Thursday, June 28, 2012

Second Place Is NOT First Loser

Irving Berlin never learned to read or write music. He hummed or sang his songs to a secretary, who wrote them down in musical notation. His name was Helmy Kresa, a songwriter in his own right. Mr. Kresa's was the first published arrangement of "All of Me," written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons. Mr. Kresa composed the instrumental sound track for Martin Scorsese's film "Raging Bull" and, with Carroll Loveday, he wrote "That's My Desire," which Frankie Laine recorded. In 1926, Mr. Kresa began working for Mr. Berlin and eventually became the general professional manager of the Irving Berlin Music Company. Obviously, as a composer, he never reached the level of notoriety as his boss, though without his notations, there would be no songs like "White Christmas," "God Bless America," or "There's no business like show business." The question arises: would there even be an Irving Berlin without a Helmy Kresa?  

Here is another question, would you or I pursue great things knowing someone else would receive the credit? Could you be content with someone else receiving all the glory for YOUR hard work? Pride is running rampant in the world these days. Worldly accomplishments, position, financial status, talent, and looks are but a few areas where pride has taken deep roots. However, if someone has worked hard, paid their dues, mastered their destiny, surpassed their peers, and set a higher standard, should they not be allowed a little pride?  

For you and I who profess the Lord Jesus and call ourselves Christian, there is a different attitude which prevails: humility. "The Lord opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34)." Humility is the opposite of pride in every sense of the word. The Lord actually opposes, or assumes a military position against, pride. What you and I have to determine for ourselves is whether we want to face the end of God's barrel. On the other hand, a humble attitude draws God's favor and the blessing of grace. 

Perhaps you have heard the story of the parishioner who received recognition for being the humblest man in the church? They gave him a pin to wear. The following Sunday he wore it and they took it away from him for being proud. One wonders sometimes if humility is like this. As soon as we think we are humble, we are not. 

Biblically speaking, personal humility carries the notion of lowering or abasing oneself in such a manner as to attain a place of lowliness. Perhaps the best way to understand humility is attempting to see ourselves through God’s eyes rather than our own. The noted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, defined humility as "making a right estimate of oneself." Another noted speaker stated that, "Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have, but admitting that the gifting is from God and the power comes through you and not from you." After World War II, Winston Churchill humbly commented that, "I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion’s roar."

In our competitive culture fueled by reality television shows like “American Idol,” or “Food Network Star,” there is a push for each contestant to strive to be the greatest or best. In stark contrast, Jesus said that, “Whoever wishes to become great…must first be your servant (Matthew 20:26).” The concept of lowering oneself to serve others in order to become great is diametrically opposed to the world’s concept of greatness: winning at all costs. Jesus used the word, diakonos, which is translated as servant or minister. The English word "Deacon" comes from this word. A deacon is a servant in the local church. 

The word which the Apostle Paul uses for servant is another extraordinary word, huperetes, which means "under-rower." The apostle's analogy is in reference to ancient warships that were propelled by muscular men chained to their oars below deck. In their part of the ship one hears groaning, men laboring at the oars. It is not like the upper deck, wind-swept, sunlit and fragrant with ocean breeze. Those below deck typify servants, men and women who are unseen, without applause and who are dying to self. The real power of the boat is found below deck.  

This is the killing ground of ego. Self-centeredness dies at the oar. Pride perishes in the pain. It is also here, as huperetes, that one experiences power as a steward of the mysteries of God (see Col. 4:1-3). The death to self that Scripture demands is achieved by surrendering the ego to God. Undergoing tragedy is not necessary to experience this blessed death to self, however self-surrender is.  

If you want real power in your Christian life, seek the same death for which Paul shouted his joy: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). As you serve others, may you find yourself on the upper deck, clothed in the humility of Jesus, swept clean by the wind of the Holy Spirit and able to impart the glory of God to everyone around you.  

When I was a child, I remember being a fan of Batman and Captain Kirk. Somehow during play, I always ended up being Robin or Mr. Spock, the sidekicks and subordinates. In third grade, I came in second place in my local Pinewood Derby. Other kids would tell me that “second place is first loser.” As joint heirs with Jesus, we are convinced that second place is really the best place to be.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Hole Truth

It was dark and cold in that hole. In reality, the hole was not that deep. However, to a four year old kid, it might as well have been an abyss. I was the four year old kid, and I cannot remember ever being anymore afraid in my life. There was some construction being done in front of our house, and right outside the front door was a hole that was around six feet wide, four feet across, and maybe five feet deep. I had just finished breakfast, and my mom announced that we were going shopping. I remember being very excited (ironically, I despise shopping now), leaping to my feet and running out the door. The next thing I remember is being at the bottom of the construction hole, terrified and screaming. Within seconds, I saw my mom’s hand, grabbed it, and was returned to safety. Had I waited two more seconds before running out the front door, I would have heard mom instruct me that we were going to go out through the garage because of the large hole by the front door.
            I was excited, envisioned a store full of toys, and I jumped the gun. After jumping the gun, I landed in a deep, dark hole of my own impatience. First of all, mom never said we were going TOY shopping. I heard what I wanted to hear. Secondly, by failing to wait and listen to ALL of the instructions, I had sacrificed safety and security. I learned a very important spiritual lesson that day: wait for instructions before running ahead.
            Oh, that we would learn to wait on the Lord before we run ahead of His will! The Bible uses the word wait over 160 times. One of the important exhortations of the Bible is the call to “wait on the Lord.” Even though God promises special blessing for waiting, waiting is one of the most difficult exhortations of Scripture. Why is it so hard? For one thing, we are programmed to take matters into our own hands in today’s society. The world exhorts us to create our own destinies. Yet, over and over again we are told in Scripture “wait on the Lord.”
            So why should we wait? Scripture gives us at least two reasons to wait on the Lord.
Because of What He Can Do
            David very briefly summarizes this thought for us, “And now, Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You (Psalm 39:7).”  There is a sense of dependent expectation in David’s statement. We get the idea that David is convinced that God is going to do what only God can do, and doesn’t need his help to do so. My children used to believe I could do anything. One time we were driving home after dark when suddenly a streetlight went out. My then two year old son simply said, “Dad’ll fix it.” Why is it so hard for us to believe in God that way?
            Having financial problems? Dad’ll fix it.
            Having marriage problems? Dad’ll fix it.
            Having health problems? Dad’ll fix it. You get the point.
            Dear friend, if I have learned anything in my life it is that God doesn’t need my help to be God. Oh, I have tried to help Him from time to time. I have run ahead when He said to wait. When I do, I always end up in a deep, dark hole of blunder. The good news is that God is always there to pull me out of the hole. Always!
Because of What We Cannot Do
            We also wait on the Lord because we cannot do what He can do. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that SEEMS right to a man, but in the end it leads to death (emphasis mine).” Jeremiah 10:23 states that, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself, it is not in man who walks to direct his way.” Let’s face it, we may be educated and experienced, but we can never exceed God’s power or outdo His capabilities. He holds the universe in the palm of His hand, and I have been falling into holes for forty years. I can’t fix my life. I don’t have the power. Neither do you.
            Like everyone else, the economy has been hard on my family. I have been working two jobs to do what I can and occasionally applying for bigger, better jobs. My two jobs are by no means glamorous or high-paying, but they do allow me time to be with my wife and my church. Recently, I was offered a job at a large company. Better pay, good benefits, and all the trimmings. Here is the rub: it was a third shift job, and I would no longer be able to spend evenings with Laura or be involved in our church.
            What did I do? Pray about it? Wait on the Lord? Of course not! I took the job. After all, God wants me to have a better income for my family, right? Maybe. Maybe not. What I know for certain is that God wanted me to wait…again. And I jumped the gun…again. After two nights of misery and loneliness from being away from my wife and church, I was in yet another hole. I didn’t see a way out. Two hours before my third night on the job, I received a call saying that the company had over hired and that I would be called when I was needed. My other jobs still needed me, so I didn’t even miss a day of pay! From the hole, God reached in His hand, pulled me out, dusted me off, and reminded me, “Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).”
            There is still more month at the end of the money, but it is comforting to know that my God still supplies all my needs according to HIS riches and glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). Not my riches and glory; His riches and glory. I cannot provide what He can provide, and I cannot give what He can give. He is God, I am not. Neither are you. Trust Him! Wait for Him!
            There is a reward for waiting. Isaiah 40:31 promises us that, “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” 
            Friend, I don’t know what you may be going through at the moment, but whatever it is the challenge of Scripture is to wait on the Lord. He is God and we are not. Take care not to jump ahead of Him and His promises, lest you wind up in a deep, dark hole. Be encouraged today, because the sovereign Lord of the universe loves us with a steadfast love and personally cares for us like a father.
             As David wrote in Psalm 103:13-19, “Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust. As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more; and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant, and who remember His precepts to do them. The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all.”