Lie low and exalt God

This is a lesson from my pastor’s sermon on Luke 10:1-24.

We like to see people get the credit they deserve. We don’t like to see anyone take credit for someone else’s efforts. Sometimes we should give credit to God, unlike the seventy-two disciples Jesus sent out ahead of him.

Jesus sent out the seventy-two with instructions about what to take, where to stay, what to say, and even how to respond if they were not received well. He told them to take no money or belongings and to stay in the same house the whole time, eating and drinking what the hosts provided. Why these odd instructions? Pastor Andrew said that God was giving them a “lay low” message. They were to take only what they needed and were not to draw attention to themselves.

When the seventy-two returned from their journey, they said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In other words, the glory belongs to God!

As my pastor put it, God is lifted high when we lie low. God is exalted when we serve him with humility! When we focus on ourselves, when we seek attention and glory for ourselves, we are headed in the wrong direction.

When our focus moves to ourselves and how God is using us, we are headed the wrong direction. 

GotQuestions.org

Who were the seventy-two disciples in Luke 10? We aren’t told any of their names. Their names are not important. The important thing is that their names were written in heaven!

I confess that I am proud of myself when I do something good for others. Sometimes I even give in to the temptation to toot my own horn.

Lord Jesus, help me to be humble, to think of myself less. Thank you for reminding me to focus on you and to give the glory to you. I rejoice because my name is written in heaven!

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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Humbling learning from others

I recently saw Russell Moore on TV. I recognized his name but knew nothing about him so I searched on Facebook and learned that he is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. On a post promoting his book on courage, a woman commented that you don’t need another book; read and study God’s word and you will learn everything you need to know about courage, wisdom, love, etc. She went on to criticize Dr. Moore and others for writing books instead of obeying God by visiting widows and orphans and making disciples.

I still don’t know much about Russell Moore. I know that the Facebook critic opposes him because he is a Calvinist. She opposes him because he is a friend (not a relative) of Beth Moore, the popular evangelist, and she believes that Beth is a false teacher.

I agree with Russell Moore’s critic that we can learn many things directly from the bible. The bible is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). But as someone else told Moore’s critic, books by religious authors can lead people to God who would not read the bible. They can encourage and teach those of us who do.

Sometimes reading comments on social media is like a trip down the rabbit hole. I wanted to learn more about a specific theologian and instead got a close look at a damaging aspect of human nature: arrogance.

Arrogance prevents a person from learning from others. I am not a theologian. I don’t always understand what I read in the bible. I learn and am inspired reading religious books and blog posts. Other people know much more than I do about the historical context of the bible. How can you learn if you think you know everything already?

Arrogance prevents a person from seeing oneself honestly. The woman who used her knowledge of the bible to rebuke and warn others about what she sees as false teaching lacked the humility to accept criticism herself. Our biases can cause us to selectively read scripture. How is it that in her daily bible reading, the woman who decided that Russell Moore is disobeying God by writing, missed the scripture about spiritual gifts? How does she know what God has called and gifted others to do?

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11

Believers are all members of one body. We are called to unity, to humility and patience.

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3

Lord, as I am drawn to both read and to write, I pray for wisdom and discernment. I pray for the humility to be teachable so that I can live a life worthy of my calling. Help me to bear with others in love and to seek your truth even if it reveals uncomfortable truths about myself. Amen

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Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

A heart for justice is not enough

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

I have a heart for justice. I do not like to see anyone treated unfairly. I hate it when people get away with doing something wrong. I despise racism and bigotry. I confess that I don’t know what I can do about it. In a recent sermon about Moses, my pastor said that Moses had a heart for justice but it was not enough.

I really never thought about what it was like for Moses as a Hebrew boy growing up in an Egyptian household. He would have realized that he was different from his adoptive family. As a child he likely witnessed the oppression and mistreatment of his people by the people of Egypt. When he saw injustice as an adult, he took justice in his own hands.

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”

The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”

Exodus 2:11-14

Moses was obviously angry when he saw one of his own people being abused by an Egyptian. When you have a heart for justice, injustice makes you angry. You want to retaliate. You want revenge. You may get so fired up, that you act impetuously, like Moses did, and do something you will regret later. When Moses took justice into his own hands, there were consequences. Another Hebrew witnessed him killing the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about it, he tried to kill Moses.

Years before God spoke to him from the burning bush, Moses had a heart for justice but it wasn’t enough. He needed to be shaped into the kind of person that God can use for His redeeming work. Moses fled to Midian and spent the next forty years living the humble life of a shepherd.

Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; then he spent forty years on the backside of the desert realizing he was nobody; finally, he spent the last forty years of his life leaning what God can do with a nobody!

Dwight L. Moody

As my pastor said, a heart for justice combined with humility before God prepares us to take part in God’s redeeming plan. When we are humbled, we realize we don’t have all the answers. When we humble ourselves before God, we are open to his guidance and direction.

If we want to be effective advocates for justice, we must listen to others and not just to the people who echo our own thoughts. We must exercise self-control and wait to respond so we can prayerfully choose the best course of action. We should ask God to reveal the action that we should take.

My pastor cautioned those of us who have a heart of humility to not get too comfortable and to not confuse comfort with humility. We should not stay silent. We must be willing to get out of our comfort zone.

Speaking out is a challenge for me. As an introvert, I am often too timid. I wait to find just the right words. I think too much before I speak and often talk myself out of saying anything because I worry about how it will be received or if I will even be heard above the louder voices.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

In this slow-speaking way of mine, I can relate to Moses. Moses said to God, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

I am encouraged that God used an imperfect person like Moses to be an instrument of His justice. A heart for justice plus a heart humbled before God prepares even me to take part in God’s perfect, redeeming plan.

Lord, Your power is made perfect in my weakness. Thank you for giving me a heart for justice. Thank you for showing me what is good and revealing what you require of me. Thank you for giving me a voice and help me to use it for Your redeeming work. Amen.

Meekness and Rest

In one of his most profound statements in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Even then, this was an astonishing statement. The world sees meekness as weakness. According to Vocabulary.com: “The adjective meek describes a person who is willing to go along with whatever other people want to do, like a meek classmate who won’t speak up, even when he or she is treated unfairly.” Why then did Jesus suggest that meekness is a strength?

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer pointed out that the world turns every virtue of The Beatitudes wrong side out. Instead of displaying poverty of spirit, mankind displays the worst forms of pride. Instead of mourning sin and suffering, man indulges himself with every kind of pleasure. Instead of walking humbly and meekly before God, man struts around inflated with pride and self-importance. Instead of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, man chases money and things. Instead of striving to be pure in heart, man delights in sin and corruption. Instead of making peace, man quarrels and sows discord. Instead of accepting mistreatment at the hands of others, man fights back with every weapon at hand.

Unlike most people, Jesus was meek and humble. Although he did not fight back when he was treated unfairly, no one would ever claim that Jesus was a pushover who did whatever other people wanted to do.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me. For I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Mathew 11:28-30 (Modern English Version)

Tozer made an interesting connection between the meekness of Jesus and his promise to give rest to those who are heavily burdened. Was Jesus speaking about physical labor? What is this heavy burden borne by mankind?

Pride is a terrible burden. Look at how hard we work to build the self up and to defend the self from insult, slights and criticism. It is hard and tiring labor to constantly fight to protect and defend our wounded pride.

The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.

We don’t have to bear this burden. Jesus calls us to him for rest. Being meek like Jesus is the way we find rest from the heavy burden of pride.

A meek man sees himself honestly, both the good and the bad. He knows that the world will never see him as God sees him. He know that he doesn’t have to be perfect to be beloved by God!

Pretense is also a heavy burden. It takes a lot of energy to pretend to be what you’re not. It takes tremendous effort to always put your best foot forward, to always make a good impression, to craft the perfect social media image. It is indeed a heavy burden to hide the pain, the failures, the awkwardness, the self-doubt, and imperfection.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr also addressed the issue of pretense but he referred to it as your shadow self.

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see. The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will have to do.

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

Rohr wrote, “your self-image is not worth protecting, promoting or denying.” But letting go of this desire to protect the self is not easy. Today, I found myself automatically wanting to defend myself from criticism that wounded my pride. I had to tell myself, let it go. It’s not worth it.

When we learn to die to the self, we are free from the bondage of pride.

Lord Jesus, thank you for loving me just as I am, flawed and imperfect. Help me to think of myself less. Help me to be meek and lowly in heart. Free me from the heavy burdens of pride and pretense.

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Photo by GUNJAN BHATTACHARJEE on Unsplash

Restoring the Right Relationship Between Creature and Creator

Unless I use the expression, “creature of habit,” I don’t refer to myself as a creature but as one created by God. My choice of words symbolizes the human habit of elevating ourselves above animals and lower life forms. It isn’t wrong to do so. After all, God gave man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” But humans also tend to elevate ourselves above the Creator and to deny that we are lowly creatures of the Most High God.

In the eighth chapter of The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote about the importance of restoring the proper relationship between ourselves as creatures and God as our Creator. God created all things. We all belong to God. We exist because of Him and for Him. The right relationship to God is to be in submission to Him and to see yourself as a lower being.

Salvation restores the right relationship between man and his Creator. But even those who are saved try to make God in our own image. We take the parts of God we like (e.g. love and mercy), toss out the parts we don’t like (e.g. anger and punishment), and sculpt an image of God that serves our desires.

As Tozer said, if we want to be in right relationship with God, we must choose to exalt Him above all else. We must accept God as He is and adjust ourselves to conform to His likeness. As God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” We must surrender our whole being in true worship of Him. We must love the Lord our God, with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.

The moment we make up our minds that we are going on with this determination to exalt God over all, we step out of the world’s parade.

A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Tozer pointed out something that anyone who genuinely honors God above all else knows all too well. The world does not honor God. Millions of people pay some measure of respect to God. They worship Him on Easter and Christmas Day. They insist that God be exalted on US currency with the words “in God we trust.”

Many people give lip service to honoring God but their lives say otherwise. If you look at what people do, if you look at what people choose, you’ll see that they don’t honor God much. If asked to choose, people choose money over God, they choose success over God, they choose human relationships over God, they choose self over God. The proof is in the choices we make.

Choosing to exalt God changes your viewpoint. God is the center. God gives you your moral bearings. God becomes your pilot. Exalting God is the key that unlocks the door to grace. You see how much you fall short of the glory of God. You see yourself and your relationship to others more clearly. It humbles you. It renews your mind. It simplifies your life.

People don’t want to be humbled. I have often thought that pride is the reason many people do not believe in God. It is in our sinful nature to put the self at the center. Tozer quoted a question posed by Jesus that suggests that the root of unbelief is the desire to be honored by other people. People care more about receiving glory from other people than about seeking the glory that comes from God. Truly, the desire to be held in high esteem by other people gets in the way of glorifying and honoring God.

How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

John 5:44 (Modern English Version)

Tozer closed every chapter of The Pursuit of God with a prayer. I’ve paraphrased his prayer without the “thous.”

Lord, be exalted over my comforts

Lord, be exalted over my possessions

Lord, be exalted over my friendships

Lord, be exalted over my family

Lord, be exalted over my ambitions

Lord, be exalted over my reputation

Lord, be exalted over all

Lord, rise into your proper place of honor in my life, above my friends and family, above my likes and dislikes, above my ambitions, above my health, above life itself.