Humility

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(image courtesy of th.bing.com)

I have had the privilige of sharing a meditation during our Wednesday Evening Lenten worship. Each one considers a characteristic of Jesus that can be gleaned from Philippians 2:5-11. This was the first in the series. It considers humility.

If we think about it, Jesus really can turn our worldview upside down. Especially in a purely American context, where rugged individualism and striving for the top have influenced many for a long time. To be the best often meant climbing over others to reach the pinnacle.

Jesus directly challenges that approach to life. In fact, of the many words that could be used to describe Jesus, “humility” ranks toward the top. Humility: by definition is to have a modest or low view of one’s own importance.

That’s what Paul is saying in this passage from Philippians. And I think it a very appropriate place for us to dwell upon in this season of Lent. Lent is a time for introspection. I believe these words of Scripture are encouraging us to do just that. Jesus, being fully divine, still did not consider that to be flaunted during Hs time among people. The word ‘exploited’ carries the meaning taking in a robbery. It wasn’t by using others that the Lord was going to leave a mark on the world. Instead, Jesus reversed the “normal” outlook of the best being at the very top. His humble servant heart placed him at the bottom, holding us all up. I think of it as an inverted pyramid, where Jesus is at the bottom point, holding all of humankind up.

It is in doing the smaller things that can speak such volume to others.

Please consider these words from the first stanza of the poem The Things That Count written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

Now, dear, it isn’t the bold things,

Great deeds of valour and might,

That count the most in the summing up of life at the end of the day.

But it is the doing of old things,

Small acts that are just and right;

And doing them over and over again, no matter what others say;

In smiling at fate, when you want to cry, and in keeping at work when you want to play—

Dear, those are the things that count.

Next, Jesus further modeled humility, to a point where I dare say I would have trouble going: He emptied himself. What does that mean? He set aside any personal agenda, placing the needs of the many over any individual want/need He might have felt. And He did it every day, even in the ‘little’ things. The Lord did these things of his own accord. He chose to simply to be obedient to God’s plan.

More of Wheeler’s poem:

And, dear, it isn’t the new ways

Where the wonder-seekers crowd

That lead us into the land of content, or help us to find our own.

But it is keeping to true ways,

Though the music is not so loud,

And there may be many a shadowed spot where we journey along alone;

In flinging a prayer at the face of fear, and in changing into a song a groan –

Dear, these are the things that count.

It is in the obedience, not only exhibited by Jesus, but by you and me as well. We are to empty ourselves as well, whatever that entails in our own circumstance. For me, I refer to the words of John the Baptist when he said speaking of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NRSV). Humility does not seek applause or even recognition. In fact, humility is its own goal and end. To be truly humble is not to think less of myself, but instead it is to think of myself less often.

May our Lenten journey lead us all to a deeper, more meaningful and effective faith. I leave you with the final stanza of the poem I’ve been reading from:

My dear, it isn’t the loud part

Of creeds that are pleasing to God, not the chant of a prayer, or the hum of a hymn, or a jubilant shout or song.

But it is the beautiful proud part

Of walking with feet faith-shod;

And in loving, loving, loving through all, no matter how things go wrong;

In trusting ever, though dark the day, and in keeping your hope when the way seems long –

Dear, these are the things that count.

Thanks for reading.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck










The Freedom I Found in Giving

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(image courtesy of chucklarsen.com)

Please, please, please understand from the very beginning of this: I AM NOT TRYING IN ANY WAY TO RAISE MONEY! I AM NOT SEEKING DONATIONS FOR ANYTHING!

However, I am going to proceed into a topic that is downright sensitive to many and clearly off-limits to many more: the giving of money.

To re-iterate, I share with you my experiences in the realm of giving only in hopes that others will find the joy I have when the power of the dollar loses its hold on you.

For a quick review, allow me to share some of the formative background of my approach to money and the acquisition of things. As a child, I watched my Dad work hard to supply his family with our basic needs and a few of our wants. He was happy to fulfill his role as provider, but was equally guarded about how any of his hard-earned would be spent outside of our home. The idea he installed was to take care of your own, and anything left over was to be saved for that rainy day that was sure to come. It was not disposable it anyway toward charity of any kind.

As I have chronicled before, my early adulthood was a travesty of waste and destruction brought about by my alcoholism. All childhood lessons regarding money were forgotten or ignored, and I accumulated a large sum of debt.

Coming out of that haze and into recovery, I was driven to pay back every dime I owed. I was blessed with employment that enabled me to make good money, meeting the needs of my own family while paying down the mountain of debt.

It was during this season of life that I was introduced to the idea of tithing. I found the idea of giving 10% to the church I was attending a novel idea, but one that had no practicality in my circumstances. Once I heard the part about giving some of my money, I apparently shut my ears to the rest of the explanation. By doing so I missed the entire point about giving back to God first because anything I had came from Him anyway. The Bible refers to this as giving to God the first fruits of our labor, I simply called it crazy. I mean, how could I give any percentage when we barely had enough coming in to cover expenses.

As I look back on those days now, I am ever so grateful that my wife Betsy did understand from the outset what this giving was truly about. She was able to slowly help me to see the selfishness and short-sightedness of my hold on to it at all costs approach to our finances.

God, as always, was gracious and patient with me as my heart softened. As I came to more fully realize that everything we had or earned was all because of His love for us, I came to understand why it was God calls us to give back to Him ‘off the top’ instead of grudgingly handing over leftovers.

It was now that He began to reveal to me the freedom that comes when giving to God unreservedly. Instead of viewing giving to the church as a burden that was going to further tighten our budget, I began to see how I was spending on not so necessary things. For example, the rationalization that our busy lives necessitated having take-out food 2-3 times a week was replaced with a spirit of cooperation that allowed us to plan and make family meals together. This not only saved lots of money, but it also fostered a much more unified front with regard to the family finances.

Throughout the ensuing years we have continued to tithe to the local church. Please understand that we hold to no formula of giving. Nor to do we believe that we are checking some cosmic box that will earn us favor with the Almighty. We do use 10% as a benchmark, but these days we often find we are blessed to give over and above that number. Again, not because we have to, but rather that we get to.

The freedom that I mentioned at the top has grown from this last point. Giving is an act of obedience, not obligation. With my heart positioned in this way, giving becomes a joy because I know that obedience to God in any matter brings joy to him. And my personal belief is that when we come to obey in these areas that were especially difficult to give up or move away from, His joy is even greater.

Please understand, we are not living some austere life as we follow God’s direction. To the contrary, we are blessed with so much more than we ever have had before. The thing is that the blessings these days are not measured in material wealth, but rather in the deep assurance of God’s sovereignty over our lives.

My advice to any who ask me about the topic of finances is this: Live within your means and always remember to thank God for all He gives you. My willingness to give back to Him sprung from the development of an attitude of gratitude toward all He provides me. I present no formula for success. But I do share with you the joy of the freedom that came (and stays) to my life when I placed the importance of God over the importance of money. The freedom I speak of has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The joy is in living this out in all aspects of life.

As always, any thoughts you want to share on this topic are welcome. I would enjoy some dialogue on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

The Fuzzy Line Between my Wants and Needs

In my role as pastor, I often find myself giving counsel to folks concerning their finances.  For couples, the stress of maintaining a budget at home can be overwhelming, especially in those cases where no budget is in place! This entry, however, is not going to be about Budgeting 101, as important as that is.  Rather, I would like to address what I perceive as being the major cause of financial struggle:  the blurring of the line between our wants and needs.

As usual, these thoughts pertain as much to me as anyone.  I find the above-mentioned line getting fuzzy far too often.  Here is a recent case in point: I enjoy reading very much, and in this season of life, I have much more time to do so.  I generally have two or three books going at once, with one pertaining to ministry, another to American History and the third being some kind of mystery novel.  Allow me to give a shout out to my precious wife at this point.  Betsy is our primary wage earner so that I can attend to our ministry full time.  Being blessed with the ability to manage my time well is how I can do this and still find time to read.

Part of this time-management skill includes the ordering of books on line, quite often through Amazon.  I like that I can type in an author’s name an instantly get all that person’s work to choose from.  That part of instant-gratification is helpful.  To the point of my want/need line getting fuzzy, however, I must consider how quickly I am going to receive my order.  If I subscribe to Prime, I can get them the next day, usually before 10 am!  The simple question is do I need it that soon or is it something I want because it sounds interesting/fun/new/different etc.  Seen in this light, I easily recognize that the line has gotten fuzzy and simply pay for traditional shipping, which will get my package to me in a reasonable time frame anyway.

I see another way the want v. need line can get blurred easily.  As I mentioned earlier, my wife is the one who brings home the bread to our household.  She has an incredibly demanding job that keeps her in the office 10 or more hours day, 5 to 6 days a week! Betsy has a deep faith in, and love for God which undoubtedly gives her the strength to meet the demands of her work life with such a cheerful and positive attitude.  Because she is so well grounded, I don’t see her struggle with her want/need line very much, if at all.

This is true even though she uses several different services that send her clothes to try on in styles she has selected in the profile given.  I enjoy that she gets to try different things (without me having to ride shotgun to the mall) in the midst of her hectic schedule.  What is even more wonderful is the ease with which Betsy simply sends back the majority of the items, because she does not need them.  It’s a great example of the clarity between what wants and needs should be.

Not surprisingly, examples can be found in the Bible that are written to help us clarify our wants and needs as well.  Psalm 37:4 tells us to delight yourselves in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (NIV).  This is really another place that speaks about our priorities in life.  David, who wrote this psalm, had experienced a vast amount of wealth and comfort in his life, as well as much strife and hardship.  The lessons of life had taught him that when he put the Lord first in his heart and mind, he found that all he had materially paled when compared to the relationship God had established with him.  Once he discovered the pure delight of God’s love, the rest of the desires of his heart fell in line behind this most important one.  He could see the difference between a want and need.

The Apostle Paul gives yet another example of how to prevent the wants/needs line from getting fuzzy when he wrote to the Philippians: And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV).  Here too we can see that the Scriptures teach that when we seek God to fulfill all  we truly need, His inexhaustible storehouse will supply us fully.

How then does someone like me come to see the want/need line more clearly? The answer is that it starts and ends with God! The bible tells us that His care and faithfulness toward us never ends or even takes a break.  If I (or anyone) is seeking to fill life with instant gratification only to find these things quickly fading into non-importance, we need to better focus on our unchanging and all-powerful Creator.  By seeking Him first and always (see Matthew 6:33 for more on this!), we will realize that He is indeed the fulfillment of every need we have.  With this comfort in the bank, the wants of life can assume their proper place at the back of the line.

The issue is that most, myself included as always, don’t have a thriving relationship with God, usually because we don’t know Him all that well.  Thankfully, this is a correctable situation that can be rectified in two easy steps.  One: Pray like you believe someone is really listening (He is) and two, read more about Him (His entire story is available in print!).

Any relationship that is vibrant includes getting to know the other person more deeply.  It is an on-going proposition.  This means that all healthy relationships are two-sided.  With regard to the relationship God offers, He is all in all the time, which leaves it up to us to grow into our part.

I’m not one for making idle promises, so please don’t take the following lightly: If you will make the effort to deepen your part in your relationship with God, I promise that the line between your wants and needs will become easier to discern.  I speak from personal experience, having both lived in the blessing of intimate contact with God and knowing the loneliness of shunning Him as I try to fill the void by pursuing the things on my want list.  Trust me, having this line more clearly defined has been one of the greatest blessings to me, as I’m sure it can be for you!

Thanks For reading,

Pastor Chuck