A Foundation of Humility

Saint Augustine, one of early Christianity’s greatest leaders, once said this: “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”

What do you think? Which verse or story in the Bible hit home with Augustine on the topic of humility?

It’s not an easy question. Because the topic of humility is a frequent topic in the Bible. In today’s reading, we’re encouraged by Isaiah to tremble at the word of God, and be humble and contrite. He tells us that God wants us to be remorseful and regretful over the sinful things we have done.

We are to remember that God is the One who made us. Without him, we don’t even exist. So he certainly has the right to set the rules for his creation. We should listen to what he says, and try to do it, Isaiah asserts.

That was just the Old Testament portion of today’s reading. Moving on to the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul encourages the same quality of humility. He reminds us that God not only created us, he also recreated us. He didn’t simply form us. He transformed us. He took us from the dark side to the side of the light.

On that side, we are not to keep on trying to figure out what please us, but start finding out what pleases God.

And that takes great humility. It takes a sense of modesty and meekness to say, “God is smarter than I am. If there’s any debate whatsoever about what I should be thinking, feeling, or doing, then I’m going to go with God’s way, not my way.”

In other words, faith, not pride, will show us the way to what is good, right and true. What Augustine said is really true. Humility, not arrogance, will build the tower that pierces the clouds.

Because humility starts with Jesus, not with me. Humility knows to think much less about self, and think much more about clinging to our Savior so that we can receive his goodness, righteousness and truth — all given to us as a free gift. Humility leads us to the cross for forgiveness, and to the empty tomb for power and life.

As you ponder your own humility (or need thereof), think of it this way. No humility, no foundation. No foundation, nothing else lasting gets built. Humility is the essential first step to a life of noble purpose.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?’ declares the Lord. ‘These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word'” (Isaiah 66:1-2, NIV).

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8-10, NIV).

Lord, grant me a humble heart. Give me repentance that leads my heart to the cross and the empty tomb — a heart that looks to Jesus for all that is good, right and true in life.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, September 27, is Isaiah 65:17 – 66:24, Ephesians 5:8-33 and Psalm 113:1-9.

Header image based on "Foundation" by ArmchairBuilder.com, CC By 2.0

Out of Ideas? Energy Waning?

Sometimes we run out of ideas. And energy. The problems seem too big for us. The obstacles appear to be insurmountable.

Questions arise: “Can this relationship survive the huge mistake I just made? How will I keep my job after blowing it like this?”

Negative thoughts flood our mind: “I’m just so tired… I don’t have the strength to keep on going… That was a huge stumble… I can’t believe it. I’ve fallen yet again.”

Isaiah the prophet understood this line of thinking. After all, he was called to proclaim God’s word and will at a time when God’s people needed a lot of encouragement.

Spiritual rebellion was running rampant amongst God’s people. They were forgetful when it came to God’s power and goodness. They were lacking confidence in regard to God’s love and forgiveness.

They needed a source of renewable energy. They needed to learn how to be resilient. They had to somehow discover their bounce-back-ability.

Isaiah reminded them of something critically important. And I love how he does this: “So… you’re saying that you have no knowledge of who God is? You’re telling me you’ve never heard that he is your loving Creator? You don’t know that he has stores of energy and wisdom that we can not even begin to fathom, much less exhaust?”

By God’s grace, through faith, we have Jesus as our hope. So many blessings result when we simply trust him. Hope is restored when we know the forgiveness, the mercy, the grace of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Our strength will at times fail, and then it will be renewed. We may experience problems and obstacles in life, but Jesus will ultimately help us soar over them. We may at times feel exhausted and want to say, “I’m done!”

But we have a source of renewable energy. Our Lord — in his timing — will renew us. We will run and not grow weary. We will walk and not be faint.

If even death could not hold Jesus down, then Jesus will not allow us to be held down by a simple loss of ideas or energy. He made us. And he will make us resilient as well. He redeemed us. And he will redeem our energy and ideas too.

That’s his promise to you!

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:28-31, NIV)

Lord, when I feel I’ve run out of ideas and energy, help me to be resilient. Send me your Spirit so that I can know your strength, your energy, and your hope in Jesus Christ. I am sorry for the times when I have forgotten to look to you for help in my distress. Help me to trust your promises of renewal and resilience.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, September 16, is Isaiah 38:1 – 40:31, Galatians 2:11 – 3:9 and Psalm 107:33-43.

Header image based on "Energy Field" by Damien McMahon, CC By 2.0

Do Real Christians Have Doubts?

Do sincere Christians sometimes have doubts?

You be the judge. Let me introduce you to a person named Asaph. Asaph was a poet and a musician at the time of David. He was appointed by David to lead worship and write music for worship at the tabernacle:

“He (David) appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to extol, thank, and praise the Lord, the God of Israel: Asaph was the chief…” (1 Chronicles 16:4-5, NIV).

Asaph was such a remarkable worship leader that ultimately David even set apart Asaph’s descendants to lead the Israelites in worship. David’s son Solomon would end up building the temple in Jerusalem. And Asaph’s sons would continue to lead worship as it shifted from tent to temple.

Would you think that David would select a man of faith for a ministry like that?

Of course he would! Would such a man ever have doubts? Check out the first 14 verses of Psalm 73, which Asaph wrote:

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. 

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.

Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.

They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.

Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. (Psalm 73:1-14, NIV)

If you have ever had a few doubts along the way, I pray that you will find comfort in Asaph’s struggles as he viewed the prosperity of unbelievers and wondered how they could be so successful. How could God allow it?

Ultimately, Asaph’s doubts did not win out. Jesus did. The Holy Spirit gained the victory in Asaph’s heart. Asaph ended up writing a full dozen of the Psalms, words of faith that still inspire us today.

Our Bible reading for Friday, June 12, is 2 Samuel 18:19 – 19:43, Acts 7:44 – 8:3 and Psalm 73:1-14.

Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!

Note: The quote on the picture is from Francis Bacon, an English jurist, philosopher, statesman, scientist, orator, and author. Also a Christian! In 1626 Bacon stopped in the snow to conduct an experiment on the preservation of food, fell ill, and died on Easter Sunday. In his will, he included this final prayer: “When I thought most of peace and honor, thy hand [was] heavy on me, and hath humbled me, according to thy former loving kindness. … Just are thy judgments upon my sins. … Be merciful unto me for my Savior’s sake, and receive me into thy bosom.”

Header image based on "Certainty and Doubt" by Celestine Chua, CC By 2.0

Anguish

Anguish is defined by Merriam-Webster as “extreme pain, distress or anxiety.”

You’ve been there. So have I.

We experience a loss. Maybe it’s a loved one, or a treasured possession, or a capability we once possessed. It’s painful.

We come under attack. Perhaps it’s an attack on our health by a disease or injury. Maybe it’s a personal attack by someone from whom we expect support. That’s distressing.

We face difficult challenges that lie ahead. They may seem insurmountable. Defeat looms, rather than victory. In the place of glory, shame hovers. The situation is most definitely anxiety-producing.

What’s the best way to handle anguish? I highly recommend David’s way.

He trusted God’s power to sooth his anguish. He leaned on God’s authority to address issues and provide healing, according to his will. Most of all, no matter what situation was creating his pain, distress or anxiety, David looked to God for unfailing love.

“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love” (Psalm 6:2-4, NIV).

Lord, you are in control of the entire universe, and you love me. Please grant me relief of my anguish, according to your will, Lord. May this pain and distress draw me closer to you. May my anxiety make me a more faithful pray-er.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, January 7, is Genesis 14:1 – 16:16, Matthew 5:43 – 6:24 and Psalm 6:1-10.

Header image based on "anguished..." by Aoyama, CC by 2.0

A Stark Contrast

Know your path, the Bible teaches us. Because there’s a stark contrast in the two paths we can follow in life. One is well-worn, one traveled lightly.

The destinations differ too. One leads to emptiness and destruction. No, that emptiness and destruction does not always arrive in this life. But, yes, always at some point it does.

The other path, less-frequented, runs beside the “brook” we call the Bible. That path, the author of Psalm 1 declares, leads to fulfillment, hope, and most of all, life.

That’s because that path leads us to Jesus, to the cross, and ultimately, to the empty tomb.

And finally, the company we travel with will differ. One path has people who trust what they read in the Bible. Sometimes they trust boldly, but often meekly. 

The other path has those who do not trust. Sometimes they doubt quietly and respectfully but often, sadly, they doubt with derision and contempt.

Where will you walk in 2015?

“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lordand who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (Psalm 1:1-6, NIV).

Guide my steps and the steps of the ones I love along the path that runs beside your word. Help me to delight in your law, O Lord. Most of all, may 2015 be a year of meditating on your grace as you reveal it to me in the gospel.

Our reading for Thursday, January 1, is Genesis 1:1 – 2:17, Matthew 1:1-25 and Psalm 1:1-6.