Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Giving Grace to the Humble

In Matthew 8:5-13 the story is told of Jesus and the Roman Centurion.  Both Matthew and Luke record the story.  This is how Matthew tells it:
5 When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with him, 6 “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”7 Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”8 But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

We’ll stop this story at this point because we can already learn a lot from these few verses.

This Roman officer, a centurion in charge of one hundred Roman soldiers, comes and pleads with Jesus.   Think about this….this is a career military officer, a Roman, in charge of highly trained warriors that represent the conquering and occupying army and keep order in this northern region of Galilee.

The Romans are hated by the Jews; however Jesus, also a Jew, has no hate for this man.   This Roman humility is obvious as he not only pleads with Jesus but also asks Jesus for healing, not for himself but his servant, likely a household slave.  This humility moves Jesus.

In the book of Micah, one of the last books of the Old Testament and written about 700 years before this exchange between Jesus and the Roman officer answers the question of what God expects of us. 
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8 ESV

Humility is not only a virtue but it is expected by God and the key to receiving grace and answered prayers.   James, the Lord’s brother, writes, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6 ESV.  In other translations it says that God actually resists the proud. 

I don’t know about you but when I pray, when I ask the Creator of the universe to hear my petition I don’t want resistance.

Humility or the lack of it is always the result of a comparison.  We lack humility when we compare ourselves to others and feel superior. We are humble when we give honor to others. 

Humility should come easily when we compare ourselves to Jesus or the standards that are set for us in the Bible.  We fall short…way short of what is expected.  However, God embraces us with his love and grace when we are humble. When we are willing to submit to God’s plan, to His timing and His will for our lives, He hears our prayer and responds with compassion.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Choices

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus presents us with two choices:  “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it.  How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”

So the choices are a narrow gate and a wide gate.  Like the different doors on “Let’s make a deal”, one door, one choice is much, much better than the other.

I find the hard part of this teaching is that while Jesus says that we need to enter through the narrow gate He also says that there will be few that find it or choose it.  We all have many family, many friends, many neighbors and to think that many will choose the path that leads to destruction while only few will find true life is very sobering.  Nevertheless, it is a choice that is freely made. 

Note also the choice of the narrow gate.  Jesus  refers to Himself as the gate in the story of the Good Shepherd in the gospel of John.  Note that while Jesus says that this choice, this door or gate is narrow, the choice itself is not difficult. 

It is the road that then follows that is difficult, not the choice.  Jesus told us, "In the world you will have trouble.” Then Jesus added, "But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33)

The road can be difficult because of persecution. This is all too frequent today in places like Egypt, Nepal and Iran and Jesus warned of that as well (Matthew 5:11-12).  Jesus also said that us that the world would hate us (John 15:18-19).

The Greek word that is translated for the word strive when Luke refers to this teaching and Jesus says, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate” is agonizomai.   You don’t need to know Greek to see the similarity with our word, “agonize”.   

We choose the narrow gate, the right path and then we struggle and strain.  Along with the trouble and the persecution we are often like a athlete straining towards to end-zone, an Olympian putting all of their effort behind their opportunity to gain the gold.    

I’ve referenced other great scholars commenting on this teaching and they are all clear:  Our striving and our effort, no matter how great will not save us.  The Bible is very clear that salvation is by the grace of God through of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

We don’t earn heaven by striving for it.  This narrow gate is Jesus Himself and the door is open to us; to those few who make the choice.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Still Buying IBM?

I was a business manager in the 1990s, and at the time there was an axiom that said, “No one ever gets fired for buying IBM.”

IBM was “Big Blue,” and they had a commanding share of the market.  Their computers were well known and built to last; yet, at the same time, anything but cutting-edge.  The saying was true in that buying IBM was safe, predictable and boring.

I was one of those people who didn’t like doing or recommending things because they were safe.  

To me, it seemed like there were great opportunities for those that had taken risks.  I became one of those managers that was known as a risk-taker.  It served my employers well, but sometimes made my career felt a little shaky.  Nevertheless, risk-taking is not an option but a requirement.  Every business today started because someone took a chance; someone started something that was risky.

If innovation and risk-taking are necessary in all organizations, that certainly includes the church.  One of the reasons we have many local churches today that have 10,000 or more members is because church leaders were willing to take risks; they were willing to be innovative.

Creativity and a willingness to change and fail are qualities that we need in our local churches.   While these are traits we desire in our lead pastors, they’re just as important in all other roles – from youth minister to business administrator.

Creativity can be as simple as introducing a new song or event, and can be as challenging as selling all of the church’s existing buildings and relocating in the inner city.  “Buying IBM” was an easy way to not get fired back in the 1990’s.  However, some of those employees and companies eventually lost everything because their organizations were no longer growing; their products and services had become irrelevant; and their competitors had taken over their customers.

Reprinted with permission from Church Executive Magazine  March 2013

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