Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Does God Look for Those with Humility?

Continuing the series from his book, "Uprising", Erwin McManus (www.mosaic.org) opens with a prologue.  "For the next 3 weeks, we are going to step into a quest for honor and integrity."   However, to set the foundation for honor and integrity, Erwin begins with "humility".  When we enter into faith conversations in life, this is not a typical topic covered.   "If we have a series about success, how to reach our destinies or how to unlock our talents, the room is packed!  However, if we talk about humility, few people feel they aspire to be more humble.  Yet, what we need to begin to connect is the person we long to become and the journey that is required to become that person.  Have you ever felt that you just can't "catch a break" to become that person?  We often lack the discipline or the knowledge to pursue character.  In order to live a life of honor, we have to have the courage to agree to live it!   So often, we feel we have some sort of deficit when it comes to courage.  As for integrity, it carries this elusive meaning; this slippery definition within us.  So many of us have been on this journey towards integrity, but we are not sure how we can attain it.  That, or we just can't seem to "crack the code" to become a people of integrity.

Have you ever tried to join a pick up game of basketball, football, soccer, kickball..etc?  Remember, this is where you have to stand in a line and wait to be picked by captains for a team.  Erwin remembers this all too well because he was always picked last.  He admits that he was a terrible athlete, but "another reason why (I was picked last) was because, often of the time, my brother was a captain... I knew I wasn't going to get picked...no matter how hard I tried..."  Since (most captains) knew his brother wouldn't pick him, they then wouldn't want to "waste a pick" because they knew they would end up with Erwin anyway!  Erwin hated this process and one day, when he'd finally had enough, he decided that the only way he could avoid being picked last was to be the captain himself.  He courageously stepped up to be a captain and, of course, his brother was the other captain.  Erwin knew that his team "would get killed" and lose they did, time and time again.  But as time went by, Erwin began picking the worst players first because he liked honoring the kids who never got this chance.  Also Erwin began to realize that, if this team, his "Rival Muffin Band", ever won, it would be a true victory because they had such a small chance of winning!   "I accidentally found a principle from Jesus!"  The great part about this story is that his team did finally win, but he'll save that story for another time.  Nonetheless, there is something inside of all of us that hates being picked last.

So why should we value being last?  Why should we care, in any given situation, about humility?  These questions require a question.  Have you ever wanted to be the person God trusted with a big dream or responsibility to truly make a difference in this world?   If humility has any true value in this world, it is the fact that,

God honors humility.

Philippians 2:1 says, "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,     being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

In Jesus, we see humility is the highest virtue because He took this on Himself at the highest order.  Jesus changed our concept of what leadership looks like entirely.  He combined leadership with the spirit of serving to create a sort of a "servant leadership".  So many times, when we talk about the humility of Jesus, we see this as almost a contrast from who God is; this great all-knowing, all powerful God.  But Jesus humbled Himself by leaving His Trinity to become a servant to mankind.  What all this implies is that God, before Jesus, had never experienced humility or had never felt what it meant to be a servant.  But this is FALSE.

In scripture, we read much about glorifying God, about honoring Him and about sacrificing for Him.  A side effect of this are the questions that surface in the back of our minds, "Is God some sort of Divine Narcissist?"  "Does He need to be adored?" and "Did He create all of us just to have a people who worship Him?"  "Is this our needy God?"   Well, if the driving narrative of all of Creation is simply to glorify God, He did a lousy job because most of us don't glorify Him!   On the contrary, if the driving narrative is love, then everything else makes sense!  Think about it.  Jesus teaches us that leaders are to be servants to the people.  But by this teaching, we learn a provocative truth about God;   Jesus is God's expression of pure love and the humility love requires. We think of God as all powerful and all knowing.  While this is true, Jesus relays to us is that He is also the purest expression of humility.  God is not only more humble than us, but His coming in the form of a servant was not new to Him.  Jesus was a natural servant because it is the only path God has ever taken!  We speak of the God as the God of fire, wind and water.  But He is not like the Greek gods of power and rage.  Our God is the God of humility with a path of servant-hood.

If many who want to be like God, they want His power and His wisdom, but often don't want His character!  Jesus made Himself nothing by assuming the role of a servant.  What other path could God take except a path of humility and love?  Matthew 11:29 says, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

God is saying, "You can trust me with your life!  His heart is gentle and humble.  This is who God is and this is why He is worthy of worship!  But it still seems strange to say God is a servant.  It feels right to say He is all powerful and all wise, but saying our God is a servant recoils us.  It is the aspect of God we desire the least.  Servant hood is not a higher status.  It implies that our hope is found "beneath us".  Jesus says to come to Him with a humble heart.  But it is only with a humble heart that everything else makes sense.  Jesus materializes Himself to earth in His truest character.  See, it then makes sense about why God chooses who He does.  It then makes sense why he looks for the humble in spirit.  The scriptures give us a clear picture of this. In fact, we also read in scripture that God actually opposes the proud!  God does not choose the arrogant.  James 4:But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”

God chose Moses, right?   Moses was basically Israels's George Washington.  It wasn't because Moses was the most confident or the most powerful man among them!  Moses was "more humble than anyone else on earth!"  That humility is the most reflective image of God.  It is parenthetical.

Remember when Moses and Aaron went before the Pharaoh?  In Exodus 10:3, So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me?  Let My people go, so that they may worship Me.  Of all the requests God could have made to Pharaoh, He only asked Pharaoh to humble himself!   Was that all Pharaoh had to do?  What Pharaoh soon came to realize is that God is incredible about taking broken humans and doing wonderful things with them.

God will not oppose you because you are a failure.  He will not reject you if you are broken.  God does not even reject the sinful. He rejects the arrogant.  This is why it brings so much pain to Him when we resist Him when He Himself went net through so much pain to pursue us.  God calls you and me to serve and to lay our lives down.  But He laid His life down for us many, many years before He asked us to this.  He has done this and He has done much more!

Humility is kind of a strange dynamic.  You can think too highly of yourself, but you can also think too little of yourself.  See, we often confuse humility as unhealthy self deprecation or as an incredible lack of self esteem.  Years ago, Erwin went to a study about neural readings of the brain and neural feedback.  One day, while he was waiting to enter the lab, he started a conversation with the CEO.  They were talking about the business and, after the CEO mentioned his family several times, Erwin commented that he must be a great father and husband.  The CEO balked and said, "No, I'm a piece of shit!"  Reflecting on the CEO's response, Erwin's mind wanders to his dog, Thatcher. "I'm his master, but I have to serve my dog..I have to make sure he has food... I have to take Thatcher for walks..And because I am his master, I have to carry plastic bags and grab 'all of that' every time!"  Erwin is a servant-master to his dog.  You are not some meaningless piece of waste.  You are wonderfully and marvelously made!  Don't buy into the falseness that you are worthless.  You are the image of God.

Sometimes we just want to be more than we are.  We all have this desire.  There is a voice in us that makes us want to be great or significant.  "I want to be great.  I'm just going to own that"  Jesus says if you want to be great, He has a process for that.  To be great, you have to be the servant to all.  Erwin observes, "As long as I know how long I have to be a servant, I can do that, right?"  Jesus says if you want to be first, be last.  "I've been that, so I'm willing to be last...but for how long??"    Is this like the line we formed as kids when we were last in line and someone came down and said, "Okay everybody, "Turn around!" (So then the last were first.)

In order to be in a place of the most honor, we have to start in the place of the least honor.  Have you ever been to a game where you saw empty seats in the more expensive areas?  You were with a friend who were a bad influence and you went and sat in those seats only to have the concierge ask for your tickets!  After you couldn't show him a ticket, you were asked to politely (and humbly) return to your seat?  Worse, have you ever been to an event where you had a good seat, but then you saw a better seat, only to find somebody got there first.  But when you tried to return to your previous seat, someone had taken that as well?

The most extraordinary thing Jesus taught us about humility is that God is more humble than we could ever be.  What we might find hard to believe is that we thrive in humility!  God knows this and encourages us to choose the path of servant hood.  It is only to the humble that God trusts His power and His glory.

John 13 reads, It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 

This was Jesus' moment!  He knew that all God's power had been returned to Him.  What would we have done if we knew, at that moment we had this kind of power?  Can you imagine what would happen to this world if everyone could materialize their thoughts into reality?  Everybody would be gone!  Think about how many siblings we would have left!!  How many of you would just get rid of your boss or your boyfriend?  There is a reason why God doesn't give us His power.  What do you do with your power?  What do you do with your relational power, your emotional power or  your position of wealth?  See, Jesus had absolute power on the cross!   Yet, even knowing what He was about to experience, Jesus chooses to wash His disciples' feet.   

"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.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”  “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

God searches us and longs to make us clean.  He asks us for our life, but only because He gave first to us.  He even took on all of our shortcomings to save us.  God always exalts the humble.  He exalted Jesus to the highest place with the name above all names.  We should realize what Jesus is trying to do in washing our feet.  He is trying show us the value of humility.  It is here that we find the kind of people God chooses to entrust with His power.

"When I was 29", says Erwin, "I spent those years working for an urban ministry...I rarely talked to anyone... We were working in a tiny duplex downtown and ministering to prostitutes and drug dealers...20,000 people would pack the arena nearby."  Often, Erwin would volunteer at the arena pointing a flashlight to the right or left.  Erwin worked at camps for boys as well.  "Boys are easy.  There's no conversation and then we wrestle."  But then Erwin would also help with 10 to 12 year old girls.  "Girls are HARD...All they want to do is talk!"  They would come in clusters to him because they would move in clusters.  Remembering their names was hard and exhausting. "I was DONE...it was exhausting and I needed relief."  After surviving an  exhausting camp one day, Erwin had committed to volunteering at the arena where "a monkey could do what I was doing".  This particular night, Erwin wanted to skip out, but his wife Kim said "No, you volunteered and you are going."  "So I went...I had no clean clothes, so I grabbed some jeans at a local store.  When I got there, I was in a bad mood with a bad attitude.  What's worse, the guy in charge of the event wasn't nice either.  This guy came up to me and said, 'Son, when you come to a meeting of ministers, you need to wear a suit.'

Sulking in a humiliated mood, one of the organizers stopped to have a word with Erwin.  He was told by the organizer that one of the featured speakers was not going to make it and he said, "I think the Lord wants you to speak!"  Erwin laughed because he didn't want to look like an idiot.  But the man more intently grabbed Erwin and, through huge glasses declared upon Erwin, "The Lord wants you to speak!!"  Erwin was stunned.  There were 20,000 people in the audience and he only had 45 minutes to prepare.  This was a huge opportunity; the opportunity of a lifetime.  But Erwin went behind closed doors and fell to the floor, weeping.  He was overwhelmed and terrified.  When he finished praying, he went to tell his wife.  In terror, he said, "I can't speak!"  Kim responded with "What do you mean?  God told me you were going to speak tonight and that's why I wanted you to come."  Shocked, Erwin asked, "Why didn't you tell me?"   Calmly, she said, "Because you would have prepared for it and you wouldn't have come to serve."

Humility is what God needs to work in humanity.  In humility, there is no where to fall!   "I love the fact that when God created us, He took the most common material in the universe, dust, and breathed life into us."  God needs none of what we have for His work, He just needs us to humbly open our hearts for Him.

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