Sermon: It Is Humans He Helps

What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, 
both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. 
He has fully paid for all my sins, with his precious blood, 
and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 
He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father 
not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together 
for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit 
he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready 
from now on to live for him.  

Heidelberg Catechism: (16th century Protestant Catechisms) 

It is humans he helps.

Angels don’t need his help, they are his helpers. How should we pay careful attention here: how does he help humans?

3 words that unlock 3 truths about how he helps us: 

By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone 

What does that mean in a world where all die? He didn’t taste death “instead of” us.

Passage Parallel: verse 10, “author” or “pioneer”—the one who was first and starts something; the entrepreneur, the one who creates from scratch and makes it easier for those who follow. Bears the suffering to get it going. “We’re all going to go through it, but he is going to take us through it.” 

Parallel words: Hebrews 12:2 , “starter and finisher” or “pioneer and completer.” The Greek: avrchgo.n kai. teleiwth.n—beginner and completer. This parallel shows the emphasis is on the one who does something unknown and complicated (due to ignorance and fear) first and makes it much easier for the next person. 

In Jesus’ death and resurrection Jesus has “tasted” death, and pioneered the way through it for us. 

  • In atonement- taking away the sting, and judgment of death.  
  • In conquering it- by taking away the power of it’s mystery by defeating death, and giving us the promise of resurrection. 

Suffering made Jesus the perfect savior for us.  

“Perfect” – better or fitting? “Perfect” or “perfect for”? Perfectly accomplishing brotherhood—a fully shared experience.

Hebrews 2:10-14 NIV 10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting  [that] (to1) God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.1 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.”1 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.”And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.”2 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil…” 

The one who makes people holy, and those made holy are of one family. The family of the sufferers—the line of “flesh and blood” (verse 14). That is why he “shared in their humanity” or literally “partook of the same” (as the flesh and blood). 

The sharing of suffering and death is the heart of sharing our flesh and blood. 

NAS Hebrews 2:18 For since He Himself was atempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. (Heb. 2:18 NAS) 

How does this brotherhood help us? How is it the definitive help that we need- that makes Jesus the perfect helper as our high priest?  

Jesus broke the power that enslaved us by our fear of death 

Heb. 2:14-15 NIV “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  

Notice the word is “by” not “to”—we were not enslaved to our fear of death, but by it.  Literally: “as much as the fear of death, through all their lives, they were subject to slavery.” 

How does that free us from the power of the devil?  His power was rooted in our fear of death—and it is that fear that makes us easy to manipulate and easy to lead away from God.

Job 2:3-5 NIV “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” 

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

It is our experience in Flesh and blood that makes us both capable and vulnerable in creation.  We are unique among the self-conscious persons of the universe to be subject to flesh and blood and, therefore, death.  Neither God, nor angels, nor demons have any experience of such uncertainty, or of our particular kind of suffering—to not see things spiritually as they are. 

Jesus took on this unique foundation of human fear and doubt, and bore it perfectly, and showed us how—as a kind of brother. By becoming fully part of the flesh and blood people that suffer and die in this world.  And he showed us how God would bring us to glory, and put everything under our feet—even death and hell. 

Our fear of death was not a lingering and obscure slavery that hung in the background of a free lifeit was a chain and lock that bound us to a hundred slaveries that are all rooted in our fear of death. 

Our slavery to the devil works its way out from our fear of death and suffering. It leads to our fear of: 

  • Aging or becoming irrelevant 
  • Not having money 
  • Being relationally isolated  
  • Losing our good name 
  • Fear of missing out—that we only live once, and our lives are as meaningful as what we can cram into them 
  • Need to get out of hard relationships or to avoid hard things 
  • Our difficulty with getting over loss 
  • Our anger that we’re not celebrities 
  • Our anger that we have to work, and can’t just play all the time
  • Our fear to take moral responsibility for our lives—because we know that we’ll be self condemned 
  • Our unwillingness to stop judging others—because the people worse than us seem like a safety margin keeping us from the ledge of the precipice of judgment 
  • Unwillingness to forgive 
  • Unwillingness to deal with out deep dysfunctions—because it is humiliating suffering to seek psychological freedom 

Every slavery takes its authority from our fears as people of Flesh and blood—as part of the brotherhood of suffering and death.  

When Jesus breaks our fear of death, he breaks the chain and lock holding us to ALL OF OUR SLAVERIES. But we still have to appropriate that freedom.  We need to put our slaveries under his feet. 

How do we experience the freedom from slaveries that Jesus has already broken?  

  • Short answer: Pay careful attention to the great salvation.  
  • That is: The freedom is in the details.  
  • Context: The rest of the book of Hebrews. 
  • Practical: Your faith needs to become as incarnate as Jesus the high priest.  It needs to  be as divine as the Son of God, and as flesh and blood as the Savior man Jesus. 

Our faith needs to be focused on Jesus—who is himself the high priest.  

You can’t shy away from Jesus himself—you have to focus your spiritual life on him. On being his disciple. Learning about him. What his death and resurrection means, and how he has called you to follow him into godliness, which will involve suffering and ultimately death (but also much more).  

Galatians 6:2-10  2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.   3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  4 Each one should test his own actions.  Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,  5 for each one should carry his own load.   6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.  7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.   9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.   10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. 

Fighting for Devotional Time: Focusing Your Mind

Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.

Yesterday, I posted about the first hardest part about fighting for devotional time: the discipline of simply doing a devotional rather than not doing it. 

The second hardest part of doing devotions is concentration and thought. Most people do not have a mind trained for thinking and concentration. Our minds function similarly to our bodies in that when we are out of shape, it’s harder to perform anything strenuous. Additionally and unhelpfully, our lives and homes tend to be filled with all kinds of convenient distractions. 

Therefore, to have a profitable devotional time, the next step after simply having one is to achieve something like concentration—focus. This can be aided with controlling your environment and the use of mild stimulants, like coffee or tea. Stay away from things like cocaine.

In order for many people to achieve concentration and focus, they need to repeatedly go to a quiet environment in which they have removed obvious distractions. Often, this has to be done fairly early in the day before distractions multiply. Early is often the best time to concentrate because you have the most mental energy you will have all day. Putting this together with a concentration aiding beverage can help you focus. Journaling can also aid with focus. Although journaling has some liabilities, it has two benefits. First, manual writing tends to keep you focused on creating the content you are writing. Second, writing things down allows you to go back and look at what you have written days, weeks, months or even years later. I recently went through a ten year prayer journal I used from 2010 through 2019. It not only was encouraging to see what God had done in those ten years, but it allowed me to carry forward things God had been shaping over that decade into the next. It gave continuity to my pursuit of God, the change he was praying into my life, and a sense that he has been working in me.  

Aside from these aids, there is no substitute for the work of concentration. Some people can concentrate nearly effortlessly for an hour to 90 minutes. This is often the case if you have a job that requires long periods of concentration that keeps your mind in this kind of shape. For some of us, concentrating for ten minutes may feel like active work. The most important thing is to start with where you are and to do what you can do. Push yourself without injuring yourself. Just like if you started running after months of sedentary living, you shouldn’t try to run two miles your first time. You’ll probably both fail and hurt yourself.

Similarly, if you have not been spending time concentrating, push yourself about 30% longer than comes natural. For some people that will be ten minutes. For others it will be 25. Just make sure you stretch yourself. Over time, you’ll be able to build yourself up to concentrating longer just as you would increase weights in the weight room if you were getting in shape.

Again, doing devotions brings natural benefits along with the spiritual benefits. By pursuing a sharp mind for God you will end up with a sharper, more disciplined mind for everything. Your devotions won’t just develop you spiritually; they will sharpen you mentally. You will literally become smarter over time—a clearer thinker. I have discipled many people who have said that their faith made them much smarter than they were before. That is not because faith in itself makes us more intelligent—some ways that people believe can decrease their curiosity and make them functionally less intelligent over time. 

But there is an educational and intellectual development to knowing God. As we exercise our mental abilities in pursuing him, he matures and shapes our minds for his service. And as you see the good results of this pursuit, you may find within yourself the growing conviction to minimize and remove the things in your life which distract you and dilute your concentration. 

If we listen to Jesus’ call to love God with all our minds, and if we grow in our powers of concentration as we pursue deeper devotion to him, then he grows and sharpens our minds as we give our minds to him.

Fighting for Devotional Time: The Discipline of Devotion

Listen to discussion on the Fighting for Devotional Time series on the Engage & Equip podcast, episode #173.

Last Sunday, March 15, we talked about what to take back from COVID-19. The primary thing we can take back for good from the destruction of this pandemic, other than an increased discipline of love for our neighbor, is an increased discipline of devotion to God. To this end, this post is the first of a four-part series on fighting for devotional time.

The most important part of doing a devotional is the act of doing it rather than not doing it. This is the main obstacle to start and remains the main obstacle as you proceed. Once you start reading God’s word, you will find benefit in it, and you will know God and his wisdom better. The challenge we face in disciplining ourselves to do this good in devotion to God is three-fold. 

First, we have to escape the obstacle of the urgent. There is always something screaming for our attention: kids, work, cleaning, entertainment, and so on. Most growth and self-care requires putting off the urgent for the needful. The urgent thing will not thank you for doing this. It will complain. To persevere, you must know you are doing the right thing for yourself, and for all the urgent things in your life that will get a better version of you after you do what is needful. This is true of sleep, eating well, and exercise, too, but doing what is spiritually needful is the most important of all. 

The second obstacle is that the Flesh, often embodied in our habits and nervous system,  wants to be pleased by doing something that brings pleasure with no effort and, especially, with no concentration. Mental concentration on something that will cause growth is really hard for most people. It’s like going running. Your body and mind are actually working against you. It’s easier to sleep longer, watch something, play a game, or look at memes. We are pre-programed by the Flesh to save energy and to do what’s easy. You have to choose to overcome this, and then to take time and concentrate on God and his word. 

Third, an obstacle we may not be aware of (nor want to admit to ourselves) is our uneasiness with coming to God himself in any real way. We talk about wanting to know and seek God, but deep down we know he is truly terrifying to the sober soul. We know that our life deserves to be evaluated as a “big damnable disappointment,” and no one else knows that better than God. We certainly don’t want to be around the One that knows our failure and wickedness best, nor do we want to go through the consistent experience of acknowledging that truth as we come to him. Coming to God can feel like a death—because it is. That is exactly why you need it. The death is the death of our lying, self-deceiving pretensions. When we come to God, we know somehow that this is Someone to whom we cannot really lie. Even the lies we tell ourselves don’t work for very long if we take up the practice of being honest with God. 

These three obstacles are each areas in which we have to first show devotion to God and his goods in order to start a discipline of devotion. 

First, we have to value God more than the urgent and the approval we get for tending to urgent things. We have to seek his love and approval rather than the approval of people and things that want something from us NOW!!! 

Second, we have to value God and be devoted to him over the ease of amusement. The word “amusement” literally means “not to think.” A first step of devotion is to decide God is worth thinking about enough to escape the amusement of immediate entertainments. 

Third, in coming to God in devotion, we have to be more devoted to his truth than to maintaining our lies. We have to be more interested in the growing pains that his truth will bring than in our stagnant comfort. We have to be more interested in the nakedness of honesty, than in the makeshift garment of our self-deception and self-justification. We have to be more interested in knowing the living God, than in having a false version of ourselves with which we can distract the world around us. 

Devotions have to start with devotion.

Sermon: What to take back from COVID-19?

Due to coronavirus (COVID-19) preventative measures, High Point Church is doing church at home in small worship groups. This blog post is based on the sermon outline. You can watch the sermon here, and get updates from High Point Church regarding COVID-19 here.

As a pastor, I can’t tell you “everything is going to be ok.” I don’t know what you’ll hear when I say that. Already none of us are untouched by this line of events.

I can’t tell you that what you fear will not happen, or that what you hope for will happen. I can only say that it’s impossible that all of your varied fears will happen. And that probably none of your hopes will come about exactly as planned. This is why it is not our duty to predict the future in either anxiety or pride.

It is our work only to look ahead far enough to plan to do our duty and then to exist fully in the present, embracing the full labor of love toward God, ourselves and our neighbors.

Let’s start with a simple realization: COVID-19 is going to take from us.

  • Trivial: The NBA
  • Total: death and loss
  • Tragic: Real hurts, sickness, pain, overwork, massive loss of wealth, lost jobs or closed businesses, students not eating, getting in trouble through addiction or crime because you can’t handle the idleness

But will COVID-19 give anything? Or, can we take anything from it?

Calamity may come for many different and simultaneous reasons. But in Romans 8:28, God claims to “work” even these things for some goods if we look to him in faith (love him and are called to his purposes).

Pain, tragedy and suffering may be the ONLY way most of us will take certain things from the human experience. But this is only true if you are more than a philosophical materialist and a practical consumer. If, in your mind, mammon and math are all that there is in the universe, then disease can only be a catastrophe. But if there are things like love, meaning, souls and God, then catastrophe may be the only way we will see them rightly.

C.S. Lewis talks about pain as God’s megaphone to a deaf world. The word “deaf” does a lot of the work. It only works if we can’t hear in another way.

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

Then what credible thing stops up our ears?

Blaise Pascal teaches that men love diversion (it is our deafness). Diversion is the wax in our ears.

Diversion. Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.” –Pascal

Jesus calls the means we use for this diversion “mammon,” and told us we could not serve both God and mammon. That we could not love God and lick the earth.

Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Therefore, it is only that which endangers or destroys our material diversions that shout over the deafness of our diversions.  

Only a “grounding fear” can rouse our attention in the virtual reality of diversion.

In psychology, we would say we can only accept pain as therapeutic if it rescues us from a greater evil.

An illustration: Being tackled in front of a bus, breaking our collar bone. Your reaction to being tackled and hurt would be different whether you were facing the bus or facing away from it. To feel the pain was worth it:

  • You have to see that something much worse was bearing down on you
  • You’d have to recognize you weren’t paying attention
  • You’ll be grateful for the intervention

But remember, God’s work in us is not as simple as this. We are prone to go RIGHT BACK to the obliviousness of diversion. The breaking of the collar bone might not be an accident, but an intentional reminder for the future so we will not be looking at our phone crossing the street in a month.

This is what happened to Jacob when he wrestled the Angel of the Lord in Genesis. God touched his arm socket and gave Jacob a permanent reminder of what happens when you wrestle with God.

God does not tell us what he is doing in his secret will in affairs like these. We simply don’t know the heavenly significance of COVID-19. God may have 20 billion angles he is working in such a global space that we know nothing about, and could not.

We only know what God has shown us in this revealed will. Every trial is a testing that both reveals our heart and makes our character.

Yet for most of us, this trial has hardly begun. Our task in this moment is to prepare our minds and hearts to think as God has taught us to, and to find his courage in the midst of the anxieties of likely calamity.

So let’s look at a few of these ways we should brace and clear our minds and hearts.

How can we, at God’s leading, TAKE something from this train of events:

The sobriety that nothing has really changed. We were just diverted.

I updated this C.S. Lewis quote to fit our times.

C.S. Lewis On Living in an Atomic Age (1948) “In one way we think a great deal too much of the likely pandemic’s results. ‘How are we to live in an age of global diseases?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of AIDS, an age of paralysis, an age of terrorism, an age of hurricanes, an age of car accidents.’ In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before nature invented this present disease: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because globalism has added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty. This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by a global pandemic, let that disease, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about contagions. They may break our bodies (microbes have always done that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

He is saying: If we trade the deafness of diversion for the deafness of terror, then we can take no good from such a situation as this.

We must wake up to see that human life has always been like this: full of terror and death.

And people have lived with love and courage in all these times, as well as some have lived in hatred, selfishness and cowardice. It is not the presence of danger that takes away our humanity, it is our understanding of our identity and purpose that reveals our hearts and forms our character.

Become sensible of the vanity and shallowness of our diversion.

Pascal, p. 141. “Men spend their time in following a ball or a hare; it is the pleasure even of kings.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées “The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion. And yet it is the greatest of our miseries. For it is these above all which prevents us thinking about ourselves and leads is imperceptibly to destruction..”

If you wake up from a hypnosis, you should consider how not to fall into it again.

We have to learn the spiritual lesson of how given we are to diversion, and how it numbs us and leads us to our spiritual death. And also, how it keeps us from the deep pleasures and joy of life by making us brittle and shallow.

My book Substance explores this more deeply.

The only way to really escape diversion is to pursue purpose, depth, godliness, and discipline by faith.

Receive from Christ his greatest gift.

Hebrews 2:14-18   14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil–  15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants.  17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.  18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

As a human high priest, Jesus:

  • Revealed the resurrection: and pledged an everlasting life
  • Achieved salvation: the atonement and forgiveness we needed for death to not lead to a greater calamity.
  • Present effect: to free us from our fear of death and evil.

Result:

Find the courage to love.

Romans 8:28-39   28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.  31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died– more than that, who was raised to life– is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

3 present realizations:

  • God will work for the eternal good – the “Glorification” of all his own.
  • Nothing can separate us form his love – not even death.
  • Therefore: our identity is that we are conquerors.

Conclusion: That only makes sense if you repent of materialism.

It can only help you, form you and guide you if you believe that what happens inside your heart and soul is more important and more defining than what happens to anything about you in the material world, even whether you live or die.

The Necessity of Meekness

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:5)

“I will leave within you the meek and humble, who trust in the name of the Lord.” – Zephaniah 3:12

“…the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.” – Psalm 37:11

The lexicon definition for meek is something like lowly, gentle, humble, considerate, kind, mild and friendly of disposition, “the older sense of strong but accommodating.” In the book of Numbers, Moses is described as the meekest man on earth. This is a man who had led battles, presided over divine judgment, stood up to the most powerful emperor of his time, and had done many other things that most people would not consider meek. Jesus also, the Messiah, as he came into Jerusalem rode on a donkey. The book of Zechariah prophesied this, and showed that it meant to demonstrate that our king would come to us meekly. That even in his triumphant entry while here on earth the first time, Jesus was meek. And yet, there are numerous places where Jesus is bold. He turns over tables in the temple. He asks the Pharisees how they think they can escape the damnation of hell. He confronts people that seek to manipulate him or silenced him.

So what should we make of meekness? How important is it in a culture that sees assertiveness as critical to health and maturity? I believe that meekness actually represents a family of virtues we are meant to pursue by faith, and that meekness is the opposite of a family of vices that destroy faith, dishonor God, and greatly harm people.

Take the Beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5:5. The first question studying Scripture is, “What is the immediate context?”. The Beatitudes begins a section referred to as the Sermon on the Mount which covers Matthew 5-7. Jesus also gives a similar set of teachings in Luke 6:21-26, which includes four Beatitudes and four woes. In Matthew’s Gospel, he says that those that are blessed are “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “the merciful,” “the pure in heart,” “the peacemakers,” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” He says that you are blessed “when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” In this context, none of these descriptions require us to interpret the state of the listener as financial poverty. In some ways, it would be strange to interpret these characteristics as particularly characteristics of financial poverty. It is important to remember that class is not of nearly as much interest in the Bible as in the minds of people who lived after Karl Marx, and other writers during and since the Industrial Revolution.

These can all be seen as characteristics of spiritual character. Yet, what holds them all together? They are not all passive. They are not all weak. They’re not particularly subject to circumstance. It may seem too simple a description, but one could say that these are people who “love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and love their neighbors as themselves.” Then you would add something like a strong dose of humility, as well as being on Jesus’ mission of reconciliation.

“Meekness” here then doesn’t primarily mean “of too low a status to own land.” And it doesn’t seem to mean the opposite parallel of “will inherit the earth.” There seems to be a different reason why these people would inherit the earth. In fact, there could be a warning to the poor here. If your poverty of spirit, or meekness, is only a product of your station—the necessary fact of your financial poverty—it may not be part of your character, it may only be part of your situation. If your environment forces a behavior on you, you may find if that environment changes, the behavior changes also; it may, in fact, reverse. If you were powerful, would you still be meek? If everybody had to move on your command, would you still be “poor in spirit”? If you didn’t need people to show you mercy, would you still be merciful? Are you really like Jesus?

Is meekness “low position”?

There is a way in which meekness is a kind of “behaving as though you are of low position.” In Luke 14:7, Jesus comments on people sitting in more and less important places at a dinner party. He says in verse 10: “When you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when the host comes, he will say to you, ‘friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests.” Here, Jesus explains the natural consequences of self promotion versus assuming a lower position for yourself. It is reminiscent of Philippians 2:3, which says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Fundamental to humility (which is part of meekness) is behaving as though others are more important than yourself.  This treats them with honor and sacrificial love—while attacking the flesh that is brewing our selfish ambition and is how our vanity easily becomes conceit. However, this would not mean that meekness is to be in a low position, but that meekness chooses a low position in the humble service of others.

If not “low position,” is meekness being a pushover?

Besides being poor, the next most common American fear related to meekness is that we will have to be unassertive. Among many modern Americans, especially in the middle and upper classes, being assertive is seen as fundamentally necessary for good health and keeping oneself from being taken advantage of by others. However, this is the common fallacy of presuming that a virtue is a vice. Fundamental to knowing virtue and vice is having the wisdom to apply them to a particular situation. Meekness includes the virtue of knowing when to be deferential. Being a “pushover” is a vice of being deferential when we shouldn’t. One version of this is sycophancy, defined as “being obsequious, fawning or differential toward someone important in order to gain an advantage.”

In the lexicon definition above, the old English definition defined meekness as “strong but deferential.” Meekness, by this definition, is deference that does not come from weakness but is chosen in the presence of strength. This is consistent with the biblical usage.

What is the opposite vice to the virtue of meekness?

If being a pushover, or sycophant, isn’t the opposite of meekness, then what is? In traditional moral theology, the opposite of meekness is wrath. Wrath can be defined as “consisting and exciting oneself about something at which one is displeased.” It assumes a kind of self-centered view, and a selfishness of spirit. It leads to a lack of restraint and an outflow of rage. The selfishness of wrath is also displayed in disrespect and irritability. Wrath is distinguished from “zeal” when the exercise of emotion is truly focused on the purposes of God and true virtue. The expression of zeal is called “just anger,” and it is displayed in Scripture when Jesus cleared the temple, or when Moses returned from Mount Sinai to see the people worshiping the golden calf. Rightly conceived, just anger flows from true charity and love informed by a zeal for the glory of God, and comes forth in a desire to set things right and to reconcile people to God and each other—which is the end goal of love and worship. Read here for more.

So what is the real meaning of biblical meekness?

Throughout Scripture, meekness is used in a range of contexts. In a couple of passages, as in Psalm 34:2, the emphasis seems to be on being in a low station. In others, as 1 Peter 3:4, it means something more like proper modesty. In contexts like Zephaniah 3, it is either parallel with or a close synonym to humility.

Psalm 37 is perhaps the most important text, because the beatitude in Matthew 5:5 is nearly a direct quotation of Psalm 37:11. The only difference is that the translators use the word “land” instead of “earth.” However, in Hebrew, it is the same word. In Psalm 37, there are also two other verses that claim that people will inherit the land. Verse 9 says, “those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” Verse 22 says, “those the Lord blesses will inherit the land…” Verse 29 says, “the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” And verse 34 says, “he will exalt you to inherit the land…” “You” in this context refers to “the righteous” from a couple verses earlier. So, in the Old Testament parallel passage that contains five references to “inheriting the earth/land,” the universal parallel of “meek” is a kind of righteousness willing to trust God and wait for him. In fact, if one goes through the first 10 or 12 verses of the Psalm, it is easy to come up with a profile of those who are referred to as “the meek.”

There are those who are meek because they are: trusting the Lord, doing good, delighting themselves in the Lord, committing their way to the Lord, hoping in the Lord, seeking righteousness, waiting patiently for the Lord, etc.

And there are those who are not meek, because they are: envious of evil, fretting at evil even if it succeeds, wickedly scheming, releasing their anger and wrath, plotting, gnashing their teeth, etc.

So how should we define meekness? First, I believe that meekness is something like a family of virtues. Meekness is closely associated in its contexts with the fear of the Lord, spiritual patience, faith, humility, gentleness, deference, temperance, forbearance, prudence, hopefulness, and more.

If love is something like the center hub of how we conceptualize the virtues, meekness is something like the umbrella under which we express the virtues. It at least must exist in the presence of many other virtues, and seems to be something like their controlling principle. Meekness is motivated by a fear of the Lord, a willingness to wait on the Lord, and a humility before the Lord. It is motivated by a fundamentally God-centered heart. Faith and a love for the glory of God is fundamental to expressing meekness from the heart. Then, it is the application of principle for gentleness, deference, temperance, forbearance, prudence and the other improvisational and situational virtues we express towards others. How do we love others with these virtues? We express them with meekness.

A close relationship with gentleness and humility.

Last, it is important to focus strongly on the relationship of meekness to both humility and gentleness. Meekness, as opposed to wrath, is always humble and self-forgetful in nature. Wrath is always arrogant and self-centered in its perspective. Without a God-glorifying and God-centered view of who and what we are, meekness is impossible because humility will be absent. But even in the presence of that theology, meekness, like humility, is a practice of the heart. It must be continually chosen, and wrath continually put to death. In faith, and by the present power of the Spirit, the virtue must be chosen and the vice shunned. And when we fail, faith demands an open repentance: that we should have chosen the virtue and shunned the vice, that we are ashamed we didn’t, and that we endeavor with the help of God to do differently in the future. And we make, in meekness, whatever restitution we can to build trust again with the person we harmed.

So when should we be hard, strong and unyielding?

As said above, charity and love, motivated by a zeal for the Lord, may demand from us responses that do not seem “meek.” The Bible confirms that both Jesus and Moses, as well as people like Nehemiah and others, rose up and did ferocious acts and marshaled strong defiance and resistance among God’s people. John and Peter in Acts 4, for example, are not obviously “meek” when they tell the ruling authorities of Israel that they will not obey them, because they must obey God, nor is the apostle Paul when he confronts military men and rulers.

However, these actions are still chosen with meekness, and even expressed with meekness. That is, they are chosen by men who consider whether virtue allows them any other choice. If you read the most defiant moments of God’s holiest men, you will often still find palpable meekness. David will not raise his hand against Saul. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (their Babylonian names) answer directly to the king, but not with taunts. They, and Daniel, do not show more disrespect than is necessary through their disobedience to the Eastern Kings. The apostles are very direct with the rulers that they face, but not overly bold.

Jesus seems to have no love for aggressive confrontation, and is always seeking a meek and peaceful interchange. He only turns up the heat when the obstinance of his adversary leaves him no other choice, if the truth is going to come down upon them. And he brings that truth down upon them so that the wrath that would otherwise descend can be escaped.

Even Moses, who came down very hard on the people for worshiping the golden calf can be defended in this way. All that he makes the Israelites do can be seen as a meek deference to the glory of God and a necessary medicine to their orgy-filled idolatries. Even more, when God tells Moses that he plans to destroy the people, Moses intercedes for them and begs for their survival. He even begs for God not to send them up out of the desert if he will not go with them himself, and so, Moses begs for the presence of God among the people. He is their true and perfect advocate, even in their worst sins. He is meek. He is never thinking about his own position in himself. None of these men seem to be doing that. They are all concerned with God’s glory, what is good, the truth, what love demands. Doing nothing out of selfish ambition and the conceits of vanity, in meek humility, they consider all others better than themselves, and the glory of God the greatest pursuit of all humanity. May we submit to this same work of God in our own hearts and actions, becoming like Jesus in his ferocious meekness.

For further study

A list of verses that contain the Greek word translated “meek”: Numbers 12:3; Psalm 24:9, 33:3, 36:11, 75:10, 146:6, 149:4; Job 24:4, 36:15; Joel 4:11; Zephaniah 3:12; Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 26:6; Daniel 4:19; Matthew 5:5, 11:29, 21:5; 1 Peter 3:4

A very close cognate word for “meekness” or “humility/gentleness”: Esther 5:1; Psalm 44:5, 89:10, 131:1; 1 Corinthians 4:21; 2 Corinthians 10:1; Galatians 5:23, 6:1; Ephesians 4:2; Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 2:25; Titus 3:2; James 1:21, 3:13; 1 Peter 3:16

A Silent Dividing Wall

by Linda Sey

Over the past several months, we have learned about various ‘dividing walls’ we can work to tear down and focused on the ‘9 Minute Golden Window’ of opportunity to meet and connect with others on Sunday mornings. Previously, we also learned the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community is a largely unreached population spiritually (~2% Christian), due in part to the general lack of equal access to communication within many churches. Furthermore, we announced that due to an ongoing and explicitly requested need, High Point Church would begin offering a monthly interpreted ASL service and will seek to add more interpreted services as those willing to do so come forward.

The dividing wall of hearing loss is largely silent and invisible. Because it isn’t as visually obvious as a wheelchair, prosthetic, or red and white cane can be, this disability is often all around us, yet often goes unnoticed. The world of deafness often leads to isolation, exclusion, loneliness, and feeling invisible, even as one who is deaf is surrounded by a crowd of people, be it friends, family, coworkers, or fellow churchgoers. Those with significant hearing loss learn to laugh, smile, and nod along, often mentally spinning their wheels to do an immense amount of detective work, guessing, and bluffing, to appear to fit in and understand what is being said or what is going on. Conversations with their hearing counterparts are often limited to the most superficial, concrete, “small talk”, since anything deeper leaves both parties at a loss as to how to bridge the language barrier, or ‘wall’.

The good news is, with a little education and intentional effort, these ‘walls’ aren’t so impossible to break down after all! This blog post focuses on two pragmatic ways YOU can actively break down walls for our Deaf/Hard of Hearing congregants at High Point Church.

THE GOLDEN WINDOW

Particularly on ASL interpreted Sundays (first Sunday of each month, second service), but ultimately ANY place or time you find yourself within proximity to someone Deaf/Hard of Hearing, you can use the following strategies to communicate with them as much as you would with anyone else, even if you don’t know or are not fluent in sign language:

  • Use your smartphone or tablet to type back and forth with each other, with no need to actually send the messages if not desired. Just show the screen to each other (for your part, you can use speech to text if you prefer)
  • Use a direct messaging app even while face to face (Facebook Messenger, Skype Chat, Google Hangouts, etc)
  • Use good old fashioned pen/paper to write back and forth (the church pews always have paper for sermon notes and spare pens available)
  • When available, utilize a Sign Language Interpreter. Just approach them and let them know you would like them to interpret your conversation.
  • Keep a small dry erase board handy, write back and forth, and easily erase for more space.

CAPTIONING NEED

We live in an age where creating and viewing videos is as common as the air we breathe. Technology is wonderful, and allows us to access more than ever before. However, when such videos do not have reliable captions/subtitles, this creates yet another dividing wall for Deaf/Hard of Hearing individuals. Try this challenge: Select your favorite upcoming tv show episode or newly released movie (one you haven’t already seen), and mute the sound. Watch for at least 5 minutes, and see how much you understand, and how much you enjoy it. Then for the next few minutes, randomly unmute for just a second or two at a time, allowing for a word or syllable to break through. Pretty frustrating, right? Mentally draining? Confusing? Boring? If the device’s sound system was permanently broken or malfunctioning, you would likely give up on it altogether and look to replace it. It wouldn’t be worth your time. This is what those with hearing loss face all too often. There are many increasing laws mandating captioning/subtitles for most of society, however, those laws still have their limits. And they certainly can’t regulate every individual video created/posted by the individual user.

There are over 100 empirical studies which have repeatedly confirmed that consistently offering captions/subtitles helps far more people than just those with hearing loss. Exposure to captions/subtitles increases literacy for all, from early childhood through late adulthood. Those without a native English background can better understand and process when they can both hear and see the information. Additionally, people who are visual learners have the information processed in a way that connects better for them, rather than solely auditorily. And of course, that random distraction or background noise that caused you to miss hearing what was just said is not as big a deal when you can read it on the screen and quickly get caught up. Research also shows that both attention to and retention of the content increases with the addition of captions/subtitles. A lesser-known benefit is that videos with captions/subtitles are much more searchable by browser search engines, since the text is what search engines go by. So if you want your video (or podcast) more easily found by the general population, adding captions is a great way to boost visibility!

High Point Church often creates short videos to highlight upcoming events, share testimonies, make announcements, and more. Church staff have very limited time and resources for adding captions to all those videos. There are two ways you can assist with this.

First, if you are creating a video, please plan ahead for additional time in the creation and editing process and create the captions/subtitles upfront. If each person making a video takes ownership of this, it will be far more efficient than one person doing all the captioning of all the videos for everyone after the fact (which is nearly impossible with our current resources). From a technological standpoint, is is also a more simple and efficient process to caption upfront, before a video is published/finalized, rather than adding them afterwards.

Secondly, HPC is seeking volunteers willing to be asked as needed to add captions/subtitles to videos that others have created. You don’t need to have prior experience doing this. High Point will gladly provide the training and tools necessary to do so. If you can type and navigate a computer, you can quickly and easily learn. You can likely even do this from home! This is a tremendous need, so if you are at all interested, please contact High Point Church (info@highpointchurch.org) or myself, and we will talk it through with you in more detail.

For more on the topic of why Sign Language interpretation is so important, check out Linda’s previous article: Why Sign Language Interpreting at High Point Church.

Note: High Point Church is still in need of more ASL Interpreters and has a stipend available for those interested. Please continue to spread the word!