a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 74
In New York City, in 1952, The Today Show premiered with Dave Garroway as host. It was unique for its time. The host wandered around the set with a curious round brace hanging from his neck that held the large microphone pointed toward his face. The camera roved with Garroway, showing the news people working at their desks (many of them puffing cigarettes with what today would be considered frightful elan), and revealing to the national audience the heavy camera cables strewn about the studio floor. When it came time to report the weather, Garroway stood behind a clear plastic outline of the U.S. and drew in the weather with a black marker.
My most vivid memory of watching The Today Show, as a child growing up in the first decade of my life, is of the huge picture window that revealed to the TV audience the street outside the NBC studio--and the people of New York walking by and, occasionally, stopping to peer into the window and into the camera that stood on the other side.
This was the Fifties, remember, and television was still relatively new. The people on the street would stand there, silently gazing through the window, almost embarrassed that they were looking, and, at the same time, being seen. I remember feeling even a little embarrassed myself, at watching them from my living room in Iowa--half a country away.
The attitude of the bystanders there on the sidewalk seemed to be that they should be quiet, and respectful of what was transpiring on the other side of the glass--as if they were seated in rows at the theatre, and should be quiet so as to avoid bothering the actors on the stage. Oh, they might lean over and whisper to each other, maybe smile when Mr. Garroway would address them directly from inside. But the mood overall was subdued and courteous.
Now fast-forward to 1996. The Today Show has returned (after a long absence) to the format of the picture window opening out onto the New York street. Only now the scene is remarkably different.
Through the glass directly behind the hosts we see the crowd of onlookers rubbernecking at the camera, waving their arms and bodies about, lifting small children over their heads, and shouting for attention. When Al Roker, the weatherman, steps outside for his segment, and approaches the crowd, they must be held back by a cordon and a staff of people there just to manage the crowd.
The people come dressed in outrageous costumes, climbing all over each other, clamoring for the camera to attend to them. They scream and shout and bellow their names and their messages. Businesses send emissaries to elbow their way forward, shoving outlandish gifts out to the sometimes nonplused Mr. Roker, in an effort to garner some free publicity.
In fact publicity seems to be the purpose behind the entire distasteful exercise. From the young couple on their honeymoon, or the family on vacation, to the bizarrely-costumed attention seekers, everyone in attendance seems bent on pushing their face into the camera at any cost. And no one seems to be bothered by the fact that while they are screaming and waving their arms in front of the camera, poor Al Roker is just trying to be heard delivering the weather.
The extent to which people will go was demonstrated in a most obnoxious manner during a recent show. For the beginning of the holiday season, the Radio City Rockettes were there to perform a routine as wooden soldiers. A large wooden floor had been set up outside, and the dancers were intently going through their paces to the sound of amplified music.
But for the most part the music could not be heard for all the bellowing and screaming of the crowd that encircled the floor. As the dancers valiantly performed, the attention of the TV audience was repeatedly stolen by people lifting placards over their heads, waving their arms and shouting at the camera. It didn't matter to them at all that just inches away from them were performers trying to do their job. All they cared about was themselves.
A cancer of arrogance and self-promotion is spreading throughout society --obvious enough through the media, but also weaving its diseased tendrils into the relative sanctity of families and churches. An entire industry has even sprung up to service and promote this sickness, as television talk shows parade one person after another to disgorge the bile from their lives before the camera--all for the sake of the attention.
The outward products of this scourge are an absence of civility, of even a rudimentary courtesy displayed toward others, and a gross pleading for attention. But the root of the disease is a loss of basic humility. Humble people would not behave in this manner.
The apostle Paul capsulizes the preferred alternate behavior for us in his epistle to the Philippians.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Philip. 2:3
Jesus described Himself using similar words, suggesting that we become like Him.
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. Matthew 11:29
Regrettably, what one sees in the behavior of those outside the NBC studios each morning is more "selfish ambition" and "vain conceit" than evidence that they are "gentle and humble in heart."
But, to be fair, their behavior is no more egregious than
- the freeway driver speeding up and cutting off the car next to him to get to the exit first;
- the grocery shopper nudging her cart closer to the front of the line;
- the child on the playground snatching a toy out of the hands of another;
- the business executive vying for the CEO's attention around the boardroom table;
- the football player who raises his arms and struts around the field, demanding the crowd's adulation after scoring a touchdown;
- the pastor who expects to always get his way, who expects everyone in the church to do things his way.
The world's system teaches in direct opposition to the ways of Christ. Instead of humility and gentleness, it teaches
- "The Lord helps those who help themselves" (a sentiment not found in Scripture, by the way);
- "Looking out for Number One!"
- "Get ahead!"
- "Climb the ladder!"
- "Claw your way to the top!"
"Of all garments, none is so graceful, none wears so well, and none is so rare, as humility." J.C. Ryle
The Christian is not to gain his or her insight from the self-promoting wisdom of the world, but rather from the righteous precepts of God. This world holds no counsel for the child of God wishing to live a life according to the pattern and example of Christ.
Oh, to be saved from myself, dear Lord,
Oh, to be lost in Thee;
Oh, that it may be no more I,
But Christ that lives in me.
Not I, but Christ, to gently soothe in sorrow;
Not I, but Christ, to wipe the falling tear;
Not I, but Christ, to lift the weary burden!
Not I, but Christ, to hush away all fear.
Not I, but Christ, in lowly, silent labor;
Not I, but Christ, in humble, earnest toil;
Christ, only Christ! no show, no ostentation!
Christ, none but Christ, the gatherer of the spoil.
Christ, only Christ, ere long will fill my vision;
Glory excelling, soon, full soon, I'll see _
Christ, only Christ, my every wish fulfilling _
Christ, only Christ, my All in all to be.
Mrs. A.A. Whiddington
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Luke 22:24
Jesus had just dropped a bomb. It was the occasion of Passover, and His last supper with the disciples, and in the same breath with offering the bread and the cup to His disciples, He had finished with
"But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him." Luke 22:21-22
Suddenly the table began to buzz. What is He talking about? Who is He talking about? Betrayal? Who would do such a thing? It certainly isn't me! Is it you? Are you the one?
They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. Luke 22:23
Suddenly the furtive glances, whispered suspicions. Suddenly twelve men who had eaten, slept and ministered together for three years were wondering aloud and in the privacy of their imaginations just which one of them could be the one who would betray Jesus.
Perhaps it was only natural--it's a short step from considering the worst to a similar consideration of the best--that their conversation would then move to a dispute over who among them would have top billing. Perhaps in defending themselves against accusations of treachery, some of them began itemizing their personal accomplishments, and value to the kingdom.
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Luke 22:24
The disciples had short memories. This issue had been dealt with before when, earlier in their ministry, Salome--the wife of Zebedee, mother of the disciples James and John, and sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus _ had come to Jesus with a singularly presumptuous request:
One day I mustered every bit of my courage and requested an audience with Jesus. You know, it's hard to explain, but ... He always seemed to know beforehand what you were going to say.
There was always in those penetrating eyes of His a mixture of compassion and ... amusement. Yes, as if He was gently amused by our ignorance and couldn't wait for the day when we would all understand what He was trying to teach us ...
I did come to believe. It happened gradually--almost taking me by surprise on that horrible, dark day I stood with His mother beneath the cross. We all felt so helpless. It seemed our whole world was coming apart. It seemed . . . all was lost. Some lost their faith that day, but for me, it was the day my faith began. And three days later my faith was confirmed when we went to His tomb and found it empty--just as He had told us it would be.
Well, there I was, standing before Jesus with my two sons. I took a deep breath and blurted it out: "When You are in Your kingdom, command that my sons will sit, one on Your right and one on Your left." After I said it, my heart was beating so fast I thought I would faint. Jesus had every right to reward my impertinence with His wrath. Instead, He looked at me--and my sons--and said quietly, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" It was James who answered. "We are able!"
Ambition is often a sign of weakness, of insecurity. It betrays the feelings of inadequacy most of us have. John was a man of quiet confidence--a man who knew his relationship with the Savior. James didn't have this assurance. He was close to Jesus and didn't even know it. Jesus included my James in most of the inner workings of the group, but he was so busy trying to prove himself that he didn't notice: To Jesus he was already proven.
So I spoke up for him. Any mother would. And he learned a priceless lesson in the answer of our Lord. James continued to mature, and after our Lord returned to the Father, he traveled about the land, sharing the news of the salvation of Jesus.
Human nature being what it is, the disciples were at it again, comparing notes on which one of them should be considered the greatest.
"The fuller the ear is of rice-grain, the lower it bends; empty, it grows taller and taller." Malay Proverb
It is easy for us, with well-practiced hindsight, to be critical of these small-minded men. With the advantage of the printed chronicle, we can take them to task for behaving so selfishly when Jesus' arrest and crucifixion were in sight. Because Jesus is a more distant Savior to us --because we have been spared the privilege of being with Him when He ate, when He slept, when He grew weary from the rigors of traveling the paths of His ministry--we can stand aghast at the temerity of these men to think themselves somehow worthy of such honor in the presence of the very Son of God.
So in our humility we can confess that under similar circumstances we may have behaved as foolishly as the twelve. They didn't know that in just a few short hours Jesus would be tried, scourged, then nailed to a tree; they didn't yet know the significance of this last supper with their Master; and they didn't know He would very soon be returning to His heavenly home.
But if holy Scripture is here for our enlightenment, then we should not quickly pass over the lesson from this scene.
The disciples demonstrated profound arrogance in their pursuit of such honor--as well as proof that they had not been learning the lessons of Jesus' life. To them, Jesus had said
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." Matthew 7:12
"The greatest among you will be your servant." Matthew 23:11
"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark 9:35
In their presence, He had
- healed lepers, and other outcasts;
- dined with 'sinners';
- and explained how He would be offering His life for the lives of others.
Yet the disciples--even if they had understood the lessons from His life--had not applied those lessons to their own. If they had, they would not have been arguing over rank.
"I imagine there may be some of you ready to say, 'Sir I am nothing.' Then I shall reply, 'You are a young Christian.' "There will be others of you who will say, 'Sir, I am less than nothing.' And I shall say, 'You are an old Christian,' for the older Christians get, the less they become in their own esteem." Spurgeon
Perhaps not every disciple of Jesus was guilty of a self-centered devotion to their own accomplishments. Andrew, the younger brother of Simon Peter had a reputation for bringing people to Christ. Beginning as a disciple of John the Baptist, Andrew felt led to follow Jesus instead, and throughout His ministry he is seen bringing others to his Master.
Filling in the blanks of his life, we can imagine how a conversation might go between Andrew and his sister, as he demonstrates for her that he, at least, is grasping the lessons taught by Jesus.
The Time: Near the end of Jesus' Ministry
The Place: Capernaum
[Enter Andrew and his sister Rebekah. Rebekah is a few years younger than Andrew and both are younger than their brother, Simon Peter. Andrew is a calm, friendly person who enjoys bringing people to his master, Jesus. Rebekah is an easily excitable young woman who is having a difficult time understanding the ways of her brother.]
So tell me more of what happened!
It wasn't that big a thing--
That's what you say. Because of you more than five thousand people were fed from a boy's lunch? And you say it's no big thing.
You're getting it all wrong. (matter-of-factly) I brought the boy to Jesus; the boy gave his lunch to Jesus; Jesus is the one who fed five thousand from the little boy's lunch. I had nothing to do with it.
But you brought him.
Could have been anyone else.
Andrew, you are never going to make anything of yourself in this world. You've got to have more self-respect, more ... pride.
You don't know--
Why must you always be standing in the shadow of someone else? You are important, too.
But Rebekah, you don't understand--
You're always talking about our brother, Simon--
Oh, did I tell you? Jesus gave him a new name! He is now called Simon Peter, (proud of his older brother) the Rock!
You see, there you go again! Always Simon this, and Simon that. I love our brother as much as you, but you seem to care nothing for yourself. Always bringing others to Jesus--always giving someone else first place.
Rebekah, I don't think you've really been listening to the teachings of Jesus. None of us is more important than the others.
Even when you were a disciple of the baptist you--
There, you see! John was the perfect example of a servant. Everything he did pointed others to the Lord, not himself. (pause; seriously) Maybe I learned more from John than I thought.
Yes, and we all know what happened to him.
Dear sister, listen to me, and profit from the words of Jesus. One day while we were on the road, Jesus spoke to us of this very thing. He said, "Whoever among you wishes to be great, he must be your servant; and whoever wishes to be the first must be your slave."
That doesn't make any sense!
Ah, but He went on to say, "This is just as the Son of Man"--He was speaking of Himself, you see--"did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."
His words are meaningless to me.
Well, you're not alone. I'm just beginning to grasp it myself. Earlier that day, Jesus was talking about what was going to happen to Him--as He had before. "The Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up." It's hard for us to imagine such a thing. Our master ... to die? And He already knows of it? Sometimes He tells us stories, and some think this is just another of His parables. But I'm not sure. I think this is more than a story.
But whatever happens, I'm beginning to understand what He's saying. There will be some purpose in His death. Somehow, others will profit by His sacrifice. I know it makes no sense to us. But you should see into His eyes when He speaks of it ... Then you would believe.
The words of your master are not proven by history.
He doesn't speak of the past. He speaks of the future.
And what of all these servants? Where is their reward?
He said it a long time ago: "Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth."
And that's why?
I'm not the way I am because of some future inheritance. You know very well I have always deferred to others. I was always happy in the shadow of Simon. But I know that now--and in the future--Jesus will need followers who are simply ordinary people. People who place the welfare of others before their own.
[Andrew smiles reassuringly at Rebekah, placing his arm around his sister as they exit.]
And if there is some inheritance for that, it will be the reward of having lived a life for Him.
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover." "Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked. He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with mydisciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. Luke 22:7-14
"The scene before us occurred in first-century Jerusalem. Paved roads were few. In fact, within most cities they were unheard of. The roads and alleys in Jerusalem were more like winding dirt trails, all covered with a thick layer of dust. When the rains came, those paths were liquid slush, several inches of thick mud. It was the custom, therefore, for the host to provide a slave at the door of his home to wash the feet of the dinner guests as they arrived. The servant knelt with a pitcher of water, a pan, and a towel and washed the dirt or mud off the feet as each guest prepared to enter the home. Shoes, boots, and sandals were left at the door, a custom still prevalent in the Far East. If a home could not afford a slave, one of the early arriving guests would graciously take upon himself the role of the house servant and wash the feet of those who came. "What is interesting is that none of the disciples had volunteered for that lowly task--so the room was filled with proud hearts and dirty feet. Interestingly, those disciples were willing to fight for a throne, but not a towel." Swindoll
It's hard for mere mortals to live a balanced life--and there is possibly no profession in which this is more difficult than the ministry. Pastors, especially, seem to always be struggling to balance the different responsibilities of their calling. And many, try as they might, never achieve that balance.
Some ministers are spellbinding speakers, but not very effective counselors; some teach and explain the Scriptures with a profound clarity, yet have a hard time consoling someone in the hospital; others are wonderful friends, one on one, but their preaching is lackluster, rarely able to put into words what they feel in their heart.
One pastor in my youth had a powerful personality and delivery behind the pulpit, but when he would step down from the platform, I always felt like he was angry with me. Another pastor of my youth was a terrific guy --someone to play ball with--but could rarely hold my attention with his sermon.
I've known pastors who were like CEOs, pastors who were like janitors, pastors like professors; I've met preachers who could stop my heart from beating with their eloquence, yet could not reach me in any other way; and I've known shepherds for whom I would walk through fire, but whose sermons put me to sleep.
One pastor of a church I belonged to was only a fair speaker, but I marveled at his willingness to pitch in and get his hands dirty. Every Wednesday night you could find him helping out in the kitchen with the church supper--and if he wasn't there, he'd be out setting the tables or unfolding chairs. One time I helped him take a load of newspapers to a collection point. We opened the storage bin only to discover that ants were swarming all over the stacks. Without hesitating, the pastor set to the task, doing what was necessary to move the newspapers into the truck. He had a true servant's heart, yet his expositions of Scripture often left me with more questions than answers.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:3-5
Jesus didn't have a problem with balance. He was just as effective speaking and teaching, as he was serving. And no one could illustrate his point better than Jesus.
With the disciples' words of contention, arrogance, and pride still swirling about His head, Jesus silently rose from His place around the table. He rolled up His sleeves and, one by one, washed their dirty feet.
Very often this scene is reenacted today in churches, where, for example, the pastor might wash the feet of the deacons. When I've seen this, the moment is treated almost ceremonially, with the pastor dribbling the water over the deacons' feet, then dabbing a little with a white towel--never actually coming into contact with the object of the cleansing.
Jesus, the only one truly worthy to place Himself above everyone else, stooped with one knee to the dirty floor, and scrubbed the feet of these men. This was no ceremony--no Jewish rite instituted at Mount Sinai, no delicate dabbing at feet already clean--but an everyday, practical way of keeping the dirt of the street out of the interior of the house. The feet were filthy, and in those days the way to clean them was for a real live person to bend to the task and do the job with his bare hands.
Any of the disciples in that room who were paying attention had to be cut to the quick by their Master's simple, yet profoundly eloquent illustration in answer to their foolish behavior. In this instance, His actions spoke volumes that mere words may not have addressed.
Jesus wanted every one of them to know that the pathway to the heights is traveled on one's knees--that true greatness can only be found in abject humility.
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:5-6
Bob was a friend, a colleague, almost a business partner. We would often work together at my studio in downtown San Diego. I was a fashion photographer, shooting (mostly) beautiful women all day, and he was a journeyman photographer who would shoot just about anything else. We shared joys, discoveries, mischief, and sometimes sorrow. We knew each other better than some brothers. We would consult with each other--not only professionally, but about life's rich panoply of crises, both little and large. We had much in common: photography, Iowa heritage, and stints in the Navy.
One day Bob spied a stack of cassettes in my living room. They were sermon tapes of Pastor Bowser that Mom had sent from home. Each tape's label boldly announced "Tapes for Christian Living" and was accompanied by an image of the cross. As he was going out the front door, Bob said, offhandedly, "Oh, are you a Christian?"
That remark cut into me deeper than any knife. For years I had worked and played with Bob, shared intimacies, confided my deepest aspirations --and he hadn't an inkling that I had, at an early age, given my life to Christ; he hadn't a clue, from my actions and words and desires, that I was a Christian. For quite a few years I had been away from the church, and for some of that time I had been away from God. I had turned off the sound of His voice, the nudging of His Spirit; I had become insensitive to my daily sins and had quickly lost all of my Christian distinctives. Over time, I had conveniently blended into the culture until Bob could say, with surprise, "Oh, are you a Christian?"
Does the person sitting at the next desk know you are a Christian? Do the people who work with you every day know that you know Christ?
If so, do they see in your behavior a servant's heart--or do they see someone who always wants to be in the limelight, someone who demands that they receive the credit, who wants to always be first?
If my friend Bob had known I was a Christian, what kind of believer would I have been? Would I have demonstrated to him that Christians were arrogant and self-serving, always insisting on having their own way, always pushing to the front of the line--or would he have known that Christians were really servers, who didn't mind at all letting someone else receive the attention?
Here is how Chuck Swindoll describes the world in which we live:
"The art of unselfish living is practiced by few and mastered by even fewer. In [this] fast-paced world . . . we shouldn't be surprised. It is difficult to cultivate a servant's heart when you are trying to survive in a chaotic society dominated by selfish pursuits. And the greatest tragedy of such an existence is what it spawns: an independent, self-sufficient, survival-of-the-fittest mentality. As I view the future, I see nothing on the horizon that offers any hope for change. Nothing external, that is. Grim as it may sound, we are on a collision course, and the travelers are both lonely and confused. Some are downright angry. They offer cynical advice: 'Look, you can't change the world. Just look out for number one, hold on, and keep your mouth shut.' We are surrounded by those who embrace this philosophy."
The Christian, however, need not take his or her cue from this society, for we have the person of Christ standing before us, leading the way. In the life of Jesus we have our supreme example for living a life of humble service--not only humility before our God, but before our fellow man as well.
Where are your hands?
Are they lifted up high for attention, saying, "Me! Me! Pick me!"? Or are they maybe stretched out in selfish expectation, wanting to be filled with the world's goods? Are they held up in defiance, or out against those vying for the same attention as you? Or are they busy pointing fingers of accusation at those around you?
Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Cor. 10:24
The example of Jesus teaches that our hands should be stretched out to help others. If held open, they should be empty of possessions, and offering instead the grace and love of Christ; if clenched, they should he held in defiance against sin and corruption, and the self-serving philosophies of the age.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephes. 4:2-6
Jesus Christ has shown us how to have humility--not just from an object lesson used to make a point, but from the entirety of His life.
From His unselfish act of coming to earth to be born into flesh, to His unselfish, sacrificial death upon the cross, Jesus demonstrated humility and a true servant's heart.
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! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philip. 2:5-11
Who's on first?
Issue No. 74
[1.] Taken from You Will Drink of the Cup, (Copyright 1985-1996 David S. Lampel), order #MON6 in the His Company Catalogue. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] John 1:41; John 6:5-9; John 12:20-22. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] John 1:35-40. (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Standing in the Shadow, (Copyright 1985-1996 David S. Lampel), order #SK8 in the His Company Catalogue. (return to footnote 4)
[5. Charles R. Swindoll, Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living (WORD, 1981), p163f. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] Ibid, p.210. (return to footnote 6)
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