June 2017


In the late 1970s there was a worship chorus that encouraged singers and listeners to “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord.” That line was followed up with a reason to do so: “And He will lift you up (higher and higher).” The sentiment is appealing and Scriptural because we have that very promise in James 4:10.

Sadly, our modern society would like to make the promise the purpose. In other words, we spend our time concentrating on what God promises to do to the neglect of our responsibility. I would suggest that it is the Christian’s responsibility to carry out our end of the agreement, and leave it at that. We are expected to humble ourselves—act in humility. If we do so as a means to reward then we are no longer humble but mercenary. We also begin to view God with an air of superiority saying, “I’ve done my duty (been humble), now God is required to respond by ‘lifting me up.’”

In light of the focus found in Micah 6:8 (the Lord has told us what is required of us: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God), humility is an act of worship—not a means to elevation. So when James offers the promise of being exalted because of humility, he simply is directing Christians to be in worship. If we want to experience true worship, we will approach the Lord in an attitude of humility. Having done so, we will find ourselves in direct worship of the living God. We have no other responsibility.

Two thoughts occur to me: first, I no longer require anything of God. He requires humility from me. And second, regardless of God’s response to me, I have been in worship of Him through my humility of heart. My elevation is God’s desire for me. It is spiritual in nature and not physical or political. Therefore, let me worship Him . . . with humbleness of heart.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”   —James 4:10

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It was supposed to be a game. The two opponents would face each other and grab hands interlocking the fingers. Then they would begin to push on each other trying desperately to bend the fingers of their opponent back to near breaking point, until one or the other would cry out, “Mercy!” The game was called “Mercy” and I do NOT recommend it as a form of pastime or entertainment. I also do not see it as a means to learn about mercy.

What I know of mercy I learned from my father. He walked a life that was courageous, contagious, and filled with the love of God for his fellow man. Perhaps the best example of this attribute was based on an image that I had built up within my own mind. Dad was strict, and he had a way of indicating how things should be—his way. So, when I knew that God was directing my path to study at an institution in another state rather than the college where he wanted, expected, and knew I should attend, I didn’t know how to approach him. When I finally drug up the courage to tell him that I was transferring from his choice to mine, I expected a long, drawn-out argument in which I would have to defend my choice. The lesson in mercy came in Dad’s response, “If it’s what you’ve got to do, Son, it’s what you’ve got to do.”

Our Heavenly Father is much more succinct in showing His mercy. He gives it every day. When we breathe in and out, His mercy lets us live. When we say “yes” to faith and obedience to His Son, His mercy grants us everlasting life. In this He gives us what we do not deserve, what we have not earned: an on-going relationship with Him. What unwarranted gift have we given someone today?

“I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  —God to Moses as recorded in Romans 9:15

Kurt Vonnegut starts his story “Harrison Bergeron” with these words:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

The story goes on to tell how life is perfectly equal in 2081, but the reader gets the sense that, though it is equal, it may not be fair or just. Justice doesn’t mean that everyone is exactly alike, but it means that everyone has an opportunity to survive and to thrive.

When we act in justice to those around us, righteousness is both defended and advanced. When injustice runs rampant, people lose hope and dignity.

God has asked us (as His people) to deal justly, or rightly, with the world around us. That means when we see the injustice of the weak being usurped by the strong, we stand up. It means that when we hear of those less fortunate than ourselves, we readily give something of ourselves to make their life a little more just. Crime happens when justice is ignored. Right happens when we follow the justice of the Lord.

Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For you will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use. —Matthew 7:1-2

Try to remember one or two of the most meaningful worship times you have ever experienced. As I look back over my almost 54 years of attending church, revival meetings, retreats, and the like, two things stand out (aside from the moment I surrendered my life to Jesus).

The first found me sitting in a seminary classroom (of all places). My Old Testament (and later Hebrew) professor, David Garland, was in the habit of starting each class session with prayer. Unlike other instructors who might call on a student to lead us in prayer, Dr. Garland always voiced the prayer himself. Each day of class we would settle into our seats, and he would call us to prayer. Most of his prayers were fairly generic, but in their generalities the words spoken would, more often than not, address the specific high and low points of every student in class. In a one-minute public prayer, Dr. Garland could lift you to the throne of God and deposit you at the feet of the Master to revel in worship even as you got down to the business of dissecting the Scripture for academic purposes.

In a totally different setting, I found myself worshiping with about 800 teenagers at youth camp one year. The music was inspiring and uplifting at the first worship time on Monday of the week of camp. Following the leadership of the Holy Spirit, the camp preacher stood up, and instead of preaching a magnificent, relevant sermon from one of Jesus’s parables, he had us sing one more song and go to the cabins. The atmosphere of worship prevailed throughout the week, and by the time he offered an opportunity for response on Wednesday evening, scores of teens and volunteer sponsors were committing and re-committing their hearts and lives to Jesus.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. —James 4:10