January 20, 2008
Dear Paul and friends at Grace Fellowship Church,
The worst part of being me is something I can’t tell you.
But besides that is another hitch: my problem is getting tuned out like a watch tick in a football stadium by the folks ‘round here. They’re tired of listening to me!
Now I’ve always feared the same fate for writing to you, so I’ve kept my notes to nothing as of late. But since no one here cares to listen to me ramble, I’ll take the chance your pastor is fatigué after a long day of preaching and meetings and scribble out a few thoughts that have been stuffing my silo.
A long life means more to be sorry for, and ol’ Walter is no exception. I spent too many of my short years unmindful of God and others and that leaves a man muttering, “Vanity! Vanity!” when he should be whispering, “Glory to God.” You see, I realized I spent a lot more time thinking of Walter rather than others—thinking of how to get served, rather than how to serve. And that got me to thinking.
If there’s a leak in my barn, I snoop around until I find the hole to fix. And that can be tricky business. Sometimes water runs uphill, or so it seems, and the spot where she drips is 20 feet from where she came in. So, I decided to do some snooping around my own heart to find the leak. I’ve been pondering that a fair bit as of late and grown to see that there’s a stump of pride thicker than a combine wheel still hiding in my heart.
But you don’t fix a leak just by looking at it. I ain’t so old that I can’t change, so off I went to the Lord’s words to find out how I might get to re-shingling that part of my life. What I mean is, getting rid of the pride that has kept me from living like a servant.
It’s hard for me to imagine following Jesus day by day. I think I’d always be getting left behind at some well or campsite since He would say something and I would have to sit down and think about it for the next few hours. One of those times would have been in Luke 17. Do you recall the passage? Jesus is talking a fair bit about sin. He starts by warning us of how rotten our sin is against a brother concluding with those sobering words, “Pay attention to yourselves!” Then he moves on to tellin’ us how we are to forgive a brother that sins against us faster than a bovine dropped out of a plane... even if he sins the same sin seven times in one day!
Now the order of those things can’t be a mistake. We ought to fear sinning against a brother the way an overweight skunk with led anklets fears a dip in the icy Lake Ontario! (If you think drowning is bad, just wait till you see what you get for sinning against a brother!) And folks that are on high alert against sinning are generally much more prepared to be sinned against.
If you’ve fought a bull with your bare hands once or thrice, you tend to give the clown currently wrapped up with a beast a little more slack. You know what its like to try and stop that 2000 pounds of hostility! So if a little sin slides out of a brother toward you, your mindful of how much you’d like to be quickly forgiven for the 400 faults you’ve completed since noon.
Which makes me think that a man who won’t forgive is a man who’s never asked for forgiveness! Or, at least a man who hasn’t seen how ugly is his sin. Still, these followers of Jesus did not seem to put the 2 with the 2, and their old math summed them a 3 instead of a 4.
Now, I know about that. There has been more than 9 times in my life when the thought of not sinning seemed impossible. So they did what the most of us do when things don’t make sense; you say something pious!
You know, when one of those seminary boys you have down there starts yapping about a 17 syllable word you’ve never heard in relation to a problem you don’t understand about a man you’ve never met... and you look all concerned and say, “Well, brother. We need grace don’t we!” Now, of course that’s as true as skim milk, but what it has to do with anything that pencil-necked seminary student just said is beyond everyone!
And so these blokes look at Jesus and reply: “Increase our faith!” The choir shouts, “Hallelujah,” and everyone goes home.
No. It ain’t that simple. Sometimes pious words are meant to cover proud hearts. So Jesus calls them on it and says, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
In other words, if you just used the little bit of faith you already had, you could fight sin in yourself and forgive sin in others!
Isn’t that so often the case! A spare battery on the shed floor won’t start the tractor. What I need on a cold morning is not more faith... but the horse sense to screw in the new battery! But, we are expert self-deceivers... and we are not half-bad at self-justifying either. The end result is, we think a whole lot meaner thoughts at other people’s sins against us than we do at our sins against them. And I say that is pride... the enemy of true serving.
So, if that’s the leak, what’s the fix? It comes right next in that same chapter.
“Will any one of you who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:7-10)
You know, no where in my Bible does it say we should obey the Lord for our own comfort. And no where in my Bible does it say we should obey the Lord in our own strength. The heart of the matter is that you and I need to be men and women and small folk that do what we’re told... like good servants. And when we’re done doin’, aren’t looking all around with our head on a swivel for some form of applause or accolade.
Some people “serve” in church the way some women dress. Their intention is to get as much attention as they can! But recognition is the demolition of servanthood.
You really want to be like Jesus? You really want to live like a Christian? Then get sinned against 5 times in 5 hours by the same 5 year old... and fully forgive him. And when you are done, don’t tell a soul. Now that there, dear friends, is true humility. But it is the humility of one who lives for Another, not for himself.
It strikes me that the real test of this is going to be found wherever you live. With moms and dads, and brothers and sisters, and children and grandparents, and roommates, and even the dumb dog. Day in and day out, sin will happen. How will you handle it?
I once knew a ploughman who could talk theological circles around any visiting preacher. In fact, he seemed to like to do that. But his kids hated him and his wife disliked him and I’ll tell you why. He was an arrogant snot. Prouder than a peacock in heat. Boastful like the Titanic, he thought he had all the answers and should make all the choices and never once did he stop and ask anyone to forgive him. By his practice he acted sinless... but he didn’t even fool the mirror.
I wonder when the last time was you humbled yourself before your family? Or when you asked forgiveness from someone there at church?
Have you been looking for ways to go low and serve others and then take real joy when no one noticed... like your roommate?
I wonder if you’ve been expecting to be treated badly—like a slave in from the fields watching his master eat first—and then been doubly content when done your duty?
I testify that I spent way too much of my life striving for position and prominence instead of service and snubbing. And I thought the problem had more to do with God not giving enough faith than with me not using the little I had.
I have come to see that there has been far more pride than humility in my humble existence. I have come to see that if I had thought more about serving others as opposed to getting served myself, I would have lived a lot closer to the Lord.
So, I thought I would write to all of you and urge you not to make the same mistake—no matter how old you are! For it only takes a dash of humility to upset a donkey cart of pride. Get to it now and watch God’s grace in your life grow; for although opposed to the proud, He gives grace to the humble. Tell your heart you exist to serve others and you won’t be so bent out of shape when a brother treats you like a slave. You might even learn a thing or three about that Servant we all love, Jesus Christ.
With happy thoughts to you all,
P.S. Tell Brother Hill the snow has reached the roof on the south end of barn, right where he sat with me this summer!