On the wall behind my desk is a saying of Martin Luther. “Truth is mightier than eloquence; the Spirit stronger than genius; faith greater then learning.” I don’t think he meant to say that eloquence, genius, and learning are not important. He was a man gifted in all three, but these are human characteristics. We often admire them in people, but we have also seen where these characteristics alone have lead groups of people and even nations in terrible destructive paths. Truth, Spirit, and faith are of God. This points to another oft quoted saying of Luther that “a peasant with the Scriptures is mightier that the Pope without them.” We look up to many great people, but one who humble, searching out God’s Word in faith, and trusting God’s Spirit for wisdom and direction, is on a far better and surer path than many great and articulate leaders.
When NASA builds a satellite the work is done in a clean room. It is a pressurized room so that no contaminates can get in from the outside. The workers wear suits to cover their clothe as well as head coverings. The smallest contaminating particle in the wrong place could destroy a billion dollar mission. That is what sin does in our lives. All sin, even the smallest, puts a block between us and God. It destroys a part of our relationship. A NASA worker dare not say, “just this little bit of dirt is not too bad.” Nor can we say that about sin. At times we try to justify ourselves by saying, “well, no one is perfect.” But too often we use this as an excuse for compromising with God’s values, and allow wrongs to slide by. Jesus gave His life to provide forgiveness and cleansing for all our sin. Whenever we turn to Him in repentance, He forgives. We are made clean to begin again. In humility and repentance we stand against sin, and are made clean.
My flight into Baltimore was delayed getting in last night. There were severe thunder storms in the vicinity that shut the airport down for about an hour and a half. Numerous planes in distant cities, all destined for Baltimore, were unable to take off. Man has the intelligence to carry hundreds of people from one place to another at high rates of speed, as well as devise thousands of other technical marvels. Yet, there is always something that declares to him, “You are not in control. You are not God. I Am.” That is the holy name of God. Yahweh. The Great I Am. (Exodus 3:14) Mankind has been fighting that lesson for millennia, ever since it was first given to Moses. It is time we heard Him speak, humbling ourselves, and seeking His wisdom above our own.
The rain has let up for a little while, but still more it predicted. Our ground is saturated, the pool is overflowing, I’ve had to keep watch on the sump pump that is not working properly, and we’ve had some leaks in the dining room. Yet, in all we cannot complain. I see pictures on the news of flooding in other areas. Water surging in streets. Homes being washed away. People having to be rescued. What we have is nothing. I also look at the home we have, and the food on the table, the car in the garage, and so on. Many others in the world have none of these. For me, it is more than being thankful to the Lord for these gracious gifts. I am humbled, realizing that I do not deserve anything. Why I have and others don’t, is not my right, or my doing. I can only give thanks to God, and love and support to others. We all live under the same grace. We won’t know until eternity any of the “whys.” But then it won’t matter. We will all be enfolded in His love.
Years ago (many that is) when I was in seminary, the faculty decided that the students should have more say in determining the courses they took. We always had a few electives, but they started allowing students to choose many of their core subjects. The problem was that most of us didn’t have a clue as to what we would need when we got into the ministry – even if we thought we did. The trend has continued in education in many areas, but young people need guidance. We all need guidance. We really do not know what is ahead in life, and what we will need to meet it. Youth (and the not so young) have always been headstrong in thinking that they know better, but human life is a complicated path to navigate, and none of us has all the answers. Life calls for a real measure of humility, and a willingness to yield to a wisdom higher than ourselves. This is a hard lesson to learn with many painful failures. Our gracious Lord never abandons us as we walk through life, and continues to hold out His guiding hand.
It seems that Donald Trump is being promoted everywhere these days, especially by himself. Everything he does has his name on it, and he is even talking about the possibility of running for President. Obviously he is very successful in business. And maybe self promotion is what one needs to do to make a hundred million a year. The world esteems the rich and powerful, but this is not what impresses the Lord. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word,” the Lord said in Isaiah 66:2. Humble and contrite do not mean being a weak door mat for people to walk over. It does mean having the most solid foundation in eternal life, and being content with the only praise that really matters, that of Almighty God. The money is nice, and we all need some of it, but what is truly lasting are those qualities that we will take into eternity.
Jesus always does things backwards! He talked to the Pharisees, respected scholars of His day, and called them hypocrites, and empty tombs. He said if your want to be a leader, you need to be the servant of all; to be first you have to be last. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t understand about power and prominence in this world. Or maybe He did. Maybe He really saw how hollow and superficial all the things we hold up as goals to strive for really are. Maybe that is why He spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners. There was no pretense in them. They knew they were weak and needed His help. And they received it. The ones who come to Him empty are sure to be filled with His living water.
Scripture continually exalts humility above pride. The Apostle James wrote, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (4:6) Even Jesus said of himself, “I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) It is always a question of whether we are turned inward toward ourselves, or outward toward God and others. One who is humble is teachable, ready to gain wisdom, and seek understanding. The proud block themselves from these things. The humble are not weak. Jesus would never be called weak, even though He described Himself as humble. True strength is to understand that one does not have all the answers, and is willing to seek out the One who does. “This is the one I esteem:(says the Lord) he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at My word. “(Isaiah 66:2)
I just finished reading a novel set at the turn of the 19th century in slave holding Virginia. I am amazed, again, of the arrogant superiority that one people holds over another. I say ‘again’ because it has been so ingrained throughout history, whether in European colonization of Africa, America’s treatment of the Indians, and even some Christian missionary work where we feel we must change a people to make them look like us. Jesus’ message was one of humility, of being willing to be the servant of all, of washing another feet without asking whether that person was worthy of it or not. If we want to prove the natural sinfulness of man, we need look no further than the “me first, I’m better than you” attitude that rises to the surface in all of us, and has led to the destruction of many people. It is only the Gospel of God’s free gift of grace in Jesus Christ that can begin to change hearts and move a person to look beyond self to others.
We call our president “the leader of the free world.” We are impressed by the CEO of a large company, or the head of some great organization. One’s status seems to be an important measuring stick for many. Jesus’ disciples were not immune from such thinking. One day they had something of an argument about which one of them was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-36) Jesus told them that if they wanted to be first, “they must be the very least, and the servant of all.” The amazing thing is that Jesus, God Almighty, the greatest of all, modeled this in His own life. He said of Himself, “I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Matthew 11:29) A life in the Lord Jesus is a life marked by service and sacrificial love. In our natural life this is hard for us, and like the disciples, the desire for recognition pops to the surface now and then. But self-forgetfulness and humility of service, are the characteristics that are truly great in our Lord’s eyes.