Tag Archives: humility

Not Good But Great

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  These words, first spoken by John Heywood in 1546 and considered the oldest idiom in the English language, may not be true; they do, however express my reality.  Nothing I have gleaned from my seminary education or my more than twenty years of pastoral experience has prepared me for ministry during a pandemic.  I am finding that I have been forced to ‘master’ a number of new skills and, in the process, I am also finding that I am quickly reaching my mental capacity for new processes and programs.  It turns out that I might be an old dog and, while I can learn new tricks, that I might be having trouble performing.

This old dog/new trick paradox rubs raw against my desire to “give of my best to the master.” God deserves our very best, so I want our Sunday morning livestream (which until 4 weeks ago I had no frame of reference for achieving) to go out flawlessly.  I want the YouTube videos (again, no frame of reference) to look professional.  I want my Zoom meetings (I had no idea what zoom was a month ago) to feel like face-to-face meetings.   None of it, honestly, is great: some of what we are producing is passable, at best, and some of it is not.

Maybe you are feeling the same way I am feeling.  Maybe you are sensing that you are not doing anything well.  Maybe there is someone reading this that is thinking that changing from PJs into sweats was your only accomplishment today (let me be the first to say, “GOOD FOR YOU!”).  Allow me to offer you a word of encouragement: you are doing a great job at holding it all together during this time of unprecedented confusion.

But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 (ESV)

Perhaps, in part, this is happening (in my life) so that I can learn humility.  Shocking as it might sound, I am not great at everything.  I am learning through this pandemic that ‘okay’ is okay.  I am reminding myself the same thing I wrote about in August 2017, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly (G.K. Chesterton).”  If there is one thing I have learned from the last month, it is that good news can be captured and shared via video clips of subpar quality.  Those who are recording recovering patients leaving hospitals or grateful citizens banging pots out their windows to appreciate healthcare heroes could not care less about the pixelization or poor sound quality of their contribution toward our collective goodwill.

Give yourself a break.  Give those around you a break.  Practice humility.  Accept limitations.  Delight in sufficiency.  Celebrate little victories.  Immerse yourself in good news.  Release the frustrations associated with perfection and embrace the joy attributable to the ordinary.  Do your best and attempt the rest.  Enjoy the grace of God that He gives to the humble.  Keep on doing what you are able to do until we can do it altogether all together.

The Cost of Compassion

A particular scene from my favorite movie (“It’s A Wonderful Life”) has been playing on a loop in my mind.  In that scene, there is a run on the banks and the Bailey Bros. Building & Loan is filled with people wanting their deposited funds.  George Bailey, our protagonist, explains that this is not how the banking system worked; he tells them that they would get their money – which had been loaned to others – in 60 days.   This arrangement is not workable for some, so George gives away his honeymoon money to tide the community over, to save his company and to rescue the town.  The first withdrawal is for the full amount of the account, $242.  The next asks for $40, and the following seeks $20.  Then there is Miss Davis:

George: “What do you need, Miss Davis?”

Miss Davis: “Can I have $17.50?”

I wonder what calculations were made to come up with Miss Davis’ figure.  Why not simply go along with the rest and ask for $20?  What was she doing without so that another person in her community might have $2.50?  I am now, in this time of ‘social distancing’ and ‘stay-at-home’ advisories, doing some quick math myself.  What do I need?  What am I entitled to?  What can I survive without so that another might have what they need?

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

As I walk (and I am walking alot these days), I come across people who are not maintaining six feet distance between themselves and me.  On those rare occasions that I venture into a grocery stores, I find that some of the shelves are bare of ‘essential goods’, and I am required to go home without purchasing such things as food staples and tissue of every variety while others have been able to maintain a stockpile of Charmin inside their front porch door.  We need more people with the heart of Miss Davis, those who know the extent to their need, acquire just that and conscientiously leave enough for the needs of others.

No one is advocating that we do without what is needed.  No one is seeking to infringe on your rights as an individual to amble where you want and accumulate what you want.  What is being advocated by governmental leaders and healthcare providers is that we practice humility; that we value those around us as much as we value ourselves and look to their interests as much as we look to our own.  As hard as it might be, we all will be better off if we use only what we need and leave the rest for others.  Perhaps that $2.50 could provide 2-ply for an octogenarian or hand sanitizer for the pizza delivery driver.  And besides, ‘social distance’ is free.

As we face another month (or more) of voluntary sacrifice, my prayer is that we will find that it would not be burdensome to keep the wise principles of God’s word (whether they are found in the inspired writings of Paul or the inspiring movies of Frank Capra).  Rather, may we find these truths to be liberating in our lives – body, soul and spirit.

 

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Tell the Truth

It all began with a conversation around the dinner table.  I had mentioned an incident of public confession at a church we had visited a few years ago.  This then led to a question from my 17-year old son: “We’re not supposed to do that; doesn’t the Bible say that the right hand shouldn’t know what the left one does?”  This then turned into a discussion about the natures of pride and humility.  There we sat, with a table full dirty dishes between us, engaging in a conversation about the revolutionary demands of following Christ.

My son was right.  The Bible does say:

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing….   Matthew 6:3

We shouldn’t let one hand know what the other is doing.  However, the context of this verse is explicit: we do this when we give to the needy.  Jesus, as part of his Sermon on the Mount, commanded his followers to maintain no memory of the good things we do.  We must not let ourselves know what we’ve done, let alone others.  We are to practice humility when it comes to acts of good will.

My son was also mistaken.  The Bible also says:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  James 5:16

We should be confessing our sins to each other, in proportion to the breadth of the offense and the depth of our relationship.  James commands Christ’s followers to maintain accountability for the bad things we do, otherwise we are in danger of damaging our souls and dropping into prideful arrogance.  We need to practice humility when it comes to acts of ill will.  

All this caused my son, in resignation, to say that what we were saying was messed up.  But the fact remains that the ways of the world – celebrating our altruism publicly and covering our mistakes privately – are diametrically opposed to the ways of the Lord – admitting our mistakes publicly and allowing our acts of kindness to remain private.  All who follow Jesus cannot follow the patterns of the culture, and instead of ‘cleaners’ and ‘plausible deniability’ we must embrace confession and transparency.

This is truly a revolutionary lifestyle.  While everyone around us might tell us to take pride in our positive accomplishments, we need to remain humble.  While everyone around us might tell us not to dwell on our mistakes, we need to deal with our sin.  This requires us to rely on God’s Spirit to lead us – to trust that He sees the good that we do (even when no one else does) and will reward us and to know that He sees the bad that we do (even though no one else might) and will forgive us.

So, we who know Jesus as Lord and Savior must admit our weaknesses to someone and expect no one to know our goodness.  In a world drenched in abuse and aggression, a posture of humility like this would go a long way to addressing some of the pain.