Finishing Well: Humility Is What Gets Us Through

Some years ago I came on board as a staff pastor at a new church. Not long after, a couple from the church invited us over for dinner. We certainly appreciated their hospitality.

Overall, the conversation was cordial, but I did notice on occasion some complaints about the church sprinkled in.

Now, I realize every church is worthy of some complaints. No church is perfect; we all have room to grow and stretch.

But what caught my attention was the attitude in which these complaints were delivered.

These comments seemed to come with a fair measure of pride. The kind of pride that communicates, “I have all the answers, and I have a hard time with those who don’t know all the things I know.”

Also, the comments also seemed to be a bit tinged with a spirit of rebellion. Meaning, it almost seemed like going against the grain brought about some strange glee.

At one point, one of our hosts talked about her experience in Bible college and how she took great pleasure in breaking some of the rules she felt were to legalistic for her tastes.

Now, mind you, most of our time together was fine. It was just every now and then our conversation was sprinkled with these disconcerting comments.

But as my time in this church went on, this couple became more discontent and disruptive.

It got to the point that it seemed no one in our church could do anything right.

It began to feel like their perspective of us was that we were just a bunch of oafs tripping over one another.

-We didn’t teach the Word right.

-We didn’t carry out missions to their satisfaction.

-We fell way short in our expression of compassion.

Bottom line, pretty much anything we thought, said, or did was not worthy of their high view of ministry practice.

All in all, we appeared to be a source of constant disappointment to this couple that seemed to have all the answers.

Well, such dissatisfaction can only go on so long.

In time, they left our church in search of something more in line with their lofty standards. (I’m not sure if they ever landed anywhere.)

A few years after I moved on to another church (right about the time Facebook was catching on) I was online and came across the name of one-half of this constantly-disappointed couple.

Guess what? They had become divorced.

Now, it may be too simplistic on my part, but I couldn’t help think to myself: “The couple who constantly let us know all the failures we were committing at our church couldn’t find a way to keep their own marriage together?”

I don’t know the circumstances of the split, but my hunch is that the weight of their pride, disappointment and non-conformity had something to do with their severance.

After enough time, all that pressing burden caused things to finally give way.

And it makes sense. Such corrosive attitudes form a terrible foundation for any type of relationship. Especially the God-ordained relationship of marriage.

No, the pathway of the long haul relationship must be, ultimately, paved with humility, along with a good measure of contentment and a solid degree of submission.

Such is an unrelenting, overarching theme that flows from the pages of both the Gospels and the Epistles.

Its allowing things such as kindness, gentleness, deference, thoughtfulness, love, joy and peace to overcome our flesh-driven attitudes of judgmentalism, discontentment, disappointment, agitation, rebelliousness and gloating.

Of the pride that often does us in, Phillips Brooks said:

“Whatever makes us feel superior to other people, whatever tempts us to convey a sense of superiority that is the gravity of our sinful nature, not grace.”

I’ve often said that one of the quickest ways for us to feel better about ourselves is to find someone we can push down.
The truth is we haven’t elevated ourselves one millimeter. Rather, we often leave a lot of hurt, confused people in our wake.
One of the primary teachings about humility is found in Philippians 2. In this chapter, Paul exhorts the Christians in Philippi not to promote themselves, but to have the well-being of others as a primary goal:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-12 ESV)
Humility is the key to what will get us through this life.
Humility is the key to our success.
Humility is the way of Jesus.

Creation is Meant to Point to a Creator

Some 25 years ago, I was able to wander the rooms and hallways of The Hermitage, a world-renowned museum of art and culture located in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Hermitage is home to Rembrandt’s beloved The Return of the Prodigal Son, a painting that describes Jesus’ story about the homecoming of a wayward son.

rembrandt

Return of the Prodigal Son, Rembrandt (1663-1669)

The Hermitage also displays works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Van Gogh and Picasso. Bottom line, The Hermitage hosts top-shelf works from some of the art world’s biggest names.

In fact, it’s the accomplished names attached to the works of art that makes them so desirable to look at. The art is amazing, but the renown goes to the artist who created the piece.

Fast forward 25 years.

This past week we took a quick trip to the Portland Zoo. One thing I noticed was how people would rush to an exhibit and squeeze themselves in to get the very best view of whatever animals dwelt in the enclosure.

Over and over, all over the zoo, people caught glimpses of all sorts of creatures and released expressions of amazement:

“Look at that!”

“That’s incredible!”

“It’s so beautiful.”

Perhaps the two words I heard most often were “Wow!” and “Whoa!”

Which makes absolute sense to me, because the animals in the zoo represent the handwork of God.

  • They display his fondness for creativity.
  • They present his penchant for design.
  • They exhibit his love for beauty
  • They even, in some cases, seem to reveal God’s sense of humor.

When we see a creature of such beauty, design and creativity, it ought to make us ask the same question we ask when we gaze upon a beautiful painting: “Who created this?”

Simply put, to me a trip to the zoo is a trip to the museum of God.

I can’t help be mesmerized by the height of the giraffe, the power of the lion or the comic waddling of the penguin. Although human are is incredible, no painting, sculpture or drawing can compete with the wonder and splendor of the living, breathing natural world.

And yet, so many people look at such glorious pieces of art and fail to ponder the source of their existence!

What often happens, as Romans 1 pronounces, is that people put more attention on extolling the creature rather than the creator.

Perhaps we need to be a bit more like the author of Psalm 104 who made this wise declaration:

“How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small.” ~ Psalm 104:24-25

The wisdom and creativity of God is on display all the time.

We see it in how an otter cracks open mussels.

We see it in the manner an elephant takes a bath.

And we see it in the way a Venus fly trap clasps it’s prey.

The prophet Isaiah got it. He looked out at the creation set before him and was sure to give credit to the one who put it all together:

“Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” ~ Isaiah 40:26

Whether we look up, down or all around, God has set before us evidence of His existence.

Will we see the creator behind the creation?