The Heart of Humility

            Time and time again, I have written about how we are to love others. I have used John 13: 34-35 many times. Those verses read, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I have to often go back to that section of scripture to remind myself of who it is that I am supposed to be and how to treat others. I fully believe that loving others as Jesus has loved us is the chief characteristic for which we should strive. In my Bible reading lately, I think that I have found what should be a close second— humility.

            I can go ahead and tell you that I feel hypocritical writing about how we should be humble. For most of my life, I have greatly struggled with being overly prideful. The sin of arrogance has permeated pretty much every aspect of my being. This even includes my faith. I strive to know the Bible and to know it well. That is a great goal for anyone, obviously. However, I would often use my biblical knowledge to show off how great I was or beat people down. I somehow got it in my mind that I was better than others because I could quote more scripture than them. Let me tell you this: there is no greater way to turn people off from the faith than being self-righteous. In recent years, God and life have done quite the job removing my pharisaic mindset. There is still work to do, but they are certainly making progress.

            Pride is an interesting thing. We get taught from a young age that it is good. We are told that we should take pride in our country, state, school, family, job, accomplishments, achievements, and pretty much everything else. I don’t believe that pride is necessarily a bad thing. It is good to be proud of someone for something that they’ve done. It is good to be proud of yourself when you have completed a goal that you have set out to do. The issue is that we can quickly lose containment of our pride, and it starts to morph into us thinking that we are better than others. That is never an acceptable mindset in God’s kingdom. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are all equal, period. This is the danger of pride. We place ourselves on a pedestal. When pride begins to run rampant in our hearts, it becomes like trying to put out a forest fire with a water hose. Before we know it, we start to think less of others. That is never how God’s people should think.

            In A Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren wrote, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” Humility is not about degrading or berating yourself. It is not about considering yourself less than. It is not about thinking that you are nothing. It is simply thinking about others above yourself. I believe Paul had something to say about that. This is what he wrote in Philippians 2:3­–4, “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.” That is what it is to be humble. 

            The heart of humility is trusting God. If we are to place others’ needs above our own, then we are forced to rely on God to fulfill ours. This is countercultural, at least in the U.S. We have it seared into our minds that we are to look out for ourselves and our loved ones above all else. We think that if we are not the ones taking care of everything, then things will fall apart. Remember the line from the Lord’s prayer, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11)? We cannot be humble until we truly trust that God will provide for us. He will; he has promised us that.

            I said at the beginning that humility is second to loving others. In reality, they are two sides of the same coin. To love others and to be humble are both done by laying down our pride and thinking about others more than ourselves. This is who God has called us to be. Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” There it is. All three of those things can be summed up loving others and trusting God. We are to be humble people. We are to try to rid ourselves of arrogance. This is what Jesus did. We see that by how he served those around him, washed the feet of the disciples, and willingly went to the cross. If Jesus did these things because he considered others above himself, then we have no justification to not do the same. 

When explaining how to be humble, C.S. Lewis wrote this in Mere Christianity: “The first step is to realize that one is proud.” We need to find those places where we think of ourselves as better than others, and then pray for God to remove that pride from us. Alongside that, we need to love those around us and trust God to take care of us. Only then, we can be humble. Only then, we can do what it is that the Lord has required of us.

No Room for Hatred in God’s Kingdom

Do you know the story of Jonah from the Bible? It is a short book, only 47 verses, that appears towards the back of the Old Testament. You are probably familiar with the fact that he was swallowed by a whale. The Bible actually doesn’t say whale; it just says a “big fish,” but that is not overly important to the story. Do you know what led up to that moment or what happened after? If not, allow me to briefly sum it up.

            Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh. This was the capital city of Assyria, which was Israel’s neighbor to the northeast. It is important to know that Israel and Assyria did not get along. In fact, the story of Jonah took place just a few decades before Assyria defeated Israel in a war and took the Israelites captive. Nevertheless, God called Jonah, a Jew, to go and preach to his enemies and try to lead them to God. Jonah wanted nothing to do with this. He decided to board a ship and sail to Tarshish, which is in modern-day Spain. In other words, he was trying to get as far away from Nineveh and God’s calling as he could. 

            While he was on the ship, a great storm came. Jonah believed that God sent the storm because of him, so he asked the other men on the ship to throw him overboard. He thought that it was better that he perish than all of them. As he was sinking to the bottom of Mediterranean Sea, God sent a big fish to swallow him. He spent the next three days in the belly of the fish. I cannot imagine that this was a pleasant experience. Then, the fish “vomited” Jonah on to land— which happened to be Nineveh. 

            While he was there, he preached to the Ninevites, and they changed their ways and decided to follow God. Success, right? The story then takes an odd turn, and Jonah was unhappy about the people’s response to his message. Why was this? Scripture doesn’t say for sure, but I have my opinion on it. I believe that Jonah was unhappy because he did not want to see the Ninevites come to faith because they were his enemy. He had spent his whole life despising these people. Now, they have come to faith in the God that he believed was only for the Jews. Jonah’s whole worldview was challenged.

            I think that Jonah believed that the Ninevites were less than and didn’t deserve God’s grace. Unfortunately, this is not a notion that has died out in the centuries that have passed since he lived. In Jesus’ day, the Jews believed that the messiah was only coming to redeem them. However, we can read about how Jesus was regularly ministering to gentiles (non-Jews). We even see him caring for Samaritans, who the Jews reviled, and Romans, who were oppressing the Jews. These were Israel’s enemies at the time. Jesus didn’t care. Just like with the story of Jonah, we see that God’s love knows no borders.

            There is nobody who is seen as a less than when it comes to God’s love. In all honestly, not a one of us deserve his grace. We are all sinners who have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:26). On top of that, Jesus died for all (1 Corinthians 5:15; also, the whole Bible). Every person is in the exact same boat— sinners in need of grace. Why then would we ever consider anyone less than? There is no room for hatred in God’s kingdom. There is absolutely no biblical justification for considering anyone as inferior. There are a million ways in which we can divide ourselves: nationally, racially, politically, socioeconomically, etc. These are all man-made lines that do not exist in God’s eyes. He loves everyone, period. We all need to search our hearts. Is there any group of people that you consider worthless? Is there anyone that you would prefer to jump on a ship to get as far away from as possible rather than share with them the love of God? 

            We all have our prejudices. Most of these are taught to us from the times that we are kids. If we pretend that we don’t, then we do everyone a disservice. We need to get over ourselves and accept that God loves them just as much as us. Perhaps, God may even want to use us to share his love with them. Jonah is a story of God’s love for all and people’s preconceived notions against that. It is imperative that, as God’s people, we love everyone with the same love in which he has loved us. Afterall, that is the new commandment that Jesus gave in John 13:34.

The Day After Easter

Yesterday, the world celebrated Easter Sunday. This one seemed to hold a little bit more power than Easter Sunday normally does. I believe that is because of what we have been through over the past year. At this point a year ago, we were all locked away in our houses as a way to protect us from an invisible threat. Churches did not convene together to shout our praises that Christ is risen. We watched and celebrated, as best that we could, by watching a service on a little screen. “It doesn’t feel much like Easter,” was a refrain that was heard over and over again. Praise be to God that this year was different. We were allowed to come together again and worship the resurrected Savior in person. At my church, we even sang as a congregation for only the second time since the pandemic began. Yes, we still had to wear masks and be social distanced. The battle with Covid is not yet over, but we were together. 

I am reminded of the disciples on that Sunday morning, almost 2000 years ago. John and Peter had made their way to the tomb, and John made a point to make sure that we are all aware that he beat Peter in that footrace (John 20:4). They investigated the tomb and found it empty. Then, they went back to the place in which all of the disciples were hiding out. They must have been afraid for their lives. Their leader had just been killed and probably thought that the same could happen to them. They were not sure what was going to happen next, but they were together. How do you go back to a normal life after you spent the past three years living life with Jesus? Of course, Jesus came to them. He showed them the holes his hands and feet to prove it was truly him. John 20:20 tells us that the disciples were “overjoyed” when they saw him. In a moment, they went from afraid to joyous because they had encountered the risen Messiah. 

Can you imagine what they were feeling the day after that first Easter? I cannot imagine that they went back to life as normal. They had become witnesses to the fact that death and sin could not defeat Christ. They now knew that Jesus was and is everything that he ever claimed to be. There was not a shred of doubt that he was indeed the Son of God and the one who came to bring eternal life to all that would believe in them. That moment would go on to fuel them for the rest of their days. This encounter gave them all that they needed to take the name of Jesus as far as they could and to all that would listen. Because the risen Lord came to them, they would go on to dedicate their lives to him. For all but John, this dedication would end up costing them their lives.

Today is the day after Easter. What are we going to do with it? Are we going to go back to our normal, mundane lives? Are we going to take the greatest story ever told and lock it away for another year? Or are we going to the allow the fact that we have encountered the risen Savior to fuel us to tell the world about him? I hope that we keep shouting “he lives” every day and not just on Resurrection Sunday. 

The tomb is empty! I was in Israel four years ago, and I can assure you that it is still empty. This is the greatest news that the world has ever received. Everyone needs to know that Christ is risen; he is risen indeed. They need to know that when Jesus stepped foot out of his burial place, he emerged with their salvation in his pierced hands. They need to know that he walked out to prove to them that he everything that he said is true— most importantly, that he loves them. We should not walk out of an Easter service the same way in which we went in. Our hearts should be, “Burning within us” (Luke 24:32). 

We have encountered the living God. This is the greatest news that we can share with the world. This should be what gets us through each day. This should be the answer to every doubt that we face. This is the weapon that we should use when Satan asks us if God really loves us. This is the rock that our faith must be built upon. Christ walked out of that tomb to prove that he loves you. We forever live in that Easter moment. Each morning, as you wake up and prepare to face the day, say to yourself, “Christ the Lord is risen today!” Then, say it to all who will listen.