TO DIE FOR

A fatal flaw of this fallen world is its incessant failure to find truth between opposite extremes, where truth’s precious treasure always lies buried. In fact, today’s world denies the existence of absolute truth due to its extreme reaction to militant extremists. For instance, when Muslim extremists profess to possess objective truth worth killing for, the world reacts by insisting that all truth is subjective and not even worth quibbling over.

Between the Islamist and relativist is the Christian—the professor and possessor of absolute truth. Though the absolute truth of the Christian faith is definitely worth dying for, the Christian need never shed blood in its defense, since it is both eternal and indestructible. Whereas the fictitious gods of false religions need their followers to fight in their defense, being obviously incapable of fighting for their nonexistent selves, the one and only true God needs no one to fight His battles, being more than capable of fending for Himself.

Now, none of the above should be misinterpreted as ascribing pacifism to the adherents of the Christian faith. The Christian understands that there are things in life worth fighting for. Still, genuine faith can never be coerced or converted to at the point of a sword. This is why Jesus, unlike the Prophet Mohammed, taught that His followers would never take up the sword in this world to advance His otherworldly kingdom (John 18:36).

We should never permit someone’s abuse of the truth to cause us to refuse the truth. To do so is to find ourselves at the opposite extreme of the spectrum, where truth is no less elusive than it is at the opposite pole. To attempt to protect ourselves from militant abusers of the truth by insisting that there is no truth bigger than our individual selves is as much a crime against humanity as militant Islam. In fact, it may be a greater crime, since it imperils the immortal soul to protect our temporal selves.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Jim Elliot, a Christian missionary to Ecuador who, along with four others, was killed while attempting to evangelize the Waodani people)

BROTHER SAUL

In fabled knights’ tales, honor is something to be defended, but in the old, old story of how a Savior came from glory, it is something to be bestowed. In Greek mythology, the focus was on fatal vulnerabilities, the Achilles’ heels of gods and men. In the Christian faith, however, the focus is on a single life-giving virtue; namely, faith. Whereas fabled tales of intrigue and mythical legends are but fanciful histories of fictional beings, the Christian faith is the story of the future destinies of real immortals.

God does not apprise our potential on the basis of our history, but on the basis of our destiny. This explains how He can call a frightened Gideon a “mighty man of valor” and a wishy-washy Peter “the Rock” (Judges 6:11-12; John 1:42). Though neither resembled at the time of their calling what they would eventually become, their faith in God assured them of one day being made by God into all that they could be.

Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t see us on the basis of what we have made of ourselves or could make of ourselves? Instead, God sees us on the basis of what He can make of us in Christ. All we have to do is trust Him to do so. As Paul says in Galatians 5:5 (NLT), “But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us.”

This incredible truth of how God views us in Christ must carry over into our Christian lives, coloring our view of others. As a result, we must see something redeemable in them, just as God does in us. This is why half-breed Samaritans, with their white robes blowing in the wind, were colored by Christ for His prejudiced disciples as white fields of redeemable souls ready for the harvest (John 4:27-35).

No matter who the person is or how inconceivable their conversion to Christ may be, no one is beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace. His salvation extends even to the “uttermost,” or, as it is sometimes said, to the “guttermost” (Hebrews 7:25). Regardless of the depths of depravity into which one has sunk, they are still only a prayer away from redemption (Romans 10:13).

Two of the most incredible words in all of Scripture are the first words Ananias spoke to Saul of Tarsus in the house of Judas on a street called Straight (Acts 9:10-18). As amazing as it is that Ananias was even willing to go to a house where the church’s chief persecutor was staying, as well as to pray for him and baptize him, the most incredible part of this remarkable story of redemption is the first words Ananias uttered to Saul of Tarsus. What were the first words he spoke to this man who had come to town “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord”? He simply said, “Brother Saul.”

If the “chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and the early church’s chief persecutor was not beyond the reach of God’s amazing grace, neither is today’s chief of sinners and the contemporary church’s chief persecutor. Our realization of this great truth will enable us to see souls rather than Samaritans and Sauls of Tarsus as redeemable and potential brothers in Christ.

The Hidden Angel

They laughed at Michelangelo,

as he lugged the ugly stone home.

But he replied to them,

“There’s an angel trapped within

and I must set him free to roam.”

 

With magical touch and artistic hands

he began the sculpture according to his plans.

And from the stone appeared

a heavenly visitor to be feared.

 

Astonished were they who laughed in the way

at the stone statue’s splendor.

For never before had marble been made

into a figure so tender.

 

Many is the time in life that we meet

a man with a stone made soul.

And to love such a one is a difficult feat

as I’m sure we all must know.

 

But if we recall the story just told

of the artist and angel set free,

then perhaps when a man we stop to behold

it will be the redeemable soul and not the stone that we see.

THERE ARE NO SNOW DAYS IN CHRIST’S SERVICE

Charles Spurgeon is know today as the prince of preachers. His celebrated ministry at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle literally touched the lives of thousands of people. It was as good an example of the exposition and exhibition of God’s grace as is to be found in all of English history. Still, the story of Spurgeon’s own discovery of grace is little know.

As a sensitive lad, the young Spurgeon found himself in the throes of unbearable guilt over his sin against God. From this pitiful personal purgatory, he soon slipped down under a black cloud of debilitating doubt, under which he staggered about not only questioning God’s existence, but the reality of his own existence as well. Out of utter despair, Spurgeon resolved to search out every church in his vicinity in hopes of finding a message of hope for his tormented soul.

In one church after another, he heard the messages of polished preachers. He heard about divine sovereignty, the demands of God’s law and even how to practically apply biblical principles to daily living. Yet, as Spurgeon would later write himself, of what use were such messages “to a poor sinner who wished to know what he must do to be saved?” All I wanted to know, Spurgeon later recalled, “Was how I could get my sins forgiven?”

On January 6, 1850, Spurgeon set out to walk to a church in the center of the city of Colchester. A Sunday morning snowstorm, however, impeded his progress. Unable to proceed any further, he turned aside to attend a little Primitive Methodist Chapel on Artillery Street, not far from Hythe Hill. Once inside, Spurgeon discovered that the snowstorm had prevented the congregation’s minister from getting to the chapel. Consequently, a layman was asked to lead the service and take the minister’s place in the pulpit.

At first, Spurgeon was most unimpressed, describing the layman as “a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort.” Being uneducated, the poor fellow could do little more in the pulpit than repeat his text: “Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22). According to Spurgeon, the layman just kept hammering away with his text. “Look unto me; I am sweatin′ great drops of blood. Look unto me; I am hangin′ on a cross.”

In conclusion, the layman waxed no more eloquent than he had in the body of his message. He simply explained, “Now lookin′ don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t liftin′ your foot or your finger; it is just ‛Look’” Suddenly and unexpectedly, in the midst of this poor layman’s crude exposition, a beam of hope shot through Spurgeon’s deep and dark despair.

Light suddenly dawned on Spurgeon’s tormented soul. The salvation for which he had so desperately sought was not to be found as he had suspected. It was not to be found by looking to himself; that is, in anything that he could do. Instead, it was to be found in looking to Christ; that is, in what Christ had done for him that he could have never done for himself!

On that snowy Sunday morning in 1850 the prince of preachers was born (born again) by simply looking to Christ in faith for salvation. “I could have leaped,” Spurgeon exclaimed, “I could have danced; there was no expression, however fanatical, which would been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour!”

Today, the name of Charles Haddon Spurgeon is known throughout the world. It stands as one of the greatest names in all of Christian history. Yet, the name of the lowly layman used by divine providence to lead the great preacher of grace to the amazing grace of God is lost in time. I’m assured, however, that though forgotten on earth, it is known in Heaven. After all, without the faithfulness of this lowly layman on a snowy Sunday long ago the world may have never know the likes of a Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

A KNOW-IT-ALL KNOWS NOTHING

Permit me to paraphrase the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:1-2: “A little bit of knowledge can puff a man up with pride. Therefore, a know-it-all really knows very little at all.”

Albert Einstein spent a lifetime pondering the mysteries of the universe, only to conclude in the end that he knew very little in comparison to all that remained to be learned. Likewise, Sir Isaac Newton, the father of modern-science, once said of himself, “I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

In contrast to the Einsteins and Newtons of our world, many a man armed with nothing more than a basic understanding of astronomy and physics struts about all puffed up with pride and adorned in absolute opinions. Isn’t it interesting that those who know a little become so proud of themselves that they think they know it all, while those who actually know the most, the Einsteins and Newtons, are humbled by how little they know.

It is only those less acquainted with God who dare to reduce Him to a handleable size. Having memorized a few select verses and having acquired a basic understanding of theology they attempt to stuff the Almighty into their hip pocket. Afterward, having foolishly convinced themselves that they have fully figured out the infinite God with their finite minds, they proceed to comprehensively define the incomprehensible God to others. 

On the other hand, those most intimate with God our keenly aware of their finite inability to grasp the infinite. Rather than pridefully pursuing more knowledge of God’s person, they are content to reside in His presence in humble adoration. The more they come to know Him experientially, the more they realize their theological deficiency. Still, this is no drawback to their faith, but a buttress to it, convincing them of the bigness of God! After all, a God you can understand is no bigger than you.

According to the renowned naturalist, William Beebe, President Teddy Roosevelt always took overnight visitors to the White House through an astronomical rite. He would walk them out on the White House lawn and point up into the nighttime sky at a small light-mist beyond the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then, the president would say: “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun. Now, I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

THE PRACTICE OF HIS PRESENCE

The Bible teaches us to do whatever we do “for the glory of God” and “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). Many today mistakenly believe that only spectacular things can be done for the glory of God and for the sake of Christ. Ordinary things, while an inevitable part of our ordinary lives, have no spiritually intrinsic value.

It’s no wonder that we think this way in today’s glitz and glitter world. Significance is only ascribed to things seen as extraordinary by today’s star-struck masses. Thus, many a saint has gotten stardust in their eyes. As a result, they can only see the kingdom of God in today’s mega-churches. While they put televangelists and best-selling authors on a pedestal, they reduce Christianity’s rank and file to filling mega-church pews, funding television ministries and buying books at Barnes & Noble.

According to the Apostle Paul, God’s preferred way of doing things is to use the ordinary lives of ordinary people in extraordinary ways (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). By doing so He assures Himself of getting the glory and excludes the possibility of us getting the credit. Think about it; when God uses the eloquence of an extraordinary preacher in a pulpit, people tend to be impressed with the preacher and attribute what has occurred to his exceptional oratory abilities, but when God uses the ordinary guy or gal on the back pew, people tend to be impressed with God and attribute what has occurred to His use of such ordinary people in so extraordinary a way!

In the Christian classic, The Practice of His Presence, Brother Lawrence points out that “it is not necessary to have great things to do” for God. He opines: “I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God; when it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and adore God, Who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise, more content than a king. When I cannot do anything else, it is enough for me to have lifted a straw from the earth for the love of God.”

According to Lawrence, to be one of God’s contented straw-lifters requires us “to do everything for the love of God, to make use of all the labors of [our] state in life to show Him that love, and to maintain His presence within us by this [continual] communion of our hearts with His.” It is this practice of God’s presence in the performance of ordinary things that makes possible our continuous communion with God and His extraordinary use of us for the glory of His name.

TRAVELING LIGHT

Most modern-day Christians have lost the spiritual art of traveling light. In Mark 6:7-9, Jesus calls His disciples to Him in order to send them out for Him. His instructions are quite simple; He tells them to “take nothing for the journey,” except “a staff only.” They are to take “no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse,” but only to be “shod with sandals” and clothed with one coat. In other words, they were to travel light.

Christ’s disciples can neither get to where they’ve been commissioned to go nor carryout what they’ve been commissioned to do if they are weighed down with excessive baggage.

Self always lugs around loads of luggage wherever it goes. It goes nowhere without a grip of gripes and grudges, an attache case of carnal appetites, bags filled with bellicose, suitcases filled with sanctimoniousness and a big steamer trunk filled with self-infatuation. Toting around such a tremendous load prohibits us from getting anywhere for Christ. We simply can’t afford to take self along as a traveling companion on our spiritual pilgrimage in this world, lest we be bogged down and unable to get anywhere.

In order to run the Christian race, the Book of Hebrews instructs us to “lay aside every weight” and to live our lives “looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In other words, we are to rid ourselves of self’s encumbering baggage by turning our attention away from ourselves and focusing it on Christ alone. Only by doing so can we hope to cross the finish line someday for the glory of God.

Apart from Christ, who once said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head,” the Apostle Paul is probably the best scriptural example of one who traveled light. In Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV), Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

When you’re willing, like Paul, to forfeit self’s cosmetic case (vanity), it’s garment bag filled with fashionable apparel (worldliness) and its picnic basket filled with craved cuisine (carnal appetites), there is no chance of your spiritual trek being slowed down or spoiled by self’s leaden or lost luggage. You can travel light, unimpeded by self’s cumbersome carryalls. Your God-given tasks will become paramount in your life rather than self’s trappings and trivialities. Consequently, you’ll be enabled to get to wherever Christ wants you to go and to do whatever Christ wants you to do.

THE EXCHANGED LIFE

As long as we live in dead center of ourselves, there is little hope of life becoming full-scale. It all implodes; pulled down around us by unattainable expectations. We desire to be everyone’s center of attraction; consequently, we imprison ourselves to everyone’s expectations. We can’t say no to anyone, lest they think less of us or say something bad about us.

The Bible teaches that “the fear of man is a snare” (Proverbs 29:25). It is, however, a snaring of ourselves. It happens when we can’t stand for the attention of others to turn away from ourselves. It reminds me of the talent agent who was asked what all great movie stars have in common. He answered, “The glazed look in their eyes when the conversation turns to something besides themselves.”

Making yourself so pliable that you can fit into the mode of everyone’s expectations results in you becoming nothing more than a “Rorschach Test”; that is, an inkblot that people can imagine to be whatever they want it to be. Such an undefined self will be squeezed and shoved around all of its days, until it finally disappears, without leaving a trace of its existence. After all, it never was anything more than a figment of people’s imagination in the first place. 

Rather than living our lives to win the crumbs of other people’s recognition, why not live our lives to win “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14)? Those living to fulfill the call of God upon their lives are focused on pleasing God alone. They’re not pushovers to public opinion polls nor people who can be elbowed around by the expectations of others. Instead, their focus is diverted from themselves and centered on Him who loved them and died for them (Galatians 2:20).

This cure for nearsightedness—“I” trouble—found in Galatians 2:20 was championed as “the exchanged life” by the great missionary Hudson Taylor. Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, taught that the Christian life wasn’t a changed life, but an exchanged life. We have exchanged our life—“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I…”—for Christ’s life—“…but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

To Hudson Taylor, our fixation on ourselves and failure to have faith in God was the explanation for the church’s futile impact upon a lost and dying world. He once wrote, “How many estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt! All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” In other words, they all looked beyond themselves to God and His high call upon their lives!

THE MASTERPIECE OF HUMILITY

The Apostle John begins the incredible story of Jesus washing his disciples feet with these words: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.”

In spite of the fact that He knew full well His power and position, Jesus took the place of the lowliest of servants by submitting Himself to the humiliation of washing His disciples’ dirty feet. How unlike the powerful and prestigious personages of our world today, all of whom would undoubtedly frown upon such demeaning service as being far beneath their dignity. To them, soiling their high-handedness with such humiliating service would be simply inconceivable.

Foot washing requires a rock solid sense of one’s own identity. Those who are insecure in themselves need not apply. A small person cannot survive on their knees before others. Their sense of self will shrivel plumb up once girded with a towel and handed a basin. On the other hand, those who are sure of their identity in Christ need not jockey for worldly position to prove their significance. They are as assured of it on their knees as they would be on a throne.

Christ’s identity was not the least bit altered by His washing of His disciples’ feet. Neither is our identity in Christ altered in the least by our posture before others or others’ posture before us. Since our identity in Christ is based solely upon our relation to Him, it is not in the least decreased by our kneeling before others or increased by others kneeling before us. Once we stop looking to be comfortable in our own skin and start looking for contentment in Christ, we’ll find ourselves free to wash feet without fear of being diminished.

In the Kingdom of God, unlike in the kingdoms of this world, the truly great are those who serve, not those who are served (Mark 10:44-45). True greatness never struts up to you and demands that you bow. Instead, it’s always girded in humility and worn by a servant. You may even find it kneeling at your feet.

Peter initially failed to recognize greatness when it kneeled before him (John 13:6-9). However, after being enlightened to it, he desired to bask and bath in it. So should we. By doing so we are cleansed of self and consecrated for Christ’s humble service.

“COZY COVER-UP HUMILITY”

A final form of false humility often encountered in the world today is the cozy cover-up kind. This form of false humility is used to cover-up vices under the guise of a virtue. It is cowardice masquerading as meekness. It’s found in those who refuse to stand up for the truth under the pretense of their high regard for the feelings of others and their pursuit of peace with all men. These mice masquerading as the meek of the earth argue that we must be willing to compromise and avoid conflict at all cost, even at the expense of the truth, if we are to win converts rather than arguments.

This cozy cover-up humility can also be found in those who put themselves down in order to avoid putting themselves out. It’s the person who says, “I’d love to serve the Lord, but I’m just not good enough.” By saying such things they excuse themselves from the Lord’s service, as well as solicit the high esteem of others over their lowly opinion of themselves.

This kind of cozy cover-up humility is really slothfulness in search of sympathy. It’s the person who says, “I’m good for nothing” or “I can’t do anything.” It’s like a license for laziness; it can be whipped out at anytime to justify one’s idleness. “I’m not doing anything, because I’m incapable of doing anything. But at least I’m humble enough to admit it.”

The spineless and shiftless are found among both plebeians and aristocrats. Thus, many times there are extenuating circumstances in their lives. Yet, extenuating circumstances should never be confused with humility. Just because someone comes from humble beginnings or lives in humble circumstances doesn’t mean that they are humble. Though it may not be over their surroundings and substance, the down-and-out can be just as pride-filled as the high and mighty. There is no lack of “I” trouble in any strata of society.

“MINI-ME HUMILITY”

A second kind of common tainted humility is what we’ll call “Mini-Me.” This is the pathological putting down of oneself found in people who are incapable of receiving a compliment. When complimented, they always feel required to put themselves down, lest they become puffed up with pride. A good example of this is the successful author who was once introduced to Thomas Mann. Humbled in the presence of the famous novelist, the lesser know writer called himself nothing more than a hack. Afterward, Mann remarked, “That man has no right to make himself that small. He is not that big.”

The Bible not only admonishes us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but it also teaches us how we ought to think of ourselves (Romans 12:3). According to the Apostle Paul, we are to think of ourselves according to God’s gifting of us. There is nothing wrong with evaluating ourselves on the basis of our God-given abilities, nor of graciously and gratefully receiving compliments from those who recognize and appreciate the abilities with which God has entrusted us.

Every time we fail to receive the compliments of others, we are actually missing out on a great opportunity to point others away from ourselves to God. While we should always be receptive of the compliments of others, we should never claim any credit for the abilities we have. Instead, we should always take the opportunity to give God the glory for having so graciously bestowed upon us such unmerited favor. There is certainly nothing prideful in that. What greater example of true humility is there than one’s diverting of praise from himself to God?