PRIDE . . . versus Competency

The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.”   (Reference: Proverbs 16:5 )

Yesterday, beloved, I gave you a whirl-wind tour of Anabaptist/Mennonite beliefs on pride and humility. I mentioned in passing that accepting compliments and praise are not always easy. But I did not mention, and I was reminded of when I re-read what I wrote five years ago on this day, is that Anabaptists/Mennonites have a very strong work ethic. We may not display much pride, but we work very hard to do as well as we can in all things. We do not seek or expect praise when we exceed the expectations others have for us; just the knowledge that we have done what was needed is enough.

The way I would describe this is quiet competency. That is a sense of knowing what you can and cannot do; accepting what you cannot do and focusing on what you can. You do not need someone to tell you whether or not you have done well; you know that within yourself. It is not a matter of pride. Pride says “look at me and what I have accomplished!” Competency says, “I have put my best effort forth and have not shirked away because the task was difficult.” I do not know how to say it any differently, or any better.

What I can do beloved is give to you the same blessing I wrote five years ago. May the God of quiet competency be with you this day, and may you sing the praises of our Lord God, and may God bless you with the divine affirmation and encouragement you deserve. Selah!

PRIDE . . . Something to avoid (?)

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. “ (Reference: Proverbs 11:2 )

Joost de Tollenaer wrote to his daughter “A proud heart is an abomination unto the Lord, and it shall not remain unpunished . . . . Out of it proceeds all pride, when man apostatizes [meaning forsaking one’s faith] from God, and departs with his heart from the Creator; and pride impels to all sin, and he that is infected with it causes many abominations.” [Insert mine]

You would be hard pressed to find an Anabaptist/Mennonite born before, say 1960, who has a strong sense of pride. Pride in self or pride in another is not a trait of Anabaptists/Mennonites – at least not one that they would own up to. Unfortunately that includes not only the pride that de Tollenaer and the writer of Proverbs talks about but also pride in worthwhile and legitimate endeavors. We Anabaptists/Mennonites are subject to both humility and false humility – the “aw shucks” response when someone congratulates us on something. We do not handle compliments well.

But compliments is not what de Tollenaer or the writer of Proverbs is talking about. The word in the Hebrew is closer akin to arrogance or insolence – the haughty “look down your nose at others” attitude. So one can imagine there will be a “comeuppance” sooner or later. Later perhaps being when one is “disciplined” by God. Therefore avoiding that by being humble is a wise decision.

But what about moderate and deserved pride in one’s accomplishments. Having false humility is as serious a charge, in the Anabaptist/Mennonite world I grew up in, as pride. Doubly so in a sense, because not only are you hiding the “sin” of pride but you are lying to cover it up! The better course, again in the Anabaptist/Mennonite world I grew up in, is to be modest and humble in thought and action – and let others compliment you and sing your praises! Giggle if you must, beloved, but it is a serious thing, this having pride!

Ah me, beloved. Sometimes it is not easy being an Anabaptist/Mennonite – historic or contemporary. May you, beloved, keep far from the sin of pride. May you look upon yourself with humility but also a strong sense of your own with as seen through God’s compassionate and caring eyes. Selah!

HUMILITY . . . A Virtue of God’s people . . . A Preacher and Seeker Litany

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Reference: Colossians 3:12-17 )

Preacher: We are God’s chosen people.

Seeker: Holy and dearly loved.

Preacher: Let us cloth ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Seeker: So clothed we will bear with each other and forgive each other.

Preacher: For we are clothed through God’s mercy.

Seeker: It is God’s mercy and compassion that binds us, the love of the Lord that unifies us.

Preacher: And God’s peace that insures our harmony.

Seeker: God has given use teachers and leaders to guide us.

Preacher: Praise be to God for the gifts that have been bestowed on to us.

Seeker: Our praises to God are lifted up to the heavens; our words and deeds are set forth in the name of the Lord.

Preacher: Let humility fill our hearts, for none of this happens because of our power or ability.

Seeker: Praise be to the Lord that these things have been accomplished in the Almighty’s Name.

Preacher: Praise be to God! Amen!

HUMILITY . . . Letting go of ourselves for something better

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!” (Reference: Philippians 2:1-8 )

If there is any encouragement to be had in this life, it comes from being in relationship with God. We can do the best we can, make the best decisions possible, and work towards positive and uplifting results. But when our best takes all we can do, and it turns out only mediocre . . . when the decisions we make turn to dust and to naught before us . . . and when the results of all our labors amount to very little . . . .we need comfort and consolation from a source beyond ourselves.

We talk about emulating Christ and following our Lord’s example, but in reality ours is but mere scratchings upon the sand, drifting away with each succeeding generation. If we can remember this fact, we can be more assured of walking in humbleness. It is only, really, when we are in relationship with God that we can be at our best. Not because of what we do, but because of what God can do through us. But that can only happen if we allow it – if we set aside what we think we are, should have, and should do – and let God do as the Divine feels is right. That is our encouragement. That God takes what we have and uses it for the Lord’s mission in the world. The writer of Philippians would have us have the same “attitude” as Christ. That of a servant – a servant to God.

May you beloved be encouraged by what God can do through you. Selah!

HUMILITY . . . In inverse proportions

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Reference: Matthew 23:11-12 )

I do not know if it is true for you beloved, but I feel like my generation ingrained and indoctrinated with this type of thinking. And I find it hard to imagine there was every a time or a generation that did not know these type of biblical truths. The historic Anabaptist believer Soetgen van den Houte wrote of it to her children – “My most beloved [children], wherever you be esteem yourselves as the least, and be not wise in your own conceit, but always suffer yourselves to be instructed by those who are above you, and always be silent when others speak. Humble yourself beneath all men; for whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; but he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” And I know my parent’s generation knew it because that is who taught it to us. And there parents must have for who else would have taught them? But at some point there must have been a generation to who this was knew, for why else would have Christ spoke of it and taught it?

Those generations who practice it however . . . well, sometimes it does not seem to be put into practice.

May you beloved humble yourself, not looking to be exalted but to follow Christ’s example of humility. Selah!

HUMILITY . . . Like none we have known

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Reference: Matthew 11:28-30 )

Five years ago I wrestled with this verse, and do not feel that I explored all its depths then. Of course now as then I am not sure how it connects to humility. And the historic Anabaptist believer writing does not address the theme of humility either. At least that was my perspective then. But thinking on it now . . . .

Michael Sattler’s writing that is cited with this verses says that we learn from Christ that violence is to be rejected. He said, “Now many, who do not understand Christ’s will for us, ask: whether a Christian may or should use the sword against the wicked for the protection and defense of the good, and for the sake of love.

The answer is unanimously revealed: Christ teaches and commands us to learn from him, for he is meek and lowly of heart and thus we shall find rest for our souls, Matt. 11:29. Now Christ says to the woman taken in adultery, John 8:11, not that she should be stoned according to the law of his Father (and yet he says, “what the Father commanded me, that I do,” John 8:22), but with mercy and forgiveness and the warning to sin no more, says: “Go, sin no more.”

The questions (as I understand it now) is whether we, who are followers of Christ, should defend ourselves to the point of using violence or whether we should not think so much of ourselves that our defense is worthwhile to attack another. The question (as Sattler) sees it was presented to Christ when the woman caught in adultery was brought before him. He was asked by the religious leaders – in a sense – do the laws of Moses need to be defended to the point of bringing violence and death to this woman? Christ answered – again, in a sense – if your own conscience tells you that you are blameless and have not sought to advance yourselves at the cost then you may stone her. Christ did not seek to punish her to advance himself, but rather offered mercy, forgiveness, and a life without sin.

This is not the way we usually think about humility, not being aggressive and insisting on our way. But is it a frequent trait of the historic Anabaptists to not press to the point of violence etc. But to be mild and meed, offering compassion rather than hostility.

May you beloved follow the example of Christ our Lord and go gently in this world. Selah!

HUMILITY . . . Not reaching beyond or above one’s self

My child, perform your tasks with humility; then you will be loved by those whom God accepts. The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord; but by the humble he is glorified. Neither seek what is too difficult for you, nor investigate what is beyond your power. Reflect upon what you have been commanded, for what is hidden is not your concern.” (Reference: Sirach 3:17-26 [As used in Reading the Anabaptist Bible])

I am not sure what can be said. The historic Anabaptist Jacques D’Auchy (d. 1559) used a portion of this verse when he was debating with the inquisitor who was questioning him. It was the standard debate of the inquisitor trying to convince the historic Anabaptist believer to forsake this new faith and return to the Catholic church. Of course D’Auchy refused.

. . . I was again summoned before the same inquisitor. When I appeared before him, he saluted me, and asked: “How are you; have you the fever yet?” Jac. “I am well, the Lord be praised for it; the fever left me three weeks ago, or thereabouts.” Inq. “How are you at ease in your conscience:” Jac. “Very well, the Lord be praised for it.” He then made a long speech, too long to be briefly related, the sum and substance of which was, that he entreated me very much that I should return to the holy Catholic church, and believe as becomes a good Christian, without investigating such high things, and wanting to be so wise. Thereupon I replied: “I investigate nothing but what I am permitted to believe; and I am well content, simply to believe that which a good Christian is bound to believe.” Sir. 3:21. Inq. “You indeed say that you want to believe as a good Christian, and yet you have a heretical faith.” Jac. “I have no such faith; but my faith is founded only upon the pure Word of God; and if you were content with the Word of God, you would also be satisfied with my faith.”

These verses from Sirach do in a way seem to discourage study of scripture and theology, if the study/exegesis of scripture and study of theology are considered “too difficult”, beyond one’s power, “hidden” or not one’s concern. I do not consider it so, but there are other opinions. One of the things that allowed the historic Anabaptists to consider and investigate a different faith was the availability of the bible to them. Copies of the bible were printed in the middle 1500’s and were priced so that many people could buy them.

Do you study scripture beloved? Do you read about theology or religious study materials? What do you consider to be beyond your concern? And if you are a student of theology and religion, do you feel you remain humble? An important question. But remember beloved, God has given you a mind to think with and intellectual power and ability. Modern Anabaptists/Mennonites believe that the Holy Spirit guides us (or can guide us) in study and understanding. Praying to God for the Spirit to quicken your mind and understanding is a good way to remain humble.

May you beloved study with all the intensity that the love of God and God’s love inspire you to. Selah!

Bearing Fruit = Becoming Humble

“But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:7-10 )

Anyone who has watched a fruit tree through the course of a year, or has looked closely at the gnarled bark, knots, and middlin’ fruit of an older tree, can tell you that not all trees –even of the same species– are equally beautiful or frutiful. Not to mention, their beauty is fleeting. The beauty of a fruit tree’s blossoms in the spring often passes very quickly, so that the energy it takes to later bear fruit in those same spots can be redirected toward the production of something more useful: food.

The piece of this gospel passage that intrigues me is the call for the leaders to be more useful, not by “stepping up” and lording their blossoms over their flock as a model to aspire to, but by stepping back and repenting of their pride.

I was considering these matters (aging, pride, character) on  my other blog today, in a post about the retirement of football coach Tony Dungy, a man of deep faith. He’s a classic example of someone who has borne much fruit, and achieved much goodwill the world over. Yet he’s also as humble as they come.

It takes humility and wisdom to actively repent. We don’t often go there eagerly. Yet it often takes repentence to achieve renewal and better fruitfulness as well. Similarly, the way to a good harvest is through a kind of death in winter, with the promise of rebirth in the spring. Sometimes through the humiliating, hard work of enduring “cold” periods in our lives, or aging, or being beaten by the elements (hard rains that knock off our blossoms, hot sun that scorches but gives nutrients), we achieve a kind of peace and identity that is rooted not in what we’ve accomplished or who our family/team/nation is, but in what we’ve given up or endured for the sake of others and for God. 

And finally, for the tree that has aged gracefully but is perhaps not without its “wounds”, even in death there is still potential for fruitfulness and beauty. So not even all “bad” trees are destined for the fire. As a woodworker who occasionally builds furniture with cherry or walnut wood, I can attest to that beauty firsthand. Burled or wounded wood (and fruit/nut tree wood in general) is some of the most prized raw material for woodworkers the world over.

God is certainly the “What have you done for me lately?” deity, as Jesus suggests to the Pharisees. But He is also the God of second and third and seventy-seventh chances, of forgiveness and repentence.