Friday, April 30, 2010

"On the path of humility with Christ"

Most of us recognize the need for humility in the life of a Christ-follower, yet we also find it so elusive and difficult to develop. We desire to be humble in the sight of God and others, still we find ourselves full of pride. We often become discouraged and give up altogether. However, this issue is far too important in our relationship with Christ to give up so easily. I would like to offer several suggestions as to why I think we fail to grow in humility, followed by some thoughts as to how we might establish proper footing on the path of humility with Christ.

Problem #1: We approach humility as a character trait that we must develop. Our plan includes hard work, discipline, prayer, (but...mostly hard work!), in an attempt to figure out how to grow in humility. We try to humble ourselves. I know what you are thinking, "What's wrong with that, doesn't the Bible tells us to 'humble thyself in the sight of the Lord'?" does, but I don't think it means that we have to humble ourselves by our own hard work and efforts. Humility is more of a posture that we assume than a work that we accomplish. Andrew Murray states it better than I ever could, "It (humility) is not something we bring to God or he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all [...] humility is simply acknowledging the truth of our position as creature and yielding to God his place."(1)

Problem #2. We focus on eliminating pride as a means to achieving humility. I find it very common in the Christian community to overemphasize what we are not supposed to do rather than focus on what we are to be about. This is exactly what we are doing here. We see pride as the problem so we focus on rooting out the pride in our life. Thus, we develop a plan for what I like to call "sin management." Our thought is something like this, "If only I could manage to sin less often, then I will become a better Christian. If only I could be less prideful, then I will become humble." Usually this leads to further pride and the development of self-righteous thoughts and behaviors. We must recognize that pride is a problem precisely because we are not humble people. Therefore, our focus must be on growing in humility rather than trying to be less prideful.

Problem #3: We are not willing to die. We think we want humility but we are not willing to die for it. The key to growing in humility is recognizing that you can't. Humility is such a foreign idea to fallen creatures that we cannot accept it. If we truly want to be humble people, we must die. To be clear, I am not suggesting that we cannot be humble until after we die and go to heaven. I am not talking about a physical death, rather a spiritual death and rebirth! Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mark 8:34-35) Paul wrote to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20a) This is how we can realize humility in our lives, we must deny ourselves and create space in our lives for the humility of Christ to be at work. As the sinful nature is put to death, the life of Christ (including his perfect humility) will be manifest in our lives. Humility is the place of entire dependence on God where we abandon all to God and allow Him to be all in us. (2)
1. Andrew Murray, Humility: Beauty of Holiness, copyright 1896 (Scotts Valley California 2009 printing) p.16.
2. Ibid., 14.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

What happens in (the sanctuary) stays in the sanctuary?

This blog was pulled from portions of a paper I wrote for my Old Testament class. The original title of the paper is listed below. If you are interested in reading the paper email me at:
Worship that God Despises:The Failure to Integrate Worship and Social Justice in the Book of Amos

Worship is an important topic that all Christians must engage. Unfortunately, for many modern Christians our understanding of worship is limited to music and our engagement with the issue is limited to whether or not a guitar should be used in our Sunday morning worship service.

Worship is far too important for simple answers and petty arguments about styles and preferences. One of the harsh realities contained in the message of the Old Testament prophets is that all worship is not pleasing to God. There is some worship that God despises, and the people of God are held accountable for their faithfulness in worship. The book of Amos was a powerful message in its day and remains a very important message of correction for the people of God today.

Most scholars agree that the context for Amos' prophetic ministry was a time of relative peace and economic prosperity in Israel.(1) This led to a growing disparity between the poor and the wealthy.(2) The poorer class was being exploited by the rich who used these gains to support extravagant lifestyles.(3) This injustice was at the heart of Amos' prophetic message of judgment for Israel.

What exactly is the nature of the injustice that Amos' is prophesying against? To put it simply, their worship was not consistent with their lifestyle. Their religious practices were not properly preparing them for their mission to be the people of God in the world. Worship should be about more than celebrating our successes, it must paint a picture of what life is supposed to look like and shape a certain kind of society.(4) At this time, Israel had slipped into a state of religious hypocrisy.(5) They were orthodox in their style of worship, but their hearts were clearly not engaged. The primary evidence of this was their disobedience in personal and social behavior.(6) What happens in the sanctuary must affect our lives once we leave, this is the nature of authentic worship.

The powerful critique of worship presented in the Book of Amos is extremely relevant for the church in America today. The religious environment between the world of the book of Amos and our world today has many parallels. Similar to Israel, we are a nation that has enjoyed many years of peace and prosperity. We are overly confident in our military strength and successes. We trust in our wealth more than our God. Moreover, there is a definite gap between the wealthy and the poor. The rich enjoy luxurious lifestyles, often at the expense of the poor and less fortunate. All of these conditions parallel the environment in which Amos brought his prophetic message. I am not suggesting a parallel theologically or politically between Isreal and America. I am simply bringing out that the prophetic correction contained in the book of Amos is very relevant for the church today.

However, it is not enough simply to draw parallels between our socio-economic situations. As Christians, we must ask ourselves if our worship mirrors that of the Israelites. Is God pleased with our worship? Would Amos have the same prophetic pronouncement of judgment for the church in America were he around today? Is our worship divorced from our social ethics and efforts to strive for justice?

The prophetic critique of worship in Amos is enormously relevant for the church today. We need to heed this message and begin to think critically about our worship. Please allow me to suggest a few practical ways that we can move forward and allow this text from the Scriptures to shape and form our lives for the glory of God.
1. We must rethink how we do worship. Our worship needs to be based upon a biblical concept of God and draw the people of God into mission. It must be more than a social club or therapy group.
2. We must allow our theology and knowledge of the Bible to inform how we think about our social systems, politics, and the way we treat our neighbors both individually and collectively.
3. Every church and individual Christian needs to get involved in social justice efforts that are consistent with biblical values. May the people of God worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). May our worship glorify God in word and deed.

1Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 31 (Waco: Word Publishing, 1987), 283.
2 Ibid., 284.
3 Ibid., 283-84.
4 M. Daniel Carroll R., "Can the Prophets Shed Light on Our Worship Wars?─How Amos Evaluates Religious Ritual," Stone-Campbell Journal 8, no. 2 (2005): 218.
5 Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, 284.
6 Ibid.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Becoming a Burning Bush for the Glory of God

Exodus chapter 3 records the well-known account of an angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush. It says, "though the bush was on fire it did not burn up" (3:2). I want to take a closer look at this story with a slightly different approach. Usually when we hear this story we pause only briefly at the curious image of a burning bush, shrug our shoulders thinking ("God does weird things sometimes") and move on to the more important matters of God speaking to Moses and the events that followed (Exodus, Wilderness, Promised Land, etc.) Perhaps the image of a burning bush has something to say to us.

Often when we read Scripture we are so focused on the words that we miss the stories, people, and images themselves that are within the text. The Bible is excellent literature, and as such contains rich images to convey the story of God's interaction with the world. The image of fire is used throughout the Bible for a variety of purposes. Some of the more significant purposes for fire are to symbolize God's glory, holiness, judgment, wrath, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

What is so striking about the image of a burning bush is that of an ordinary object that has undergone a transformation into something extraordinary. There is nothing all too exciting about a bush. We are not even talking about an amazing redwood tree, or a blooming flower. It is just a boring old bush. About the only thing more boring than a bush is a rock, and God already has big plans to reveal his glory through a rock later on (See Exodus 17). What was it about this bush that caused Moses to take notice? Ruth Haley Barton has this to say about the matter, "The burning bush was, after all, a most ordinary object that became extraordinary when it was on fire with divine activity."

So, the question I want us to ask is, "How can we become like that burning bush, on fire with the glory of God?"

For too long the church has answered this question with some form of the answer: "become a better bush." Maybe if I do the right religious stuff the fire of God will come down. We use the analogy all the time, stating that we want to be "on fire for God!" It sounds like a pious statement, but what do we really mean by that? Perhaps we mean that we want to be a better Christian, more effective in ministry, blessed by God, have a more "exciting" walk with God...

These things are not necessarily bad, but maybe we are too focused on the bush. I want to suggest that the answer to our question is not found in becoming a better bush, in trying harder, a new discipleship program, or reading the latest Christian book on how to have a better life and be a better Christian. I believe the true answer is found in humility. It is found in understanding that we are just a bush. Nothing in life is going to give us an extraordinary purpose except the fire of divine activity, the glory of God. We can seek purpose and fulfillment in all the things of this world, but at the end of the day we are just a bush. When we come to the place where we realize we are nothing we are approaching humility. Andrew Murray puts it like this, "It (Humility) is not something we bring to God or he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all."2

"But as God is the ever-living, ever-present, ever-acting One who upholds all things by the word of his power, and in who all things exist, the relation of the creature to God could only be one of unceasing, absolute, universal dependence."3 Once you realize that you are just a bush, you are nothing, then you are in a position to abandon your will to the One who can set your life ablaze with his glory. Then you are in a position for God to use you to accomplish his purposes.

1. Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (Downers Grove: IVP, 2008), p.64. (emphasis added)
2. Andrew Murray, Humility: Beauty of Holiness (Scotts Valley, California 2009) Copyright 1896, p. 16. (emphasis added)
3. Ibid, 14. (emphasis added)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Why do we call today "Good" Friday?

Today, Christians around the world from various backgrounds, cultures, and ethnic groups, "celebrate" this day as Good Friday. Have you ever wondered why we refer to this day as "good" Friday? What could possibly be considered good about an innocent man being put to death by a Roman torture mechanism?

Think about it for a moment...what is the worst possible event that could ever happen? There are many tragic events in the history of the world: natural disasters, wars, genocide, disease. Yet nothing compares to what happened on that day when humans, the very creation of God and made in his image, exerted the most substantial act of pride by turning on their very Creator. We killed the son of God. That's right, you and I, not just a small group of people almost 2000 years ago. Jesus was put to death to satisfy the wrath of God because you and I are sinners. We are rebels, thieves, liars, drunkards, prideful, selfish, arrogant, and all out "evil-doers." The innocent lamb of God was slain. This is the worst possible thing that could ever happen.

And yet, in some mysterious way this is also the best possible thing that could ever happen. This event made a way for sinful humanity to be restored to a relationship with God. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. He went to our trial and pled guilty for us when we were the law breakers. Some people find this troubling, thinking that God is a mean judge for killing his own son. The thing is, we have to understand that this was God's plan from the beginning. This is not God's plan B.

This is one of the beautiful things about the Old Testament Scriptures. The OT reveals that the events of Good Friday were God's plan from the beginning. In Genesis 12, God promises Abraham that through his descendants "all peoples on the earth will be blessed." This was accomplished most fully in the death of Christ on the cross. God's love was poured out to humanity on the cross not because God is "mean" but because God is both just and merciful. His justice would not allow us to remain in our current state. His mercy made a way for all to be redeemed and come to him.

Our God is so amazing that he took the worst possible event in history and made it the best possible. This is the reason we call this day Good Friday. It is good news for us because we are ALL sinners in need of a Savior. He came to earth, lived among us, and died for us on that beautiful scandalous cross. On Sunday, we will celebrate Easter, but we cannot get to Easter without first visiting the cross.

Finally, it is important to point out that the grace of the cross is not automatically applied to all of humanity. Our part is to understand the gospel and place our faith in Christ alone for our salvation. We must come to God, admit that we are a sinner, and place our faith in the redeeming work of God through Jesus Christ's death on the cross. This is God's grace. This is the gospel. This is the Good News of Good Friday. There is no other way. You cannot be good enough, you cannot earn it, you cannot find your own path to God. The pride of the human heart finds this difficult to accept, but we must come to God in humility and come to him on his terms. He is God and we are not.

If you have already trusted in Christ for your salvation, return to the cross today and remember what God has done for you. Allow the grace of God displayed on the cross to overwhelm your soul. Ask for God to grant you boldness to share the gospel with others.

Questions or dialogue please email me at: