Monthly Archives: December 2009

Humility

A Christian friend commented that one of his new year’s resolutions will be to ‘work on humility’, prompting me to search the NIV bible for the words ‘humble’ (search results) and ‘humility’ (search results).

 

I was somewhat surprised to see it’s always command (of ‘be humble’) rather than a gift (of humility from the Holy Spirit). There appears to be two main types of humilty:

  • being humble before God, and
  • being humble before others

 

I believe the first is relatively easy if you have a clear perspective of God – reading about God’s visit to Elijah or God reminding Job of his place are just two of many examples showing our relative place before Him. And it’s difficult to accept God’s gift of salvation without first acknowledging your inability to save yourself and God’s ability to save – humility before God is essentially a prerequisite to a relationship with Him. 

 

I think it’s the second, of being humble before others, that’s the kicker. Paul’s letter to the Christian believers in Philippi speaks to this in detail that’s worth quoting in full:

 

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

    

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

 

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Philippians 2 (NIV)

 

So those of us already in a relationship with God (Christians) are to consider others better than ourselves and look to their interests. And our model for doing so is the God all mankind (for whom nothing is too difficult – Jer 32:27) who humbled Himself for us, taking the very nature of a servant and dying for us. Mind-blowing stuff.

Ezekiel 33

This morning I didn’t feel much like reading, especially not the book of James that I’m go slowly through with the help of a study guide. Instead I opened my bible randomly at Ezekiel 33 and a few things jumped out at me:

 

Watchmen

In verses 1-6, the Lord explains a metaphor, that a watchman is charged with the security of fellow citizens. Should the watchman blow his trumpet to warn of approaching danger and others ignore him, those who die are responsible for their own deaths. But should the watchman see danger and not blow his trumpet, he is responsible for their blood, having prevented his fellow citizens from saving themselves. In verse 7 the Lord charges Ezekiel with this duty: 

 

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, the wicked man will die for his sin and you will be accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.”

For me this is a sober reminder to Christians to share the Gospel, God’s saving power for all people, or be responsible for the blood of the world.

I do, however, want us to remember the context here – that Israel was already God’s people and as God’s people they were called to a standard of behaviour (and sacrifice to cover where they had not) to remain inside his covenant relationship. No one in the world can today be saved by following the law given to Israel (and nor were the Israelites – they were saved first and told to obey second). As such God is not calling people to a standard of behaviour but to turn back to God and be in relationship with Him, enabled by Christ’s sacrifice paying for our sin.

 

No pleasure in death

Verse 11:

“Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”

I saw an atheist accuse God of ethnic cleansing on TV the other day. The God of the Old Testament is, in their view, barbaric, evil and arbitrary in His judgement and takes pleasure in smiting people. As such they view Him as having a lower standard of morality than their own. And as Christians we often cringe, perhaps thinking they might be right. But here we see the God of the Old Testament saying what we see in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 3:9:

 

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

We can see that in the previous section about watchmen – the Lord provides a warning so that people can turn back to Him. If all He wanted to do was smite, He’d smite without warning. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the God of the New.

 

Then they will know

Ezekiel is written as Israel is in exile – Jerusalem has fallen to the Babylonian empire.

 

v24: “Son of man, the people living in those ruins of the land of Israel are saying ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the [promised] land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’

In other words, ‘we shouldn’t be in exile – we should be in our land because we have the strength (in numbers) to defend it’. In v25-28 the Lord details their rejection of Him (not keeping the law, worshipping idols, relying on their strength rather than the Lord’s, infidelity) and his punishment for that sin:

 

” … those who are left by the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured and those in the strongholds and caves will die of a plague. I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end …”

Why? v29:

 

“Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of the detestable things they have done.”

Again, the LORD’s punishment is not for his pleasure, it’s for Israel’s instruction, that they would repent and come back to Him. For the world we see is not all there is – it’s better to endure correction, training and suffering in this world and turn to the LORD than to live in pleasure but ignorance of God.

The other thing that struck me was a thought – ‘How can they not know that the LORD is the LORD?’. After all, this is the same God who took them out of slavery in Egypt into the promised land. Then I remembered the time difference and checked the dates – the exodus from Egypt was in around 1440 BC and Ezekiel is written during the exile in 593BC – it’s almost 1,000 years between these events. And it pays to remember that not even the Israelites who were personally saved in the exodus from Egypt remembered and honoured the Lord – they made a golden calf and worshipped it, and didn’t trust the Lord that they would safely enter the promised land (hence their 40 years in the desert). And so this is a reminder for me – just as the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day were to remember what the Lord had done for them, so are we to remember what Christ has done for us. For 2,000 years is not long in biblical history and as Peter says:

 

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Waking up

2009 has been the year that God has begun waking me up from my Christian stupor, something for which I am very grateful.

Let me give you some background – I grew up in a Christian family to loving and faithful parents who taught me well. Throughout school I read my bible regularly, had a heart for God and expected to find myself in full time ministry one day. But from university I didn’t. Life – stuff, sin, selfishness – took over. I never walked away from God, I was just focused mostly on me rather than Him, in subtle but significant ways.

Fast forwarding 15 years to late 2008, I knew things weren’t right. I knew that God commanded more of me than I was giving and that if I was to be a Christian I had to give him more – everything. At the same time, however, I had been listening to many talks on design, science, business and the like which often had a subtle (and sometimes not at all subtle) humanist and atheistic bent that began to wear me down. And evolution (which I had ‘dealt with’ previously by ignoring it) could no longer be ignored. I knew a crunch was coming – either Jesus was who he claimed to be and demanded my all, or he was not and I was free to live my life as I saw fit – this half-baked self-centred, comfort-seeking and problem-avoiding Christian walk wasn’t going to cut it.

I spoke to a wise Christian leader and he recommended Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God which reminded me that there was no intellectual shame in our faith. I watched the Life of Jesus DVD and took advantage of other Centre for Public Christianity resources which reminded me of the historical integrity of the bible (helped by knowing the integrity of John Dickson and his work). I learned more about Darwin and emailed a well-known Christian scientist and asked him about evolution and faith. I listened to sermons on my iPod, looking for anything topic I could find that might help me work out if my faith was solid. But most importantly, I think, I prayed. I prayed that God would reveal Himself and give me a fresh love for Him, for His word and for being in relationship with Him. 

The big breakthrough for me was reading John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life (which is available freely online as a PDF). From page 30 in the book he talks about ‘The great coming together for me’ in which John explains that we don’t need to decide whether to chase our own happiness (which feels inevitable) or to follow the Lord. Because of the way God is glorified (in our delight of Him) they are one and the same thing – God does not want us to begrudgingly serve Him, He wants us to delight in Him. That’s what we’re called to – joy, peace, fulfilment and satisfaction in Him – how could I want something else?

From there I went from strength to strength, listening to John Piper (web, iTunes), Mark Driscoll (web, iTunes) and more recently Matt Chandler (web, iTunes) speaking about Christ. And in doing so I started taking Jesus seriously. That bit about not loving money? He means it. And taking up your cross to follow Him? He means that too. As a result, a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders – I feel peace that I have not felt for many years. And now I want to share that with people who want to read it. 

At this point I should point out the gospel, so that no one thinks I’m talking about earning our way to heaven or saying how much better I am than anyone else. The gospel is this, that while were God’s enemies Christ humbled himself, lived among us and died for us, paying for our sins so that if we apologise (repent) and trust Him (= faith) we can have a relationship with Him, enjoy life to the full (this doesn’t mean we become rich) and Christ’s sacrifice takes the place of the punishment that our rebellion (sin) against God has earned us. A few bible passages on this:

  • 1 Corinthians 15 (a summary as a reminder to readers who have already believed and trusted in Jesus)
  • John 8:12-29 (a conversation between Jesus and the Jewish Pharisees who typically loved the law but not God)
  • John 3:1-21
  • Luke 24:44-48 (Jesus summarising his purpose for the disciples after his resurrection)

So welcome to my new blog on my journey in following Christ – I hope it will be an encouragement to you. I don’t yet know what frequency with which I’ll post – inspiration will come first and the words will follow.