Tag Archives: humility

How to learn the truth about ourselves (What I learned on sabbatical, Part 3)

24 Apr

Image result for the most difficult thing in life is to know yourself

One of the major events that Michelle and I participated in during sabbatical was the EC Pastoral Assessment Center (PAC).  It was that experience that led us to consider a sermon idea.  But first let me explain PAC.

PAC is basically the starting point for people who are exploring the possibility of becoming pastors in our denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church.  The process starts because the individual has some sense that God might be calling them to pastoral ministry.  So they talk with their pastor, and if things progress, they obtain a recommendation from their pastor, and they apply to attend PAC.  If accepted, they and their spouse must attend PAC together.  It meets at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown for a week every January.

At PAC there are two groups of people.  Candidates and Assessors.  Candidates are the people who would like to become pastors.  Assessors are pastors and pastors’ wives who evaluate the candidates.  Michelle and I were candidates at the January 2003 PAC.  And then at the January 2018 PAC, 15 years later, we were assessors.

Candidates are required to complete a number of assessments before coming to PAC.  Personality Tests, marriage tests, financial statements, leadership tests, and more.  They have to submit fairly extensive paperwork talking about pretty much every aspect of their lives, including why they are interested in pursuing pastoral ministry.

Assessors are given candidate’s info packets prior to PAC.  We read all candidates’ applications and survey results.  Then at PAC, we are placed into assessment small groups where 4-5 assessors are responsible to do deep evaluations and interviews with one candidate and his wife.  Michelle and I were not together in those small groups.

From Wednesday morning until Friday afternoon (by which time the interviews are complete) we assessors are watching every move the candidates make, listening to every word.  Whether it is over meals, in group projects, on down time, and of course during interviews.  Our job as assessors is to observe, to learn, to ask questions, to get to know these candidates as much as we possibly can.

Then on Friday afternoon, all the assessors got together privately and have a big assessor’s-only meeting to decide what our final response is going to be for each candidate.  We give them either a green light, yellow light, red light or no light.  Green means proceed with the process of becoming a pastor in the denomination.  Yellow means proceed with caution, as there are a few issues we want them to work on, but proceed.  Red light means stop, they cannot proceed.  And No light means we are not sure.  Not yes or no, but maybe work on some areas and come see us again in no sooner than two years.

Then after a group worship service on Saturday morning, the assessor small groups meet with each candidate and their wife to tell them our decision.  As you can imagine, it is a tension-filled morning. The candidates are unsure what light they are getting.  The assessors are nervous because, even if our candidates are getting a green light, we are being forced to speak honestly with them.  Green light doesn’t mean they are perfect, and we still want to give them guidance, some suggestions about things to work on.  But the conversations get tougher from there.  Yellow, at least they are moving forward, so an assessor has that going for them when we share the cautions.  But red lights and no lights are just simply tough.

It is very, very hard to speak blunt truth to people.  In Ephesians 4, we are taught to speak the truth in love.  That sounds really nice, with that word “love” in there.  Just love people, right?  The reality is that speaking truth to people can be hard, even if you love them.

As Michelle and I talked about PAC, one of the topics that we came back to time and time again was how hard it is not only to tell people the truth, when it is a truth that we perceive will be hard for the person to receive, but also how hard it is to hear and receive the truth about ourselves.

We came away from PAC convinced that this might be one of the most important issues for disciples of Jesus.  Some of us do not know the truth about ourselves.  Or we do know the truth, deep down inside, but it scares us and thus we avoid it like the plague.

How does it happen that we can have a wrong impression about ourselves?  I’m talking not just people who think that they are called to ministry.  Any of us can miss out on the truth about ourselves.

I think we humans have a natural proclivity to see ourselves in the wrong light.  We are so often harder on ourselves than we need to be. Or we are too quick to let ourselves off the hook or not see ourselves in an accurate light.  In other words, we think we are better than we are.  Or maybe we are really hard on ourselves in one area but are unable to see the truth about ourselves in another area.

Have you ever known the person that has a personality quirk or habit or tendency, and everyone around them knows about this.  The people around them talk about it behind the person’s back.  But the person themselves, the person with the tendency, they seem to have no idea about it.  How is that possible?  And yet we know it is possible, because it happens so much.

How is it possible that people don’t know themselves enough to see something that is obvious to everyone around them?  It could be a long-term habit or quirk or lifestyle choice that has never been addressed, and months or years go by and it becomes ingrained, even feeling normal.  You can forget that it is actually not normal.

In 2000-2001, Michelle and I and our two older boys lived in Kingston, Jamaica for one year.  Tyler and Connor were little then.  Now they are in college (yikes!), but then they were 4 and 3 years old.  And they couldn’t say the letter L quite right.  It came out sounding like the pronunciation of the letter W.  In Jamaica it was particularly noticeable because of all the chameleons that would crawl around our house.  We had screens on the windows and doors, but those things still found ways in the house.  The boys would chase them and try to capture them.  And you know what the boys called them?  Wizards.  Because the speech development phase they were in, lizards became wizards.  It was really cute and funny.  But what if Michelle and I thought, “that is so cute and funny, and we don’t want that to change”?  And what if we never taught them how to pronounce the letter L?  They could have gone for years pronouncing it wrong, and kids in school might have mocked them, and why? Because we never took our parental responsibility to love them enough to teach them the correct pronunciation.

This is not just about little children and correct pronunciation.  I am talking about older children, teens, adults, and even older adults who do not know the truth about themselves.  I am not saying the some people are completely deceived about every part of their lives.  But I do think that many of us might have at least a small part of our lives that we are misinformed about, or maybe we misunderstand, or perhaps have misinterpreted, and in that area we might not know the truth about ourselves.  The result is that we are hampered in our ability to have healthy relationships with God and with others.  We might be hampered in our ability to serve the Lord.

I would go so far as to say that we might be actively deceiving ourselves about this reality, or we might be totally unaware.  And sometimes the people who know us best are totally aware of the truth about us, but they are not telling us the truth!  Why?

Because it is crazy hard for some people to talk personally and deeply with us.  They don’t want to offend.  They think, “I should talk with them, but…maybe my friend is doing is not really that bad…and I’m scared to hurt their feelings.”

It can be hard to talk with people about the deep inner parts of their lives.  Maybe a friend you love is extra negative but unaware of it.  Maybe a family member criticizes quickly and it’s hurtful.  Maybe you know someone who frequently talks about themselves.  Or maybe someone in your life is bossy or has a bit too much of the “know-it-all” attitude. Those things are heart attitudes.  They need to be addressed.  Whether they are in you or in your friends.

You and I and anyone cannot be disciples of Jesus unless we are willing to place every, single last element of our lives under the lordship of Jesus.  If we think about it, we should want to place ourselves under his lordship, under his control, because he cares about us, about every part of our lives, more than we can ever imagine.  Jesus’ death and resurrection means that we no longer need to be slaves to sin.  We can be set free to become the new creatures that he wants us be.

As Paul taught in 2 Corinthians 5:17: In Christ you are a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.

A big way we experience that new life is to actively seek out the truth about ourselves. The people around us, those who love us, just might not be able to tell us the truth about ourselves.  And we should not trust ourselves to have an honest, healthy, balanced opinion about ourselves.

How then do we get a true perspective on ourselves, our personality, our tendencies, our behavior?

It starts with humility, teachability, actively seeking out the truth.  Actively opening ourselves to others’ opinions about us.  Not becoming a doormat where people mistreat us, but instead having a willingness to be receptive to the fact that maybe we don’t have things all figured out, and maybe our view of ourselves is not accurate.

How do we get this balanced view of who we are?

First of all, we need to know God’s view of who we are.  What is God’s view of who we are? 

Right at the very beginning of the Bible, we are taught that God made us in his image. Read Genesis 1 to see what I mean.  I know that the concept of the image of God can be a difficult one.  We have a will, we have intellect, and we have a limited amount of creative ability. All those are like God. We can have relationships, love, etc.  These are amazing gifts from God, and ways in which we are made in his image.

We can know then, that we are loved by God, because he created us, because he gave us Jesus, who through his birth, life, death and resurrection made it possible for us to have access to God.  Read Hebrews 10, and reflect on the amazing work that Jesus did for us.

Michelle is doing a couple different studies right now, and one of them had this quote that we thought helped to explain this.  “The Creator is the Searcher – the initiating Seeker – who does not seek in order to learn.  Omniscience leaves no gaps to fill or caves to mine.  But, still God seeks us.  The God of the universe seeks us, at least in part, for the pure pleasure of knowing those by whom He longs to be known.” (Beth Moore, The Quest)  So the God of the universe intimately loves you.  Start with that and rest in that.  No matter the truths that are out there to be learned and understood about you, the God of the universe seeks to be with you and to be known by you.  He loves you.

The result of knowing that we are made in God’s image and he loves us is that we have a solid emotional, spiritual, intellectual, relational foundation in him.  Remember that parable that Jesus told at the end of his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, that we can build our life on him, the Rock, and if we do so, we cannot be shaken?  That is a crucial teaching by Jesus.  We can get to the point where can be stable, we can accept criticism, and we can benefit from it.  In other words, we can hear the truth about ourselves without being crushed by it.  Actually because we have Jesus as our foundation, our support, our strength, we can learn from God and others about the truth about ourselves.

Therefore, on a regular basis, ask God to help you know the truth about yourself.  The great King David of Israel in Psalm 139 gives us a prayer we can prayer, asking God to speak to us about who we really are.  David begins the psalm describing how God knows him thoroughly.  There is nothing about our lives hidden from God.  Then David concludes with these powerful words, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  What a great prayer to pray to learn the truth!

During sabbatical I learned another excellent prayer that can help us learn the truth.  Created by St. Ignatius, it is called the Prayer of Examen.  It is a prayer you can pray anytime, but I find it especially fitting for the end of the day. Through the Prayer of Examen, you are asking God to help you examine your life so you can learn the truth about who you are.  I use an Android phone, and on the Google Play store I found an excellent Prayer of Examen app that guides you through the prayer.  The app is called Reimagining the Examen by Loyola Press.  Check it out.  Consider making it a daily practice.

Next, after asking God to speak truth to you, do you have people who speak bold truth to you?

I sat through PAC thinking to myself that every disciple of Jesus needs to go through that kind of evaluation.  I don’t mean that everyone should pursue becoming a pastor.  But all those tests and evaluations and interviews could be just as useful for any disciple of Jesus.  The reality, though, is that we so rarely place ourselves under evaluation.

I think a disciple of Jesus should aggressively pursue deep evaluation of themselves.  And by that I don’t mean that I believe everyone has secrets or hidden parts of their lives or personality quirks that you need to own up to.  What I mean is that a disciple of Jesus is a person who is desperate for new life in Christ.  That means getting all the areas of your life out in the open.

It is a process, and it requires cultivating humility in your life.

Consider the example of David and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:32-34 and 39. Abigail had a loser of a husband, Nabal. Nabal was super arrogant, and disrespectful, and even after David and his men had helped Nabal’s men, Nabal unwilling to return the favor to David when David needed assistance.  So David is angry, and starts making preparations to attack Nabal.  Nabal’s wife, Abigail, hears what went down, she knows that Nabal was a jerk who wouldn’t listen to anyone, and so she takes it upon herself to ride out and meet David.  She begs for David not to attack.  David, unlike Nabal, is a man who will listen to people.  David acknowledges that if it wasn’t for Abigail’s intervention, David would have made a huge mistake in attacking Nabal.  David was stable enough, humble enough, teachable enough to listen to Abigail.  And in that society, listening to a woman was radical.  David was practicing what his son Solomon would write about years later in the Proverbs.  There are loads of Proverbs that apply to this story and to our topic today.  Here a few examples:

  • Proverbs 10:17 – he who heeds discipline shows the way of life
  • 12:1 – Whoever loves discipline, loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.  (Dang. The Bible called people “stupid”!)
  • 14:8 – The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.
  • 19:20 – Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.

We could go on and on.   The book of Proverbs is filled with amazing wisdom like that.

So the final step in becoming a person who seeks the truth about themselves is to ask others to speak to you.  There are two sides to this.  We need to be people who actively seek the truth about ourselves, even if it is scary.  We need to be people who speak the truth in love to others.

And, ask for it.  When we were PAC candidates we knew we were asking others to get to know a lot about the ins and outs of our worlds, our marriage, our finances.  All candidates going through PAC know they are asking for this examination.  Even if the results might be difficult to hear.  Who do you need to ask?  It isn’t everyone’s business to know and see everything going on in our worlds.  But it should be someone’s.  Who sees you, knows you and can be given permission to speak difficult truths to you?  And who can also speak edifying and uplifting truths to you and help you to accept those truths as well?

It is a difficult, tricky situation.  Truth speakers are far and few between, and they can easily speak too much, too harshly and hurt people.  We can speak truth to people who we hardly know and hardly spend time with, thinking we know them better than we do, and we really ought to be quiet.  Truth speakers need to be investing in time with God and asking Him if/when is the right way/time to speak. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6 that not everyone should confront others.  Some truth speakers have no business speaking because they lack self-control and spiritual maturity.  But we need to give truth speakers grace. They have a tough job because when they do speak truth to people they know, the people they are speaking to so rarely receive it well. So truth speakers out there, you would do well to dwell in the Proverbs too:

  • Proverbs 15:4 – The tongue that brings healing is the tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.
  • Proverbs 25:11 – A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (In other words, it is worth a lot.  We should be people who see how valuable it is to speak words of truth in love.  And we should seek them about ourselves.)

In conclusion, here’s an idea: force yourself to go through a Disciple Assessment Center.  I don’t think one exists though!  So get a coach.  A person who will disciple you.

Get 5 or 6  people to meet with you, sit in a circle, and ask them all to speak brutally honestly to you in answering the question, “How do I come across to you?”

I came away from PAC and sabbatical thinking that I need to do better at speaking truth in love.  In sermons, and in large group meetings, it is easier for me.  I feel a certain distance from the crowd.  I am not preaching to one person, I am preaching to all.  I don’t have a particular person in mind as I speak. I am preaching and speaking a message that I feel is either straight from the passage of scripture or on a topic that I feel God has for us as a whole to study and learn about.  So it doesn’t feel personal.

But one on one I struggle to say anything that it is a critique because it can seem so in-your-face.  The result is that I too often say nothing, too often let people off the hook, and just focus on encouragement.  I need to get better at that.  Because care breeds truth.  Jesus was 100% truth.  And Jesus was 100% grace.  That is a near impossible combination for us to get right, as usually we err on one side or the other.  Maintaining a healthy tension between the two is the goal.  Truth with love/grace.

This kind of truth-telling is the heart behind our Faith Church logo and resulting Growth Process.  Our Growth Process asks each person in the Faith Church family to start by evaluating themselves.  Where are you on the four boxes in the Faith Church logo? Who can help you have an honest, balanced, healthy assessment of that?

Who is discipling you?  Who speaks bluntly to you?  Who encourages you in good and in bad?  And who are you encouraging in truth and grace?  Who are you in relationship with and how can you grow in these areas?

And are you a humble, teachable person who is willing to receive correction?  To the point where you actually start to work on making changes?  It is one thing to hear the truth, totally another thing to do something about it. Are you looking for it?  Willing to ask for it?

If you feel like finding the truth about yourself is difficult or scary, there is hope. God is in the business of making all things new.

I love Ephesians 3:14-21.  We can be strengthened inwardly by the Spirit of God, so that Christ may dwell in us by faith.  Amazing words!  That is how much God loves us and that is what Jesus did for us.

It’s a bit unnerving, but we all want to grow.  Being more like Jesus is the goal.  It won’t be easy, but it will be so good.  Why? Paul explains in Ephesians 3: so that we can be rooted and established in love, having power to grasp how wide, long, high and deep the love of God is, and so that we can know this love!  So that we can filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. And then that love will overflow in a way that can be understood by ourselves and by the world around us. Amazing!

Why Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land (and the important principle we can learn from it)

13 Sep

Image result for moses looks at promised land

Have you ever been penalized for something that you did, and though you deserved it, you felt that punishment was too severe?  Have you pleaded your case asking for grace, for mercy, for another punishment?  That’s a tough spot to be in.  You know you were wrong, and yet you feel the discipline is harsh, but because you were in the wrong, you don’t feel you have a foundation to ask for grace.

As we continue in Deuteronomy 3:21-29, that is the situation we find Moses in.  Moses messed up, and God told him that his punishment was that Moses could not enter the Promised Land.  Moses has led this fickle people through all kinds of adventures, he has been in such a close relationship with the Lord, and as a result this decision by God feels harsh.

I wonder, Why won’t God give Moses a second chance?

It seems to me that Moses is being vulnerable here in Deuteronomy 3, talking with the people about this situation.  How many of us are willing to talk with our kids or employees about the times we messed up?  Or is Moses actually being grumpy, considering the fact that he accuses the people, as if it was their fault that he can’t go in to the promised land?  I can hear his thoughts: if you people wouldn’t have been so fussy about not having water, I never would have gotten into this mess.  I’d still be going to the Promised Land!

We’re going to hear Moses’ refer to this ban in Deuteronomy numerous times.  It was a tough one for him to get over. I don’t blame him.  After all these years, to not be allowed to enter the Promised Land?  That’s rough. So what is God thinking?

Maybe God wants to preserve the purity of the nation at the beginning of a new work.  Kind of like the teacher at the beginning of a new school year is tough, but once they have gained respect and classroom control, they ease up.  Maybe God just needed to make an example of Moses.

Maybe God is holding a leader to a higher standard.  He tells us in the James 3:1 that leaders and teachers are held more accountable because of their influential role.  Maybe.

I actually think there is something else going on here.  That something else requires us to try to understand the precise nature of Moses’ sin.

What did Moses do wrong?

What was Moses’ sin that caused God to bar Moses from entering the Promised Land?  To answer that, we need to turn to Numbers 20 and the story about water from the rock.

My Old Testament professor Dr. Dorsey once told us that people speculate as to the nature of Moses’ sin in this story.  Could God really be upset that Moses struck the rock with his staff instead of talking to it? Dr. Dorsey felt that the answer is more likely found in what Moses says to the people in verse 10, “must we bring you water out of this rock?”  Perhaps Moses might have been seduced into a power trip, speaking as if he had power to do a miracle.  What is clear is that he did not acknowledge God, the only one who actually had the power.

Look at how God responds: “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them’.”

We always need to be careful to give God the praise, honor and credit in all we do.  No doubt God has blessed us with gifts, talents and abilities.  James 1:17 reminds us that God is the source of all good gifts.  1 Corinthians 10:31 says that whatever we do, even basic tasks like eating and drinking, we should do to the glory of God.  And back to James in chapter 4 where he warns us about the dangers of pride, and how we need to pursue humility before God.

How to defeat pride

It is easy to let pride creep in.  Success breeds it.  We get feedback that we’ve done a great job, and we can forget the source of our gifts and abilities.  Have you allowed pride to creep in?  Are you giving credit where credit is due?  Are you pursuing humility?  It is possible to become more humble.  Recently, I talked about spiritual disciplines, and I believe we can practice humility.  Learn more here.

How do you need to give God the praise and glory due him?

Steps to become humble (yes, you can become more humble!)

10 Jul

Image result for picture of humilityI learned something surprising this week.  I was studying humility for my summer sermon series on Spiritual Exercises (spiritual disciplines).  What surprised me is that humility is not simply a state of mind or a belief.  It starts there, but it doesn’t stay there.  Humility, Jesus in particular showed us, and the biblical writers tell us, is lived.

Consider Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice, which Paul describes like this in Philippians 2: “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

Humility is lived out by what we do.  James, the brother of Jesus, says in his letter (James 4:6) “humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.”  Peter, one of Jesus’s closest friends says in 1 Peter 5:6 “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.”

We can and should practice humility.  Even if our heart is not totally humble, humility is something that we can work on.  We have to be intentional about it.

So how do we become more humble and practice humility?  I found numerous excellent suggestions from the biblical writers and others.  Here are a few steps to become more humble.

Pray for God to humble you.  Pray for change in your life so that you become humble in your heart. Pray to be humbled? Sounds a bit scary, and it requires that we believe achieving a greater amount of humility is worth it.  But if you want to become more humble, ask God to humble you.

In conversations, practice the 60/40 rule.  My seminary professor, David Dorsey, taught that to a class I was in.  His goal in every conversation was to listen about 60% of the time, and talk 40%.  I love how that emphasizes the humility of listening, but doesn’t negate what you yourself have to offer.Force yourself not to be the one to talk.  Actively battle a tendency to make yourself look good.  Ask the question of people who will speak honestly to you “Do I talk too much?” Discipline yourself to realize how long you are talking.  Try to listen, and ask questions of your conversation partner to show you are listening and interested in them, even if you aren’t!

As the wise teacher says in Proverbs 27:2 “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth.” Force yourself not to say what you have done that is good.  Whether in conversation or on social media.  Ask people to tell you if you are pumping yourself up too much.  Hear me on this.  It is not wrong to recognize that you have abilities.  When I was little, I once overheard my dad saying to my mom that he felt he was getting good at computer programming.  At the time he was in his doctoral studies for computer education.  His comment was simply an attempt at honest evaluation.  He didn’t go around bragging about his skills.  In fact, that was the only time I ever heard him say that, even when he got a computer game he programmed published in a programming magazine.  So there needs to be balance.  Don’t go around saying how great you are.  Let others praise you.  Let your work, your achievements, your skills do the talking.  As I have said to my kids, don’t tell me how good you are at a certain sport.  Show how good you are on the field.  It can be really tricky.  Really evaluate why you are saying what you are saying.  Stay attuned to your heart.  Even if you are giving a rundown of what you did on a certain day, and you are listing it out on Facebook, realize that you can be promoting yourself.  When have you crossed the line from humility into pride?  I can’t answer that for you. But we all should be evaluating that.

Hold your judgment for a while. Here’s a guy that needs a dose of the needed patience humility can bring.

It can be so easy to rush to judgment.  But the humble person says “I’m going to keep my mouth shut and my mind open because I could be totally wrong about this situation.”  Wait to evaluate.  Then wait some more.  Collect data.  Make sure it wasn’t just a one-time anomaly.  Give grace.

Fourth, be like John the Baptist, willing to decrease so that others can rise.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” Paul says, “but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”  I recently heard of a guy who was recently hired at a company.  This guy so badly wanted to impress his boss.  He wanted the boss to like him, he wanted to rise.  So when another employee told this guy in confidence that he (the other employee) was looking for other jobs, this guy who wanted to rise saw an opportunity. He spilled the beans to the boss, broke confidence, and told the boss about the other employee’s plans. The boss, of course, talked with the other employee saying, “So, I heard you’re leaving us…”  The other employee was shocked and embarrassed, his confidence betrayed by the guy who wanted to rise.

Fifth, go last.  Jesus also taught quite a bit about humility. In Luke 14:7-15 he was at a big fancy dinner, and he noticed people scrambling for the best seats.  So you know what Jesus says to them, “he who exalts himself with be humbled.  Take the last seat.” Many times Jesus said things like this.  One of his famous sayings was “the last will be first, and the first last.”  So at a gathering, be last.  Make sure everyone else before you goes first. Trying to decide what TV show to watch? Let the other person get their way. Trying to decide where to go to eat, let the other person get their way. Be willing to enter into a situation that you don’t like. Don’t get your way. Give up your way.

Next, Paul taught in Romans 12:16, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”  If you live in the Lancaster, PA, area volunteer at places like CVCCS, Water Street, or Church World Service…and don’t tell anyone about your volunteering.

Here’s another idea: get an accountability partner. Just the act of having someone tell you what you need to work on is humbling, and we need that.

John Dickson, in his excellent book Humilitas, encourages a few more practical steps.  I suggest you get his book and read it.  I’ll share one step he recommends.  Study the lives of the humble.  In the Old Testament book of Numbers, we’re told that Moses was the most humble man alive.  Why? How? Read about his life and find out why. I have some theories, and I’m not going to tell you them.  Find out for yourself.  Of course, study Jesus.  But there are others. Mother Theresa, for example.  Find more people who are considered humble.  Study them, learn how they were humble.  Why they were humble.  Imitate them.

Get a trainer. Know someone you consider humble?  Ask them to help you become more humble.  Get Humilitas and start reading it together, working on implementing its ideas into your lives.

And handle your foray into humility with grace and generosity and love. Don’t be a begrudging humble person. Humility can be, well, humbling.  And being humbled is hard.  It can make us grumpy.  But we need it!

Two things Christians should fight for

14 Feb

Image result for fight the good fightPaul tells Timothy to fight the good fight.  Generally Christians are not supposed to be fighting.  So what fight is Paul talking about?  He calls it a good fight.  Not too many fights could be described as good ones.

Life can feel like a fight.  Have you ever felt that way?  Life seems too hard sometimes doesn’t it?   Is that what Paul is referring to?

Actually, Paul is saying, the fight to stay faithful to the Lord is a good fight. And maybe that resonates with you.  If you are a following of Jesus, you might know the feeling of how difficult it can be to remain faithful to the Lord.  This life is full of temptations which, if we caved in, would lead us to be unfaithful to God.  Sometimes it is our own bodies that tempt us.  Sometimes it is an addiction.  We know that Satan loves to tempt us.  Sometimes it is other people.  Staying faithful to God can seem like a battle.  Paul says it is a good fight.

 

In our study of 1st Timothy, we have come to chapter 1, verses 18-20.  There Paul describes  what he wants Timothy to fight for: first, to hold on to faith, and, second, to hold on to a good conscience.

The image here of holding on is a person who is holding on to an object and not letting go.  It is an iron grip.  I know in life it can often feel like we are losing grip on our faith.  In the next verse Paul is going to refer to some guys that did just that.  Hymenaeus and Alexander, he says, lost their faith.  Part one of fighting the good fight is to hold on to faith.

The second thing Paul wants Timothy to hold on to is a good conscience.  What is the conscience?

One scholar says that it is “the psychological faculty which can distinguish between right and wrong”.  That same scholar goes on to say that “In some languages [this word] may [refer to] ‘the inner voice’ or ‘the voice in one’s heart’ or ‘how one knows right from wrong.’”

So Paul is referring to something that is inherently within us.  We believe that God created all humanity with this inner voice, this true psychological faculty to distinguish right from wrong.  That doesn’t mean that all people will do the right thing.  You can know the right and not do it.  I think we all are very aware of this in our lives.  How many times do we know what is right, but we do what is wrong?  What is worse, it seems that the more we do the wrong, the less we are aware of the right.

We can see why Paul would place such importance on fighting the good fight in the areas of faith and good conscience. Hold tightly on to them!

How do we hold on to a good conscience?

  1. Keep a sensitive ear to the voice of the Lord. The means we should practice prayer.
  2. Remain teachable.  Remember the story of Samson in the Old Testament?  He didn’t even realize that God had departed from him.  He wasn’t teachable.
  3. Read the Bible. It is our instruction.  We need to know who God is and what he wants us to do.
  4. Be doers of the word, which means that when you read the Bible, you then do what it says. This may require change.
  5. Have accountability. This means close fellowship with other Christians.

We have to intentionally work at being sensitive to God. If you let it go one day, it will be easier the next day to grow callous to God.  If you keep letting it go, you can find yourself quite distant from God.

In the physical world, the less food we get, the hungrier we get.  In the spiritual world, it is the opposite: the less food we get, the less spiritually hungry we get.  If you skip lunch, you’re crazy hungry by dinner, right?  If you skip out on spending time with God, though, you start to lose desire for it.  I wish the spiritual worked like the physical in this regard.  I wish I would get spiritually hungrier if I skipped time with God.  But I have found that when I distance myself from God, I only grow more apathetic about him.

It is more like relationships.  When distance is put between two people, they start to fall away.  So we need to fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.

To successfully fight the good fight, I’d like to talk a bit more about one of the suggestions I made above, remaining teachable.  I have found in the last 20 years or so, that a healthy self-awareness, humility and teachability are perhaps the most important foundation a disciple of Jesus must have.  If we want to fight the good fight, first we must be teachable and humble.

We should be Christians who are seeking out the truth about ourselves.   Think about yourself.  Are you actively seeking people to speak the blunt honest truth about yourself?  Or are you thinking “I’m scared of what people think about me…I want to avoid it.  I don’t want to hear what people think of me.”  Would you rather live in a fantasy world of your own making?

Many of us choose to live in a fantasy world because it is much easier.   In those fantasy worlds, we are generally pretty awesome people who don’t have to change.  In those fantasy worlds we can tell ourselves that we are good.  But a huge part of holding on the faith and a good conscience is being humble and teachable.

It means having a healthy self-awareness, and a willingness to speak openly and honestly about yourself, both your successes and your failings.   And that means that you invite the tough stuff into your world.

So let us fight the good fight, hold on to faith, and a good conscience.

Fighting the good fight implies that it will be tough.  Paul doesn’t say “sleep on a cozy bed.”  “Eat delicious desserts”  “Enjoy a stress-free walk.”

He says “fight the good fight.”  It is good.  And it is a fight.  It is good, worth it, fighting for the mission of the  Kingdom of God. It is a fight against evil, a fight against injustice, a fight against Satan, a fight against selfishness and pride.

But it is a fight, and fights are hard.  They require energy, time, and usually bring pain and hurt.  Disciples of Jesus are fighters.  But they fight the good fight.

Jesus said something about this fighting concept when he said, “take up your cross and follow me.”  He was referring to self-denial.  It is a fight. Often a fight against our inner inclination toward selfishness.

If you don’t want to shipwreck your faith, you’ve got to keep fighting.