Category Archives: Humility

Maybe Closer?

My brother is named Dave, so we call him Pete.  Don’t ask.  He has a  great sense of humor and a deep passion for the Lord.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  Last time, in a post called Not Even Close, I reflected on how, as I get to know Jesus better, I sense I hardly know Him.  He’s so much more than I can wrap my mind around.  Here is Pete’s response, somewhat tongue in cheek:

I appreciated your blog, Not Even Close, about the impossibility of figuring out Jesus.   Well, I did some research and, thanks to Paul’s letters in the New Testament, I think Jesus can be understood easily.   You see, Paul uses words like “love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19).  And in Romans 11:33 he says the depth of His wisdom and knowledge are unsearchable and His ways unfathomable.  So, if you want to truly know Jesus, all you have to do is get out a stronger telescope or a longer ruler.

I like dwelling on the words of Eph. 3:20 –  that He is able to do not just what we may ask or think, and not just more than we ask or think, and not just beyond that, but “exceeding abundantly beyond”.  Or, immeasurably , or, another translation, super excessively.

And, now, if your brain doesn’t hurt from thinking about that, look at Eph. 1:19  “and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength”, and the rest of the chapter boils over with his power and might.

And if you get that figured out you’ll know Jesus.

You know what?  I’m going to stop trying to explain it.  It’s too great, too overpowering, too wonderful, it’s immeasurable and unfathomable.  And I can’t see the keyboard when I’m on my face.

Thanks, Pete…

Not Even Close

Now what?  Within a few days, most retirees ask themselves that question.  I also asked God and was startled by His specific answer.  No, I don’t hear Him audibly but am occasionally sure Who is speaking.  His answer?  “Spend time getting to know Jesus.”  What???  I had spent the last 25 years doing just that, I thought, in seminary and serving as a pastor.  I felt a bit offended, felt like saying, “Hey, God, I’m a professional…”  He didn’t budge.

I can’t say I embarked on an orderly, intense process of study; it’s not in my wiring.  But, over the last several years, His assignment has been on my front burner.  Here’s what I have learned: I don’t have even the slightest sliver of a clue of Who Jesus really is.  Not even close.  The magnitude of Jesus is beyond my capacity to understand.  Like, as Albert Einstein once said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

Speaking about worship, Annie Dillard asked, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we blithely invoke?” and suggested, if we did, we’d wear crash helmets and life preservers in church.  I’m beginning to see how right she is.  John spent the better part of three years in daily contact with Jesus.  And yet, when he encountered a vision of Jesus on the island of Patmos, he could hardly comprehend what he was seeing and cowered in fear.

Here’s how Paul tried to express the magnitude of Jesus.  Take time to ponder the full impact of each phrase:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.   (Colossians 1:15-20)

What Smokey Says to Churches

What’s the worst thing about church?  Ask ten people that question and the chances are most of them will say something about hypocrisy.  Too many church people robe themselves in the look and sound of Christian-eze, while on the inside they struggle like all the rest of us.  Sound familiar?  

If so, you may be intrigued to know how Jesus taught his boys to act when they began to attract great adoring crowds of followers.  He did not tell them how to greet people with spiritual sounding phrases.  He did not tell them to raise their hands during the praise choruses, or to look pious during prayer time.  He taught them to watch out for trying to act all holier than thou just because they were His disciples.  

In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.  (Luke 12:1-3)

Boys, He said in effect, it’s so easy to put on airs when you see how many people have showed up, to start acting like you are better.  Watch out!  Be real.  Don’t be hypocrites!

Of course, in our day, the same caution applies to the folks who show up at church, not just to the leaders.  There is an awful lot of pretending that goes on in the lobby.  Words and expressions that don’t match what we really think and feel.  True, that stuff frequently goes on in many other places – not just at church.  But Jesus knew hypocrisy is cancer in a church.  Because, if people feel judged, they will never get to know the One Who did not come to judge them but to save them.

And the way to fix it begins with you.  Like what Smokey the Bear says: “Only you can prevent…”

About Face

Self check-out stands in the grocery store have been designed to make me feel stupid.  It seems I wind up doing something wrong every time.  And then the machine calls the attendant over to help out the stupid guy.  Everybody else looks over to see the dunce, who pushed the wrong button and screwed up the process.  Last time, I got successfully all the way through and then put my card in backwards.  Red lights flashed as I waited for the teenaged clerk to show me what to do. It would be nicer if the machine quietly said, “Turn your card around and try again.”  

If you have been doing wrong thing and are stuck, it feels so good to find out what really works.  Remember that, the next time you pull when the door says push.  Remember this, too:  changing your course of action because you learn what works is basically what the word “repent” means.  Repent is a happy word.  “Repent” is how you find the solution to a puzzle, the correct turn when you are lost and the real way to approach God.  The way that works.

We hear “repent” angrily shouted by some red-faced, judgmental religious guy.  We hear the word, repent, and think we should cower in shame.  Nope.  Repent means to change your understanding and try something that works.  We humans have been stumbling, pell-mell, down the road of religion in the wrong direction.   When Jesus came, He knew that would never work.  The first word in His first message was repent.

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”   (Matthew 4:17)
To say it another way, “Hey guys, turn around; come this way!”  


This is for Democrats.  And Republicans.  This is for Fox News and MSNBC.  For Donald and Hillary, Nancy and Mitch, Chuck and Ted.  It’s for Rush Limbaugh and Kathy Griffin.  This is for you.  And me.

It’s something Jesus said in response to the critics of His day.  It was a different issue, but the truth He spoke is just as relevant and important in the context of our current situation.

He said, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.  (Matthew 12:25b)

Most of us feel like divisiveness in this country came like the rising waters of a flood,. We stood by, helpless and dismayed.  We’re not in places of influence and power.  We shake our heads, bewildered at leaders who don’t seem to recognize the damage being done.  But, there is something we each can do.  We can turn away, refusing to participate in the rhetoric and sarcasm, the distortions and misrepresentations.  Instead,  we can choose to work toward greater understanding, reach out, building bridges of peace.  We don’t need to stand by and watch this “kingdom” be ruined.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)

The Opportunity in Failure

If God knew His plan couldn’t work, why did He bother?  He chose Israel as a demonstration of how wonderful it is when people live in close fellowship with God, enjoying His protection, provision and guidance.  He gave them every advantage – a land “flowing with milk and honey,” success in battle, and a written book of instructions.  All they had to do was stay faithful to Him as their God.  But even with all of God’s special protection and instruction the people of Israel couldn’t pull it off.  They ignorned repeated warnings, ruined everything and were hauled off into exile.  And God knew it in advance.  Before they were even settled in the Promised Land,

The Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them.  (Deuteronomy 31:16)
So why do it if He knew it would fail?  God knew humans would never accept His help until they had utterly failed so often they were ready to give up on trying to help themselves.  

People have not changed.  Perhaps, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to find satisfaction.  There’s always something that “ain’t right.”  There’s a restless emptiness inside.  If so,  it’s time to quit trying.  Facing  your failure brings a perfect opportunity to surrender and receive what really does work – God’s perfect plan.  There’s a reason they call it “salvation.”  God’s plan succeeds because He installs His Holy Spirit in our souls, to comfort us, guide us and empower us.  His Spirit is what has been missing.  

Those who stop trying, who humbly accept Jesus’ offer of help, receive His Spirit and cross over into a new and satisfying kind of full life.  Jesus described the difference as a spring of cool, fresh water.  He said,

“… whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  (John 4:14)

Better Words

Ready, Fire, Aim!  Way too often, that’s how my mouth works.  Before I know it, I’ve blurted out something stupid.  Or hurtful.  Just this morning a good friend told me about how I had thoughtlessly hurt his feelings.  I had thought what I’d said was funny.  He felt wounded.  How I wish I had paid more attention to the wisdom of this proverb:

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.  (Proverbs 12:18)

The dictionary says “rash” means acting without forethought or due caution.  That nails it – right between my eyes.  Imagine how differently I’d be feeling if my friend had said, “Your words seemed to heal my heart.”  Instead of trying to find funny words, I’m going to work on finding words that heal, build up or strengthen others.

It’s not that I want to lay my struggles on you.  But, maybe you know someone like me, who could use to pay closer attention to that proverb or to this similar thought from the New Testament:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  (Note: – The original word for “unwholesome” doesn’t mean cussing.  It means something that causes rotting to occur!)  (Ephesians 4:29 – my added note)

So here’s my goal: Ready, Aim, Speak!