Humility

St. Anthony the Great, who some call the “Father of All Monks” and the “Father of Monasticism,” was a third and fourth century Christian leader and teacher who confined himself to the wilderness of the Egyptian deserts so that he might undertake a life of devotion to, and pursuit of, his Lord Jesus. It was in the wilderness that Anthony was pushed away from comfort and predictability and into the forming hands of God. He once wrote, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’ ” It was these snares that Anthony fled to the desert to escape, but his writings and prayers make it clear that he found temptation even in a land of lack. As he would often indicate in his later writings, it seems that we cannot ever escape sin or temptation as we carry them with us wherever we flee.

But Anthony points to a sublime truth in his reflection on the snares of sin in this world. The only path that leads us through countless obstacles will be the path that forces us to become more dependent upon our Lord and less dependent upon ourselves and our abilities: the path of humility. This is a notoriously difficult path to walk because it begins with sacrifice, continues through struggle, and finishes in releasing all that we are to a God who is at times elusive and speaks with a still small voice. Anyone who sets out on this path without fear or hesitation must not be deeply considering what it means for their life, for we know that God can and will ask for nearly anything from us and the path of humility demands our sacrifice before we’ve even reviewed the terms of of our devotion. In short, the path of humility carries us into the Kingdom of God, but prohibits us from carrying anything with us through the doors. It is along this path that we learn slowly to utter the words of our brother, Job: “Even if God slays me–even then I will trust in God.” (Job 13:15)

But, how do we take up such a path? If we want to be saved and to seek out a Lord who asks us to make ourselves less, then what are the first steps along that path? Almost 1,000 years later, one of Anthony’s spiritual descendants, Gregory of Sinai, encouraged Christians who sought the path of humility not to wonder whether they were or were not a “greater sinner” than their neighbor. Instead, each of us should assume, like Paul in his letter to Timothy (1 Tim 1:15), that we are the foremost of all sinners. Of course, to do this in word only is to gratify the ego and to drink deeply from the subtle sin of spiritual pride–it is to speak truth while harboring arrogance in the heart.

But, if we’ll make ourselves less and make our Lord more, while knowing that our sin is more than sufficient to make us the slaves of evil and death, then we will find that the path of humility leads us out of death and into life–we will find that no snare can restrain us from fleeing to our Father who waits by the road and eagerly searches for his prodigal sons and daughters to come over the hill with repentance on their lips and hearts now empty enough to welcome in a Lord who loves them more than life itself. After all, this is the path–the path of humility–that leads to life both before Anthony said it and continuing now and into the as yet unconsidered future.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Josh Hearne of Grace & Main Fellowship.

Who does the will of his father?

You remember the parable of the two sons Jesus talks about? In Matthew 21, Jesus tells a parable, speaking to all sorts of people, but appearing to focus on those who are hypocritical and self-righteous. He says, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?’ ‘The first,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” It seems every time Jesus talks in these parables, there’s so much packed in each one. I think he’s trying to reveal the hypocrisy of some of those in the audience, inspire repentance, show the mercy and grace of God, and possibly provoke some of those who think they’ve got it all figured out.

Before I go on, I’d like to say that I really don’t know a whole lot about everything that is going on here but I would like to tell you what my take is on this parable and how it has convicted me. So, it seems there are Pharisees and other people who were known for their hypocritical lifestyle among many other people from different backgrounds in the audience. Jesus appears to tell this parable in a way that is not preachy, giving his audience a lesson, but in a way that inspires self-conviction. We’ve all been in a situation similar to these two sons. We’ve been given a task we may not want to do, but we have been asked and we should follow through. I find myself in situations like this all the time. Not just limited to obeying my own father, but with other people as well. For instance, one thing I do all the time when someone asks me to pray for them is to say, “Definitely, I’ll pray for you.” Later, I find that I just pushed it in the back of my mind and I completely disregarded their request. How hypocritical of me! I wish I could go back to those people whom I told them I would pray for them so that I could repent…I would probably just push that to the back of my mind too…(Lord, forgive me, sinner that I am).

God’s grace allows us to repent, move on and take steps to live more obediently. This grace is shown in this parable. When the first son says, “I will not,” he is deliberately disobedient. He probably thinks about it and is convicted, so he repents and goes to work. Even though this son sins, Jesus uses this as an example that we will sin, but God shows mercy on us and allows us to repent and take a step toward doing the will of our Father. Jesus is more concerned with us obeying that the work actually getting done, which is evident in his question. He asks, “Who did what his father wanted?” not specifically, “Who worked in the vineyard?” He cares that both get done, but if our heart is changed, our actions will show it.

Then he says after they answered him that the sinners and tax collectors will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of them. How provocative is that? How upside-down is that from their point of view? They’re thinking, “Prostitutes and sinners?…They’re entering heaven before me? But I follow all the laws and commandments!” And yet, Jesus says this to reveal that the Kingdom of Heaven is not a place we can get into by following laws or going to church or just “working in the vineyard.” It’s a place for sinners who repent and realize that we don’t have everything figured out. It’s a place for people who have been transformed by a God who loves us unconditionally; for prostitutes, drunkards, addicts, sinners who embrace Jesus because of his love. So here’s our chance – let’s repent and lay down our pride, after we said no, and go work in the vineyard. We might find out all the other workers there are just like us. Who are we fooling anyway? God?

This inspirational word was brought to you by Mike Huggins of Grace & Main Fellowship.

Make Me Uncomfortable

Has God ever asked you to do something you were not really comfortable doing? Did you follow through on the task given to you, or was the fear too great? Personally, there have been times that I have chickened out. Am I proud to admit that? Certainly not, but it happens. But, when I do follow through on what God has asked of me, the outcome has always been a blessing to me and everyone else.

For example, one fear I have always had was being on stage. As an introvert, I absolutely hate being the center of attention. So, what does God ask me to do? You guessed it; be on stage. I have been playing drums and percussion since I was a child, and I felt God wanted me to use the musical talents given to me to minister to other people. Over the years, I have played on many stages and I have played for hundreds of people. You would think that I would get used to playing in front of crowds after a while, but the stage fright has always been there. I would pray for God to take the fear away, but it always stayed. I would get frustrated sometimes and question God. “Why have you asked me to do this when You know it bothers me so much?”

It took me years to come to the conclusion that God did not intend on ever taking the fear away. The thought occurred to me when I read the story of Paul in II Corinthians 12.

 1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The fear may stay with me, but I can rest in knowing that the power of Christ is within me. Now, I pray that God makes me uncomfortable, so that I will always have to rely on Christ to accomplish the tasks ahead of me; because, if my calling ever becomes about me, then it is no longer worth even two small grains of sand. It is a great reminder that it is not me, but it is Christ within me that gives me strength to accomplish what I believe to be unthinkable and out of the question. I will delight in my weaknesses, for when I am weak, then I am strong by the power of God’s grace.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Daniel Stevens of Grace & Main Fellowship.

To Be Known

When asked what to study for the upcoming test, my favorite college professor would continually tell students, “be omniscient.”  This attribute, the “all-knowingness” of God is something that has had my concern for quite some time.  As a youth, my initial resentment to the concept came in response to assumed opposition to free will.  What do my choices matter if God already knows I am going to make them?  Fortunately, continued examination has brought new insight into this grandiose characteristic of the Divine.

In this case, I think the surface understanding of God’s omniscience is misleading.  I have trouble believing that God knows the exact arrangement of every note of every piece of music that ever has, is, or will be written.  I don’t think it is of utter importance that God knows the first word my finger strikes as I open a book to a random page.  An entity that can instantly generate a given string of information is not God, it’s google.  I think the all-knowingness of God goes beyond data regurgitation to something deeper.  For this, we must consult scripture.

First, read John 4:3-30.  It’s ok, I’ll wait.  I’ve been meaning to google repair instructions for a 2003 Kitchenaid oven.  Done?  Good.  Next, let’s watch a short clip.  The video below (presented by Student Life Ministry) depicts an intimate modern interpretation of the conversation between Jesus and the Woman at the Well from the Samaritan woman’s perspective:


http://youtu.be/Q49BbfgJbto

Here, performer Erin Moon speaks out the true nature of God’s omniscience, “to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.”  In the John 4 story, this foreign (at least to Jesus) woman surely had quite the reputation; given her previous five husbands.  If not for rampant gossip, the distribution of misunderstandings of her story, then why would our leading lady head to the well at the time chosen?  She did not draw water at midday out of convince, on the contrary.  She draws water at noon because she knows no one else will be there, doing the same, in the heat of the day.  She comes to be alone.  She comes to hide in herself, without the risk of ill-informed onlookers.  She fails.

There she meets a man, a Jewish man, who is bold enough to ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink.  Perplexed, conversation ensues until a climax is reached where Jesus tells the woman, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (vv. 17-18 NRSV).  These words, spoken from a different source, could come off as harsh and judgmental.  But coming from Jesus, someone who genuinely knows this woman, the words come out as a blessing.

Jesus proclaims these words without an exhortative finger wag, “LOOK AT YOU!” but rather with embracingly outstretched arms, “look, at you.”  The Woman, astounded by her encounter, dashes back to town.  There, she mentions nothing of living water nor does she lead off with the whole Messiah thing.  Rather she announces, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!”  She is not amazed by Jesus’s record keeping; by the fact that he was aware of her past—the local women’s collective surely possessed similar abilities—instead, the Samaritan woman is amazed that Jesus knows her, for to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.  Jesus doesn’t bring up her past for some sort of ethical object lesson but rather mentions it in a compassionate display of empathy.  Jesus doesn’t feel for this person, he feels with her, because he knows her.

I’m not convinced that the Lord has an 8-page report on the reality that I am currently craving cheese and crackers.  However, I am convinced that the Redeemer is familiar of my propensity for late night snacks and is also fully acquainted with my fondness of extra-sharp cheddar.  So while the Creator of all the Heavens and the Earth may not be aware of the details of my midnight munchie, Christ knows about it, because he knows me; for to be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.

This inspirational word was brought to you by Ben Wright of Grace & Main Fellowship.