I’m the Most Humble Guy You’ll Ever Meet

Humility picHumility is one of those things that I know is good for me but also one of those things that is so hard to put into practice. Our culture regularly drives us to “be number one!” Many of us have jobs that require an annual review in which we sum up all of the great things we did through the year.

And yet, humility is a foundational characteristic that is supposed to make up the Christian life. It is the quality Christ exuded when taking on humanity and dying on a cross. If Christians are supposed to make his character our own, then humility needs to be near the top of our own list of character development. For our own growth, humility begins with a proper recognition of our place in the universe. Isaiah 66:1-2 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.

Since God is the creator of the cosmos, what can we possibly bring to the table? Those questions are rhetorical. Our planet is a mere footstool for God (and the feet were not a clean and honorable part of the body in the Ancient Near East, which is why Peter freaked out when Jesus tried to wash the disciples’ feet). God doesn’t want us to feel down and depressed about how insignificant we are. This is, however, a call to recognize the greatness and grandness of God. A high view of God puts us on the right path to humility.

One we get that human/divine relationship understood, the next step is to look in the mirror and not think better of ourselves than we ought. Luke tells a story of Jesus in Luke 14:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…. 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.”

HumilityThere’s a practical wisdom to Jesus’s words. It’s FAR better to choose humility than to have someone else thrust humility upon you! Don’t get so big-headed you think more highly of yourself than you ought. Instead, choose lowness and, if other people exalt you – score! If not, you’re no worse for the wear and can avoid the walk of shame when someone tells you you’re in a place for someone more important.

Finally, humility involves building others up. Paul writes in Philippians 2:

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.

I would also contend that part of looking out for the interests of others includes not taking credit for an idea or action from another. Give proper credit where credit is due.

We’re not looking for false humility. That’s just pride in disguise. But a genuinely humble person who recognizes her place before God, who accurately sees himself in the mirror, and who honestly seeks to build up others, will be the kind of person who reflects the character of Christ.

7 Qualities of Servant Leaders

This week is the one year anniversary of my arrival at my current duty station, Naval Air Station Meridian, and a guest preacher, an ordained retired Navy Chief, filled the pulpit for me. His text was Mark 10:44-45 ~

“Whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

So Chief’s sermon was about servant leadership, and the 7 qualities of a servant leader:

  1. A servant works to please God regardless of the consequences.

consequencesUltimately, our service is not about our own greatness. That’s the paradox of Jesus’s statement on greatness. The disciples desired greatness. Jesus said, “If you want greatness, humble yourself.” You see, servant leadership serves for a purpose outside of the self. The disciples approached life with a “What’s in it for me?” mentality. That kind of thinking limits our service because we have our eye on the end result. If negative consequences are in the future, we won’t serve. The authentic servant leader works to please God regardless of the outcome.

  1. A servant positions himself/herself daily to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Since pleasing God is the goal of the genuine servant leader, we must align ourselves with God on the regular. How can you know which way to walk if you’re walking your own path? When we position ourselves to follow Jesus, we don’t have to be concerned with developing the path – we walk His.

  1. A servant understands we may never see an earthly reward.

cups-1444419_1920Earthly rewards are nice, but if you’re in it for the reward you’re still in the “What’s in it for me?” mentality. When we serve for God’s sake, God’s glory is the ultimate goal. It doesn’t matter if we receive accolades or rewards. I’m reminded of every great preacher and theologian I’ve ever heard or read. My thought always comes back to, “Who was it that introduced this person to Jesus?” While the famous preacher/theologian gets the recognition, the person who started them on their spiritual path often gets none. But look at the fruit of their labor! Because of their service, unknown numbers hear the gospel. We serve for God’s glory, not our own.

  1. A servant understands that everything he/she is and has needs to be yielded to God.

Since we serve for God’s glory and at God’s pleasure, everything we have and are need to be surrendered to God. This isn’t about you! If you think it’s ever about you, you’re in the wrong line of work. Being a servant leader is never about the self. Since it’s ultimately about God, the servant leader surrenders everything to God. The right attitude says, “This is who I am and what I have – I give it back to you to use for your purposes.”

 

  1. A servant will be ready to walk alone.

sand-768783_1920When we follow a higher calling, we’re going to have people walk away from us. Some will fail to understand what it is we’re doing. Some will flat out reject what we’re doing. The servant role isn’t the popular role. It’s not the role that wins positions of power and the head seat at the table. While influence and power might be the result of authentic servant leadership, it’s never the goal. Genuine servant leadership is unattractive to many because it calls us to place others first. That’s hard to do, but it’s a path we need to be ready to take.

  1. A servant sacrifices for others.

The Bible has multiple examples about putting the needs and desires of others ahead of the self. The Apostle Paul said, “Consider others as MORE IMPORTANT than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). And the ultimate example is that of Christ, who sacrificed EVERYTHING for the world. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We didn’t earn his sacrifice – he offered it. Thus…

  1. A servant is never greater than the Master.

bible-1245795_1920It’s kind of hard to even contemplate the servant being greater than the Master when the Master gave everything in His service. In the military and law enforcement we see examples of men and women who will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their battle buddies – the Marine who jumps on a grenade, the cop who gets shot while dragging a partner out of harm’s way. We (rightly) hold such individuals in a place of honor – self-sacrifice like that is too rare. But Jesus died even for messed up people. Jesus died for his enemies. His sacrifice has no equal. And if Jesus was willing to sacrifice for everyone, are we too good to attempt the same?

As Christ-followers we’re called to be servant leaders to this world. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from, or where you’re going. This is a call upon all of our lives.

Are you willing to step up and answer the call?

Excuse Me, But Your Real Character Is Showing

The things you choose to do reflect your character. It is that simple. In fact, you don’t need any fancy-shmancy personality test. The cheapest personality test in the world is on both sides of your nose. Yup, it’s your eyes. If you want to know about a person’s character and personality, watch what they do, because what you do reflects who you are.

We find an easy illustration of this in the person of Jesus. We see that he took time to be around outcasts and misfits and take care of their needs. His behavior reveals that he is compassionate. We see that he went undeservedly to the cross so that we would not have to. His behavior reveals that he is self-giving and self-sacrificing. The hard part comes when we start honestly looking at our own character. People can see your character by the things they see you do. That could be good or bad, depending on what your character is like. If you want to improve your character, improve your actions.

There’s a biblical story that illustrates this principle. You can read it in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail is the wife of Nabal, a wealthy oaf who lived in Maon, sheep-rearing country (though described as wilderness). She and her husband are total contrasts to each other – completely mismatched. She is a woman of beauty and good sense. He is not. The Hebrew word nabal, often translated as “fool,” designates not a harmless simpleton, but rather a vicious, materialistic, and egocentric misfit. Other passages present the nabal as an embarrassment to his father (Prov. 17:21), a glutton (Prov. 30:22), a hoarder (Jer. 17:11), and even an atheist (Ps 14:1; 53:1).BiffThink of it like Biff from Back to the Future.

Most significant for our story today is Isaiah 32:6, in which the refusal to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, precisely the sin of Nabal in 1 Samuel 25:6, is listed among the characteristics of a nabal. The story-teller wants us to know from the start what this guy is like.

I think we all know or have known people who’s actions really reveal their character. Now, we already know what Nabal’s character is like – the story tells us. But we see that his actions match up to the description of his character. His character is described the way it is because of his actions.

In the biblical story, as David and his men are traveling the countryside, he and his men come across Nabal’s men and David looks after them. Later on, David asks Nabal to repay the favor by showing hospitality in food and drink. David’s offer to Nabal seems to be negation with invitation into covenant. David is on the run from King Saul, who is trying to hunt down David in order to kill him. David may be trying to win support and provisions from several local farmers with his assistance and protection. Nabal refuses.

David’s claim that he has earned a share in Nabal’s provisions because he guarded the latter’s men and flocks is, in fact, a challenge to Nabal’s political authority, another way of saying that Nabal, despite his wealth and his marriage, does not control Judah or even his immediate territory. Nabal recognizes David’s words for what they are, the words of a servant breaking away from his master. Not to know David or even Jesse is to refuse them diplomatic recognition. In short, Nabal declares from the start his refusal to see in David anything other than a thief, thug, and rebel. Ironically, Nabal says David is a disloyal servant, but he’s setting up the behavior of his own servants who break away, telling their mistress of her husband’s stupidity and ethical emptiness.

When David hears what Nabal said he sort of flies off the handle. “Strap on your swords! No man in the house is to remain alive!” David’s response to Nabal is rooted in the categories of shame and honor. Nabal has shamed David rather than treat him with honor. The only way for David to regain his honor and remove the shame is to take it by force. Abigail realizes that her husband’s insult to David puts the whole household in jeopardy, so she takes it upon herself to take gifts and rations to David and his men.

The structure of her plea to David consists of two tiers. First, Abigail assures David that the vengeance of YHWH will visit Nabal if only David restrains himself from usurping the divine prerogative, and she offers the present as a token of her confidence in the Tightness of David’s cause (vv 25-27). Next she speaks of YHWH’s commitment to his chosen servant, one that vouchsafes to him a security which should enable him to overlook this temporary irritation, which must in no case impede David’s ascent to the throne. David sees the wisdom of her argument and backs down from his attack.

When Abigail returns home, Nabal is celebrating like a king. Here’s an interesting thing – Abigail has just affirmed that David is the God-anointed one who will take the throne. But back at the ranch, Nabal is the one acting like a king. It’s a classic conflict between wisdom and foolishness. Wisdom is realizing what God is doing and getting behind it. Foolishness is puffing yourself up and thinking you’re hot stuff.

Abigail is the personification of wisdom. Nabal is the personification of foolishness. So she waits until he has sobered up to tell him what happened with David. And when she tells him about her encounter, he has some sort of stroke or attack and becomes like stone. Ten days later, Yahweh takes his life.

It seems strange that David acts so quickly to take Abigail for a wife. There are probably political motivations that underlie the scene. To marry the wife or concubine of a ruler was to make a bid for his status and power. This was the story of Oedipus Rex. Oedipus kills the king on the road. Later on, he marries the king’s wife and takes the throne. This was true even as late as Shakespeare’s day. The whole set up of Hamlet is that Hamlet’s father, the king, is killed by Hamlet’s uncle, who then marries Hamlet’s mother and becomes king. David marries Abigail and secures her a new social position and estate. But he also gets something out of the marriage. Nabal was a Calebite, a necessary part of being ruler in Hebron. David’s marriage to Nabal’s wife was the pivotal move in his ascent to kingship at Hebron. David takes over Nabal’s land, his possessions, and his right to lead in Nabal’s place. Abigail is a fantastic prize that set’s David up for his future kingship.

The David of chapter 25 is a man who kills for a grudge. The episode with Abigail and Nabal is the very first revelation of evil in David’s character. He can kill. This time he stops short. But the cloud that chapter 25 raises continues to darken our perception of David’s character. By the time we get to 2 Samuel we find David killing an innocent and righteous man just to take the man’s wife!

The end of the story notes that Abigail is not the only woman married to David. In fact, David has another wife, Ahinoam. Only one other person in the Hebrew Bible bears her name, and she, amazingly enough, is a contemporary of David’s. In fact, her husband is King Saul (1 Sam 14:50)! Could it be that David swaggered into Hebron with the wife of a Calebite chieftain on one arm and that of the Israelite king on the other? A remark of Nathan’s to David suggests that there was but one Ahinoam, wife of Saul, then of David, “I gave you the household of your lord and the wives of your lord in your bosom, and I gave you the Houses of Israel and Judah. A little longer, and I would have given you more like these” (2 Sam 12:8). Nathan alludes to David’s marriage to Saul’s wives, as if it were well-known. The suspicion grows that v.43 and v.44 are connected by more than a similarity in subject matter. Saul’s action in v.44 is a quid pro quo to David’s in v.43. He deprived David of Michal when David asserted his right to the throne through marriage with Ahinoam.

The story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 precedes the story of David and Bathsheba chronologically, and in some ways it is a mirror image of it. First of all, Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is a good man while Abigail’s is quite repulsive and evil. Despite Uriah’s goodness, Bathsheba apparently does nothing (or can’t do anything) to save him. Abigail, on the other hand, resorts to elaborate measures to save her husband. Secondly, the story of Bathsheba capitalizes on illicit sex. This is completely absent in the Abigail story. Although David is obviously attracted to Abigail, as witnessed by the speed with which he married her when she becomes widowed, there is no hint of any unseemly behavior between the two, although there are opportunities. Finally, in the Bathsheba story David commits murder because of a woman. In the Abigail story David, as he himself recognizes, David refrains from committing murder because of a woman.

We are the sum total of all that we do, i.e. what we do is who we are. Abigail reveals herself to be wise and virtuous. Nabal reveals himself to be an evil, spiteful man. David reveals himself to be a man with a short fuse who is easily moved by a woman. But we are no different. Our own actions reveal our character. This is true because as adults we make deliberate choices in our actions. Therefore, our actions describe our inner selves, what sacrifices we’re willing to make, what evil we’re willing to carry out or tolerate. Our actions are the blueprint of our character.  blueprint-964629_1920

We need seriously to ask what we want our character to look like. Then we need to make sure that our actions reflect the character we say we want. What actions are we doing to reveal that character? It’s time to take serious account of our character; what it is and what we want it to be. And then, after taking account, we need to make sure our actions line up.