Being Willing to Be Insignificant

I was talking with a counselor yesterday.  He was telling me about the needs of significance and security.  He said that men have the greatest need for significance while women have the greatest need for security.

This was not new to me.  I learned this in Bible college.  I think I learned it my first year of Bible college, in fact, and I’ve never forgotten it.  But it caught my attention at that moment in a way it hadn’t caught it before.  It caught my attention because it touches on something I’ve been thinking about lately: how I should understand myself in the Kingdom work of God.

I think it was Oswald Chambers who got me thinking along these lines.  In his June 21st My Utmost for His Highest entry (which I would have read on vacation), Chambers says this:

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It’s that blessed are the poor in spirit comment that got me (again, on my vacation!).  That line, of course, comes as part of Jesus’ opening beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount.  I knew that line.  It seems like I’ve always known that line.  But I’ve also disliked that line.  I disliked the idea of being poor, whether in spirit or otherwise.  Poverty (again, material or physical) is for other people, not me.  That’s what I thought, anyway.  What I realized when I read Chamber’s devotion, though, is that it is for me, that I’ve missed a lot by rejected this poorness in spirit, that I am not living in a blessed way.

Several other Scriptural statements came up with supported this notion.  Here are a few of them:

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And that’s just three.  I could toss out several more about being nothing, not being conceited, being a servant, and many more phrases/ideas which fit in here.  It’s not just the Sermon on the Mount which calls me to poverty.  It is the entire word of God.

This is similar, I think, to something else I heard in Bible college.  One professor told the class on one occasion that the Jewish rabbis used to teach people to carry two rocks in their pockets.  On one rock would be written the phrase, “For me the world was created” (or something else like that, something which put the person at the center of the universe), and on the other would be written, “I am dust” (or something similarly debasing).  The person should then pull out whichever rock their attitude needed at any particularly time.

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For a more detailed account of this teaching, go here.

 I think this idea is true.  Jesus has exalted us in incredible ways; we truly can understand that the world was created for us.  But Jesus has also called us to humility.  Again, I don’t think I’ve had that humility in my life.  Not truly.  I’m willing to pursue it, though.  I’m willing to be poor in spirit (I’ve been praying for it, actually, and God has been answering that prayer, putting me into situations which make me feel so poor).  I’m willing to overcome that inborn and inbred desire for significance to be insignificant.

Speaking Jesus

There’s a phrase that has come to my attention over the past couple of weeks.  More accurately, there’s a prayer that has come to my attention over those weeks.  This phrase is a prayer.  It is one petition in a longer prayer called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, a prayer supposedly (but, alas, probably not) written by St. Patrick.  It goes like this:

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It is the second phrase there which has really caught my attention (though all, of course, are worthy of consideration).  Christ is the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.  I think I heard that phrase/prayer/petition years ago; I vaguely recall encountering St. Patrick’s Breastplate in my college years (though that might be a false memory, a Mandela effect).  But it has exploded across my radar recently.  Some of this is due to the Celtic Daily Office.  I use this office at least twice a week if not more during my own prayer time.  The morning prayer of this office references this statement, saying:

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Not only so, but Ransomed Heart’s Daily Prayer, which I also use two or three times a week, mentions something similar:

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Somehow I have combined these two or three sources into my own idea, which I phrase in this way: “Be in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me, and be in my mouth every time I speak.”

It is that second part that really convicts me.  The first part is a blessing I’m asking for myself, actually; I’m hoping that everybody who speaks to me does so as Christ, that is, speaks to me in the kind ways Christ would, doesn’t say anything that hurts me (yes, I know Christ challenged people but He never maliciously hurt anyone).  The second part, though, is a responsibility I need to accept.  It is a fair responsibility.  I firmly believe in “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”; I think I can make the case that is a biblical concept and that we thus shouldn’t ask something for ourselves which we aren’t willing to extend to others.  It is a good or noble responsibility; I’d be pretty honored if I knew that people felt I talked with them like Christ.

But it is also a difficult responsibility.  It goes contrary to my nature.  I think it does, anyway.  I always have a hard time separating nature from nurture.  But it definitely goes against nurture, goes against the way I was trained.  I was trained that you have to speak harshly.  Forget that, “Speak softly but carry a big stick” stuff.  No, speak heavy from the very beginning and don’t let up.  I was trained to believe that anyone who abridges you in word or deed must be immediately and fully smacked down in every way.  I was trained to believe that anyone who sends the slightest shade your way must be lit up hardcore.

Movies were a big part of this training.  In most (if not every) action movie (my favorites), there is scene early on in which someone braces the hero only for the hero to put them in their place.  I could give dozens of example, but my favorite is from the Chuck Norris movie Sidekicks.  Here is not Chuck but Mako who puts a man who braces him in his place (in case you’re wondering, this clip sticks in my mind because I was studying martial arts at the time; in every martial arts movie, the hero does some slight of hand in a situation similar to this, but this is the one in which my eyes were finally opened and I realized, “We’re martial artists, not magicians.  We can’t do stuff like that!”).

(I was totally surprised to find this clip on my first try.  I was also totally surprised at the racial slurs used.  Please remember this movie comes from a different time and that I don’t mean to offend anyone by using it.)

While I’ve never reached Mako’s level of putting people in their place, I have put them in their place nonetheless.  I have at least tried to.  It usually doesn’t work that well for me.  My mind doesn’t tend to insults (which I take as a good thing), and I usually don’t think of what to say to someone who braces me until much later.  I guess I’m like Marge that way:

(If YouTube removes that video, find it here: https://comb.qNnUSrio/)

But what I’ve discovered after reading and praying this phrase/petition, after seeing this incredibly beautiful idea of “speaking Jesus” to people (which is what I believe this is: not just speaking like Jesus but actually speaking Jesus), I am turning away from this training.  I am trying to, anyway.  I’m not sure what or how long it will take to be successful at this.  But I am sure I want to be successful at this.  Christ will not be in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me; that prayer won’t be answered at the one hundred percent level; people are going to brace me.  But Christ can be in my mouth whenever I speak to anyone.  The love of Christ can be all that is between me and everyone to whom I speak.  And I want it to be.  I’m praying for it to be.

What I Saw – September 5, 2018

I met with several people from church on Wednesday night, September 5, 2018, to hear from God through the Scripture.

Following our traditional pattern, we read the Moravian Text’s New Testament reading for that day, which was Luke 20:39-51.

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This was a familiar passage.  Familiar passages can be difficult to use; they become too familiar to us; our familiarity with them keeps us from hearing God in them; we gloss over them or think we already know what they say.  But by reading slowly and looking at an unfamiliar translation (ESV), we were able to hear some interesting things.

Our attention was caught mostly by the fact that Jesus was praying.  We noticed that He was praying passionately even though He already received His answer (i.e., the cup would not be taken from Him).  We believed this was an indication that prayer is more than just asking God for things but is also a way to enter into the will of God.

This led us into the covenant triangle.

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We discussed the fact that obedience (which is what Jesus’ “thy will be done” prayer was) comes out of identity, which in turns comes from the Father’s acceptance/adoption of us.  We continued to discuss the fact that such obedience does not earn our identity but is an expression of our identity.  We noted that this obedience often comes through a time of prayer such as Jesus’ and takes a lot of trust.

After that, we asked what God might be calling us to do.  Since this was such a large message, I did not push anyone for a specific answer but allowed them to simply think about it.

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Here’s our whiteboard notes. The kids decorated it a little after we were done.

We finally concluded that this was not just a part of the Gospel story we all knew, nor was it even just a lesson God was trying to teach us.  We realized that this was actually Jesus living as a genuine disciple.  Yes, this is an example for us and can (and should) be used as such.  But it is a sincere example; Jesus did this not to teach us something (even though He does teach us in it) but because this is what disciples do; it is what He, as the premier disciple, needed to do at that moment.  Thus, such times of prayer, prayer offering submission to the will of God/a readiness to obey even in difficult circumstances, is what we need to do as well.

I was greatly encouraged by this devotional time.  I can’t wait for our next meeting on October 3rd.  I hope you can make it!

Extreme

A public figure recently called a public official “extreme” for his religious views.  Who the figure and the official are doesn’t matter.  I don’t want to identify those individuals.  I don’t want to dive into the particular pool they belong to.  I don’t even want to dip my toes into the waters of that pool.  As I have told you before:

In fact, they are rather interchangeable.  There was a similar incident more than a decade ago when a different public figure called a different (but similar) group of people “radical” for their religious views.

And my reaction to the “extreme” comment today is the same as it was to the “radical” comment then.  I think that comment is ridiculous.  I think both those comments are ridiculous.  I think those comments are ridiculous not because I think they are incorrect.  I think those comments are ridiculous because those terms are incorrect.  Those terms are flat out inane, in fact.

When it comes to faith (or “religion” for that matter), there is no such thing as extreme or radical, not in the way those public figures were using those terms.  There is only right and wrong.  Either God said something or He didn’t.  Either God told us to do/not do something, or He didn’t.  To think/feel/believe He said/told us to do something He didn’t doesn’t make you extreme, radical, conservative, fundamental, liberal, or any of the other weird terms we use for such things.  It just makes you wrong.

Or it might make you weak.  That is the term Paul used for such a situation (people thinking God said something He didn’t).  Not conservative or liberal, extreme or moderate, etc.  Weak or strong.  He does so in Romans 14.

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That, then, is what such a person is: weak.  Failing to correctly understand the will of God (and yet not rejected by God, who is gracious and kind and does not find fault with His children).  And that is how they should be treated: they should be accepted.  Not allowed to dominate.  Not become the tail that wags the dog.  But accepted.

That’s what they are if they are incorrect, anyway.  If they are correct, if they have correctly discerned the will and word of God, then they aren’t weak.  They aren’t even wrong.  You are.

In any case, these terms are inaccurate and unproductive.  They are also completely illogical (if there is a God who interacts with us, why would we not be extreme about Him?).  And they thus ought to be abandoned.  There is no such thing as “extreme” or “radical” in The Faith.  Let’s stop saying there are.