The Second Greatest Power
Winston Churchill, in his magnificent history of the Second
World War, points out an interesting characteristic of British
diplomacy. Over several hundred years, with varying regimes and
styles, it was the policy of the British to ally themselves with
the second strongest power in Europe, opposed to the strongest
power in Europe. Whether France, Spain or Germany, the enemy was
always the great aggressive nation; the ally, the second
He points out that this is not from any sense of noblesse
oblige, or misguided charity. It is a very practical policy.
Britain is an island nation. She has the choice of joining the
war or not, as long as her fleet rules the sea. To join with the
strongest power on land gives very little chance to correct her
behavior. To join with the second strongest is to correct her
behavior, and likely as not prevent war from breaking out.
The point is almost a divine one. (Blessed are the
peacemakers.) God does much the same thing in dealing with the
humble and the proud. Do you not see that if God were to decide
that the easy way to bring worship to his name was to simply
have the thugs of earth require it , then he would have (in
effect) ordained the thugs. The effect on the rest of us would
be rather disastrous—worship the loving God, or else! Pray to
the Prince of Peace, or I’ll bust your head open! No, God would
not confirm the proud in their pride that way—if only because
that pride would grow stronger, driving them further away from
Humility, if one must define it, is an honest look at
yourself—especially in comparison to God. Pride is looking down
on others, which prevents one from looking up to God. How can
the proud seek God, unless he humbles them?
To make this clear, God deals with the humble so as to exalt
them. If the proud and powerful are exalted, that is the way of
the world. When the sad and lowly are exalted, it is the hand of
God. So it is that he delights in sheltering and lifting up
those who are the poor and oppressed of this world.
So do not be surprised at his treatment of the humble. It is
his way, for he desires that all might be saved.
Lord, we see the arrogant and we are filled with envy. Those
with power treat those without as if they were so many fleas.
Let us see your compassion in the treatment of the humble and
lowly, so that we may see your hand at work.
God Listens to the Humble Heart
When we hear that someone is “of humble means” we usually
take that to mean that his check book is empty. I submit that is
a special case of humility: humility is the poverty of
expectation. Those who are rich expect good things to happen to
them (especially when they pay for it). But those who are poor
learn quickly to set their expectations low, even if their
dreams are set high. So it is that we see humility as being
something one has, or does not have, and there is pretty much
nothing to be done about it.
It is not so; we are taught that if God’s people will humble
themselves and pray, God will hear. Humility is not just a
status, it is not simply an attitude, it is also an action. It
is the deliberate action of going before Almighty God and
admitting that we have problems—which we cannot in our own power
and wisdom solve. It is to say to God that our expectations are
set very low, because only he could raise them up. We’re in deep
trouble, we need help and there is no one to save us—but God.
So it is that God promises to the humble that he will
strengthen their hearts. We know this well, I hope. Most of us
in poor circumstances are quite sorrowful, depressed and have no
hope. But there are some who have taken their troubles to the
Lord. He may or may not change their circumstances; but he does
give them hope. Sometimes it is simply that we have someone who
listens and cares for us.
Nowhere is this better shown than when God vindicates. When
the world around us oppresses the lowly—it is the way of the
world since man arrived—God steps in. He is the friend of the
friendless, “the hope of all who seek him, the joy of all who
find.” He moves in the hearts of the meek, and things change.
Interestingly, this is often sufficient to change the
situation. Much of the world’s way of keeping the oppressed in
that condition (where it is much more profitable for the
oppressors) is simply to make known that there is no hope of
change. Don’t try anything, because it won’t work. Then God
says, try my way—it never fails. He lifts our heads, we take
heart and in his name conquer.
Lord, how often we have held our heads in our hands, thinking
that nothing could be done. “Nothing” is very strong; but you
are stronger. Drive the nothing from our hearts and replace it
with your glorious hope.
God Teaches the Humble
The best baseball coach I ever met (Little League, to be
specific) put it this way: “I can teach anything but attitude.”
We were working with young boys, eight to nine years old, and we
found it to be true. Those with poor attitudes simply never got
it right. It was our good fortune, however, to have most of the
boys with a positive attitude, which made them very teachable.
The coach’s skill combined with willing hearts added up to a
league championship. I learned a lot from that man.
One other thing I learned (again) is that leadership is
greater than management. God leads the humble in justice. He
doesn’t just point the way and wish us a nice trip. Consider his
· His standard of righteousness is perfection. If it isn’t
entirely right, it isn’t right. For us, that means the Cross—for
we have no other route to righteousness.
· He has the same standard for all. Perfect righteousness
without Christ, but “whosoever will” for those in Christ. There
are no second class citizens in the kingdom of God.
· As Christ showed us in the temptation in the wilderness,
righteousness can have no alliance with evil. Christ even
forbade the demons to testify to who He is.
He teaches the humble his way. There is a certain obvious
note to that. He certainly does not teach the proud his way—for
as long as they are proud, why would they listen to him? To the
proud, “my” is a special word—my things, my way, my ideas, my
outcomes, my righteousness. The humble, by contrast, seek the
things of God, for they know the worthlessness of the things of
this world. In seeking him they find his greatness, his
surpassing love and providential care. Indeed, it is a
characteristic of the humble that when the things of God are
told, they are “hungering and thirsting to hear it like the
rest.” The old, old story never goes stale; it always has its
power to strengthen the hearts of the humble. Blessed are the
meek, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Lord, it is hard for us to humble ourselves, even before you.
Our world teaches us that victory belongs to the most arrogant;
that the things of this world are all that are desirable; that
these things require us to be arrogant to obtain them. Your way
is perfect; not to strut, but to go to our knees and ask. It is
through the humble and contrite heart that your blessings flow.
Hope in the Lord
It is a very short Psalm. It is all the more remarkable for
who wrote it. David—the author of this piece on humility—was the
king of Israel. Not just a name in the history books, he is the
greatest king Israel would know until the coming of the Christ.
This is the man whose career started with Goliath, overthrowing
his predecessor, Saul, by his manly virtues; the scourge of
Israel’s enemies. Of all kings, this one should be proud.
And he is not. He has not forgotten his origin. In his own
family he was so little thought of that his father, when the
prophet came to anoint the new king, left David with the sheep
and had the other seven stand before Samuel. Dad never expected
much out of the runt of the litter.
This is fitting. The law tells a king that he must copy out
the law onto a scroll and read it every day—so that “his heart
is not lifted above his countrymen.” Evidently David learned
· He knows not to be proud or haughty.
· He knows not to get involved in things too great for him—a
lesson that many a monarch learns the hard way. He knows his
· He knows not to delve into things too difficult for him. It
is a great principle of leadership—you don’t have to be the one
who knows it all.
In this, then, he reflects upon the soul. The words sound
strange, but see if they do not also sound desirable:
· His soul is composed. The word can also mean balanced;
everything in due proportion. It is an act of the will to place
the soul in harmony with God.
· His soul is quiet. Do we not long to still the nagging
voices of the soul which always demand more? Here is a king who
has learned to be content.
Even a man as great as this has learned to be at rest—in God.
How? It is simple: the voices of fear for the future and
discontent with the present, and the guilt from the past, are
all swept away by his hope in the Lord.
Lord, we know that our hope should be in you. Forgive us,
then, and teach us your way when our trust is placed in worldly
things. Give us your peace; there is none like it in this world.
God is Exalted
Somehow, in the workings of our time, we have lost the image
of the awesome nature of God. Our pastor (like all speakers) has
a series of phrases which mark his speech. One of them is to
refer to “the holy-awesome-sovereign God.” He delivers the
phrase so rapidly that it sounds like one adjective. In a sense,
it is. It is a description of the God who Is, even if not the
God we want.
To see this, you have but to examine the passages in the
Bible where one of the prophets is given a vision of the throne
of God. Isaiah’s immediate reaction was simply to declare
himself lost—he was a man of unclean lips, among a people of
unclean lips. John saw and fell flat on his face. No other
reaction would seem appropriate.
How is it, then, that this holy, awesome, sovereign God can
say that he is near to the humble?
· He greatly values the ancient sacrifice: a humble and
contrite heart. More than any gift of gold, the human heart
prepared to meet him is his delight. He longs for the work of
· If you are to worship this God, you must know him. In
short, you must know that he is holy and awesome—and you are
· He is holy; the only way we can approach him with a clean
heart is by repentance. If repentance is sincere, there is
contrition—the mark of the humble heart.
But to the proud he is far off. The matter can be put to the
test. Is God near to you, or far off?
· Does he answer your prayer, or is he so far off that he
cannot hear you?
· In time of distress, does he come to your aid, or is it too
far to travel to help?
· Are you in need of mercy? On the Day we shall all need it,
you do not want him to be far off.
Draw near to God; he will draw near to you. How can one do
this? Only with a humble and contrite heart.
Lord, we are far more impressed with our own virtue than you
are. Teach us to see things with forever eyes, knowing that the
humble find welcome in your arms.
The Pleasure of God
When I was a child I had a collection of toy soldiers. Now,
this is politically incorrect these days, and toy soldiers of
that type (plastic and cheap) are rather hard to find. But in
those days the heroes of World War II were still honored men. So
I had a cherished collection of them, expanded whenever my
allowance would permit it.
They were not just a collection. I played with them, enjoying
the hours (often alone) with them. I painted their helmets
silver or gold, so that it would be easier to find them in the
grass at the end of the day. I was quite anxious lest any one of
them be left behind, and I would search diligently for any lost;
by which you can tell I knew each one individually. But my
greatest pleasure was this: no matter how badly outnumbered they
were, in my imagination they were always victorious. To a child
who moved to a new town at least once a year, they were good
Now if I, as a child, took such care of my toy soldiers, how
much more will God care for his children on earth? We are the
works of his hands, and are therefore far more precious to him
than my soldiers ever were to me. I would imagine my soldiers to
be heroes, which of course made me feel a hero too. How much
more, then, will God care for those who are made in his image? I
would not leave an area without having each and every one
accounted for. How much more, then, will God seek out and save
the one who is lost?
But there is more. Just as my toy soldiers never lost a
battle, so God will crown the humble with salvation. The word
used for “crown” can also be translated “adorn” or “beautify.”
It is his good pleasure to do so; it is his gift. And what a
gift! The word used for salvation can also mean rescue; God
ensures that no matter how bad the battle appears, his army is
And to whom does he give this victory? To the humble. My toy
soldiers never talked back to me; they always obeyed my orders,
and they were always victorious. If even a child can do that,
how much more will God grant victory to those who are obedient
to his will?
Lord, we are the works of your hand. Give us the wisdom to
see that you are sovereign; that your commands are designed not
just for our good but to bring us victory and salvation. The
battle is yours, won at Calvary.
When I was in junior high school I received an invitation to
a Sadie Hawkins day dance. For those not familiar with it, such
a dance has the girls inviting the boys. It was considered
impolite to refuse—but nothing was said about panic.
Panic I did. But my parents had the solution: they would send
their left-footed son off to the local dance academy. There I
was partnered with the most beautiful blond in the school (the
owner’s daughter). Holding her reduced me to drooling idiocy
(and pained her feet at the same time).
Isn’t it amazing? No matter how mal-coordinated you are, you
think you can learn to dance. We’re willing to take dance
lessons—but not life lessons.
Wisdom, you see, is often found in life lessons. The greatest
of classical pianists will still have a coach. Baseball teams
hire coaches to tell grown men how to play a game. Even the
preacher hears from his wife. (I cannot resist repeating this.
He relates that on the way home he told his wife that “that
sermon just didn’t seem to get off the ground.” She replied, “It
sure taxied long enough.”)
Sadly, we often meet the fool who says, “nobody can tell me
nothing,” Such people sometimes do listen to advice, but only
from selected people—like Dear Abby. Mere mortals need not
apply. Christians are susceptible to this too; have you ever met
someone who listened to only one Bible teacher?
Why is this so? It is pride. I will only listen to those who
are obviously my superiors in intellect, understanding, learning
and of course good looks. But God ignores this, and sends his
messengers of wisdom in the form of all sorts of people. My wife
is hardly boisterous, but on many occasions I have profited by
her advice, given in a sweet tone behind closed doors.
That may not be the epitome of humility, but it will serve to
make the point. If you have the humility to listen, God will
provide the wisdom you need for this life. The usual way to tell
if you have that humility is to listen: is that your own voice
you hear babbling on?
Lord, as we come to you in prayer, may our hearts be open to
your counsel and correction. Teach us the humility you have; not
weakness, but the constant companionship of the Father. May our
mouths be shut so our ears will open.
Pride and Dishonor
The connection between pride and dishonor, versus wisdom and
humility, is a frequent one in the Bible. We read it, but often
enough we don’t believe it. Why? Because when we look around it
seems the proud are riding high. But there are some clues to
just how this system works:
· First, we are told that God gives grace to the humble, but
resists the proud. That, of course, is his prerogative. Just
because we see the proud while they are still riding high
doesn’t mean that God has no plans for them.
· Next, there is the obvious fact that the proud do not seek
instruction or advice. Can you really be that brilliant all the
· Further, once the world knows who you are, nobody is in a
hurry to help an arrogant jerk. In fact, they rather enjoy
watching the pratfall.
· If pride really takes hold, you begin to think yourself
above the rules (which, of course, apply to insignificant
people.) You are too important to follow the rules and too smart
to get caught. Right.
· The matter boils down to this: knowledge is great, a very
good thing. But without love in the heart, it creates the puffed
up ego balloon looking for the pinprick.
Ah, but then the second half: why is wisdom with the humble?
· Note that “the humble” is plural. All of us are smarter
than any of us.
· Another good reason: the humble are very often the humbled.
· The humble are team players; team players listen to other
· If you don’t know it all, you’re more likely to seek
· Finally, because God chooses to give them wisdom.
For the moment, for the while it appears that the arrogant
are to be admired. But there is a God; he is patient, not dead.
Lord, so often those with intelligence think that all things
can be at their command. Let us remember that Solomon was the
wisest of men, and he too had his fall. Keep us, Lord, in your
hands so that we do not grow proud—and dishonored.
Riding the Tiger
In the early part of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power very few
politicians outside Germany recognized what a serious threat
this man would be to the peace of Europe. To many, he seemed
like just another politician. His words against other countries
seemed like just so much flag-waving, good for the vote but no
One man saw it differently. Winston Churchill very quickly
determined that Hitler was not what he proclaimed himself to be.
It is an exceptional insight; Churchill saw one thing others
missed. Adolf Hitler was riding the tiger. He had to go from
success to success, or he would fail. Such men may succeed for a
while, but eventually there is one step too many. The only real
question is which step that will be. But in the meanwhile, the
damage is done.
How does this come about? Often, in looking back, you can see
that the turning point was the choice of friends. Birds of a
feather flock together, we say. But the truth is that we get to
choose which feather. So how do you recognize yourself as one
who would divide the spoil with the haughty?
Let’s start with what used to be called sportsmanship.
Athletics play a great part in our culture. Today we can see the
attitude of “your pain is my gain.” Does the mere fact that your
rival hurts give you pleasure? Does his failure please you as
much as your own success does? These used to be unfashionable
attitudes, years ago. Now, trash talk rules. But it’s not just
Gather around the office water cooler. Are you feeding the
rumor mill? Your friends will encourage it; after all, it’s not
lying, it’s competition. Everybody does it, right? This is a
good sign that you have chosen the proud road.
But the great test is in defeat. Suppose the two of you are
contending for the promotion—and he wins. Is envy quick to rise
in your heart? Even in minor setbacks? Do you have the
self-assurance that he must have cheated somehow; how else could
this have happened? Do you walk away vowing to use every means
possible (including the ones you think he did) for “next time?”
You don’t need to be rich and famous to have an arrogance
problem. All you need is the desire to win at any cost.
Lord, teach us to examine ourselves by the standard of your
word, not by what our culture teaches or our friends think. Give
us wisdom—in time to use it.
It may come as a surprise to you that God rewards the humble.
It should be no secret that he rewards those who fear and obey
Him. But it seems a stretch of logic to say he rewards the
humble. In our thought, winners are rewarded; winners are
arrogant. So how can God tell us to the contrary?
The two traits go hand in hand. If you are one who fears God,
you must know Him. To know God is to know that he is infinitely
greater than you. This is the first key to humility; there’s
somebody who’s better at everything. Since this humility comes
from fear of the Lord—which we acknowledge to be rewarded—it
should be no surprise that he rewards humility also.
“Ah yes,” you say, “when He returns he will reward the
humble.” But of course in the meantime the arrogant are
rewarded. But consider his word: riches, honor and life to the
humble who fear him.
Riches? Is it possible that God rewards the humble with
riches? It’s not just possible—it’s rather likely. Humble people
tend to have good work habits and prudent spending habits.
Little by little the wealth comes. Humble people also tend to
have no enemies; no one to destroy their hopes. The reason we
don’t see the connection is that the riches come so quietly—as
befits a humble servant of the Lord.
Honor? Consider your own family. A humble, obedient father
does not anger his children, but leads them in the way of
Christ. As they grow, your children will honor genuine
Christianity (and quickly see the fake variety for what it is).
Humble people are a pleasure to work with; their team members
give them honor as those valued for their contributions.
Ultimately, however, the greatest honor comes from God, when he
says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Life? To begin with, just who holds the cord of your life in
His hand? Who is it that determines long life or short? If God
promises it, should you not believe it? But more than that: you
can see at least some of his methods in this. Tell me: who has
more stress in his life, the humble man or the proud one? And
what did your doctor tell you about stress?
Lord, as the lilies of the field just grow, so does the
wealth, honor and life of the humble, obedient servant. Open our
eyes so that we may see how you have blessed the lilies—and us.
The legend is a cherished one; my father told it often. He
was a finance officer in the Army. One of the problems that came
with such a position was this: those with high rank often
thought it beneath them to stand in line for their pay just like
the enlisted men. So they would simply go to the front of the
line. Finance officers were rarely higher than captains; one
does not send the colonel to the end of the line.
The story goes that one day during World War II a colonel did
precisely that. He got out of his chauffeured car and walked
directly to the front of the line. He felt a tap on the
shoulder, and a voice behind him said, “Colonel, I think it best
if we both go to the back of the line.” The colonel turned
around and blushed to see Dwight Eisenhower—who walked him to
the end of the line. Is it a true story? I don’t know—but it
ought to be.
Remember that you have a choice as to which end of the line
you take. If there is any doubt at all, pick the back. I recall
an elegant wedding of one of the people in our class. Many
people of influence and status were there; who should sit where
could have been a Charlie Chaplin comedy. But the bride had
anticipated that; she put name cards out—at round tables. No one
was in doubt; no one need worry about status. One way to make
sure you never need worry about status is to simply go to the
back of the line. After all, the man at the counter might have a
different idea. If you’re at the back, it’s no embarrassment to
come forward—but oh the grins you get going to the back.
This applies in many areas of life. The problem comes from
this: we often have a rosy picture of ourselves. In estimating
ourselves, we tend to guess on the high side. You can test this
· Are there certain perquisites that you “have to have?”
· Are you too important for certain tasks? Somebody else can
make the next pot of coffee?
· Even if your actions don’t show it, do you look at those
above you with envy?
The Scripture tells us to humble ourselves. It is a
deliberate act of the will. It is also good manners.
Lord, remind us that we should be gracious and courteous to
others, for we are your children. That is honor enough. May we
look forward to your “well done,” even in the small things.
Telling Another One’s Tale
Like many of you, I get an annual performance review. This is
usually accompanied by a sad tale of why the company can’t
afford any better performance from me. To prepare for this, I
collect items that my colleagues have sent—those that praise me.
They may be little things, like, “It was nice working with you”
or “thanks for your hard work.” Little or not, I know their use.
My boss doesn’t want to hear me tell how great I am—but he’ll
listen to my colleagues.
Moral of the story: People take account of your motives,
especially if you’re bragging.
So, of course, you want to let other people praise you. But
suppose they don’t want to? Why would such a thing happen to a
wonderful person like you?
· Maybe you don’t deserve it. Hey, it happens. Until someone
was kind enough to point it out to me, I was managing people by
intimidation. I didn’t think so; I thought I was doing a
wonderful job. My people were afraid to tell me that I wasn’t.
Sometimes you need to ask!
· Maybe you are “doing a good job, but…” Sometimes it’s just
one little thing, an annoying habit or a blind spot. Again, it
takes courage to go to others and ask them to identify your
faults. Sometimes it takes even more courage on their part to
tell you what will anger you to hear.
But what a mirror! If you really want the praise of others in
a genuine way, use this mirror. You may find that your humility
is entirely theoretical.
It is no accident that we are taught to examine ourselves
each week before taking the Lord’s Supper. Such an examination
is an aid to humility; it is a small mirror of the person others
see as you. If the picture is not pleasing, then take the
problem to your Lord. He is one who wants you to have practical
humility; he gives wisdom generously. Sometimes hearing the
praise that others are not giving you can be a very spiritual
Lord, how much our world tells us to be bold, arrogant and
caring nothing for those under us. Keep us mindful of how you
faced your tormentors in the hours before the Cross—so that we
might be a mirror for you in our own humility.
Prayer—In Few Words
A story is told of a Jewish rabbi. He was an advisor to the
king. One day the king asked him, “Why do you pray only three
times a day? Wouldn’t it be better to pray constantly?” The
rabbi said nothing—at the moment.
But ten minutes later he entered the throne room again. He
made all the formal salutations he could think of to honor the
king—and got up and left. A little while later he did it again.
And again. Eventually the king had enough: “Have you no respect
“Hear your own words, O King. The Holy One, praised be He, is
high above you. Should I not respect his royalty?”
It is a point. We are so accustomed to what one friend called
the “Me and Jesus in the telephone booth” style of prayer that
we forget that we are addressing the high and holy one, the God
who created all things. It is for us to consider, then, whether
or not Solomon was right. Should our prayers be chatty and
Allowing that one man’s chatting on is another woman’s
brevity, I submit that we err on the side of too much talk. How
· Often we repeat ourselves—not from deep love or concern,
but simply to fill in the time we have allotted for prayer. But
our Lord warns us against heathen repetition.
· Sometimes we are “just venting.” Consider it: would you
vent like that to the President? Then why God?
· Sometimes, like one philosopher, we make our prayers long
because we have not taken the time to make them short. Would you
go before the almighty without organizing your thoughts—every
What then should we do? Solomon tells us too things:
· Our words should not be hasty. Sometimes this can’t be
avoided; usually this is mental laziness. Consider carefully
what you ask for, as you are likely to get it.
· Our words should be few. Our Father knows our every need
before we speak. One way to keep his name holy is to keep it in
awe and respect.
Think before you talk; think before you pray.
Lord, how often we take you for granted! Help us to remember
you as transfigured on the mount—and coming again.
The Home Of God
One of the difficulties in reading the Old Testament is that
the system of weights and measures is not familiar to us.
(Remember Bill Cosby and “what’s a cubit?”) So we shall need a
little help in understanding in this essay.
Tucked away in Second Chronicles is the amount of gold which
King David left behind for Solomon as he was to build the
temple. Reading it, you might just go past the casual statement
that he had provided a hundred thousand talents of gold, and a
million talents of silver. Sounds like a fair amount; just how
big is it. Well, at this time, the talent was approximately
seventy-five pounds. I’ll save you the math; that’s over three
thousand tons of gold. Billions of dollars worth.
And what did Solomon do with all that gold? There were
various fixtures made from it, but a large proportion went to
line the walls of the Holy of Holies, which held the Ark of the
Covenant—where the High Priest would meet God. This, for the
temple, which is God’s dwelling on earth.
Do you see how utterly valuable is the dwelling place of God?
How precious it is? Solomon admitted that the Temple could not
contain God; even the universe could not do that. But this was
the best they could do for God’s House.
Now consider this:
· We—the Christians—are the temple of the Living God.
· Paul tells us that he boasts of his weakness so that the
power of Christ would dwell in him.
· Revelation tells us that when Christ returns he will dwell
with us, face to face.
How can this be? Only if the church is composed of souls who
are humble in heart. The humble and contrite heart, says David,
is the site which God will not despise. Indeed, the humble heart
makes room for the Holy Spirit now and the fullness of God when
Christ tells us: he stands at the door and knocks. If we will
but open the door, he will come in and dwell in us. Pride shuts
Him out; the humble heart welcomes him home.
Lord, it seems so strange that the humble heart is the grand
reception for you. But you do not enter the heart high and
proud; you enter the humble heart, and transform it to be like
Let’s Make A Deal
The Lord God Almighty, it would seem, has a lot of trouble
getting an accurate reputation. We seem to want to recreate him
in the image we desire—the Bargaining God.
· The God who can be bribed. This God is extremely useful
when you know you’re going to be doing something slightly less
than ethical. All you need to know is the price tag; it’s a cost
of doing dirty business.
· The God who can be appeased. Particularly useful in dealing
with a guilty conscience, this God specializes in getting you
off the hook. He’s often found to be cheaper as your sins fade
into the past.
· The God who can be deceived. This is the God that is very
impressed with your display of piety. He particularly favors
people who go to church every Sunday. As this is the only time
he hears from you, he’s bound to be impressed.
All these “Gods” have one slight drawback: not one of them is
in fact the Lord God Jehovah. This passage is a great reminder
of that. It brings up the focus of the problem: just why would
God want to bargain with you anyway? What do you have that he
could possibly value?
Though He will not bargain with you, he does make it clear
what kind of Christian he considers pleasing:
· First, he must be humble. This is simply having the good
sense to know that He is God—and you are not.
· Next, he must be contrite. All of us are sinners. While
this might seem very democratic, it’s nothing to brag about. In
fact, it’s something to be ashamed of. And you should be.
· He looks for one who “trembles at his word.” There is a
heaven to gain and a hell to shun; he has taken great trouble to
have this recorded by his prophets and his apostles. We should
therefore take this quite seriously.
He is not the bargaining God; He is the gracious God. It is
his good pleasure to bless those who approach him with a humble
and contrite heart; by his awesome word he imparts wisdom. It
may indeed be amazing; it is certainly grace.
Lord, may we always approach your throne with the ancient
sacrifice: the humble and contrite heart.
It is convenient, it seems, to reduce matters to something
which can easily be memorized. Our memories are short, and often
are best after the disaster. Therefore God gives us sayings like
this, that our memories might be of use before trouble begins.
We must first notice the active verb. We are to “do” justice,
not simply to admire it when we see it. It is not someone else’s
problem, it is ours. For surely it is clear that we desire
justice on our own part; how can we expect to receive any such
thing if we only want it for ourselves? Therefore:
· We must do justice on every occasion which arises. We are
willing when we profit in it; sometimes if we see no harm in it.
The true Christian will do it, even when it is costly.
· We must therefore make a habit of it. It is of no use
remembering that you should have; habit makes it part of the
By its nature justice is fairness, which yields rich rewards.
It brings peace and order where there was turmoil, and warns the
evil while blessing the good.
(This is the King James word for it). We are so often proud
that we do not cherish this as we should. But we are to love it
not only for ourselves but for others. Why love? Because love
willingly gives. It is the nature of mercy that it loses its
essence when given grudgingly or under duress. Those who love
mercy are the ones who imitate God, who is merciful.
Walk humbly with your God
We often speak of “walking the talk.” We are not fond of
hypocrites; neither is God. How does one “walk humbly?” There
are many ways. We have seen that we should take a low position
when offered a choice, so that others might esteem us, not
ourselves. Humility gives honor where it is due; it deprives no
one of the respect due them.
But do not forget: “with your God.” How can we walk with God?
He chooses his walking companions carefully, and we should do
the same. We must dismiss pride as our companion; then will we
have Jesus Christ at our side.
Lord, your justice is perfect; your mercy is pure; your
humility shown at the Cross. May we walk with you—and walk like
Blessed Are The Meek
There is a curious parallel between the Beatitudes and some
of the Psalms. In particular, they resemble what is called a
Psalm of Ascent—a psalm specifically designed to be sung while
ceremonially going up each step towards the Temple. The order in
which the phrases are to be sung is considered important; each
step gets its own phrase (or verse, as we might say).
It is fitting that the first step in Christ’s Psalm of Ascent
should be a blessing on the humble. So often the Scripture tells
us that our daily walk is a matter of the heart; the heart,
therefore is the first step. The heart acceptable to God is the
But notice this: in Christ’s Psalm of Ascent the emphasis is
upon the blessing that God gives. See, then, the marvelous
blessing he gives to those of humble heart: the kingdom of
heaven itself. The point was clearer in earlier times. Paul once
boasted that he was a “Roman born” - for in that time being a
citizen of the Roman Empire was a privilege greatly prized. The
protections of a citizen were great; the authorities treated
them differently. A mere peasant could be flogged at the whim of
the officer; a citizen, only after a formal trial and
What, then, are the blessings of the kingdom of heaven?
· If the humble call upon God in time of trouble, He will
hear them. Trouble must call at God’s gate first.
· If the humble call upon God in time of peace, He will lift
them up, sustaining them.
This is a matter of divine style. He prefers to work with the
humble, so that when great things are done those around will ask
themselves, “How can those so lowly do things so great?” The
answer is that God has chosen the humble, as he has chosen the
foolishness of preaching, to confound the arrogant.
A Korean pastor (alas, I do not have record of his name) once
remarked upon the fact that the history of Latin America has
been a series of coups d’etat, military juntas and tyranny. The
history of North America has been one of long-lived democracy.
He points out the reason: the men who settled Latin America came
for gold. The men who settled North America came for God.
Blessed are those humble enough to seek the kingdom—for they
Lord, our world tells us that only the arrogant will succeed.
Without you, this is true. With you, all things are possible.
One of the great curiosities of our time is the status which
children have attained. You need only look at any television
sitcom to see that all the ingenuity and wisdom in the typical
American family is entirely contained in its children. Indeed,
were it not for their incredibly cool and talented teenagers,
most parents would probably starve to death by reason of
stupidity. The fact that teenagers are known to have large
disposable incomes has, I am sure, nothing to do with this.
Whatever the cause, age is despised, youth is venerated.
It was not always so. Some of us who are old enough to fall
into the stupid category remember a time when the phrase,
“children should be seen and not heard” was more than a cliché.
It was an accurate measure of the status of children. The
general assumption was that as soon as you grow up, learn a
trade and make your own way, you’ll get the respect you crave.
Not before. It may seem amazing, but this attitude only recently
left our culture.
In the time of this meeting, children were the lowest in
status. Their parents were autocrats, and society backed them
up. A rebellious teenager was just that: rebellious. Not cool.
How much lowlier, then, were the little children—for the word
used here can also be used of an infant. Yet Christ tells us
that we are to be like those little children. If you will
examine the Scriptures, you can find three ways specifically
given for this:
· Faith. We are to have the faith that little children have
in their parents—a faith that trusts completely. It is also a
faith that desires to be with the Father more and more. (Ever
notice how little kids are always underfoot like that?)
· Evil. We keep little children from the evil of this world.
It’s tough enough to handle it as adults. But as adults we
sometimes fall for the old lie: evil is enlightening. No; we are
to be those who choose to be innocent and pure.
· The milk of the word. As little children crave breast
milk, we are to crave the word of God.
Sometimes it seems so hard to enter the kingdom of God. It is
hard. We have to become like children to do it. Indeed, becoming
like a little child is about half-way to being born again.
Lord, we need to trust you like little children trust us.
Grant us the faith to see this not as ignorance but purity.
Greatness in the Kingdom
There is a recurrent thread in the teaching of Christ: the
paradox. Over and again we read things that, from the world’s
point of view, must seem to be utter foolishness.
Leadership, greatness—these are like that. The world’s view
is very clear. You climb to the top and at each rung you lord it
over those underneath you. I remember in particular one
corporate vice-president, named “JJ”. JJ believed himself the
reincarnation of George Patton, and strutted accordingly. He
took it for granted that you were genuinely pleased to be
working for such a brilliant mind. Therefore you wouldn’t mind
groveling, would you?
But Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” For the
kingdom of God nothing but the weapons of God will do; one of
the chief is humility.
Note how Christ phrases it: “it is not this way with you.” It
is not so much a command as a description. The kingdom of God
simply will not work when run by the world’s methods. It will
collapse into an organized hypocrisy if you try.
Chief of the methods is that of “servant leadership.” The
concept is simple. The concept is quite simple: leadership is a
task like any other in the church, to be accepted with humility,
completed without vanity and borne cheerfully as a service to
Jesus Christ. The servant leader does not work to attain status
or position; he works to get the job done, whatever the job
Titles mean nothing to the servant leader. Rabbi? Teacher?
Father? Leader? Christ tells us to accept none of these, for
there is only one real rabbi, teacher, Father and leader.
Therefore leadership is a task which can only be accomplished in
Examples of this abound; consider these two. First, there is
Paul—a missionary who made his own living in Corinth by being a
tentmaker. Why? So that no one could accuse him of preaching for
the money or the title. The supreme example is Jesus himself;
the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, deliberately washed his
disciples’ feet on the night of the Last Supper.
On the Day of Judgment we will hear those who complain they
didn’t know feeding the hungry was required. Why? Because the
task was beneath their dignity. Their position wouldn’t allow
Lord, grant us a clear vision of the kingdom—not a place of
pomp, a place of service. Help us to remember that “little is
much when God is in it” - and be pleased with our own tasks.
God Be Merciful
It comes as a shock when you figure it out. Did you know that
there is a qualification you must meet before you can become a
Christian? “No way—whosoever will,” say you. Not true, say I.
Before you can become a Christian you must first meet the
qualification: you must be a sinner. Fortunately, I am
exceedingly well qualified.
This point might well have been missed by the audience for
the parable Christ tells here. The audience has two key aspects:
· First, they are confident in their own righteousness. If
you’d like to start your own religion, I recommend this method.
Make your requirements a little tougher than the church down the
street; the salvation by pride in works group will soon arrive.
· Of course, they also look down on those who can’t keep the
rules. There is no sense in being pious without rubbing it in,
But please note: these two men have much in common. You think
· Both have arrived at the Temple with the same purpose: to
tell God just what kind of person they are. Both describe it
· Both have arrived to beg. Beg? Yes—the first man is begging
the praise he thinks he deserves. He is begging (aloud, at that)
to be praised for his conduct. The other fellow came to beg
· In a sense, both got what they came for. The first fellow
let everyone know what a pious man he is; he basks in the light
of his own glory. The second begged mercy—and got it.
It is a paradox. In the kingdom of God, if you exalt
yourself, God will take pains to humble you. If you humble
yourself, He will take pains to exalt you. For it is the poor in
spirit who inherit the kingdom of God. Those who are poor in
spirit know from whom all blessings flow; they know to whom the
glory belongs—and they know who loves a humble heart.
Lord, those of us with many years in the kingdom face the
temptation of telling others just how wonderful we are. Keep
before us the sense of our unworthiness and your glory.
Washing the Feet
It is the most dramatic night in human history: the night
before the Crucifixion, the night of the Last Supper. John’s
Gospel records in great detail the events of that night; the
disciple whom Jesus loved remembering every precious and sacred
In this night we see the utter humility of the King of Kings
and Lord of Lords. Does it sound a contradiction? Not in the
kingdom of God, where God exalts the humble heart. One of the
reasons we love him so much—He is the Servant King who did not
come to be served but to serve. So He washes the disciples’
There is an interesting word in verse 12. The New
International Version translates it, “Do you know what I have
done for you?” No other major translation does this; they
translate it, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (Emphasis
added). It as if He were telling them that He has put them in
the position in which they have no choice: you must do as I have
done, you must follow my example, or cease to be my disciple.
What is that example? One of utter humility and service.
Teacher Consider his claim as teacher. These men have spent
three years with him; a serious investment of time. If He is
Teacher, then you must acknowledge these:
· He is your source for commandment—thou shalt!
· He is your source for warning—thou shalt not!
· He is your source for wisdom—ask, and receive liberally.
If this is so, can you refuse his teaching on this night of
Lord If “teacher” binds you to his precepts, how much more
does the word “lord” mean? He is the Master, and we call him
that often. Therefore we owe him obedience. If He appeared in
bodily form and asked for an hour of your undivided service,
could you refuse? Of course not. How then can you refuse Him
when He commands you as your Lord? His authority rests easily on
his shoulders, and his yoke will rest easily on your shoulders
The crux of the matter is this: it is not sufficient that the
washing of the disciples’ feet be admired, extolled, commented
on, examined and memorized. Blessed are you if you do these
things. He is both teacher and lord, and as such he is entitled
to your obedience. Does he receive it?
Lord, we cannot march ahead of you; but we can fall in behind
you. May we be faithful followers, imitating you.
A Necessary Humility
There is a curious misapprehension of humility in our day. We
somehow believe that humility consists of very bashfully listing
our strengths as our weaknesses. As the motive is generally
good, it seems a minor thing—but in fact it is nothing but
dishonesty. Which has no place in Christ’s church.
Humility is, in fact, simply an honest appraisal of one’s
strengths and weaknesses. It is not an easy thing to achieve;
very often we will need the assistance of others to get it.
Combine this with an honest appraisal of the tasks to which God
has set you, and reasons to be humble will be readily apparent.
Indeed, so readily apparent that Paul here clearly tells us
that to do so requires faith—which will be supplied in God’s
measure. It is his habit to take people who are unqualified (and
know it), impart to them the faith necessary and set them to
tasks impossible. When these are achieved, it is necessary to
give God the glory. This is a lot easier when you know how
little you could do in your own strength. If you practice this
long enough, faith will drive out the fear that says, “I could
never do that.” You soon begin to wonder how God will accomplish
it. It is necessary to know your assigned tasks; God chooses the
one to do the impossible.
This humility has another beneficial effect upon the church:
if the job is tough enough, we get humble enough to ask for
help. This helps us be honest and helps unify the church.
We are told that humility is necessary in the church. In one
sense this is obvious; the alternative is arrogant pride. This
is a clear cause of bickering and strife. There are two other
reasons which are not so obvious:
· We are all members of the church—meaning we need to know
where to fit in We are not interchangeable parts.
· We are also members of each other—responsible for the other
members, upholding them in their tasks and seeking their aid in
The world says that teamwork comes only from shared
arrogance. Christ says it comes only from following Him. If you
will humble yourself and follow him, you will soon see how even
the least of tasks becomes a joy. His burden is indeed light.
Lord, like little children we want things “our way.” Teach us
to see that your way is the only way.
Prisoners of Hope
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
A Los Angeles institution recently shut its doors. The
Children’s Museum of Los Angeles is between locations. One of
the features of this museum which was amusing was its great
collection of discarded manufacturing materials. Some
manufacturer would punch holes in sheet plastic; the discs
created wound up at the Children’s Museum amongst a huge
collection of other industrial discards.
Why? The museum offered them to visiting teachers—free. It
seems that elementary teachers are born with artistic genes, and
what looked like scrap material to me was excellent raw material
to them. It would go from trash to kindergarten art. From some
of the sample projects displayed you could see the possibilities
for the creative mind.
Now, if the mind of a kindergarten teacher could take the
trash of industry and create art, think what the Creator can do
with the human material of the church:
· Very few of us came to the church as those who are wise,
well educated or highly intellectual. Yet from these God builds
his church in ways beyond the human mind.
· Very few of us were powerful; very few were holders of high
office or positions of influence. By the world’s standards, we
don’t count. But God sees it differently.
· Very few of us were true and righteous in character when we
met the Lord; yet his church is honored for these things.
Why is it that God didn’t do it the world’s way? Surely it
would be so simple for him to recruit the finest in brain power,
persuade all those in authority and certainly all those who are
noble and righteous people. Think what a church that could be!
So why didn’t he?
So that none of us had anything to boast about, except in
Him. No one shall say to God, “You couldn’t have done it without
me.” Pride is a sin, and God will not have it in his church.
Pride causes dissension, and the church is to be one body.
Ultimately, pride takes the glory that belongs to God and
reserves it to the proud. It is the sin of Satan himself.
Lord, help us to look past our weakness and poverty to see
your power displayed in your kingdom. May we always be pleased
to be at your service, giving you the glory.
Humility in Love
1 Corinthians 13:4
By way of disclaimer: My wife and I have never participated
in Marriage Encounter. As far as I know, it is a wonderful,
worthy cause which is effective in achieving its ends.
But it has an interesting side effect. On more than one
occasion, with different couples, this story is repeated:
He’s driving. She’s chatting with the other couples in the
van. She is usually one of those women who do not noticeably
pause for breath in conversation. It goes like this: “I
absolutely had to drag (name of husband) off to Marriage
Encounter. He resisted it like it was poison, but now he’s so
glad we went. I told him we needed to go, but he kept making
excuses. Finally I corralled him into going. It’s the best thing
that ever happened to our marriage, isn’t it, dear.”
“Yes, dear.” I will leave to your imagination the tone of
voice used in delivering that phrase.
Now, please, do not focus your attention on the wife. She’s
tactless, perhaps, but genuinely enthused. The fact that her
husband didn’t explode at that point would tell you the seminar
probably did at least some good.
Focus your attention on the other men in the van. If this is
a van full of Christians you should find (and I did) that the
men react with an embarrassed silence, searching for some
innocuous way to change the subject (and hoping their own wives
will go along). The one thought in the male mind is to get past
this awkward moment.
But if this happens in a van full of those who are not
Christians, you can readily see the result. The husband will
instantly be the target of the jokes. The subject will
constantly come up in the humor of the evening. His wife will
view this as a good thing—because it will make her point about
Marriage Encounter. The only one miserable is the husband.
The difference? Arrogance. The world teaches those men to
take any and all opportunities to make fun of and belittle your
friends. The world tells the wife that, as a liberated woman,
she needs to keep him on the defensive. But is any of this done
in love? You know the answer; it can’t be done in love.
Arrogance picks a rival; love seeks its mate.
Lord, keep before us the example of love you gave—not one of
condemnation but of pardon, effected by divine love.
Unity of Spirit
How much stress do you have in your life? Let’s measure you
against “Mr. Stress” of the New Testament: Paul. As he writes
this passage, he’s locked up in a Roman jail. The jailer can
beat you for the fun of it.; you don’t get fed unless your
friends bring you something; most of all, you’re waiting to hear
if you’re going to be freed or get the death penalty. Stress? I
Now what, then, does this man under stress ask of his friends
in another city? Money for bail? No, he implores them to be one
in the Spirit. This is more important. From his description of
that unity we can see how he handled the stress.
· Humility. One key to humility is the taming of our
expectations. If everything is supposed to be “my way,” stress
comes pretty quickly. Maybe “my way” isn’t the right way.
· Gentleness. May I point out that this is not restricted to
a lack of physical violence? We use the weapons we know. If you
have an acid tongue it is no gentleness to use it, even if you
excuse yourself with, “I didn’t hit anybody.” The truly strong
can be very gentle, like a father with his infant child.
· Patience. There is a patience with things (waiting for the
roses to grow) and a patience with people (waiting for your
children to bloom.) Many of us are patient with things, or “the
system,” but few can resist the temptation to fix someone else
· Tolerance. Among Christians today this is a negative word;
it now means “approves wholeheartedly of homosexuality.” That is
not the meaning here, of course. Let’s take an example: do
impatient people bug you? How about intolerant people? Is it
their complete failure to correct an annoying fault (the prayer
from the pulpit is much too long) really so intolerable to you?
Paul has a purpose in this. He is encouraging his hearers to
be diligent in this matter—and so he points out those things
which assist in being diligent. The goal is simple: unity in the
Holy Spirit, the bond of peace—the harmony of God’s people. It
does not just happen; we must be diligent to preserve it.
Lord, how quick we are to become angry at the smallest
things! Give us wisdom in this—and may it arrive in time for us
to use it as you intended.
Rich and Poor
It is a curious experience to go from a poor church to a rich
church. Poor and rich measured in money, that is. We have done
that; here are some observations:
The poor church
· God has indeed chosen the poor to be rich in faith. In
their simplicity the poor are much readier to trust God—and more
frequently see the results of that trust. Indeed, most of them
live not hand to mouth but from providence to providence.
· The poor church is mocked by the rich ones. Having been a
teacher in the poor church, I asked to teach in the rich. In
reply it was strongly suggested that no such teacher was needed.
Perhaps at another church, one more like the poor one? To mock
the poor is to taunt their maker.
· The poor church is an example of one certain thing: God’s
affinity for the poor and weak. The poor rely on him, and find
him completely reliable.
The rich church
· One thing is clear: it is hard to evangelize a rich man.
It’s hard for him to have faith. It can be done, and when it is,
the result is a wonderful blessing.
· The rich man who is true to God knows that his riches are
nothing to brag about—but a tool to use.
· Indeed, the secret to being a faithful Christian with
material wealth seems to be a simple one: you need to know what
true riches are. If you do, the money becomes almost trivial.
· Almost trivial; or else it becomes a burden. The
professional charities gather around your check book, each
worthier than the last. There is a difference between a lot of
money and an infinite amount of money.
This world will pass away, and all the wealth we cherish with
it. Indeed, “rich man” and “poor man” are but parts in God’s
theater of the universe. To play either role well, you must
diligently study your part.
Lord, remind us that money and grass are both green, and both
fade away. Help us be content with true riches.
Catching God’s Ear
2 Chronicles 34:27
Have you ever been in a restaurant, trying to catch your
waiter’s eye or ear? It can be frustrating; he thinks you want
to linger over that last cup of coffee (and wouldn’t dream of
interrupting) while you’re staring at your watch, hoping for the
Have you ever thought of what it takes to get God’s ear?
Josiah found out. The story is rather obscure, but it shouldn’t
be. From the time he enters upon the throne of Judah, Josiah is
a man who tries to do the right thing. He worships the living
God, and purges the land of the idols and ceremonial groves and
stones. He leads the reform of Jewish society.
In the process of this a discovery is made. Workmen, cleaning
out the Temple to restore it, find a copy of the Law of Moses.
They deliver it to the priest, who sends it to Josiah.
His reaction is interesting. Even though he has been diligent
in getting rid of idol worship, he does not protest to God that
(since he’s been such a good boy) the curses of the Law should
not be executed upon Judah. He does not depend upon his own
righteousness, but upon the character of God. God cherishes the
humble heart, and Josiah humbles himself before God.
He then sends to the prophetess for word from God. This verse
is part of the reply. The prophetess reveals that Josiah will
not see the ruin; it will happen after he dies. Why God
listened, and blessed him this way, you can see for yourself.
What does this example show us?
· With or without instructions, we should always strive to do
· When God speaks, don’t justify yourself—listen!
· God does not hear the man who cries out in his own
righteousness; he hears the humble heart.
· Blessed is the man who is obedient to God’s commands.
Josiah is a little known king of Judah; rarely do you hear
his name in a sermon. Perhaps this is because the wicked kings
provide so much better sermon material; who can say? Had his
example been around earlier, perhaps there would have been fewer
Lord, show us your mercy. Reward those who humble themselves
before you, so that others may know that you are God.
The Supreme Example
The tension between the church and the world can very often
be reduced to a simple question: who’s number one? Many of us
would be quite content to be humble—if we could still look out
for number one, of course.
In a sense, you can. Paul instructs us here to regard others
as being more important than ourselves. Taken strictly, this is
an impossibility. How could each of us be less important than
anyone else around? Are not all one in Christ Jesus?
But Paul says “regard” others as more important than
yourself. This each and every one of us can do. If you will do
this, you can see that harmony in the church will be much
easier. More than that, you will be one who is an imitator of
Jesus Christ. Long before the teenagers came up with “What Would
Jesus Do?” bracelets, the church has known that the individual’s
supreme duty is the imitation of Christ.
Seen in this light, we can see how “regarding” others as more
important is an imitation of Christ. For instance:
· Christ “emptied himself” in his equality with the Father,
and was his obedient son. If we are willing to empty ourselves
in the same way (obedience) we shall be like him.
· Christ took human form—a tremendous humbling for the one
who created all things. What role, then, is too menial for us?
· He humbled himself. Consider that he took on human form in
a society that was conquered territory; his family was poor, he
grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. All of this he
sacrificed for our salvation; is there anything we could not
sacrifice for him?
· He was obedient—even to the point of death on the Cross.
Since then it has been the highest honor a Christian can
attain—to be a martyr for the faith. If this is the greatest,
then what obedience is too difficult for us?
This is not the end of the discussion. Because he humbled
himself, God has exalted him. His name is above all names; one
day all knees will bow before him. If God rewards him this way,
surely He will reward our little efforts too.
Lord, your example of humility is awesome; beyond our real
comprehension. If our knowledge is limited, then let our
imitation be sure—and our home with you sure as well.