Harmful Humility

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From mileswelch.com

Good humility is something that is respected in our world today. When one is humble, they are seen as being down to earth. People who are humble tend to be less materialistic and focus on the things that they have. It’s not wanting to have more in life but wanting to enjoy what they have in life more. They tend to think of others more and themselves less. And in this, good humility is something that is to be honored and striven (or is it strived…is that a word?) for.

Then there’s harmful humility. Harmful humility is where one thinks of others not because they truly care but because it’s been hammered into them that they shouldn’t think of themselves at all. It’s been hammered in that to think of yourself as anything good is a bad thing. Not just that, but if you even toot your own horn just a little bit, that’s being prideful and thinking of yourself more than you ought to.

And there’s the rub. Harmful humility is usually backed up by the Bible, especially from Romans

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Romans 12:3

Well, it’s biblical then, right? So why is it harmful?

It’s harmful because it’s misused and misinterpreted. It’s one of those passages that gets tossed around at people out of context and in doing so harms others. It creates a life time of beating oneself up for the very purpose of trying to be humble when in reality all you’re doing is hurting yourself and not enjoying what you’ve been given.

Here’s the thing–when we think of ourselves as lowly, we then act lowly. When we think of ourselves as bad if we toot our own horn once in a while  then we lack respect for ourselves and our accomplishments. Not just that, but then you begin to think that if you even talk about something good you’ve done, then others will think you’re being all high and mighty and “I’m better than thou”ish and might try to knock you down a peg. Seriously. I’ve seen it. It’s true. This is harmful humility.

The problem is, is that Romans 12:3 and onward isn’t about being humble per se. It’s about serving the church through your gifts.

The full passage is this:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Romans 12:3

Paul then goes on to talk about spiritual gifts and how they are used in the church. For those who call on the name of Jesus Christ, we are all one body and are given gifts to help serve one another and to serve in the church. We serve God through our gifts. It’s not about being lowly and beating yourself up for things you did or didn’t do. It’s about serving in gratitude through what God has already given you.

Paul says that we each have our own functions in the church. We each play a part in the church. And we should do so in gratitude for what Jesus has done. It’s about the diversity in the church itself not about being a lowly person with a bad self image.

Too many times we think humility is having a lower self image. It’s as if we might think of ourselves as lesser people not deserving of things then we might be more humble. Nope. Not it at all.

Paul further says that this must be done out of love. When we love sincerely with the love of Christ, we serve humbling in love. When we put ourselves down in order to make someone else look good or think that if we act in a certain way people might try to knock us down a peg or two, then we’re not living a sincere love. We serve humbly by loving others. We serve humbly by loving our neighbor as ourselves.

And harmful humility forces us to not love ourselves as God loves us in Christ. How can we truly serve with sincere love if we don’t love ourselves in that way. It leads to harmful service as much as harmful humility.

Instead find ways to love graciously and sincerely. Find ways to live out the gifts that God has given you. Then true humility will find its way into your every day living. True humility will be lived through true sincere loving service to others using what God has given you to do so. Serve others in love and humility will be a produced by the Holy Spirit working through you.

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Cheesed Off Character Building

cheese

From eatwisconsincheese.com

“Don’t you know? You’re building character.” This was an oft statement given to me during a rough patch in my life some years back. It cheesed me off. It was about 10 years ago when things were going to pot. Things were in the crapper like you wouldn’t believe. Nothing was going right. All was wrong. My life just plain sucked. And well meaning people would tell me that I was building character. After over two years of hearing that, I was downright tired of building character. It cheesed me off to say the least.

What’s worse is that people who said this to me actually thought they were quoting the Bible when they told me it was building character. The Bible said that? Not the Bible I wanted to read nor read.

The Bible is filled with talking about suffering. The Psalms have more laments in them than anything else. A lament is a cry out to God for help, asking Him to remember His unfailing love (see Psalm 13, etc). These laments are filled with crying out to God in the midst of suffering, asking Him why bad things are happening when they’ve tried all they could to live a life following God’s Word. They are filled with people crying out to God wanting to know why they are suffering. Psalm 88 is the darkest of all these psalms. It’s a tough read for sure.

But never in the Psalms does a person cry out “God, thank you for building character in me.” Not once do words of assurance in the psalms say “Blessed is the one who suffers for they will build character.” No where does it say that. In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to rejoice when suffering and being persecuted for Him. James writes that we should count it all joy that we suffer. No where doe they mention building character.

So where does this come from.

It’s a misinterpretation of Romans 5:3-4

We also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4

People kept stopping at character after perseverance and never started at glorying in suffering. Now, this isn’t saying to be masochistic in suffering. Instead, the suffering is to suffer on account of Jesus and the gospel. There will be suffering. We all will go through suffering at one point in time or another if you are a follower of Jesus.

But building character?

Character today is almost synonymous with integrity. We say that someone has good character. That means they’re a good person. But if they’re a bad character, they are a bad person.

This idea of character in Romans is more along the lines of having proof that something is genuine. In other words, that the perseverance is genuine and proof that the hope we have in Jesus is genuine because of the present sufferings we go through for Jesus. It has nothing to do with being a good person and having a better character as we see it today. In fact, its more about what happens after someone goes through a trial. It’s about how one is after being through the wringer.

Building character is about building hope in Jesus Christ. It’s about having hope in who Jesus is and the promises of God that are yes in Jesus Christ. It’s not about being a good person but about being a follower of Jesus and clinging to His promises in hard times and suffering.

So, yeah, maybe I got cheesed off for no good reason. Maybe what I just said counteracts things a little bit (but hey, it’s a short blog post, what do you expect?).

When things are going rough for someone, don’t point them to building character, point them to the hope that is in Jesus. A hope that leads to a blessed assurance that Jesus is with us through all life’s hard demands. A hope that leads to an assurance that leads to a peace that passes all understanding that guards our hearts and minds. A peace that is more than just character but an ability to be sustained through the tough times in life.

In other words, platitudes suck especially when quoting the Bible in the wrong way. Point towards the hope that can help in the midst of trouble.

 

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Sunday Justice

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From northwestchurch.com

Sundays are about justice, not just us. That’s something hard to say and harder to swallow at times. Many times Christians look to Sundays as a day of rest. And that’s good. It should be a day of rest. Yet many Christians look to Sundays as a day to be fed, a day to be given, a day to consume rather than a day to give, a day to feed, a day to grow, and a day to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with God (this is a run on sentence, I know). Sunday isn’t about just us, it’s about justice as well.

God spoke to His people from the very beginning about being a blessing to others. He said to Abraham that he is blessed to be a blessings (check it out here). Later, God spoke to His people after He rescued them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He tells them how to live differently. How to live in such a way that they are so different that the rest of the world will know that God is the God of the nations and the universe.

God tells them In Exodus 19 that they will be a nation of priests to the rest of the nations. Priests during this time period spoke to the people for God. They were the ones who tended to the poor, helped the weak, and led the people in worshiping God.

Later, after the 10 Commandments are given to the people, at the base of Mt. Sinai, God instructs the people how to live differently. How to live in such a way that they act justly and love mercy and can walk humbly with Him.

One such way of living differently is how the people of Israel treated foreigners:

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. They foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34

Sunday justice is about living differently. Being different amongst people all around us.

The Apostle Peter writes

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

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From inquiriesjournal.com

As followers of Jesus, we are to live this out. We are to live out what it means to be a priesthood–a people who speak on God’s behalf, who help the poor, who act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

But are we?

Jesus spoke of his people living differently. In the parable about the Sheep and the Goats, he speaks about how when he was hungry he was fed, when he was thirst he was given something to drink, when he was naked he was clothed, when he was sick he was looked after, when he was in prison he was visited. But the people want to know when they did all this.

Jesus’ answer is simple:

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40.

Dude.

Whoa.

Being a follower of Jesus isn’t about just us.

Yes, Jesus is a personal savior. Yes, Jesus died for you, he died for me. But he also wants us to be different. Unique. That royal priesthood, that holy nation. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing by God. As followers of Jesus, we fall in that line with Abraham, we too are blessed to be a blessing. As with the people of Israel who were to live out a different life, we too are to do the same.

This involves justice not just us.

When we have a myopic view of things, we only focus on our wants and needs. As followers of Jesus, we are to see Jesus as not only our personal savior but also see how God is calling us to be different, to be unique. We are to do this in our own weird way using the gifts and abilities God has given us.

In the Christian Reformed Church we have World Renew whom we can do justice through. The Office of Social Justice also gives suggestions on how to act justice and love mercy while walking humbly with our God.

Dear fellow Christians, when you walk through the church doors this Sunday, don’t just think about what you can get out of Sunday’s service, think about what you can do for Jesus and his desire for us to be different and unique in this world.

 

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Lagging in Training

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From blessthisstuff.com

You ever get that gut wrenching feeling of guilt right after you read about something you know you really ought to be doing. That feeling in the stomach that isn’t indigestion but something far worse, a spiritual type of indigestion? Yeah. I’ve gotten that recently.

This is Spiritual Musclehead. And I firmly believe that if you want to write about something to be practiced, you need to practice what you write about. And that’s where this confession comes in–I’ve been lagging behind. True. Honest. Really. I’m lagging behind in my own personal training. And it’s gut wrenching spiritual indigestion when I realize it too. I realized recently that I really need to be better at my spiritual training. I’m lagging behind and that ain’t good at all for me. It’s pretty bad.

Now, some of you might be saying “Don’t beat yourself up so much.” Or “Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Thank you for saying that. But I’m not. I’m being honest with myself. Maybe a bit too honest with myself (But hey, I need to be honest with someone, right? Might as well be myself). There’s a reason behind why I’m hard on myself about spiritual training. It’s because I’m a leader. And because of that, I hold myself up to a different standard in my walk with the Lord (that is, following Jesus, being a Christian, however you want to say it in Christianese).

But why? Why so hard on myself? No. Why so honest with myself.

Paul says it best in 1 Corinthians

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:25-27

In other words, if he don’t practice what he preaches then what he preaches ain’t worth nothing. He goes into training because he knows the cost of what he does. He goes into training because he knows that he will be watched and judged.

Later he tells his pupil, Timothy, these words of advice

Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly…godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8

Dude.

Okay, hold on here.

This is what’s so important and where I’m lagging behind–I’m not training enough. I’ve been struggling with doing my devotions. I can’t even sit still long enough to sit in silence and reflect on God’s word.I have a hard time truly sitting down for prayer. I’m lagging behind and it’s showing. It’s like a big glob of grape soda dropped on an interstate highway map that you need to get home with (odd analogy, but work with me here). Direction gets smeared and hard to read, you can’t fold it like you’re supposed to anymore, and it’s just annoying and smells like grape the rest of the trip home. That’s what it’s like when you lag behind in spiritual training.

What’s even more of a guilty feeling is that I’m doing research on the Spiritual Disciplines and how one forms in the Christian faith. And in doing so, I’m feeling guilty for not doing what I’m supposed to be doing which is what and why I’m researching it in the first place.

So prayers please.

Prayers to get back on track. Prayers to get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Prayers to be a solid spiritual leader that I’m supposed to be. And prayers for me as I study this more. And if you want, prayers that I’m not as hard on myself (Maybe I am…just a little bit).

I’m lagging behind in my training, please join me in not lagging along so much.

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Struggling with Manhood

What does it mean to be a man? This has been a serious question I’ve asked a couple of times on this blog and The CRC Network where I blog (you can check it out here and here). As I’ve been doing my doctoral work I’ve been focusing on men’s ministry and I came across something called masculinity studies (no, seriously, this is a thing). It’s goal is to study men as feminism studies women. The same critiques used in feminist studies is used for masculinity studies.

Now why is this important?

Well, in the 1990’s men started meeting together, beating drums, and talking about old rituals of pre-industrial worlds. They met together to bemoan broken father-son relationships. They met together to try to figure out how to live and be initiated into manhood. Also in the 1990’s thousands of men filled football stadiums worshiping called in the Promise Keepers movement. Something was touched upon 25+ years ago that left some people baffled. Why are men doing this?

Some have argued that it’s in response to the loss of privilege of the male in the world. Some speculate that it’s due to the changing roles of this world. Others speculate that there is a need for men to come together with other men to experience an existential spiritual something that brings meaning in a meaningless flat world.

Robert Bly (whom I’ve referenced here before) speculates that it’s because men have become “soft males” that they find that they are in need of something more. He says that men have been feminized. John Eldredge in Wild at Heart (whom I’ve referenced before as well) agrees and suggests men are hard wired to be wild at heart (hence the book title) and should live in such a way for Christ. Stu Webber in Tender Warrior states that men shouldn’t be “soft males” but instead tender warriors. He says that men are warriors at heart and need to be tender while also strong and masculine.

That’s all fine and good, I guess. But then it leaves out some things–women and daughters. Most of the literature post 1990’s deals with men and the need for manliness and manly men muchismo to be a good Christian man. To be a Christ-follower in proper like fashion, a dude must be all macho and manly and hunt and stuff like that. It also talks about repairing father-son relatinships and being good fathers and husbands. Good and all.

But it misses one thing:

If the best way for a man to be like Jesus is to be a warrior, what about women. Jesus came not just as a man but as a human being. Jesus came as a warrior and a peace-maker. Jesus came to bring peace not the way the world sees peace but a perfect peace of God. Not just that, but in Jesus we are new creations…the old is gone, the new has come. To only focus on the warrior aspect is to lose out on the other aspects.

Yes, Jesus is a mighty warrior and I’ll stick to that. But he was a warrior for peace not just for the masculine but for the feminine as well.

So there’s a struggle with manhood. How is a dude a dude. How is a man a man. What makes a man? This is a question of the ages. Epic stories and poems and movies have been made about this topic. This isn’t something that can be all tied up in a blog post or seven.

As I study men’s ministry, I begin to see where there is a need to understand manhood. There is a need to understand what it means to be a man. Not the machismo manly man thing–I’m worried if I’m part of a Wild at Heart group I’ll get lost in a thinly wooded area behind church–but a strong but solid man. A good man. A tender warrior who also lives for Christ as a new creation.

It’s a struggle and a balance. And it’s one I’m still looking at.

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New Year, Same Shalom

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From weknowyourdreams.com

If you haven’t noticed already, it’s 2017. It’s been 2017 for a whole day now. Actually a day and a good couple of hours by the time this is posted (a day and a half maybe?). So far, so good I’d have to say. Nothing bad has happened. Of course, you could be pessimistic and say nothing good either. Some good things have come my way already. Like time with my kids on a day off. That’s always good.

Many said that 2016 was pretty much the year from hell. A lot of hard things happened to a lot of people both locally and globally. Many favorite and beloved celebrities passed away in 2016. To be honest (and not going to get into it here) I went through a lot this last year. It was tough to say the least. Not always good. Some good things. Some happy things. Some fun times, but also many struggles.

2016 was also a year of refugees and war. Alleppo in Syria saw mass destruction. It’s been a struggle for years (I wrote about it here back in 2013 that’s how long it’s been going). People saw hunger and pain in the States. There were mass protests about injustice with the system of different kinds here in the US. It seemed at times that the world was falling apart.

At the same time, there was a peace available to all that many sought and wanted. This peace wasn’t a peace that many would call peace. To so many peace is an absence of conflict, an absence of war. And to be honest, we need that type of peace to be sure. But there was a need for a greater peace. A peace that passes all understanding. A peace that guards our hearts and minds. A peace which says that things in this world aren’t the way they’re supposed ta be.

That type of peace is called shalom.

And this year, as last year, this same peace is available to all. New year, same shalom. Now this is where the spiritual part of Spiritual Musclehead comes in.

Jesus offers peace. A peace that goes beyond what we think of as an absence of conflict.

When Jesus’ disciples were worried, scared, and wondering what was going to happen next, He says to them:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

To be honest, we fear this type of peace at times. This type of peace means that we have to give up control of things. This type of peace means that we have to let go of our own wants and desires. This type of peace means that we have to give up our ideas of peace and accept Jesus’ definition of peace. And that can be frightening.

But new year, same shalom. The same peace, the same shalom Jesus offered all those years ago is still available today. In 2017 (feels weird just writing that actually).

The question is: Will you accept this peace? Will you live this peace? Will you allow this peace to drive you forward in giving out this peace to others?

We’ve been given the same shalom every year, every day, and we are to live this same shalom. We are to give away this same shalom. This is a peace that goes beyond all understanding. Will you let this peace guard your heart and mind this year? Will your 2017 be a year of shalom?

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Gathered to be Scattered on X-Mass

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From today.com

There’s an old Perry Como song that goes “O there’s no place like home for the holidays…” and I’m sure you could sing along for a little bit before you had to go to Google and look up the lyrics like I did. At this holiday season, this Christmas season, we yearn for home. We yearn to be gathered together with friends and family at hearth and home. And if we’re far from family we gather together with our substitute family which we’ve created. And there’s no place like gathering together for X-mas.

And I just said X-mas. And I probably just cheesed someone off. Was it you? Well please stay and read along a bit more please.

There’s a gathering for Christmas, for X-mas, and there’s also a scattering as well. We gather together at hearth and home and then we go our own ways afterwards (sometimes with gift receipt in hand to Target). We gather together to enjoy holiday cheer, drink egg nog, open gifts, and basically have a holly jolly time. And then we leave, gifts in hand (and gift receipts too) and head on home. Sometimes, if it was good, we’d talk about it a bit on the way home or a day or two later about how it was.

And then you get the traditional question from co-workers and friends “How was Christmas.” And we answer either covertly “It was fine” to overtly “It was a blast… so and so was here, and so was so-in-so and I hadn’t seen them for a while.” It all depends on how we viewed the get together. We will gather and then we will scatter.

That’s the point of X-mas–to gather and scatter. Why the X in X-mas and why the mas in it as well? The X has been short hand for Christ for centuries. It’s the first letter in the Greek for Christos (X is a “ch” sound in Greek). But what about mas? Mas is shortened for mass. A worship service. But it’s more than just that.

I did some digging on this because I have so much time on my hands (no really, my bible levitates two feet above my desk, shines golden and I just soak in what to say and do… okay, I don’t really but it sounds cool) and learned a bit more about the etymology for the word mass.

Mass itself is from the Latin and Greek meaning bread. Why’s this important? Because bread is crucial to communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist (please take time to Google or go to Wikipedia because that’s a long explanation). Long and short, after each worship service, bread and wine would be given as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. More than that, it was the final part of the worship service and people would depart after that. Because of this, the word mass was associated with the Eucharist and with dismissal. It was time to go back out to every day life.

Christmas is not only the remembering of the sending of Jesus but also looking forward to when He comes again. It’s also a time where we gather together with believers around the world and in our local churches to spend time together learning more about God, about Jesus, and then we are dismissed to go into the world.

We are gathered and then we are scattered. We are dismissed.

We are gathered to be prepared to be scattered.

And Christmas is the prime time for this. Christmas gathers us together as people, as followers of Jesus, as believers and then scatters us into the world to proclaim, to tell, to speak about what we have just encountered. If we gather for the purpose of ourselves then we’ve lost the importance of the dismissal of the mas at the end of Christmas. If we don’t scatter to speak of what we’ve learned then we’ve lost the importance of the dismissal in mas. And en mass we do more harm than good then when in mas. (see what I did there).

How can you be gathered this Christmas to be scattered this Christmas. How can you be gathered together for a purpose to be scattered for a purpose.

The cool thing is, is that this is not just a yearly thing but a weekly thing. Each week we can be gathered and scattered. Will you be part of this? To have Christmas every day, every week, every moth, to be gathered and scattered for Jesus?

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