Tag Archives: Humility

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?

We Earn Our Reputations, Part II

Last week I wrote about the impression we as Christians are leaving with the growing number of Americans who are unconnected to any religious community. When, through Google, they ask the internet about us, they are much more likely to ask why we are so mean, judgmental, close-minded and hypocritical than to ask why we are so loving, forgiving and kind.

So, if we’re living in a post-Christian world, what are we called to do to be Christ’s representatives to the unbelieving among us who are also increasingly unfamiliar with even the most basic tenets of Christianity? And how can we improve our reputations?

As representatives of Christ we often think we are called to be bold. And in a world that is increasingly active in challenging our belief systems, increased boldness would seem to be just what the doctor ordered. But what shape should our boldness take?

Many of us gravitate toward Old Testament pictures of God’s people being led into battle and emerging victorious because of their faithfulness and God’s favor. We’re tempted to beat our chests, attack our opponents as enemies and lay waste to those who would stand against our values, our beliefs, or our heritage.

We see ourselves as God’s champions, ready to storm every hill, accept every challenger, and welcome the fight with courage and bravery. We are all too willing to “put on the armor of God,” all too prepared to slay giants, all too ready to do our best Samuel L. Jackson Pulp Fiction impression and “strike out with great vengeance and furious anger” to snuff out the “iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men” (Ezekiel 25:17).

But this Christmas, I wonder if we should embrace a different vision of boldness. It’s the life and ministry of Jesus; a life and a ministry that began bundled up in a feeding trough and that somehow (imagine that) succeeded without our help, a God who came to earth not so that we could be His champion, but so that He could be ours.

As we approach Christmas, we would do well to remember how God first entered the world; not as one prepared for battle, or even as a skilled apologist or master of rational arguments, but as a baby in a manger; a savior who grew up to encourage love, hope, faith and humility; who said turn the other cheek; and who refused to engage at the level of his accusers even in the final hours of his time on earth. Paul teaches that God produces in us things like gentleness, patience, peace and self-control.

The Bible repeatedly warns against being quarrelsome and self-righteous. Perhaps the warnings are repeated because we tend so strongly in that direction. Often in the Old Testament, the worst judgments from God are reserved for those outside the faith. In the New Testament, Jesus reserves his harshest criticism for those within the faith community.

Nelson Mandela said, “”Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” As followers of Jesus, we’re playing the long game. We don’t have to win today’s battle. But we do need to be remembered fondly tomorrow for the way we handled our critics today.

When it seems like the tide is turning against us and we’re losing the battle, it’s easy to think the answer is to redouble our efforts and step up our attacks.  What if we engaged the issues of the day with calm assurance, “armed with the hope that [we] will rise even in the end.”  We’re not called to win the battle. That’s why Jesus came. We’re called to announce the victory…and model what it looks like.