Humor me, I need Humiliation!

Humiliation. When’s the last time you experienced this? When I face something as painful as this, I wonder, what good could come from this? What am I supposed to be learning that I may still benefit herein?

If you have been the object of humiliation enough times, you are alert for it. You may even live in fear of it. Where will I find it this time? When will it happen again? It would not be surprising if you have made a goals that are centered around it — whether that be to avoid any occasion that could possibly serve it, or to become masterful in the art of recreating situations similar to previous instances so that you can feel in control this time.

For myself, I chose the former strategy and worked hard at it. Pride is a marvelous impetus for this sort of proactivity, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. Since I had plenty of it, I had plenty of reasons to protect myself and an equal number of systems to accomplish this.

I thought I was doing well. What could hold me back now? I wondered. I had myself in a perfect shell and saw no way for anyone to poke through and discover my shame. Well, like most fool-proof plans, mine wasn’t as perfect as I thought, neither were the problems I faced as predictable as I expected them to be.

Not only had I grown accustomed to anticipating and avoiding situations that presented the occasion for another to compromise your confidence, but I worked hard at developing a flawless public presentation of myself to work as an added buffer.

Anyone who has been the object of humility enough times, will likely turn to reprocessing these moments of shame and reorganizing the elements originally involved. The shame incurred on such an occasion does not rub off as a matter of course, just as a bit of soil on your favorite garment. Soil on the soul cannot be lifted by the one who wears it, and no attempt to personally manipulate its effects to live well again.

Serious work must be done. But, how is it to be done and what can such operations be expected to look like?

Though there are a lot of ways that the subject of humiliation could be addressed, I would like take the focus we have here from Isaiah 30:3.

Therefore the strength of Pharaoh Shall be your shame, And trust in the shadow of Egypt Shall be your humiliation. (NKJV)

According to Scripture, our greatest humiliation is not in what someone can do to us, or in who we are, but how we have turned against God. He is the One who has declared our worth and has traced out our limits and potential, but we pretend that we are the makers of ourselves. The very idea of God claiming connection to everything that we are is unnerving, and so we deny it.

And yet everything of our humanity disturbs this idea — we can do nothing in our own strength. Everything we have comes from Him. We are in no position to guarantee anything, we rest on God’s mercies whether we acknowledge it or not. Our next inescapable proof waits only for the next disaster or sorrow that will bring us back to our knees. Why else would Scripture so blatantly declare our inability to make ourselves what we ought to be? We must see that it is obvious. Ezra 9: 7 leaves no question:

From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today. (NIV)

But humiliation does not end with us, God is involved in this epic as well. In the final four verses of Ezekiel 16 we observe our Maker’s intended conclusion to our spiritual failure:

“Nevertheless, I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.

“Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed when you receive your sisters, both your older and your younger; and I will give them to you as daughters, but not because of your covenant.

“Thus I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the LORD,

so that you may remember and be ashamed and never open your mouth anymore because of your humiliation, when I have forgiven you for all that you have done,” the Lord GOD declares.

Clearly what God would stir up in our souls is a deep humiliation of the soul — the realization of one’s sin and how this has wounded the heart of God. This goes far beneath the level of mourning the consequences of our sin and wishing that we were perfect for our own sakes. The desperation of agreeing that Christ’s atonement is our only hope takes hold when we identify ourselves as the only reason that God would ever suffer at the cross and yet He did anyway — for reasons too holy for us to understand.

Abiding in Christ — the Priceless Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself for our sins — we would sooner live by the counsel of Provers 25:6:

Don’t work yourself into the spotlight; don’t push your way into the place of prominence. It’s better to be promoted to a place of honor than face humiliation by being demoted. (Msg)

We would recognize the honor the Father has placed upon Christ, and we would rejoice in how He has brought the fulfillment of all God’s promises to deliver us from our sin and restore us to Himself.

Our prayers would become one’s centered on Christ, we being people that would most gladly accept humiliation for the cause of Him who acquaints us with all that David reflected of the Savior prophetically.

Let us offer the Words of Psalm 132:1 to God in our gratitude for Christ (whose place in the Psalms David’s name first held in ancient times):

[ A Song of Ascents. ] LORD, [earnestly] remember to David’s credit all his humiliations and hardships and endurance–(Amp.)

Thus before God, we find in Him the conclusion of the whole matter:

Let this same attitude and purpose and [humble] mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus: [Let Him be your example in humility:]Who, although being essentially one with God and in the form of God [possessing the fullness of the attributes which make God God], did not think this equality with God was a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained,

But stripped Himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity], so as to assume the guise of a servant (slave), in that He became like men and was born a human being.

And after He had appeared in human form, He abased and humbled Himself [still further] and carried His obedience to the extreme of death, even the death of the cross!

Therefore [because He stooped so low] God has highly exalted Him and has freely bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,

That in (at) the name of Jesus every knee should (must) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

And every tongue [frankly and openly] confess and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (Amplified Bible)

Warring for the Driver’s Seat

Driving. Driving me crazy. Driving me home. Driving me out. Driving me away. Driving me around.

When’s the last time that you thought about God driving. No, I don’t mean driving with you. Anyone could invite God along for the ride of their life. In fact, in a sense God does occupy our passenger seat whether we ask Him to or not: He is God and He is everywhere. We cannot go anywhere to escape from His presence.

What I’m thinking of is God sitting in the driver’s seat of “your” car, going where He wants to go, with you sitting right there beside Him. Depending on where you come from this may sound pleasant or more like your worst nightmare — God, beside you, and behind your wheel?! For most of us, God would have to push us out of the seat Himself for that to happen.

So, if you’re currently behind the wheel, how is your trip going? What type of terrain have you been touring? Who have you met along the way?

To take another look inside your tidy (or crappy) vehicle — however you see it — what is going on there? Are you on the road alone, or are you traveling with someone? How strong is your aversion to back-seat drivers? Are they simply a nuisance, or an dictator with the unwelcome intentions of a terrorist?

Do I sound like I’m getting to intense with this driving illusion? That may be true as far as physical travel but not if you’re considering spiritual travel. The point I am trying to get across is that some of us have been treating God like that despised back-seat driver. But, why do we think of Him this way? Where did He get His reputation?

The quote from The Bismarck Tribune (December 1921) I found on the WordPress blog Dutch’s Journey Through Life (http://dutchjourney.wordpress.com/2009/12/27/back-seat-driver/) should help us think through what we are accusing God of and why:

“A back-seat driver is the pest who sits on the rear cushions of a motor car and tells the driver what to do. He issues a lot of instructions, gives a lot of advice, offers no end of criticism. And doesn’t do a bit of work.”

In light of this description, there is no wonder that the driver would grow tired of hearing the constant hum of suggestions from a removed observer. When I read the above conditions I am immediately aware of a fiery opinion that refuses to see this situation another way. Pure injustice is all it is.

But, can we charge God with injustice? Can we collar Him and bring Him in for questioning? Can we hope to pass judgment on His behaviors and then threaten Him with a penalty unless He strictly attend to His sentence of restitution?

I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but it’s never worked for me. Yeah, I’ve been committed to it, insisting that I would make things right between us no matter what it took. No, there was nothing wrong with how I was doing things, in fact, I was behaving just how I should, but He, He was doing everything He could to take bitter advantage of me.

Oh, there was a time when I knew exactly what I was talking about, and exactly where the line of permissible behavior was to be drawn. I had no doubts about how things were to work between God and I. So long as He never got in my way, He was permitted to stick around and participate in the show I was making for myself.

But, after a few years of driving my stubbornly independent streak, the truth seemed to slap me in the face. I wasn’t making God do anything. I was ignorantly denying myself from knowing Him, and discovering the best of what this ride could offer. Suddenly the arrangement I had prided myself on came crashing down — down on me.

In doing my best to fill the driver’s seat so well that God would never be able to touch the wheel, I wasn’t hurting Him, I was hurting myself. I refused to admit it, but I didn’t know how to drive. Oh, of course I could turn the car on and give it gas; I could move along on the road and put my forearm in place of the descended window; I could sway and sing to the radio, and operate the wheel with my knees. But, I never did I know where I was going, or what was the point of driving at all. Sometimes I would dream of stopping the car and getting out — the people I passed on the perimeter this busy artery looked like they were having so much more fun than I was. What was I missing?

If only I had known that I was missing the enjoyment and direction of the One sitting beside. He had been a steadfast passenger on all of my little jaunts, yet good for nothing, I thought. I didn’t realize that it wasn’t about being in a car, driving fast and keeping ahead, but making the most of the opportunity it provided for me to see Jesus up close. I had the chance to watch Him, talk to Him, hear His thoughts, like His steadiness and revel in His willingness to hear my thoughts and help me understand as well as He does why I am the way I am.

Are you keeping pace with God’s strides?

Walking with God. Have you heard that phrase before? I know, it’s one of those ambiguous statements of Christianese; those of us who are fluent in this cultural language use it frequently, yet we have little regard for what it means or how it ought to affect our relationship with God.

So, what is walking with God? Well, for one thing, it is not just an overused idiom that is popular in Christian culture, but an idea that first came to us from Scripture. Therefore, to accurately decode this, lets dig into what it says. To do that, lets go to the beginning of the Bible, starting with the first book, Genesis. You can follow along with me by using this link to Biblegateway.com where I have searched for verses that contain the phrase walked with God:

http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=walked+with+God&qs_version=MSG.

Now, we begin by reading that Enoch walked steadily with God. We also note that he lived a long life. (chapter 5, verse 21)

This same phrase is repeated again three verses later, with updated information: Enoch didn’t die, he simply was no more; the explanation we find is that God took him.

So, already we recognize that walking with God is no joke. At least in Enoch’s case it makes for a very unique life and entrance into eternity (since there was no death).

Already I can hear you echoing my observation, “This is getting a little weird,” but lets not quit before we’ve actually discovered anything we can personally apply. There is more to read and we will be better able to make sense of what we’re finding when we’ve gathered more information.

Next we have the story of Noah. And again, the most important aspect of his life to be passed on to us is that Noah walked with God. He was the builder of the ark, and his sons would later repopulate the earth after the Flood, but none of this is mentioned when God sums up who he was. That one sentence we are looking at is what was of chief significance to God; He doesn’t count anything else of greater interest to Him or us than that Noah was unique because of his relationship with God.

Skipping ahead 18 chapters, we come to Genesis 24 where we get our first statement on walking with God from a man’s perspective. Abraham, the man who was chosen by God to be the father of a holy nation for the LORD, spoke of God this way:

God before whom I’ve walked faithfully will send his angel with you and he’ll make things work out

He walked with God faithfully because He had learned to take Him at His word and trust Him in spite of the most impossible of circumstances. He knew God would work things out before he saw it with his own eyes because he was on such a short wavelength with God; he knew what to expect of God based on the interaction he had with the Divine character on a daily basis his entire life.

Right at the end of Genesis, chapter 48, we meet Abraham’s grandson, Jacob. He is blessing his own grandsons (the fourth generation of promise) before he meets death. These are the words he offers to the children before His God:

The God before whom walked my fathers Abraham and Isaac, The God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this very day, The Angel who delivered me from every evil, Bless the boys.

In this text we are privy to a lot more first-hand information on what God is like, and how walking with Him may be described. He treats His chosen as a shepherd who directs his charges with understanding that both safeguards and provides for them. And just as a celestial warrior-messenger God goes ahead of the one who trusts in Him, preparing for him deliverance from every evil that awaits him.

When we invite God to enter our private experience, it is an all-in-all proposition. He is with us for everything. As we learn to abide at His side, our lives will become a personal legacy of grace and mercy. I mean, look how much God did for Jacob in his lifetime. Read through chapters 25 to 35, and notice what kind of man Jacob is and what God does with him. Here’s a snippet of what you’ll find:

God who chose Jacob — just as He did Abraham and Isaac — to be His follower, dealt with a lot of bull-headed-ness and egocentricity with this guy. Any idea that God chooses only people who make Him look good, or who treat Him reverently must be discarded at this point. And while you’re at it, forget assuming that God instantly distances Himself from anyone who makes a mess of their lives by constantly making the wrong choices. Jacob fits all of these spiritual worst-case scenarios quite well, and yet He found God chasing after Him, rather than running away. Do you know why? Because God is a Redeemer.

Yes, God is the Creator, the King, and the Judge, but none of these roles compromise the status of His plan to meet man in sin and renew him. This is what the theme of walking with God teaches us: God is not only willing, but specifically intent on bringing men into a companionship with Him — a companionship that opens Him up to all their sin, but at the same time opens them up to all His righteous. As we walk in this type of relationship He stirs up our faith, and enables us to see with Him with new eyes. We grow to both accept and depend upon Him in ways that we never could have from a distance. And we watch with absolute astonishment as He manifests His perfect character and holiness in us. Sin is washed away as rebellion is broken by the welcomed He extends to become His closest confidants.

Rest is lost on the racetrack

If you are struggling because you seem to be missing God, do me a favor: Sit down, be quiet for a few minutes, and don’t move. Don’t be rigid, but rest.

God Himself has been watching your every move, ready to meet you, but unable to get your attention long enough for you to consciously slow down and move in to hear what He has to say to you.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes God can feel far away even when we have been peaceful in our anticipation of His revelation.  But, if that’s where you are, and you’re growing impatient, know that the story isn’t over. You can’t write up your disappointment report until God moves, speaks or reaches out to you.

The question is not, will God respond? but will I like how He responds? God never fails to return the attention we give Him, but we must learn how to interpret the aspects of that return.

If God takes longer than we think He should to answer us, is He wrong? If He says no, when every happiness in the world pointed to yes, has He deprived us unfairly? If He says yes when we were desperate for Him to relieve us with a calm no, has He lost His compassion; can we no longer trust Him to do good on our behalf?

Before you try to make those judgments, I wonder if you have realized that God never said that any of those things were not good. And if I may now go one step further, I am curious if you know that He is adamant that they are good so long as He has chosen to give you this response to prayer. This is true because everything that God does is good — absolutely every time.

Now consider that God grants half of your wish: you ask for peace and happiness and He gives you peace. Do you judge His response as soon as it comes, or do you turn to the Lord in a spirit of humble submission and offer the Lord your worship even in your momentary ignorance of the beauty in His plans?

Let me tell you that God wants the latter, but not just for His own sake. Take this into account:

More than anything else, our prayers teach us what we value and show us where we need to grow. He is working to make clear to us, in every instance that we seek Him, just how we are missing the heart of God. But He does this not for the purpose of finding fault with us. He does everything with the intent of bringing us closer to Him, and bringing our character into greater conformity with His.

This is not a punishment, but an opportunity in everything we do to be like God and full of God. There could be no greater gift: God, when He is known for who He truly is, proves in us, that He is nothing short of everything we live to know and experience.

Do we vaunt pride more than patience; do we value power over persistence; do we seek prestige to the neglect of persecution? Then we are missing the point of living, the object of seeking God.

No matter what He says, I want to be able to show off God’s answers to my prayer, especially the ones that show His glory in contrast to my sin. For, how can He appear more faithful, more purposeful, more compassionate and merciful if I deny that I need all these things? And if I do not realize and proclaim that I am in debt to Him in all these ways, I will absolutely revert to believing that I am deserving of everything that comes to me from Him — and then, even more than that.

So, the keys to hearing, and more importantly relating, to God are resting and waiting. And the way we rest and wait is summed up perfectly in James 1:4:

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Recognize that God’s ways are above your own. Rather than grumbling, use your responsive efforts to praise Him for that — knowing that the end will make clear His wisdom that is mysteriously in play now. Let us not meet that end and be grieved that God’s only offering from  us was anxiety and displeasure.

It is impossible to have regrets with God when we trust Him. When we rely on Him with our whole being, we will neither look back with disappointment at His behavior toward us, nor remorse for our behavior toward Him.

Investing in God

Investing in God. If you’ve read any of my recent posts you may have noticed that I have used this phrase or variations of it in several instances. But what does this investing in God mean?

Well, when I began to think about this seriously in anticipation of writing on the topic, I realized that I didn’t really understand a whole lot about this phrase. It worked well for general topics of discussion, but when I scrutinized my knowledge of what it communicated, I found that I needed to learn more about what it was saying so I could better convey my intent.

So, I began with the word invest. And this is what I came up with:

To make a rewarding investment I must make the most of what resources I have. When I am considering God as a possible holding place, I must thoroughly research God’s policy profile — to see whether I can back Him based on what He stands for — and investigate His projection standings — to acquire a vision for where His progression will take me.

Everything that I learn about God, because of my perspective association, immediately affects me both personally and fiscally. I must know what God is about and be able to offer a strong reason for being persuaded that He is equal to the worth I put in Him. I cannot propose backing Him without also knowing how this action will demand of me — in every aspect of my life and livelihood.

I want a good return, but more than that, I want a solid establishment. I can wait a long time for any profit to come from this, if I know that my commitment is being well marked and effectively utilized to promote significant production.

I like the simple definition of  investment provided for us by the Business Management blog right here on WordPress.com:

Investment:

The commitment of funds/finance to one or more assets which will be held over some time period for the purpose of earning returns. [http://bizedu.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/types-of-investment/]

For a lot of us, we look at God, and say, “Nah, I’m not buyin’ in it.” We would rather throw small investments after semi-suitable persons and institutions than stair-down a commit to a single Person with momentous claims that we don’t want to bother checking.

We are comfortable with saying that God is not what we want, but do we really know Him well enough to make this judgment?

I can hear some of you saying right now, “Actually, yes I can: My mom died when I was just a kid. She did nothing to deserve it, but God took her anyway. And He ruined the rest of my life when He did that.”

I am deeply sorry. I grieve that you didn’t get to have more time with her, that your life couldn’t stay like it was when she was here. But then, I am not saying anything to you that you do not already know. I cannot change your life for you, and I will do my best to avoid any pretense of trying. I would just like to use the space I have here to communicate something to you that you may not already know.

There’s more to your story than its past or its present or its future. There’s something more to you than just yourself and I want so much for you to find out what it is. Perhaps you say that you once had faith, but God destroyed all hope of that too, when He disappointed you on such a crucial point of life. Where can He stand with you now that He has taken so much away from you?

The answer is that He stands exactly where He always has: at the door of your heart, waiting. He has been waiting on you since the day He formed you in the womb, and He waits still.

He waits not to condemn you — He could have done that long ago — and He waits not to sabotage you, but to bless you. Yes, blessing may not look like what you thought, but then again, who says that you’ve already seen it?

The blessing God offers us is His love, pure and simple. But, don’t let those words be swallowed up in the vortex of an over-used phrase. Don’t think that you have taken God’s love at face value until you have looked at its face, and seen your own clearly reflected in it.

Love cannot be measured for its depth and essence and even its ability to touch our heart until it has been accepted and yielded to. Now, by yield I mean so much more than an act of “giving in” or limply submitting. Rather, I am speaking of an attitude of the heart that turns to God, and leans in — receiving the truth of what He says and responding to what He asks of us.

When we do that, we will not be disappointed. Mind you, it is every single thing that is done short of that that will most definitely disappoint.

You see, God’s love is a recipe for life, for fullness of heart. It is not a promise of good times, but good tidings. After all, great joy is the work of Someone on the inside of us, not something on the outside of us.