to give My life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).

In a political season where people are hiding behind rhetoric and spin, it seems appropriate that we not only remember the words of Jesus, but put them into practice. We could use a few more servant leaders these days.

 

A blast from the past

Some people remember when you hung your wash on a clothesline. In some places, they still do. Here’s an old story with a point that shouldn’t be:

A young couple moved into a new neighborhood. On their first morning, they were sitting down for breakfast when she watched her next door neighbor begin to hang her laundry on the line in the back yard. Wife said to husband, “Those clothes don’t look very clean. I wonder if she is washing them correctly.” The husband didn’t say anything. This happened several times with the same comment being made. Each time the husband stayed quiet. Finally, wife noticed a change: “Look, she either learned how to wash better or she got better detergent. I wonder who showed her how.” The husband finally spoke: “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.”

To paraphrase the words of Jesus, perhaps we should clean our windows before we judge someone else’s wash. One of the most liberating moments in life should come when we admit our own weaknesses and faults. When we come face to face with our own humanity, we can better see the humanity in others.

C.S. Lewis said that the unique contribution of Christianity to the world was grace. For believers, grace isn’t possible, not in its fullest sense, outside of Christ. We see it in His warning about judging others. We recognize it when He told us to treat others as we wish to be treated.

Grace doesn’t come from obligation or duty; it flows from gratitude. Being grateful for receiving the gift of grace should encourage us to be more extravagant in sharing it. Who wants to live with dirty windows?

Unstoppable

I guess they are trying to hype the rugged safety and security of their new SUV. Threatening skies, rumbles of thunder form the backdrop of a family outing in their new vehicle. The narrator scoffs at the idea that their brand new car has anything to fear from Mother Nature. The tag line: Unstoppable.

Really? How many times do we need a reminder that man vs. nature is often an unfair contest. Hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, floods, ice storms, blizzards, drought, thunderstorms, and heavy winds come to mind.

In 1974, our seminary was in the path of a tornado that was carving its way through Louisville, Kentucky. Hearing the sound, watching the funnel cloud coming straight at me, I don’t remember thinking I was unstoppable; I thought that tornado was unstoppable.

Surveying the damage after Hurricane Andrew crushed South Florida in 1992, I felt small and defenseless in the face of such destructive power. I never felt the need to thrust out my chest, shake my fist at the heavens, and shout, “Bring it on!”

Nature did bring it and we were helpless to resist such power.

I know the commercial was not suggesting that Mother Nature is no threat. I know they are just trying to sell the next generation of a popular SUV. Still, a little more humility is called for.

I think that is part of the human dilemma. We seem to be able to convince ourselves that we are invincible, indestructible … until an accident occurs or a doctor gives us bad test results. James wrote: “How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog – it’shere a little while, then it’s gone.”

Perhaps it is time to drag out an old cliché: “I may not know what the future holds, but I do know Who holds the future.”

We can live in fear or we can live in trust. The only thing that is truly unstoppable is the love of God.

Team

What an exciting cap to the July 4th weekend! People who never watch soccer, don’t understand how the game is played, can’t figure out the time allowed, or get winded just watching were glued to their screens last night.  The USA women played an epic, historic game to claim the World Cup trophy. Carli Lloyd performed brilliantly, scoring three goals in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. She barely missed a fourth with a header. There were plenty of stars competing with an outstanding team from Japan.

A common theme from those interviewed after the match was: “It took all 23 of us to accomplish this.” A number of USA players rode the bench last night. You have to believe that every one of them wanted to step on to that field. When Abby Wambach and, a few minutes later, Christie Rampone entered, the stands erupted. Finally they would be able to taste the ultimate victory in their sport. Lifting the trophy together, they were surrounded by a joyous team of colleagues who had labored so hard to rise to the elite in the world.

Not everybody gets to take center stage. I think about that when a quarterback, wide receiver, or running back gets lauded.  Without an offensive line to block, without a scout team to run the opponent’s scheme, without trainers and equipment guys, without a coaching staff, these sport celebrities would have a really hard time being successful.

I remember one award winner at one of the endless ceremonies Hollywood throws for itself. As he lifted his prize, he said, “I’d like to thank all the little people.” I wish “all the little people” had rushed the stage and pummeled him.

There are many qualities we can admire about the character of Jesus. Surely near the top would be His humility. He never seemed to lose His perspective, never demanded first place. He challenged His followers to seek to serve, not to be served.

When Paul wrote about the church, he often used the human body as his analogy. He emphasized the importance of each part (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). He also cautioned that no one should think more highly of himself than he should (Romans 12:3-5).

Yes, there were stars aplenty last night, but “It took all 23 of us” to bring home the gold. Not a bad thing to remember at the office or the church as well as the team.

Better Together

The turtle had a dilemma. He wanted to move south for the winter because he couldn’t stand another blustery winter and he certainly didn’t want to make the long trudge southward. If he was going to pull it off, he would need some help. So he used his mighty turtle brain to come up with idea. He knew a couple of geese that were preparing for the long journey. After all, they were far better equipped for long-distance travel. He discussed his plan with his feathered-friends.

Scrounging around, he found a length of rope. He explained to the geese that each was to hold an end while he grasped the middle with his strong jaws. Away they went.

Things were going well during the flight until someone on the ground happened to glance up and see this strange sight. With admiration in his voice, he shouted, “Who in the world thought of that?” Unable to restrain the impulse to take full credit for the idea, the turtle opened his mouth to say … “I di – d – d – d …”

It’s amazing what you can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. On the flip side, drawing attention to yourself may be a recipe for disaster.

Speaking of recipes, Paul had one for how Christians are to live in community with each other: “Love each other with genuine affection. Take delight in honoring each other… when others are happy, be happy for them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t try to act important, but enjoy the company of others. Do you part to live in peace with everyone as much as possible” (from Romans 12:9-18).

With the right ingredients, our families and our churches and our communities could look very different. It’s worth a try, isn’t it?