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Posts Tagged ‘humility’

Oil painting by Jonathan Queen

Oil painting by Jonathan Queen

Double mindedness sounds bad. It has varying meanings. In scripture, it seems to be more of a split mind, where one’s affinity or affiliation has two masters. But in the secular world, the emphasis is more on wavering (an inability to make up one’s mind) or a half-hearted attempt at something. Am I guilty of not just one, but both?

Come close to the one true God, and He will draw close to you. Wash your hands; you have dirtied them in sin. Cleanse your heart, because your mind is split down the middle, your love for God on one side and selfish pursuits on the other. [James 4:8, The Voice]

I am really growing to love the new Voice translation which has both an artistic element and a creative way of expressive the nuances of a passage. For this reason, my heart was struck heavily by this verse in James.

My own heart, carrying within it [still], those secrets, is fueling the split of my mind so that my love and dedication to God is being watered down by my selfish wants and wannabe.

Coming from the Greek word, dipsuchos, it can also mean “double-souled.” And suddenly the reality of this state clicks in. I invited the Christ Spirit to dwell within but I confess, I still want things to go my way. I have relegated the Spirit to a friendly helper, and standby magician, a comforter in times of stress, but have I surrendered the way to Spirit?

And here comes the wavering: surely, it’s time to really let go. Decide. Give God full rein, not half. Give Spirit freedom to reveal the intended me. This me would not be so quick to judge or lie or inflate my own importance. This me would not crave esteem and distinction. For all that would come from the soul of Spirit, the breath of God.

Verse 10 (also in the Voice) says, “Lay yourself bare, facedown to the ground, in humility before the Lord; and He will lift your head . . . ” More traditional translations say, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” Not lifted to fame, but lifted in newness of a life, a singleness of purpose, a singleness of mind, a singleness of soul.

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Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld's (1794-1872)

Print by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s (1794-1872)

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. . . . “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”  [John 13:3-5, 8]

Jesus wanted to make a lasting impression. It’s not like he hadn’t talked about service and humility and lifting up others above oneself. But like so many of the parables and stories, he decided to create a picture, not just with words, but with actions. And yet, only John shares this story. Was it so humiliating? Did they fear the story would belie their claims of Jesus as the Messiah? After all, would the Messiah wash the feet of a mere fisherman? But for John, this was a critical illustration that could not be ignored.

And yet, the symbolic sharing of bread and wine at the meal is excluded by John. Clearly, for him, the foot washing was the most significant. And before that, the anointing of Jesus’s feet by Mary is told in detail. This too is bypassed by the other storytellers, except Luke, who doesn’t even identify the woman.

The significance of leadership and the self-abasement of feet is somehow important.

I never realized how much I under-appreciated my feet until I started having pain in the big toe of my left foot. Sometimes, it was so miserable, I couldn’t walk but a few steps. Every shoe had to pass the pain test before I would leave the bedroom. I tried everything from heat to cold to massage and acupuncture. I started wearing sandals everywhere (and not flipflops because the band would cut directly across the pain spot). Pretty soon, the pain started waking me up at night. Finally, I gave in and went to the doctor. The podiatrist was a little stumped because nothing really showed up in my x-rays or cat scan. In the end, he went ahead and did a bunionectomy even though my baby bunion was not the real problem. I think he just wanted to get in there and look around. It took almost three months to recover full use of my foot again . . . and of course, within a few months, the pain was back, not as acute, but still, there.

The podiatrist was not happy to see me again and said there was nothing more he could do. He gave me a referral to a physical therapist. I delayed that appointment for weeks out of embarrassment. I mean, really, a physical therapist for my toe??? And yet, I finally had no choice. Almost a year after my surgery, I gave in and went to the therapist. He was a really nice guy and I even told him my tale of embarrassment. The prescription was primarily deep massage.

The healing came through touch.

We don’t touch each other very much in our culture. Oh, we may hug and air kiss and we might shake hands or pat someone’s back. But a genuine touch, a focused touch, a touch with intent; now that makes a difference.

I have had massages off and on throughout the years, but only once did I have a massage by a believer who prayed over me throughout the experience. It was literally, life changing.

When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, I don’t think he poured water out of a measuring cup or use handy wipes. He prepared them for the journey ahead. He healed them from the bottom up. He made them part of himself through touch: intimate and necessary.

I have written and will perform a monologue tomorrow evening at our Good Friday service and at one point, she says, “And if they [sinners and the the sick] were lucky, he would touch them: just so, just so.”

Touch me Lord. Wash my feet. Heal me. Prepare me for the days to come. The journey I have yet to walk.

 

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I’m not paying enough attention. I know there are upright people around me; there are folks who are choosing each day to turn away from the selfish choice and seek peace. Have I become so jaded that I only see the mistakes, the falling short of a person?

Psalm 37:37
Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
a future awaits those who seek peace.

I place the bar very high for myself and as a result, I tend to give too much credence to the dark voice within who points out my failings, my trips, my secret heart. As a result, I appear to do the same to others. Sorry ya’ll.

It’s time to look with different and gentler eyes. It’s time to mark and consider the good moment, the brave choice, the intentional moments of others. It’s time to look for them and to celebrate them.

At work, I can praise my staff for a job well done, but I don’t offer much encouragement to regular people around me, from my kids who struggle each day to navigate their world to my husband who has become too familiar, a presence who has lost his uniqueness, but has become a habit instead. Like being on auto-pilot, I am not looking for the evidence of good choices, conscious choices, dauntlessness.

Who do I admire? Not for their successes in the world, but for their courage to walk the narrow way of faith, to hold fast to the paradoxes of Christ, to live humbly, to seek peace by turning away from self camouflage, to practice transparency and authenticity. I want to celebrate them.

Keep me mindful today that I might see.

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Art by Joseph Liner

Thirty two years ago, I responded to a nation-wide call to Christians around the country to fast and pray in Washington, D.C. II Chronicles 7:14 was the keystone verse to that call and that day became known as Washington for Jesus. I arrived with national hope for healing but left with disappointment.


II Chronicles 7:14
“. . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I had taken the call seriously. I traveled a long way, prepared myself to fast, and meditated on the scriptures. In my imagination, the Mall would be filled with prayer like in the days of David and Solomon and the Shekinah glory would fall. Instead, there was amplified praise music and prayer from the stage area, political rhetoric, picnics, vendors selling “Jesus Junk,” street proselytizing, and tracts, tracts, tracts. Hope was being directed to a political agenda and not to the instruction and promises God had given to Solomon.

Granted, it is much more difficult to turn a country’s focus. Change begins at the grass roots level, it begins with the individual.

So, here are the steps to healing that I have gleaned from this scripture. This is where I must begin:

  1. Know who you are. God is speaking to the “people called by my name.” Am I a child of God? I am. I have accepted God’s authority over my life.
  2. Humble yourself. As long as I believe my way is the best way, I can interfere with the divine plan. Humility with others is tough; with God, moreso.
  3. Pray. There are thousands of ways to pray, from casual chat to ritualized liturgy. They are all useful as long as the heart is bent toward God.
  4. Seek God’s face. A little different from prayer, but certainly an aspect of prayer, this seeking implies expectation. If I am told to seek then I am expected to find. The key is understanding that God’s face is reflected in a myriad of ways including the faces of human beings.
  5. Turn aside from the old ways and habits. This is probably the most difficult step if it’s done out of order. It’s not just a quarter turn, it’s a 180. It’s a decision. I don’t even have to walk in that new direction, just turn, and God will show up.

These are steps that will bring healing to any situation. And physical healing? I don’t know, perhaps that too. Perhaps, as the heart and soul are healed, the body follows. But I can’t speak with any authority about that, I have not yet grappled with serious illness.

The promises are threefold if we follow the five steps: God will hear, God will forgive, and God will heal.

I am reminded of the four friends who broke through a ceiling to lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus [Mark 2:3-5] and it’s revealing to me that Jesus forgave his sins first.

I don’t know how to bring a nation around, but I believe we could start with our own lives. The “land” is basic, it’s the foundation of our Earth. What is foundational in our daily lives?

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This text caught me off guard today. I’ve always thought of “the world” as those “things” that suck me away from the heart of God. But it’s not the things at all. It’s the verbs in me. Just like we mistake money as evil when it’s the “love of money” that is the problem: so it is with everything else.

I John 2:16
For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man [or woman], the lust of his [her] eyes and the boasting of what he [she] has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.
[NIV, 1984]

It’s my intentions, my desires, my personal cravings that drive me into the world. I see and then I want. I listen and then I desire. I remember and then I pine for the source of that memory. I am Edmund (The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe).

Craving is an intense desire. Do I crave God or what God can do for me?

Among the definitions for lusting (beyond the obvious sexual context) is a “passionate or overmastering desire or craving, usually followed by a lust for power.” At my age, sex is not much of a driver, but power, well, who am I kidding if I say that has no enticement? In my head, I know it’s the antithesis of all things Christ, and yet I know it’s there, waiting for the cage door to open and spring out. I think it’s married to another secret desire I have had throughout the years: Fame. It has tainted every venture. It has muddied every project. And lust laughs every time.

Boasting has two elements: one is exaggeration and the other is pride. Hence, in subsequent translations of this verse, it is wrapped up in a single phrase, “the pride of life.” It’s simple really, like a two-year old who insists on “doing it alone.” In some ways, I can see the root of it in the disappointments of my early years where there didn’t seem to be anyone to truly guide. My mother was caught in her own web of pride and self-control. From her perspective, if she didn’t do the work, no one would. If she didn’t make it happen, it wouldn’t happen. And this “gift” she passed along with a vengeance.

Again, the head knows all of this intellectually. But the soul cries out to surrender, to trust, to let go, to accept, to embrace contentment, to engage the interior life and not the ephemeral cravings, lustings, and boastings of the ads in the New York Times, the promotions, the landscaped yards, the exquisite furniture, the honor roll students, the wine cellars, the brilliant geeks, the skinny models, the tech toys, the romances, the published authors, the movies, the stars, the travel guides, the vistas, the sailboats, the beach houses, the Old Spice man, and even the full breed dogs and cats. Stupid, right?

I want, I wish, I desire. I crave, I lust, I boast.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” [Luke 14:7-11]

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Want to experience authentic Christ followership? It’s the opposite of everything imaginable: love enemies, serve to lead, sit to stand, humbleness for glory, just to name a few. The key to all faith paradoxes is trust and confidence in the God who operates outside of natural laws, basics, like gravity.

I Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Grace is a paradox too.

I’ve been captivated by paradox within my faith for the last three years. I can’t seem to get away from it, as though this one understanding is waiting to be fully embraced, as though I am on the precipice of really “getting it.” Something inside me keeps saying, “once this truth is broken apart, I will be stepping into the deepest places where faith, trust, hope, and love are the norm.

It would be a spiritual Sadie Hawkins life when those seemingly opposite behaviors would be natural. Expectations would no longer drive my emotional responses; disappointment wouldn’t overpower faith; fear would be a memory; anger wouldn’t be a useful tool to get my way; and controlling words would be unfamiliar.

If I could “cast my anxieties” on Christ, there would be nothing to carry.

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Photo by Mike Dykstra

How often do we need to remind someone? In my house, we must remind teenagers every day (and more than once a day) to clean the cat box, empty the trash, and put the dishes in the dishwasher. And how many more times if we added, “choose what is good today.”

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
[NIV 2011]

I haven’t been able to verify this piece of information, but I did read somewhere that parents, in order to teach a small child or toddler to say “please” and “thank you,” must be remind the child at least 10,000 times before he or she will remember. That’s daunting. In a year, that’s 27 times a day. And if one has more than child . . . you do the math.

Apparently, it’s not much better with adults who must learn the basics of walking out the faith, the very faith they have chosen to follow and even profess. They must be reminded to choose “good,” to obey authorities, to be considerate and to be gentle towards everyone.

If we must be reminded, the implication is clear: we’re not doing it. I’m not doing it either. Why?

As Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Is it really just forgetting to do it? That’s what my kids say, “I forgot.” My husband is particularly irked by his ignored requests, taking that behavior as a choice and therefore lack of respect.

Maybe it’s just our human tendency to take the easier way, the wide road. After all, choosing to “do good” might take me out of my way or inconvenience me. Being obedient might entail putting that person’s request above my own plans. Or, it could be a type of laziness.

But what about the other elements of this teaching from Paul to Titus? What excuse would there be for not keeping the peace or conducting oneself gently? Is it easier to be argumentative and domineering? Perhaps it’s a safety issue again, a control issue. Somewhere along the line, the idea of being gentle feels too much like being a door mat and keeping the peace may mean giving way to my ideas or my decisions.

Or, maybe I just need to be reminded.

Where do the reminders come from? Sermons? Reading? Small group meetings? Blogs? Music? Yes to all of these and more. We immerse ourselves in these mediums to help us remember.

Other faith traditions do the same thing, keeping feasts and festivals and rituals to help the people remember the why’s of faith.

Today is Good Friday, 2011. It is a day for us to remember the Christ who died, crucified, and the mystery that would be revealed. And as we do, we might also remember the rest of the story, the part that leads us to choose a better way each day.

Thanks be to God.

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