“Who is the greatest?” and the problem of comparison

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9

We inevitably draw up comparisons in our minds as to which of us is better in this or that. We all tend to like to think that we might be better than someone else at such and such, and many of us are competitive by nature. But when we do so, we play into the hand of the world, the flesh and the devil. And we’re not like Jesus.

In the first place I might say, leaving the above text for the moment, to compare ourselves with each other is simply unwise, as we read elsewhere from Paul, who I would imagine, considering all that is said about and by him in scripture, was quite competitive himself.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

2 Corinthians 10

Paul was fighting the false apostles for the sake of the gospel, who were calling into question his ministry based on their false view of what spirituality was. And one sure key to see through them was how they compared themselves to others, and specifically in this case to Paul and surely all those with Paul. They were superior; they were the spiritual elite. They could speak better, and surely their content was better too, in their minds. And no doubt they did dazzle, since Paul had to devote an entire section of 2 Corinthians (chapters 10-13) to both refute and expose them, as well as indicate what makes one who is truly a messenger of the gospel. By their actions and comparing themselves as superior, they were preaching a different Christ, and acting by a different spirit other than the Holy Spirit. Paul’s example was one of humility and weakness, and the gospel as well as the Lord, who essentially is that gospel, and specifically him crucified, was the one people would come to see in Paul’s ministry, not Paul himself.

But back to our Lord’s words to his disciples. He took a little child, embraced her or him, and made it plain that this child was an indication of what true greatness is. That they were to become like this little child, last of all, and the servant of all, even like he was already, to be completed through the cross. Elsewhere on the subject of who is the greatest, Jesus told them that nothing less than a conversion, a change of heart is needed (Matthew 18).

I am so easily given to comparison, particularly in matters in which I’m competitive. Probably in most, I don’t think I am, including how I write, teach and preach. I know better, having learned over the years. In these areas, I have come to see clearly how we’re all in this together, and how much we need each other. And how it’s like snowflakes, or so many other illustrations from creation, how there’s no end to God’s creativity, and how therefore we miss out completely when we compare ourselves or someone else as better than others. Paul ended up being better than the false apostles he had to oppose, because for him it was about Jesus, not about demonstrating how great he was. In fact in his brokenness as a jar of clay (read the rest of that great letter, 2 Corinthians), Jesus was more clearly seen.

And so let’s appreciate the good gifts in others, and be glad about areas they may excel in and do better than us. Remembering that we’re all special in God’s eyes, and by his design. Both in creation and in new creation in and through Jesus, the one who is the measure of true greatness.

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the fear of the Lord providing security

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress,
    and for their children it will be a refuge.

Proverbs 14:26

The fear of the Lord is called the beginning of knowledge and wisdom, referring to something of an inside understanding from God. There is certainly a reverential awe with surely a sense of wonder. But never a cowering fear. Through Jesus we know God as a loving Father, whose love knows no bounds (see Jesus’s parable of the Prodigal Son, which also could aptly be called the Prodigal Father). But this God who is love is still God.

This fear of God paradoxically makes one secure, in a sense fearing nothing. We read in 1 John that there is no fear in love, that perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with judgment. Although we know that in ourselves we are unworthy, yet living in the fear of God and what he has provided for us in Jesus gives us a security that is not only like being a part of the family, but actually is. Somehow, in whatever way this might best be expressed, and probably in a number of ways, we find security, or a fortress of safety in fearing the Lord, and best of all along with that, this is a refuge for our children. They too can find it, as we live in it. A wonderful reality for us all, in and through Jesus.

read the entire Bible (and keep reading it again and again)

Read or listen to the Bible, or both. Read it slowly, read it in large chunks. If it is God’s word written, it should begin to make an impact on our lives. And get into a church which either reads all of the Bible over time (through a lectionary), or preaches/teaches the Bible well (like the church we’ve been taking our grandkids to), preferably both.

Start children slowly, but wisely through the word, through the story and message of scripture. I think Our Daily Bread for Kids (and here) is a good place to start. Of course with the littlest ones, we’ll need materials or practices appropriate for them. Our Daily Bread for Kids Sunday School Songs (and here, scroll down) starts getting them to listen and eventually sing, which is good, even for the youngest age, I think.

The point is, we need to be in the word, day and night. And that word leads us to the Word, Jesus, the fulfillment of everything, bringing all things to their ultimate goal in God’s grace and kingdom come in him.

Why? Not for any other reason, other than the end itself. This is not a means to be a better American, a better world citizen, a better whatever, even though those things might be good in their proper place. No, it’s about being a true Christian, a follower of Christ, whatever the result of that may be.

Begin small, and keep at it. Bible Gateway is a good place to start to look for a Bible translation which might fit you. My preferred translation is the New International Version (NIV) which I think achieves an excellent balance between up to date scholarship, accuracy and readability. My second preference might be the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) , but there’s many other good Bible translations to choose from (again, see Bible Gateway).

I can’t end better than from the psalmist, but with the additional thought from scripture that this light is not just for ourselves, but for the world, in and through Jesus.

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
    a light on my path.

Psalm 119:105

beauty in brokenness

Our society doesn’t embrace brokenness. Somehow it needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better. The leading candidate of one party for the upcoming presidential election is popular in part because he would not only never acknowledge such, but doesn’t believe in it. But Jesus did. Even if some of us, and even some churches might to some extent get caught up in something of an unbroken superiority complex.

Give me the real, the human, the honest and suffering person, and there you will find someone who not only can be helped, but who more often than not enters into a beauty that is beyond them. Simply to be honest and reject all masks is beauty enough. There is a person I know who is up there in years, and supposedly has the cognitive ability of a two or three year old, and while I may not doubt that, I think assessing this person is more complicated than that. And even though she may not be pretty to look at, as the world sees it, I find her to be one of the most beautiful people I know, because she radiates and lives in the childlikeness which the Lord holds dear. “Except you change, and become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And in our brokenness and humility, something of the greatest of all beauty can begin to break through: the beauty of the Lord.

Part of the difficulty in this condition is that although we’re close to being in rhyme with heaven, we are also close to being in rhyme with hell (Michael Card). I can find myself there a number of times everyday. Pushed onto that side for whatever reason. So that I realize I need more of the Lord’s work in me to overcome that. Perhaps too little in my eyes, and at least largely hidden from others most of the time, but important in God’s eyes, and as we learn to see more and more with God’s eyes, it becomes more important in our eyes as well.

Yes, we need a broken and contrite, humbled, penitent heart, because we indeed are broken. The ones most broken are those who don’t believe they are. But brokenness can be beautiful, when before the Lord we acknowledge such, and his beauty begins to be seen through forgiveness and cleansing, and even in the midst of our struggle and weakness and even failure. It is certainly not us we want others to see, but only the Lord.

we impact each other, for good or ill

Walk with the wise and become wise,
for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20

The original idea for this post was that we become like the people we hang out with. And there’s plenty of truth in that. But I want the emphasis here to be not only on how others affect us, but how we can affect them, how we all can and do impact each other.

Wise parents will want their children to have good company, other children who are being brought up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Proverbs 6:4). I struggle much with that thought, not so much on parents watching out for their children. And let me add here that I don’t think for a moment that the only children friends for our children are those of Christian households. Not at all. It’s more of a point that we want them to have friends who are being raised in the same way we are seeking to raise them, in the grace and fear of the Lord.

What I struggle with is mostly on the children’s level, though certainly can apply to us adults, particularly for those who are not seeking to walk close to the Lord. Jesus was a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” He hung out regularly with such in a way which chafed against the sensibilities of his people. And we who are seeking to follow him should do the same.

We can relax and enjoy such people, and even be impacted by them in ways that are helpful. They too are made in God’s image, even if they may deny the God in whose image they are made. We love them, and therefore wish and pray for their salvation, but our love for them has no strings attached. It’s not if they do or don’t do this or that, or become such and such, then we will continue to be their friend. And we follow and live in the one whose holiness was not defiled by sinners, but whose holiness could be used to make the unclean clean, and the unholy holy.

Where the danger for us comes is when we are not seeking to walk close to the Lord, which in significant part involves what is called the common life of the church in which we regularly meet together and interact to build each other up in the Lord. If we flag there, and start lagging behind, we can set ourselves up to be influenced by people of the world (the media being a major player in that) for ill.

We can’t think we’re foolproof either, just because we’re seeking to follow Christ. And even if we hung out only with others so doing. And an important part of the life we are to live in the present is to reach out to those who do not know the Lord, who may be plagued with this or that in their lives. We are there to help them. And even to receive whatever help God may give us through them.

And so we live in the love  and joy, as well as the fear of the Lord. Seeking to know him and others, and to be known. Even as we seek to walk closer and closer with our Lord.

 

a precious new life

Now we have two precious granddaughters, Morgan Marie and our new arrival Mandie Lynn. It was a blessed weekend, our daughter Tiffany called on Saturday morning, as it seemed that the special day had come.

I can still remember Morgan’s arrival nearly seven years ago. I don’t think we were as prepared, but it was every bit as special. And now her little sister is here, a bundle of love, a human being made in God’s image, loved by God and by her family. Tiffany and Chris are experienced at it this time around, and with some healthy apprehension, are ready for what’s next. We want to help them by our prayers and doing what we can.

In scripture whenver the birth of a baby girl or boy is spoken of, it is special. In the created order male is no better than female. Together they constitute “Adam” or humankind in Genesis. Made in God’s image, they have the unique call to be rulers in submission to God’s rule. Especially as stewards of the earth. Something which humankind has botched, but is especially fulfilled in Jesus. Everyone of us having our part and responsibility. Both in and through creation and new creation- in Jesus.

And so for Mandie Lynn, I pray that God will help her at a young age to be a person of faith, even as I trust God is working the same in Morgan Marie. That they will be stalwarts for Jesus, devoted to God and God’s will in Jesus out of love for God and for others. I pray for God’s protection on them both and on this fledgling family.

The only bad thing about the weekend is that between Mandie Lynn going here and there and I having to go in and out, I did not get to hold our new granddaughter yet! Other than that we were blessed indeed. And we pray God’s blessing on this family, that they might be a blessing to each other and to those around them. In and through Jesus our Lord.

prayer for children

There are a number of things that are noteworthy about the character Job’s life. The one that especially sticks out to me is how he would pray for his children and offer sacrifices to God after their feasts. In case any of them had offended God.

We suffer with those who suffer, or we are called to that. And this is especially the case with our children. We need to learn to pray for them regularly, and to pray for God’s good will in Jesus on their lives. Of course how that unfolds and what that looks like may not on the surface seem good to us. It seems like suffering hits us all and leaves its mark. For us in Jesus we can respond to suffering as those seeking to draw near to God for help, and by the Spirit we can become more like Jesus. And at least more like the “blessed” which to the world are losers, such as “the poor in spirit,” and “those who mourn,” etc.

Back to praying for our children: we certainly pray for God’s mercy on them, and we pray God’s will for them, in and through Jesus. This is a good book to help one develop and practice along those lines, or to simply keep praying the prayers in the book. From one whose son had become a heroin addict, but now has a ministry to help heroin addicts.

We pray for our children because we love them. We suffer when they suffer. But we try to hold them before God for his very best in their lives in and through Jesus. That in itself can be painful when we see them make decisions which are not good. Of course we remember that we haven’t always made the best decisions ourselves. And we hold them before God, for his mercy.

And we want to do this to the very end. That their faith and hope might rest in God through Christ. That they may be among the blessed in and through Jesus.