Mutual, I’m sure

Everyone wants a label. A title. We want to be called by a name that defines us. That announces us. That lets everyone else know who and what we are. If someone doesn’t have a label, we immediately want to give them one. A singer. A banker. A president. A streetwalker. An addict. A hero. Once given, we are usually disinclined to offer another label unless that person makes a grievous error or heroic effort. Then the original label is nearly impossible to get back.

While being known for one big thing is not an issue, carrying multiple labels tends to be. It’s confusing. Are you one thing or are you the other? Honestly, we can all be, and should all be, more than just one thing.

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

John 13:14-17 (NIV)

Through his teaching, Jesus gave his disciples all sorts of contradictory labels. Be a teacher, but be a student. Be bold, but be humble. Be a leader, but be a servant. Matthew Henry said that duties are mutual; we must both accept help from our brethren, and afford help to our brethren. 

By disrobing, getting down on his knees, and washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus displayed for all of us the example that a man can be both a leader and a servant. His entire ministry, he was leading people to serve. These things are not exclusive, but as Matthew Henry stated, mutually inclusive. All of these things that may seem contradictory are in reality complimentary.

One cannot teach without a willingness to learn. One cannot be bold without truly knowing what it is to be humble. One cannot lead unless they understand how to follow.

We can call Jesus Lord, and that wouldn’t be wrong. Neither would it be incorrect to call him Savior or Son of God. But we cannot stop there. Jesus doesn’t fit under just one label, but many. He is also a servant to mankind. He is a follower of his Father. And because Jesus did, so that we may follow his example, so should we be called by many things, and possibly the greatest of which being servants.

Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.

Matthew 20:26 (NIV)

Read: 2 Chronicles 7-9, John 13:1-17

Empty-handed

Read: Exodus 34-36, Matthew 23:1-22

Exodus 34:20

Rule number one of Bible reading: look at the context. You don’t only need to know what a verse is saying, but you need to know what else is being said in connection to it. In the Bible I use, this verse stands alone. It its own paragraph. The context is God giving instructions to Moses to give to Israel.

How often do we hear someone say that they have nothing to give? Apparently this argument mattered not to God. No one in Israel was to approach God with nothing. Even the poorest person had to come with something. If God demanded something of His people then, why should we believe that He would expect anything less from us now?

The truth is that, even if we have absolutely nothing, we still have something to give. So long as we breathe, we don’t have to approach God with empty hands. But we do. Too often we go to God with outstretched hands, begging Him to put something in them. But that’s not what He wants from us. Yes, He wants us on our knees, not as beggars, but humble servants.

So long as breath fills your lungs, you have something to offer God. You can offer Him your praise and thanks. You can offer Him your service. You can offer Him your life.

If we claim that we have nothing to give, what we’re really saying is that God isn’t quite enough. He didn’t do a good enough job creating us. He missed something.

Now, I don’t know about you, but my God is enough. He did enough. He didn’t miss anything. At the very least, I owe Him my life.

The next time you approach God, consider His instruction to Israel. Do you go to Him with open hands hoping for crumbs? Or do you go to him with hands outstretched offering the heart that pulses in your chest. Does He want your begging or your service?

What’s in your hands?

 

Message received

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered some books. I was pretty excited at the time to place the order and was impatient to receive my parcel. Then I ordered a few more things and those parcels arrived in my mailbox. I had forgotten about the books until someone else ordered the same books and told me they’d received a message that they’d been sent. I could recall no such message in my inbox. So I went back to check and found only the purchase confirmation. So, 15 days after my initial purchase, I followed up.

Sometimes, I think we forget about our prayers like we do our parcels. New ones come along and take the place of the old ones and they get lost. We forget to follow up. We made the initial effort and investment, but after a while the outcome doesn’t seem so important.

We have a better example to follow than my forgotten parcel. Let’s take a look at Daniel. In chapter 9 of the book of Daniel, the man receives a vision from the angel Gabriel. It has to do with the exile of Israel. Having already been in prayer about the sinful nation, Daniel decides to seek further understanding about what he’s seen. So he starts to fast and he starts to pray. Three weeks later, a heavenly being who looks like a man appears in front of him and, like a sack of potatoes, Daniel drops to his face.

Then he said, “Dont’ be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come to answer your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.

Daniel 10:12-13 (NLT)

Now, I don’t know if my parcel has actually been sent out or not, but the process was started the moment I clicked complete my order. I could sit at home twiddling my thumbs hoping that the package comes before I need the books, or I can go after my purchase and be sure that it end up in my hands.

What Daniel was looking for was far more important than a couple of books. And he didn’t even get the handy confirmation email that his first prayer had even been heard. He didn’t pray once, brush off his knees and go about his business. He kept praying. He remained in a state of humility until his answer came. I wonder if he’d have ever met the one who looked like a man if he knew he’d been sent the first day. Would Daniel have been as fervent in his prayer if he knew the answer was already dispatched? Would the answer have even made it if Daniel had stopped praying?

Here’s what we can learn from Daniel: prayer and humility dispatch an answer. Continued prayer and humility ensure the message is received.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 9-10, 2 John1

Wonderful results

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have wonderful results in all of our endeavors? It would be fantastic if we could expect great success in everything that we do. Now, there’s nothing wrong with optimism, but let’s face it, in this life, wonderful results are hardly going to be the outcome of every situation. But James speaks of having wonderful results in one particular area—prayer.

If you’ve had every prayer answered in the way you wanted it answered when you wanted it answered, congratulations. You are a far better person than I. I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t had to deal with the disappointment of unanswered prayer. I’d love to be able to give you the key to having all of your desires fulfilled, but I can’t. What I can do, though, is try to shed some light and help us all be a little more effective when it comes to prayer.

The ladies Bible study in my church has spent the better part of a year going through the book The Master is Calling by Lynne Hammond. Her main scripture in the book is a part of our reading today.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.

James 5:16b (NLT)

Earnest is often translated as fervent, but even that doesn’t give us the full grasp of the idea that James presents. According to Hort and Mayor, earnest can best be translated to inwrought prayer. In other words, prompted by the Holy Spirit.

Longer, louder prayers aren’t what get us answers. Praying through the guidance of the Holy Spirit does.

But let’s not forget the first part of that verse.

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

James 5:16a (NLT)

We all like the idea of earnest prayer being full of great power and having wonderful results, but I can pretty much guarantee that we’re not as keen to be confessing our sins to each other. This isn’t even the first time answered prayer and forgiveness have been mentioned together.

Listen to me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you will have it. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.

Mark 11:24-25 (NLT)

Sin is the barrier between our prayer and the answer to it—whether it’s our own sin or the sin of another that needs to be forgiven. We might see a lot more of those wonderful results if we’d first take the time to humble ourselves, ask forgiveness, and offer forgiveness rather than praying longer and louder in the hope that God will hear us over the cacophony of our disobedience.

There is great powerful available to us and wonderful results waiting on the other sie. But we need to get over ourselves first. Admit when we’ve been wrong. Accept others when they’ve been wrong. When we open ourselves up to each other we can then open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit. And only then will we see those wonderful results.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 29-31, James 5

Get down and dirty

Down and dirty aren’t usually things people like to be. As humans, we tend to want to place ourselves on high ground. That didn’t turn out to well for the inhabitants of Babel. Most of us appreciate cleanliness. After all, we’ve been told it’s next to godliness. But what if I told you that our aim should be the opposite of up and clean? What if you’re more useful down and dirty?

When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.

James 4:10 (NLT)

In this verse, the act of bowing down is not meant to be when we feel like it. The original text indicates that bowing down before the Lord is a conclusive decision. It is not a daily choice, but an eternal one.

Like the roots of a tree, we must first go downward where we will find our sustenance before we can be brought up. No one sees the roots or the struggles they encounter as they wend their way through hard soil, yet we all enjoy the fruits of the tree that has a strong foundation.

Our foundation must begin where no one else can see it. Our roots gain more strength the deeper they go. The deeper the roots, the higher the heights a tree can reach. Trouble only comes when a tree grows up faster than it grows down.

When we try to exalt ourselves and show everyone the glory of our foliage before the time is right, we run the risk of toppling over at the slightest breeze because our roots are not strong or deep enough to support the weight of our own ideas about ourselves.

But when we dig deep, even if the struggle is unseen from the surface, we put ourselves in a position for God to use us and bring us honour. The deeper we root ourselves in Him—the more we can get down and humble ourselves all the while lifting Him up, the greater our potential for reward.

Leaves are not so nearly as important as roots. For without roots, nothing can grow at all. So let’s not be afraid to get down and dirty. God can work with dirt.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 27-28, James 4

Honestly

Honesty is becoming a rare commodity. The places where you were once assured of finding truth are fast becoming dens of falsehood. Everyone is declaring their own personal truth and spurning the existence absolute truth. As Christians, it is just as easy for us to get caught up in partial truths and complete lies. Yet all God wants from us is honesty.

But you desire honesty from the heart,
so you can teach me to be wise in my inmost being.

Psalm 51:6 (NLT)

In order to be honest, though, we need to know what it is exactly.

HONESTY: In fact, upright conduct; an actual conformity to justice and moral rectitude; fairness; candor; truth.

Honesty is the first step toward gaining wisdom. Wisdom is not something that can be obtained through deceit. Whether you are being untruthful with others or yourself, where lies lie, honesty cannot exist. And where honesty isn’t, wisdom cannot be, either.

Sounds hard. But it’s not.

If you need wisdom—if you want to know what God wants you to do—ask him and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.

James 1:5 (NLT)

Imagine that, God wants His people to be wise! In having a wise people, it means He will also have honest people. And if He has honest people, He will have humble people. All of these attributes go hand in hand. You cannot have one without the other. A humble person is wise and a wise person is honest, and so on. All it takes is a little humility to be completely, absolutely, thoroughly honest. When we bare ourselves to God, that is when He is best able to work in us. A little effort on our part produces great results.

…but those who trust in the Lord will never lack any good thing.

Psalm 34:10b (NLT)

God will gladly give us wisdom. He wants to. Wisdom is a good thing. When we can put our trust in God, we won’t be lacking those good things. God is just looking for honesty from the heart. He is looking for us to put ourselves in a place where we are teachable, moldable, useable.

It’s a good thing. Honestly.

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 50-52, Acts 27:1-15

It is I

Have you ever been wrong? Of course not! What a silly question.

I’m sure we’d all like to answer that we’ve never been wrong in our lives, but I’m pretty sure we’d all be lying through our teeth to do so. Whether we’re ill-informed, ignorant, or just plain wrong, it happens to us all. And it will happen again.

So what do we do when we’re on the losing side of a debate? Do you clench your teeth and refuse to listen to the other party? Do you walk away? Do you listen while all the while planning your next response? Or do you pay attention with patience and an attitude of humility? Are you able to admit when you’re wrong?

For several weeks now in our daily reading, we’ve been listening to Job whine on and on. He believes that if he can plead his case before God, God will see the error in His ways and restore back to Job all that was taken from him. He figured he could beat God in a debate.

In the end, God shows him up in just a couple of chapters. And He does it in mighty fashion. Job cannot deny his own error. He can now either turn from God—as the devil figured he would when this whole mess started—or he can continue to be the righteous man God claimed he was.

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You ask, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I. And I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me.

Job 42:1-3 (NLT)

I am sure that there are many out there who would believe that admitting they are wrong would be telling the world they’re idiots. Nothing could be further from the truth! To be able to admit wrong is a sign of both humility and wisdom. It means that you are willing to learn and that you are willing to lower yourself to do so. Only idiots refuse to admit their wrongs.

Our own understanding will only get us so far—it didn’t get Job anywhere. That is why there are so many verses that speak of getting wisdom and understanding.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)

Getting wisdom is the most important thing you can do! And whatever else you do, get good judgement.

Proverbs 4:7 (NLT)

Wisdom and humility go hand in hand. Had Job refused to humble himself and admit his wrongs, it is doubtful that he would have received a double portion of prosperity in his latter years.

Sometimes, the wisest thing we can say is, “It is I. I was walking about things I didn’t understand.”

Daily Bible reading: Job 40-42, Acts 15:22-41

Servant

Last weekend, we had a work day at the church. The men were lured in under the guise of a breakfast meeting and, after pancakes and sausage, were immediately put to work doing an assortment of tasks around the building. Most of these men are leaders in the church. Our head usher spent much of the morning hauling branches and trees into the back of a truck to be taken to the dump. Our sound man/bass player/greeter was put to work building lockers in the basement. A board member mowed and trimmed the lawn. And our pastor was armed with a chainsaw cutting down the last of the trees damaged in a winter ice storm.

For our church, this is normal. When there’s work to be done, the leadership team is first to arrive—no matter what that work is.

At the end of the day, when everyone was tired, sweating, and hungry again, I was set to leave and someone pointed out that one of my tires was rather low. The pastor was cleaning off his tools with an air compressor. I thought I’d see if he had the right piece so I could put air in my tire. Rather than hand me the piece so I could do it myself (which I was completely prepared to do), he got down on his artificial knees and did it himself.

For me, having my pastor do that extra small task of putting air in my dirty tire, was akin to Jesus getting down on his knees to wash the feet of his disciples.

We often look at the story in John 13 as Jesus humbling himself to bless his followers. He did do that, but that wasn’t all he did. The moment Jesus got down on his knees, he not only blessed, but he empowered his disciples.

In Jesus’ day, the caste system was alive and well. Servants served and lords lorded. Lines were defined and no one dared to cross them. But in order for God’s plan to work, Jesus had to put himself in the lowest position possible. The job of washing the feet of guests went to the lowliest servant in the house.

You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because it is true. And since I, the Lord and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing.

John 13:13-17 (NLT)

By taking the position of the lowest servant in the house, Jesus not only showed great humility, but he put his disciples in a position greater than his own. Had Jesus remained sitting and allowed someone else to wash his feet, his followers would have always seen him as Lord and Teacher and never servant. But because they saw him as a servant, they could suddenly see themselves as master. Jesus was preparing them to hear his next words.

The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.

John 14:12 (NLT)

A servant could never do greater things than the master. In order for the disciples to do greater things than Jesus, Jesus had to become the servant, and they the master. Jesus not only humbled himself, but he empowered his followers.

When my pastor got down on his knees to put air in my tire, he was following the example Jesus put forth. What would seem to be a menial task that someone of a lower position should be doing showed me that my pastor—a man deserving of great honour and respect—is willing to humble himself and put those who serve under him in a greater position. By emulating Jesus’ humility, he empowers his volunteers to do greater things.

It is great to be a master. But it is better to be a servant.

Daily Bible reading: 2 Chronicles 7-9, John 13:1-17

Good sense

I’m sure we’ve all cringed while watching someone do something everyone else seems to plainly see as foolish. The fool struts into the situation believing themselves to be of the highest order. Untouchable. The most intelligent being in existence. And then it all falls apart. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I even enjoy watching it—not if it causes harm, mind you.

Nabal was that fool. Everyone else could see that he put himself in an impossible situation. While he thought himself to be untouchable, someone else saw his folly. His wife saw his stupidity. I could go on about how important women are and that men couldn’t possibly survive without them, but that’s not the point of this story.

Nabal, his land, his servants, and all of his property has been protected by David and his men while they were camped near by. No harm came to Nabal while David was in the vicinity. One might think that, whether or not Nabal had asked for the help, that Nabal would owe David something. But when David requested some provisions, the man was indignant. Who was this David to make such a request of him? How dare he ask for something he didn’t deserve! Needless to say, David wasn’t impressed.

Now, we could all sit back and watch Nabal get what he deserves or someone could step in and try to avoid what is sure to be a disastrous situation.

Abigail, Nabal’s wife, decides to step in.

I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t may any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the messengers you sent.

1 Samuel 25:25 (NLT)

Rather than watch David kill her fool of a husband, Abigail steps in. Because of her plea (and possibly David’s weakness for beautiful women), David spares Nabal. Unfortunately for Nabal, his wife’s charity does not earn him a happy ending. He meets his demise a short while later (he suffered a stroke after the drunken rave he threw to celebrate the fact that David didn’t kill him, then God struck him and he died).

There is a point to all of this: are you Nabal—the fool, or Abigail—the one who smooths over the situation? If you are Nabal and tend to rush into situations are you able to humble yourself to listen to the Abigail in your life? Can you slow down long enough for someone to point out your folly? Can you accept redirection? If you are Abigail, are you wise enough to step in when needed? Can you do it in love and mercy?

Though Abigail didn’t appear to harbour any tender feelings toward her husband, she make the effort to save his life. She saw the error of his ways. And, had he been able to see what she saw, perhaps his fate would have been different.

This Christianity thing is no simple task. We need to lean on the Holy Spirit so we can learn when we need to be bystanders and when we need to be like Abigail and step in. Sometimes, God’s response to a situation is to send a person. Whether we need that person or we are that person, knowing God’s voice becomes ever so important.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 25-26, Luke 16:19-31

Humility and grace

The story of the prodigal son is one that is well known in the church as well as out. It is a story of great redemption. A story of humility. A story about a son.

Yet it is also a story about a father. The father often gets lost in the wild living of his youngest son. The focus tends to lean toward the boy who left with his inheritance only to return home having squandered it all. But what about the father?

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.

Luke 15:20 (NLT)

If you were the kid who took your parents money, spent it on drugs, alcohol, and prostitutes, how welcoming would your father be to you if you came crawling back home? As important as the humility of the son is, I believe the grace of the father is not as, if not more, important.

When the older son is found sulking about the warm welcome his rebellious brother received, his father said to him, “Look, dear son, you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” The father didn’t pontificate on the merits of remaining at home or the importance of money management. The father runs toward his lost son. The son who was more than likely dirty and smelly and sick.

If we have squandered our gifts, we should be humble like the son, but if we have more to give, we should be gracious like the father. Instead of looking down our noses, we should run to greet the lowly with a cloak and shoes. It isn’t our business how they arrived at their place of humility, our business as the Church is to welcome them, clothe them, and feed them.

For as often as this story is told in churches around the world, what the world still needs most is what the church often seems to lack—both humility and grace.

Daily Bible reading: 1 Samuel 19-21, Luke 15:11-32