Celebrating Humility

On my lunch walk, today, a question came to mind and I pondered on it. When you are appreciated for the good you’ve done, how should you react? Assuming, of course, the good deed is indeed good and not some shady act done for the illegitimate gain of someone.

As an example, let’s say you put your life in danger to save someone’s life.

A possible reaction could be to disregard the gratitude and treat the deed as trivial. However, that runs the risk of belittling the value someone has in what you’ve done. Perhaps you saved the life of a child or a parent; to say, “oh it was nothing” is to say the family member had little to no worth and your deed was from having nothing better to do.

You can’t reject gratitude; but, do you embrace it and revel in it? That, then, puts you in company with the less-than-popular trait of pride. “That’s right, they should thank me because, if it weren’t for me …”

Pride is never the right response, right?

How then is one to accept gratitude, and do so humbly? Smile and keep walking? Hardly a satisfying response to ones who have been given a second chance at life, possibly.

That’s when I found the key to my conundrum. 

Although not every situation may be life threatening and not every deed may be worthy of a medal; nevertheless, two truths remain:

  1. The source of a good deed can only be a good entity
  2. The undoing of a bad situation can only be the result of sovereignty

In other words, only when we realise that good only comes from God and it is His sovereignty that chooses to use me for that good can I celebrate humility. Think of it like this:

God, who is omnipotent (all-powerful) chose to use me (when all sense would have chosen any body else) to carry out an act that a large hoard of angels were willing and more than capable of doing. If that isn’t humbling, I don’t know what is.

I used to picture it with the analogy of a carpenter who built a table and gifted you it. Do you thank him for his work or do you thank the hammer?

Then I realised that this analogy was missing two minor details:

  1. The hammer should be broken yet the carpenter still chooses to use it despite the many other fully intact ones in his toolbox
  2. The table should be a house under which the receiver can take shelter

A hammer can’t even hit a nail on the head without someone using it; how do I dare take credit or even humbly receive gratitude for a deed I didn’t even do? The credit goes to God and my joy and celebration is in the humbling experience that He chose to use me for this overwhelmingly good deed.

In the words of Jesus,

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden;  nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14‭-‬16 NASB

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When the Bible Gets it Wrong (Article #1)

Whenever we read or hear things from sources we don’t agree with we’re often quite ruthless in the way we react towards them. However, our bias, when it comes to sources we respect, many times jeopardizes our honesty and the authenticity of what we believe.

Today’s article is about the two builders; the wise and the foolish. We read that Jesus says building on sand is a bad idea yet in the Australian building standards, sand is one of the best soils to build on, second only to rock. Was Jesus wrong?

I have no intention of getting too technical with this post but to simply highlight a few points.

Let’s begin by reading the passage:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell-and great was its fall.

– Matthew 7:24‭-‬27 NASB

1. The comparison that Jesus makes is between two groups of people who hear His words. One group acts on what it heard and the other doesn’t.

2. A lot of buildings in Australia are built on sand. Floods have come and storms have hit; the buildings are still here.

3. A foundation is required to do two things: a) support the structure sitting on it, and b) transfer the load of the structure onto the ground evenly.

4. We have a second account concerning this parable. Luke also mentions it but, in his recollection, what Jesus compares is not rock and sand but building with or without a foundation. (Luke 6:47-49)

If you read both these passages in context, you will realise that Jesus’ message was about faith that is shallow and faith that is deep and well-grounded. Bearing that in mind, it makes perfect sense, then, to see it in Luke’s point of view.

This isn’t to say that Matthew made up his side of the story. It could be a loss in translation or a lack of understanding on Matthew’s part. A third possibility could be that Jesus meant for the parable to be apt mainly for His hearers who did not have a full understanding of proper foundations but I don’t quite think this is the case.

All in all, I find it important that we stress on teaching passages like this correctly. Had both men prepared a good foundation, both houses would have withstood the disastrous weather, regardless of the soil type. Would that have made Jesus’ words void? Not at all; after all, both men resembled those who heard Jesus’ words. The problem was not with what the men did but, rather, what they did not do.

Remember, Jesus was  talking about those who hear His words and act on them in contrast with those who hear His words but do not act on them. So, in this parable, we’re trying to look at what one man did do and what the other did not do. Both men built a house each; nothing lacking. One man built on rock and the other on sand. Still, we have not found anything lacking. One man built with a foundation, the other did not. There it is!

When the Bible Gets it Wrong (Intro)

I’m one of those people who loves learning and can’t take things for granted. It is never enough for me to know that something just works without at least breaking it down for myself to understand it, or otherwise researching it.

A teacher in school used to always say, “Don’t ask Why, just do what you’re told.” I have to respectfully disagree. I love that question. That, along with the question, How.

When it comes to the Bible, we often see things that may not make complete sense. Sometimes, it seems downright wrong. Should we just ignore it and say, “If the Bible says it, it must be right” without understanding it? Worse still, should we explain it away? I think we should put it to the test.

That’s why I thought I’d start an ongoing series that deals with these questions to the best of my knowledge and understanding. The posts in this series will be mainly one post long for each topic and will be posted whenever I come across something new. If you have questions, feel free to share.

To kick things off, the first post will deal with a parable recorded by both Matthew and Luke. The wise man and foolish man. We are told that Jesus says the foolish man built his house on the sand. Is that really a foolish thing to do when it’s one of the most preferable grounds to build on, second only to rock?

Stay tuned.

I Cry Out ‘Violence’ (Part 5 of 5)

To summarise this series, if you remember or just prefer to read the summary rather than each separate post, we looked at the not-so-comfortable passages in the Bible where violence and hatred is endorsed by those who are deemed as Godly people; people after God’s own heart. We dealt with three questions:

1. Why did these people speak like this?

2. Are we allowed to speak like this?

3. Why has God kept a record of this?

Firstly, we saw that people in the Bible, whether in the Old Testament or the New, are not perfect. They got angry, they felt rage, they weren’t favourable towards their oppressors and they sometimes wished harm on those who were torturing and mocking them. That isn’t to be condoned. In fact, when those same people were given power to execute their violent and merciless wishes, they relented and forgave. They were convicted in their own hearts and, instead, dealt with their oppressors in love and kindness.

Secondly, we pulled the cover away off some of our otherwise hidden agendas and noticed that our questions of permissibility aren’t a seeking after a more holy life but, rather, how far can we go and still be in the green zone, the okay zone. What we ended up realising is that God calls us to draw nearer to Him and be like Him rather than put a fence and tell us, “Just don’t go too far.”

Thirdly, and finally, we pondered the question of why the Bible would keep a record of the sins of its heroes. The simple answer was that God did and does not show favouritism. The records He kept were recollections of what really happened not dramatised stories.

I hope this series answered some questions out there. More so, I hope this series fulfilled its purpose of making us desire more to read and enjoy the genuine truths and lessons we find in the pages of the Bible when we embrace them rather than explain them away.

God bless you.

I Cry Out ‘Violence’ (Part 4 of 5)

As we reach our final question, we come with an understanding that people in the bible are not perfect and it is not ok to speak as they sometimes did, be it in the Old Testament or now. One question still lingers in the back of our minds though and it’s this, Why has God kept a record of this?

You would think it may have been far less embarrassing to speak about people in the Bible without having to explain their mistakes. Think of the conversations you could have had with those who ridicule the Bible for being so proud of it’s “scarred heroes” as one preacher once called them.

Why not hide the blotched areas?

The answer to that is simpler than you might think. Contrary to what some may tell you, the Bible is not a record of perfect people whom God chose to use for His work. It’s sad to see how some can be so fooled into believing that God favourited one nation over others and destroyed everyone else but them because of a favouritism or biased disposition. Read the Bible and see for yourself, the harshest judgements came not to unbelievers but to those who claimed to be for God and yet lived outside of His rules.

What the Bible records is not a filtered documentary seeking to make imperfect people look good. It is an honest recollection of a vast number of broken people who were aware of their frailty. They saw their wrongs. They were willing to be broken and remoulded.

You see, that’s why God calls David a “man after [His] own heart”, not because David never sinned or out of an immature opinion on David’s life with no foreknowledge of what he was going to do later in life. In fact, it is in the New Testament that we read about this reputation of David (see Acts 13:22). The reason I believe he earned this reputation is because, for the most part, David was obedient and when he was confronted about his sins, he was repentant.

The same goes for you and me. God’s opinion of us does not stand on irrational favouritism. He won’t blot out our sins just because He likes us. We don’t earn any right to our own pleasures and sinful proclovities simply because we call ourselves Christians. We ought to face the reality of our frailty, desire correction, love teaching, be quick to repent and strive to grow.

I Cry Out ‘Violence’ (Part 3 of 5)

One particular theme I feel we often try to dance around is that of “permissibility”. Am I allowed to listen to non-Christian music? Am I allowed to swear? Am I allowed to dress this way or that? Am I allowed to go to this place or another? Does the Bible allow me to do… and we follow it by a vast number of things. Where is the line drawn? Or, in other words, how far can I go and still be in the “okay” zone?

That’s the question we’re dealing with in this post, Are we allowed to speak like this? Are we allowed to hate? Are we allowed to wish evil on others when in difficult circumstances?

Whenever I think of what’s allowed or not, what’s permissible or not, two of the first passages that come to my mind are from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The first is,

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial.

– 1 Corinthians 10:23 NLT

And the second is like it but slightly different,

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything.

– 1 Corinthians 6:12 NLT

In both passages I find that Paul is concerned with two problems — you may have already noticed these if you read the two verses in their context — sin that is internal and sin that is external. Sin that begins in my heart and flows out to affect others, such as sexual immorality and slandering, and sin that begins outside of me yet puts my integrity in danger, such as drunkenness, being cheated, being wronged, and being tempted.

[Edit (29.05.2017): To further explain my point here, I see two kinds of sin that Paul discusses. The kind that I commit which may become a stumbling block for others and the kind that others commit which provoke me to compromise or let my guard down]

Paul mentions three pointers in these two passages:
1. Not everything is good for me
2. Not everything is beneficial for others
3. I must not become a slave to anything

If only Paul had given us a key to understand what he means by those. Perhaps he has. Within the same passages, a little more reading unveils the mystery, if there ever was one.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble…

– 1 Corinthians 10:31-32 NIV

That, I think, gives us a clue to the first and second pointers of Paul; but what about the third? Well,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God…

– 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Before I tie this together and give my final answer, I want to share two more passages:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

– Hebrews 4:14-16 NASB

And also

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

– Hebrews 12:1-2 NASB

To understand Paul’s three pointers, we need only to look at Christ. Consider this whenever you do or are about to do something;

  1. How does this make me more like Christ?
  2. How will this encourage others to want to be more like Christ?
  3. Since I have been bought with a price, the blood of Christ, I have but one Master. I cannot, and should not, serve any other than Him.

So, are we allowed to speak of hate and wish evil on others? If the question were simply of permissibility then sure. However, is it Godly? Absolutely not! Is it Christ-like? Not even close.

I Cry Out ‘Violence’ (Part 2 of 5)

There are some people who are of the opinion that the mistakes and sins of the prophets of old should not be preached about or spoken of, especially at the hearing of those who don’t believe the Word. I find it crucial that we talk about it.

The first question I’ll be tackling in this series is: Why did these people speak like this?

Take another look at the verses I mentioned in the previous post:

“Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies.” – Psalm 139:21-22 NASB

“How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock.” – Psalm 137:9 NASB

Why did God’s people ever speak like this? Shortly and simply: because they are human beings, just like me and you, who sometimes slipped.

There is absolutely no point in justifying the words or explaining them away. The people who wrote the Psalms and the prophets we read about in the Bible were not perfect people and we are reminded of that continually.

Some may wish that David never slipped or Abraham never lied or Job never doubted or John the Baptist never questioned but the reality is that they did.

Others may wish that verses like those above weren’t ever recorded, but they were. What we should be focusing on are the more important questions; as an example, does that mean that they were violent people? According to the Bible records, we have to say no.

Using David, again, as an example, we have an account of an opportunity he had when he could exact his vengeance on someone who was after his life. King Saul wanted David dead. In a long chase after David, King Saul takes a rest and David finds himself in a position where he can get rid of Saul once and for all. Instead, he is forgiving and tears a piece of Saul’s robe as proof of what he could have done. That alone burdens his heart with guilt.

Can you believe that the same person who wrote about this strong and violent hatred can be forgiving and merciful or even be so sensitive?

What about the sons of Korah? Can you believe that the ones who wrote Psalm 42, “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God…”, and many others, also wrote the violent words concerning the crushing of children against rocks?

We can possibly excuse it and say, “This was the Old Testament” but we’d be making a grave mistake. Does the God of the Old Testament condone hatred but then change His mind in the New Testament? To say that, we would have to dismiss the whole book of Jonah that speaks about a prophet who was so angry with God because of His patience and grace. Read his words,

Please Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity.

– Jonah 4:2 NASB

In fact, so much of the Old Testament is put aside because we don’t understand it.

You see, when David, or the Sons of Korah, or others like them, were under oppression or were fleeing for their life, they were afraid, some even angry towards their oppressors. They allowed their situations to govern their choices.

However, when those same people were granted the power to do as they had wished, their response was that of forgiveness and mercy and love. When David finds out that there is still a descendant of King Saul alive, he deals with him in the most respectful and loving manner. Read about King David and Mephibosheth.

We look at the Old Testament and cringe at some of the things we read. What we should do is look into our own hearts. Have you ever spoken to a Mexican about the Spaniards? Or a Palestinian about Israelis? An Armenian about the Turks?

We are far more ruthless than using mere words of anger; we don’t only hate with utmost hatred, we hold grudges, we build stereotypes, we rouse others and build hatred in them also.

Why did people in the Bible speak words like the ones we read? Because despite their commitment to God, they still sometimes fell. They were afraid and they got angry; but when they could carry out their terrible judgments, they held back. I am not condoning the language used, but I do hope that even if we are ever hurt by anyone that we are willing to be forgiving and merciful when called to step up to the plate.