An Entrée of Humility With a Side of Humor Please

"'Never lose a sense of humor about yourself.' Perhaps that line ought to be engraved on a plaque and placed on the back of the pulpit, alongside the traditional quotation from John, "We would see Jesus." The Johannine quote would remind us to take the task of preaching the gospel of Christ seriously; the other phrase would encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously while we are doing that task. Moreover, a sense of humor in worship is not only a sign of humility but also of the gospel's liberating power. 'With Easter,' states Moltmann, 'the laughter of the redeemed... begins.' because God in Christ has broken the power of sin and death, Christian congregations and their preachers are free to laugh at themselves, and they can also laugh at the empty gods of pride and greed. They can mock hell and dance on the grave of death and sin."
- The Witness of Preaching by Thomas G. Long

Long is speaking specifically to preachers in the context of this excerpt, but I might suggest the same thing about so much of life. How often do we take ourselves too seriously? And what kind of consequences do these kinds of negative thinking have on those around us? Family? Friends? Co-workers? 

There is a tension that exists everyday between paying close attention to the details and not getting hung up on the details. Every little thing we do is infinitely important. We are constantly setting precedents in our lives and in our surrounding environment by the actions that we do and do not take. Every dotted 'i' and crossed 't' in life matters a great deal, but at the very same time it is true that whether we dot an 'i' or cross a 't' does not really matter that much. We often cause ourselves to feel a great deal of stress and anxiety over the small decisions of life when taking life so seriously is not necessary. The world will continue to spin on its axis regardless of our successes and failures. Thus, the question becomes, how do we navigate through the foggy atmosphere of our lives with the tension that exists between the importance of not undervaluing the details of life and not overvaluing them?

I think Long's exhortation to preachers is helpful for thinking about this tension that exists in life. We ought not take ourselves too seriously because in doing so we display our utter lack of humility. 'To be human' seems to me to be our ultimate purpose in life. When we understand that we are human, we put God in his right place as our creator and sustainer, and we put ourselves in our right place as God's creation and make him the source of our own value. If our value comes from the fact that we are made in the image of God rather than from our own successes and failures, then we will be able to laugh with joy at both our successes and failures in life. In other words, if we walk with a posture of humility, then our faces will reflect that humor evident amidst the tension that we live in. We will finally be able to laugh at the things that once scared us and gave us stress and anxiety. So I think I would like to order an entrée of humility with a side of humor please. That should tide me over until we reach the point when we would see Jesus face to face.


Self-Evangelism, Part II

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NRSV

This passage is the foundation of prayer amongst those in the Jewish community that I know. Reciting the words of the Shema is important to the Jewish community and should be to Christians as well. On a different but connected note, I am often struck by how much emphasis is placed on evangelism in churches without an attention being given to "self-evangelism." Oftentimes we become so focused on proclaiming the good news to others that we forget that it is still good news for us as well.

The gospel message, along with the Shema, is not something that a person only needs to hear once in his or her life. The gospel message is good news every day and is a message that should be recited to our children, and talked about when we are at home and when wer are away. It is a message to be recited when we lie down at night and when we get up in the morning. It is a message that we should recite to ourselves constantly because we need to hear it just as much as anyone else. Just as Jews recite the Shema, and consider it to be the foundation of prayer, so too we should consider the Shema to be foundational alongside the message of the gospel. What would our lives and ministry look like if we were as concerned with "self-evangelism" as we were with proselytizing?

Oftentimes, I find that one of my pitfalls as a Christian is to be more concerned with the great commission than with worshipping God. Don't get me wrong, I believe proclaiming the message of the gospel to others to be worshipful, but sometimes it can come from a place of arrogance rather than humility. I find the Shema to be a beautiful reminder of our brokenness as human beings before an almighty God, much like the message of the gospel when we proclaim it to ourselves. Thus, I believe we as Christians would do well to heed the words of Deut 6:6-9, and to recite these words often as our Jewish brothers and sisters do.



"In engaging in the task of evangelizing others, the church itself is constantly being evangelized. Its own members cannot present the gospel to others without themselves continually facing the promises, claims and challenges of the gospel afresh. The gospel is good news even after it has been heard a thousand times. It never becomes mere platitudes from history. When the church addresses itself at the same time it addresses others, its approach is more believable and winsome."
- ChurchNext by Eddie Gibbs

Among evangelical Christians, evangelism is and should be an important ministry. Whether we view evangelism as being more appropriate in the context of relationships or conversations with strangers, there is no denying that we are to proclaim the good news of Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection as Christians. However, when we talk of evangelism we almost exclusively talk about proclaiming the good news to other people. Why? Every time we proclaim Christ's death and resurrection we must listen as we are speaking. Not only that, we should proclaim Christ's death and resurrection even when nobody else is listening because we need to hear the good news afresh just as much as anyone else.

Gibbs believes, and I would agree, that if we treat ourselves as much a target of evangelism as we treat other people, our message will truly be sincere. Jesus is God Incarnate. He is God who has taken on the form a human being and worn humanity's sin while hanging on the cross. If we think we are not implicated in the life of our neighbor we our kidding ourselves. If Jesus was implicated in our sin then surely we can find it within ourselves to be humble enough to consider ourselves implicated in the good, the bad, and the ugliness of our neighbor's life. We are in this together. Thus, before you walk out of the door in the morning with the intention of proclaiming the message of the gospel to someone else, please, I implore you, proclaim it first to yourself.


A "Going Down" Mindset

"Christianity is a "going down" kind of religion before it is a "going up" kind of religion. In communicating this message we do not attract people as though they were customers, but we address them as fellow sinners, confessing together that we have only one answer to our common need. Unless and until we are prepared to die to self, we will never be in a position to live for Christ."

- ChurchNext by Eddie Gibbs

In continuing to think about what it means for a congregation of people to be 'church' within a community I was struck by this quote from one Fuller Seminary's own professors. I think what Dr. Gibbs writes here is profound because he doesn't write that Christianity is a "going down" kind of religion. He writes that it is a "going down" religion before it is a "going up religion." The church is not a community of people seeking to be self-sacrificial as an end in itself. The church is a community of people seeking to be self-sacrificial if need be in order to participate in the coming reign of Christ.

The Incarnation, God taking on the form of a human being in Christ, and the crucifixion, Christ's death on the cross, were "going down" kinds of events. However, God did not take on the form of a human being to understand us better and to be able to empathize with our problems. God took on the form of a human being to save humanity! However, It was not through Christ's death on the cross that we are saved. It was through the power of the resurrection that we are saved. The conquering lamb was slain and yet lives to bring judgment and justice to the world.

Thus, as we we seek to live as church in our communities we are called to be a witness to the conquering lamb who was slain. We are called to be a witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, God incarnate; and in doing so, we must be prepared to witness to this truth to whatever end. We must be prepared to give up everything, to even be tortured and killed, or "we will never be in a position to live for Christ," as Gibbs writes. We must be prepared to be a "going down" kind of community in order to meet Christ in his "going up."


Dependence on God

A quotation from St. Augustine of Hippo...

"On your exceedingly great mercy rests all my hope. Give what you command, and then command whatever you will. you order us to practice continence. A certain writer tells us, I knew that no one can be continent except by God's gift, and that it is already a mark of wisdom to recognize whose gift this is. By continence the scattered elements of the self are collected and brought back into the unity from which we have slid away into dispersion; for anyone who loves something else along with you, but does not love it for your sake, loves you less. O Love, ever burning, never extinguished, O Charity, my God, set me on fire! You command continence: give what you command, and then command whatever you will."

Confessions, Book 10, Chapter 29, (New York: New City Press, 1997), p. 263.

This excerpt from Augustine's book of personal reflections, Confessions, shows his acceptance of God's command to him to be self-controlled, and also shows his dependence on God to enable him to do God's will.

Continence here means self-control, of any kind. Augustine struggled with many misplaced desires, and here we see his efforts to submit those to God. 

A guest lecturer for our Systematic Theology class, Benjamin Myers, brought this beautiful quotation to our attention, and illuminated for us the part where it says, "give what you command, and then command whatever you will." If you flip this phrase around, so as to see that Augustine is asking God to "command whatever you will and give what you command," it is easier to see this idea that Augustine is asking and trusting God to give him a command (show him his will), and then also give him what God commands (give him the strength to accomplish his will).

Thank you Augustine for sharing with us this convicting reminder that we can do nothing apart from God.


Passing Food at the Table

Food. It plays an integral role across cultures during the advent season. Whether the lack of food that is emphasized during days of fasting or the abundance of food that is present during days of feasting, food plays an integral role. Thus, it should come to us as no surprise that what we do with food during the advent season is of utmost concern in how we worship Christ Jesus.

I am reminded during this season of the parable in Luke 12:35-48 as I reflect on how Scripture speaks to how we handle food. In the parable Jesus speaks of servants waiting for their master to return from the wedding feast. They do not know the time their master will return, but the servants are called to keep watch. Peter asks Jesus whether this parable is for the disciples or for all, and Jesus responds by saying, "Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time?" He then goes on to say that if that servant "begins to beat the other servants, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk" that servant will be cut into pieces and put with the unfaithful. Similarly, those servants that knew the master's will but participated in the gluttony and debauchery will receive a severe beating.

How will you pass food at the table during the advent season? Will you heap food on your plate and drink until your heart is content without first offering to others at the table with hospitality? The table of blessing is a table of hospitality, for as often as you share food and drink with one another, you proclaim Christ's death until he comes.

Read more Advent reflections from Fuller Seminary students and faculty.


A Prayer for Blessing

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for help that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy my life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I had hoped for. 
I am among men, most richly blessed.
- The prayer of an anonymous soldier 
(as found in Pastoral Theology by Thomas Oden)

Are we still concerned about what we are asking for, or have we stopped to reflect on the blessings we have been given? Even as I am quick to give an answer, I am forced to stop and reflect on the truth that some of God's greatest gifts I have often unabashedly considered inconveniences...