Sunday, July 29, 2012

Big Pride, Big Mistake

Nebuchadnezzar. Big name. Big head. Big mistake. I recap his story as we again consider a rule (number 12) that Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) wrote for humble living.

            As usual I’ll repeat it in the language of his day, “Entertain no fancies of vanity and private whispers of this devil of pride, such as was that of Nebuchadnezzar.” The ancient king made a boastful statement about the kingdom he’d created by his own might and that’s when God humbled the king in a unique way. Taylor notes that most of us have daydreamed about a fantastic moment when we might obtain some greatness. If a person dreams of becoming an actor, they might dream of an audience and thunderous applause.

            Someone might dream of climbing the corporate ladder to sit behind a desk plaque that reads CEO. Have you ever daydreamed of inheriting millions from a long lost uncle? And it only took five minutes to dream the scenario and spend all the money! Taylor refers to these daydreams as “imaginative pleasures.” However, he creatively calls them “fumes of pride.”

            Let’s look at Nebuchadnezzar II and what brought about his humbling. The book of Daniel contains this portion of the king’s story. Historians credit his reign with huge building projects, completing some his father started. His war campaigns also added captives to the Babylon workforce that built extravagant structures, including the legendary Hanging Gardens.

            One day when King Nebuchadnezzar walked on the roof of his royal palace he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?”

            We’ve all been tempted when prideful thoughts arise in our hearts. If one is in tune with God, we know that our next breath comes only because he ordained it. Humble people recognize the sin of bragging before it ever reaches the lips. Apparently, the king said all this aloud, because, “The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven: ‘This is decreed for you King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle.’” The prophecy continued, “Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Daniel 4:28-37).

            At once, all of the things happened to the king. Brought low, his subjects drove him from the royal courts where he began to eat grass like cattle. We’re told the dew drenched his back until his hair grew thick like the “feathers of an eagle” and his nails like the “claws of a bird.” To say he was unkempt would be a compliment. Insanity seems to have accompanied his seven-year sentence as he lived with the animals of the field under the canopy of heaven with God alone as his caretaker.

            The king gives a first person account of what happened at the end of that time, “I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.” The king went on to declare that God resides over an eternal dominion, that man has no power unless given to him by the Most High, and no one can stop something he has ordained.

            The king went on to say, “My honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom.” He said he became greater than ever before, but along with that pronouncement, he praised and exalted the King of heaven, the one who placed him on his throne.

            Daniel 4 gives more details about this episode in the king’s life when he learned a lesson in a pasture that he refused to learn in splendor. Our humility scripture for today is a direct quote from that long ago king. Have any of us had imaginative daydreams of might, power, or wealth lately? Be on your guard against the seeds of sinful pride that starts in the thoughts. Even though King Nebuchadnezzar realized great wealth and power, they turned into “fumes of pride.”           

            Nebuchadnezzar. Big name. Big head. Big mistake.

            Hunger for Humility (30): “The King of heaven . . . everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37).


Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Humility Writing Exercise

When is the last time you wrote something? Well, besides signing your name on a credit card slip.

God used reading and writing to teach kings humility. How did that work? After his coronation, a king of Israel was to borrow a copy of the law from the priests, the tribe of Levi, and then the king was to copy the law onto a scroll. He then kept the personal scroll nearby because God commanded, “[A]nd he is to read it all the days of his life” (Deuteronomy 17:19).  

When kings carried out this command, the exercise of copying God’s commands benefited the king and his subjects. Spending that much time with God and his law, a king could learn to revere God, and intimate knowledge of the decrees allowed any king to become a better leader and more proficient judge.

God declared that kings additionally profited from the copying and the ensuing reading exercise because it was a soul workout, a heart test, a mind strengthening time when a king learned not to “consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the left or to the right” (17:20).

History has indexed infamous heads of states, those who chose power over humility, who chose aggression over compassion, and who chose self over others. In those awful rulers, a wicked pattern took hold, and then evil rulers hoisted themselves above God’s plan, oppressing and sometimes killing their fellowman.

However, God set a standard for godly leaders. God wrote laws on stone that would aid leaders and subjects to love and respect others and their property. He then wanted king-leaders to copy each law, and while the king scratched out the law of God on papyrus, God could inscribe his heart.

Kings weren’t the only ones to receive writing assignments from God. God gave Moses the lyrics to a song and told him to write the song down and teach it to Israel. The song in Deuteronomy 32, reminds Israel of God’s loving-kindness and Israel’s response, which wasn’t always gracious to their caregiver God.

God’s words support every moment of life –that’s what leader Joshua found out. Joshua was instructed, “Do not let the Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” For God’s part of his covenant with Joshua, he promised, “[F]or the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:6-9).

The author of Psalm 119 recognized the advantages of meditating on God’s words: “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have renewed my life” (vs. 93). In addition, the words of God will help a person focus on the important things in life and bypass the trivial: “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; renew my life according to your word” (vs. 37).

How long has it been since you wrote a scripture that especially meant something to you? Writing and reading aids learning. When it’s nestled in your brain, God can implant the essence of the words into your heart and put them to work in your life.

Want to practice the lessons meant to teach a king humility? This week, copy a favorite Bible verse and keep it nearby. Read it often. Give it time to move from the Bible pages through the avenues of your life.  Then watch for changes as the word journeys from head to heart.

Hunger for Humility (29): “Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:34).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Be Nice to Your Sister

            I’ve told you this story before. One summer day the heat neared 100 degrees, and my car battery refused to start the engine. In a very crowded shopping strip with cars jammed together like sliced bread, I phoned two males in my family for advice.

            Both out of town, one advised bumping the battery cables to see if they were loose. The other advised calling a wrecker. Since battery CPR did no good, I phoned a wrecker.

            The sun beat down. Sweat beaded. With the car hood popped open, I avoided eye contact. I didn’t want anyone to think they had to stop and help in that heat. High humidity moistened my clothes, but unfortunately it didn’t moisten my throat.

            I waited in store-awning shade and watched shoppers jockeying for close-to-the-store parking spaces. My car was only three spaces from the sidewalk. Heat waves shimmered above the pavement. The car next to mine backed out, so I ran and stood in the vacant spot so the wrecker could conveniently pull alongside and use jumper cables.

            However, he was another six minutes arriving. Thirst mounted. Perspiration trickled. Where is the ozone layer when you need it? I hoisted my black umbrella over my head and politely turned away shoppers who tried to swing into the close-to-the store-vacant spot. Actually, these were your cousins and mine. I read that all humans are kin by no more than a 50th cousin relationship. 

            At least 20 cousins drove by looking for that illusive close parking. Nineteen were polite, courteous, and conversational, even asking if help was on the way. Thank you to all those 30th and 40th considerate cousins.

            Then the exception to the rule rolled up. One person forgot her manners, pounded on her steering wheel, shook her head and fist and mouthed angry words from behind her rolled up windows in her air conditioned car. 

            Those nineteen people who gave warm smiles equaled nineteen cups of cold water to me. James, a follower of Jesus, wrote, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right” (2:8).

            When any of us come upon someone experiencing trouble, we can add insult to injury or we can alleviate suffering. A smile or a kindness can turn misery into bearable. I shopped in Montgomery’s Wal-Mart grocery department before Independence Day. Even the wide aisles were crowded. After rolling down a few aisles, I began to notice how patient and kind the shoppers were to each other. It was an outbreak of contagious good manners. I smiled the rest of my shopping trip, each time someone said, “Pardon me,” or “Excuse me.”

            Statisticians say we’re all cousins. God narrows the family kinships down to brothers and sisters because he calls us children. If someone needs help this steamy summer, put on the cloak of humility as you recall your past similar circumstances. Remember what your mother told you: 

            “Be nice to your sister.”

            “Be nice to your brother.”

            Hunger for Humility (28): “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James2:16-17).


Thursday, July 05, 2012

If You are Slighted...

Our friend, the late Frank Green, and my husband and I went to a Houston truck show. We found out right away, that Frank didn’t dawdle. He would briefly look at the newest chrome gadgets, tire gauges, and Cheetah bead setters (ask a tire man) and then he would shoo us to next display by saying, “And moving right along.”

            That’s what we’re doing in this column today, we’re “moving right along” to Jeremy Taylor’s rule number eleven for attaining humility. If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’ve devoted the fifty-two columns for 2012 to the subject of humble living. We’re loosely using nineteen rules written by Taylor (1613-1667).  So far, we’ve considered seven of them.

            We’re skipping numbers eight, nine, and ten because they’re repetitive. They give suggestions for keeping a good name, accepting praise, and avoiding power play in conversations. We have discussed those when we looked at the first seven rules. Today, we consider number eleven in the language of Taylor’s day:

            Make no suppletories to thyself, when thou art disgraced or slighted, by pleasing thyself with supposing thou didest deserve praise, though they understood thee not, or enviously detracted from thee.” The rest of Taylor’s “thee” and “thou” rule states: “[N]either do thou get to thyself a private theatre and flatterers, in whose vain noises and fantastie praises thou mayest keep up thine own good opinion of thyself.”

               You are a bright reading audience and don’t need that explained, but I have article space that needs filling, so here’s the gist. Do not get huffy when others slight you because each of us has slighted others, too. We’ve all experienced times when people talked down to us or shunned our company because they think themselves better, and we’ve done it too. Some folks think they have colossal gray matter and treat supposed pea-brained people disrespectfully.

               It happens. Don’t take offense. Err on the side of grace. So-called pea-brains can experience personal growth if they don’t climb into the arena to spar or gather their posse for a “praise me” session. I know it’s difficult to remain open-minded during a snub or slight. If someone talks down to me, I want to tattletale to my husband. I want an affirmative pat or hug to bandage my bruised ego. I want to lick my wound.

               These wounds and slights can occur between family, acquaintances, or strangers. In interchanges between strangers, no intimate knowledge of the other person exists. The crux of that problem is that neither party knows if the other is having a bad day or a bad life. I have come to the belief that we rarely make fair judgments of others. In fact, when people complain to me about things, I’ve learned to acknowledge their pain and say, “It’s difficult.” But at some time in the conversation, I express that it’s up to God to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly. One scripture reminds me that only God knows every iota of our existence. “[God] knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). God knows frail when he sees it, and he sees plenty of it in me.  

               God remains the only one who can accurately judge. He alone knows our lovely or horrific upbringings, our failures, our triumphs, our poverties, our privileges, or our handicaps or abilities. He knows the silt and sand that makes up our hearts.

               When a person is slighted, the main thing restraint on their part does is to deliver time for contemplation. If that person does not tattle or seek favor from those closest to them, the incident most likely stays in their mind for a while, but it can turn into teachable moments when God can guide the person to self-contemplation. This week if you’re bumped from the bench of high-and-mighty by someone who is holier-than-thou, take a good look inside your own heart. Ask God for revelation into the depths of your attitudes toward others.

               May Holy God assist us as we “move right along” the path to humility as we recognize that he created all of us in his image to act in his name to carry out his innate goodness. 

               Hunger for Humility (27): “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).