I Am part of a Movement that Moves

There is an outcry regarding the fact that like with many aspects of society the Church has been viewed as a non-essential and so its buildings have been closed. How dare they say we are non-essential? And the argument goes on!

But now the Church is going back to its buildings. Will anyone notice?

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:14-16

Yesterday I wrote about the local Church being only a movement and not the symphony itself. This year the Church has certainly been challenged in ways never known by many though of course for some it is a common occurrence whether because of an epidemic or war.

The word movement is a great way to describe the Church. It is not tossed back and forth in a non-strategic way rather is grows to become, it matures, it is joined and held together, it grows and builds as every person plays a part. Can you see the movement? A Church cannot stand still.

I see 3 major functions of the Church from these verses today.

The formation of the Church

The ultimate. Christoformity. Christ formed in us. We become more and more the image of the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is achieved as we learn to envelope everything we do in love and then have the courage to speak the truth in that framework.

The formation of the Church is not achieved by charisma and power but by following the road of Christ. At the heart of the Church there should always be the evidence of the death and resurrection of Christ. That road must permeate every aspect of the body. It is the DNA of the Church. Anything else and the Church soon comes to look different to how it was meant to be. Celebrities rise and become the focus and the Church becomes a little child which is being thrown around and all because Jesus is anything but the Head. Blasphemy firstly occurs in the Church.

The connections within the Church

Every supporting ligaments are the words Paul uses and we are certainly picturing the body of a person.

Connections inspire and breathe life into new ideas.

Connections birth vision of what is possible.

Connections strengthen the whole.

Albert Einstein at 22 yrs old met with likeminded friends in homes and talked their ideas through the night. They called themselves the Olympia Academy.

Bill Gates at 15 yrs old met with other computer geek friends and called themselves ‘The Lakeside Programmers Group.’

Benjamin Franklin met every Friday with a group called The Junto of which may of his ideas were founded from that group.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S.Lewis every morning and Thursday evening met with a group called The Inklings.

Look at what is possible?!!

Now imagine what is possible if the Church came together for more than entertainment?

The contribution to the Church

We must treat the church the way Christ treats the church.

We must speak of the church in the way Christ speaks of the church.

We must love the church the way Christ loves the church.

Let’s not allow the spirits and attitudes of a godless society come into this church. That is the spirit of ‘what’s in it for me?” The godless attitude of living for oneself; the godless attitude of independence, not answering to anyone; the godless attitude of isolation, not allowing people into our lives.

God has plans to use each and every one of us. There is nothing more satisfying in this world than knowing that God is using you for His purposes and that you are fulfilling His plans for your life. That happens in and through the local Church.

The movement that we are part of, the Church, must move towards Christ (formation); towards each other (the Church) and also towards its mission (the world).

May we be that Church as we come back in a gathered setting and may we be known because we move.

I Am part of a Movement which is only a part.

One of my claim to fames is I achieved an ‘O’ level in music! What I strangely remember is Beethoven’s Sonata called Pathetique. I think because though I always thought the word meant pathetic when it means passion I also could play the opening bars!

But it is the opening movement that is remembered more than the Sonata itself. In fact that has been one of the developments of our times. Most can recall movements but they don’t know where they come from. They sit independent to the whole composition. The rest being discarded, ignored and totally forgotten.

Local Churches and even streams of churches/networks/denominations have become similar to movements and other than a Churches Together annual service have forgotten the symphony or sonata that they belong to.

Recently one of my friends in another part of the world asked me for advice regarding one of his Pastors who was wanting to church plant in the same town and very close to one of their own existing churches. So even within affiliated networks, independent movements can be formed. Everyone seems to do their own thing behaving like they are the sonata when they are not. They take the name of God in vain because they say God has told them when it may simply be their own selfish motives and nothing is built regarding the kingdom of God. The body of Christ doesn’t grow it just remains immature.

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4:14-16

I’m no expert but I think there are 3 or 4 movements in a symphony or sonata. Each are different in pace, different keys, sometimes there is a correlation to the opening but not always. The movements build independently to the final movement where the composer is envisaging everything coming together journeying to the great crescendo as the audience stand to their feet in the auditorium with rapturous applause.

So please, when your local church does come back together and some have today, others in different parts of the world have already, can we all remember we are simply a movement? We are not the best church in the town or city. The composer created you as a movement. Some are loud and some are quiet, fast, slow, but all are needed. The second movement cannot say let us get rid of the third movement because it is not in the same key. They have no voice. It is the composer’s voice. He is the Head. His name, Jesus.

I Am Trying to do it the same way

So … because of what I’ve just said. What was that?

Paul has quoted Psalm 68.

The king in this Psalm has come home from a victory and parades what he had taken back from the enemy: the spoils and the recaptured soldiers. Paul doesn’t focus on the gifts the king received but on the gifts he freely gave after he received them.

The King has recaptured his soldiers – us!

He has ascended and has sent the Gift, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has distributed those gifts.

It cost God for our free gifts.

It was the death on the cross. It was the fact that the King descended to the lower, earthly regions.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4: 11-13

So … because of what I’ve just said … Christ himself gave …

Gurus? Geniuses? Beyond reach? Untouchables? Hierarchies? NO none of those.

The Lord Jesus Christ descended to earth to pay the price and then ascended having laid the foundation for the Church. In the same way. This is really important so let me stress again. In the same way the Lord Jesus Christ who from heaven sends the Gift, the Holy Spirit, His presence within gifts (of which there are many) to us.

So … in the same way Christ, through the Holy Spirit, has sent 5 ministries to the Church. These are not offices high above all. These are not an elite SAS force that the ordinary pew-filler will spend their whole life hoping for such a title. These have been given. It is high risk. A gift can be discarded, forgotten, neglected, abused, slandered and put on a cross to die by those the gift was given to. If anyone serves the Lord and His Church within the parameters of these ministries then you will have experienced such risks. Reaching out to care for those in need can result in you being hurt as the hurting can hurt. But that is the same way. Any other way is not the right way. Many have experienced the spiritual abuse of a leader who got it the wrong way round. I am concerned when I see people moving into these ministries and what is first in their minds is their remuneration and rights. Spiritual abuse is not far away.

In the same way. So … given. These 5 ministries are gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit who is the Gift sent by Christ who is also present for where one part of the Godhead is God is.

Jesus the apostle (Heb 3:1) sent to the earth as a messenger. He moved and He mobilises others with a call to the nations for that is His heart.

Jesus the prophet (John 6:14; 8:28) sent to the earth to speak repentance and holiness, not afraid to preach about the destruction of sin.

Jesus the evangelist (Mark 2:17) sent to bring good news to the broken and those who are lost, least and the last.

Jesus the pastor (John 10:11) sent to feed and take care of the sheep who lays down His own agenda for those He loves.

Jesus the teacher (John 3:12) sent to bring wisdom through what He taught with no subject off-limits.

In the same way. So … sent, given to do the same in the same way for the purpose of equipping, which is repairing, making whole, mending the people of God in order that they will:

  • Serve through work. His work.
  • Build and attain, to reach, arrive, to come, to get there.
  • To the place of unity where only then will we have …
  • Personal and experiential knowledge of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • To be what God intended, to be mature.
  • That is to be conformed to the image of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole measure!

We have to do it the same way.

I am Responsible for what is given me

Diversity within unity. We are one body but we are not all the same.

The grace given to us is the gifts that are freely given. Paul will go on to explain the 5-fold gifts of God but first he stresses the generosity of the gifts.

He quotes from Psalm 68. The king in this Psalm coming home from a victory, parades what he had taken back from the enemy: the spoils and the recaptured soldiers. Paul doesn’t focus on Psalm 68 and the gifts the king received but on the gifts he freely gave after he received them.

The King has recaptured his soldiers – us!

He has ascended and has sent the Gift, the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit has distributed those gifts.

It cost God for our free gifts.

It was the death on the cross. It was the fact that the King descended to the lower, earthly regions.

Many are divided over where that is. However surely the point is that in order for the Gift to be freely given to us the King stooped low for them. Therefore, shouldn’t we stoop low in the use of them? Shouldn’t we be operating in the Gift in a servant way, in humility? For if we know how to descend then maybe we will know how to ascend. If we humble ourselves then He will exalt us.

So here are the verses in Ephesians 4 v7-10

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

‘When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.’

 (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”

The encouragement for us today is:

We are one but also individual: BE YOU.

The Gift in us is displayed uniquely: BE DIFFERENT.

This grace is freely given: BE THANKFUL.

This grace has cost: BE CAREFUL.

This grace was won in the low places: BE HUMBLE.

I belong to the ONE

The Berlin wall, which divided the people of East and West Germany since 1961 came down in 1989. Shortly afterwards the band, U2, who had been going through their own disunity over the direction they were taking in trying new sounds, arrived in Berlin. They came to that new united city to try and experience their own new.

As they were writing and rehearsing a new song they ventured off into improvisation and created a powerful song called ONE.

Is it getting better?
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame

You say, one love, one life
When it’s one need in the night
One love, we get to share it
Leaves you baby if you don’t care for it

 

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. Ephesians 4 v4-6

 

  1. There is no division of class, race, inequality, language differences, there is no special privileges and promotions based on colour. There is just ONE body.

 

  1. There is no special generation who experienced something unique, no special place and no place where He cannot be. There is just ONE SPIRIT.

 

  1. There is no individual heaven, no VIP appearing of Christ and no private viewing or experience of eternity. There is just ONE HOPE.

 

  1. There is no Jewish Lord and Gentile Lord only the same; there are not several equal authorities and powers of which we choose to worship one, there is not a Jesus of Nazareth who we follow or not. There is just ONE LORD JESUS CHRIST who is risen, ascended and exalted and there is no comparison.

 

  1. There is no African Christianity and Western Christianity or any other Christianity; there are no Catholics and Protestants, there are just Christians; there is no different salvation anywhere in the world, it is the same Forgiver, Redeemer and Saviour. There is just ONE FAITH.

 

  1. There is no better testimony that the other and your story has the same results as the next for the experience is the same of being transformed in Christ and identified with Him. There is just ONE BAPTISM.

 

  1. There is not a multiplicity of gods and there are not two fathers bringing about two families, just one. One Spirit, Lord and Father, who are one. There is just ONE FATHER.

 

Anything else isn’t what God had in mind nor what He wants today. Anything else is man-made and rises against what He has made. Anything else will not last.

Why give yourself to anything else or a lesser version of what is true?

 

Have you come here for forgiveness?
Have you come to raise the dead?
Have you come here to play Jesus?
To the lepers in your head

You say love is a temple, love a higher law
Love is a temple, love the higher law
You ask me to enter but then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holdin’ on to what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should
One life, with each other
Sisters, brothers

One life but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other

One.

 

One of the U2 band members said, “Suddenly something very powerful was happening in the room. Everyone recognized it was a special piece. It was like we’d caught a glimpse of what the song could be.”

If only the Church, if only you and me could catch a glimpse of what we could be here on earth. ONE.

I Am Not an Island

No man is an island entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as any manor of thy friend’s,
Or of thine own were.

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee.

English Christian metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631).

I am sure many have read this poem. Certainly the opening words are familiar to us all.

The Apostle Paul in prison has spent 3 chapters writing on what Christ has done and the impact of His work on the Church. The next 3 chapters are the outworking of that. So for example, because there is n0 dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile any longer and because Christ dwells in our hearts therefore, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4 v3

Make every effort to stay together in community. Society protects the violation of our rights. Our rights have become more important than community. The result has been that we have many nomads, rootless people moving round in circles of life, belonging to no one. From day one of lockdown the message from the Church to the Church has been connect. It has been the thing that leaders have focused on more than ever. Coming out of lockdown what should be seen more than anything will be how the Church has improved in community. All of us have a part to play.

Let me tell you a story.

An ANT went to the bank of a river to quench its thirst, and being carried away by the rush of the stream, was on the point of drowning.  A DOVE sitting on a tree overhanging the water plucked a leaf and let it fall into the stream close to her.  The ANT climbed onto it and floated in safety to the bank.  Shortly afterwards a BIRD-CATCHER came and stood under the tree, and laid his lime-twigs for the DOVE, which sat in the branches.  The ANT, perceiving his design, stung him in the foot.  In pain the BIRD-CATCHER threw down the twigs, and the noise made the DOVE take wing.

The moral of the story: team work makes life work better. Just small steps make the world a better place.

Here’s another story:

A CROW, half-dead with thirst, came upon a BUCKET which had once been full of water; but when the Crow put its beak into the mouth of the BUCKET he found that only very little water was left in it, and that he could not reach far enough down to get at it. He tried, and he tried, but at last had to give up in despair. Then a thought came to him, and he took a pebble and dropped it into the BUCKET. Then he took another pebble and dropped it into the BUCKET. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the BUCKET. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the BUCKET. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the BUCKET. Then he took another pebble and dropped that into the BUCKET. At last, at last, he saw the water mount up near him, and after casting in a few more pebbles he was able to quench his thirst and save his life.

Make every effort ….

Unity in community doesn’t come easily, we have to work at it, overcome some things and put in the hard work. But if the Church isn’t going to die then it has to make the effort in how it treats people.

Here are some pebbles:

  1. Defeat ego.

“I don’t need help. I can do it on my own. Leave it to me, No one has to tell me how to live.”

The first step away from individualism is simply to think of yourself less. Unity is conceived when we think about “we” more than “me”. Spinning more plates doesn’t increase your talent – it increases your likelihood of dropping a plate. What’s it going to take to make us think we cannot do everything on our own? we need others.

  1. Make the Time

Other people are never convenient. If you wait till you feel like it, you will never have genuine fellowship. The time excuse says that others are not that important.

  1. Be respectful

We’re all different. We all have someone who irritates us. They are there for their benefit but also ours. When you stop long enough to understand someone then you know what they’ve been through and why they are like they are.

  1. Be a loyal supporter.

If the devil is the accuser. Then if I step into that place of criticising and complaining about God’s family then I am doing the devils job.

  1. Don’t listen to gossip.

We know not to speak it, but don’t listen to it. People who gossip to you will also gossip about you.

I Am Tolerant

Paul urges us to be tolerant, “bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4 v2)

The sermon was based on Jesus’s command to love your enemies. The preacher spoke, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives. So raise your hands if you have many enemies.” And quite a few people raised their hands.

“Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies.” And about half as many people raised their hands ……..

“Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.” And even fewer people raised their hands.

“See, most of us feel like we have enemies.”

“Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.” And the preacher looked around, and looked around, and finally, way in the back, a very, very old man raised his hand. He stood up and says, “I have no enemies whatsoever!”

Delighted, the preacher invited the man to the front of the church. “What a blessing!” the preacher said. “How old are you?

“I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.”

The preacher said, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”

“All the fools have died!”

The test of your tolerance cannot be taken after all the irritating people have died!!

The Message translates the words in a beautiful way, “alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.”

The Passion Translation relating to the need to be patient says to show love, “especially toward those who may try your patience.”

Bearing with one another. Forbearance.

It means to have restraint under provocation and to freely allow the faults and failures of others.

It doesn’t mean we tolerate evil and hurtful actions towards others nor that what is wrong for one person is not necessarily wrong for someone else. That is a hijacked forbearance which is being seen today and has infiltrated the Church.

It does mean that with the Spirit enabling of our lives we are able to positively love those who irritate or disturb us. Why would we do that?

We bear with one another not through intimidation but through the belief that Christ is building a new society called the Church.

A couple of days ago we had a barbeque in the garden. The smoke was irritating my eyes. But I put up with it for the joy of the steak that was to come! No one else was near the coals and so were not irritated. But they enjoyed the steak later.

People are wonderful and then you get close to them and you realise they are also irritating. But bearing with their many idiosyncrasies means that the tapestry is beautifully created. Throw in different race, cultures and backgrounds and that becomes the Church that Jesus is building today.  It is better than steak in the garden (maybe!)

There are deeply engraved divisions in our upbringing. Look anywhere in the world and you find historical disputes that the present generation don’t fully understand why they hate that tribe or family but they do. Anyone can tolerate that what agrees with their position. But can the Jew forbear the Gentile and vice versa? That is the question. The answer is obviously NO. That is why we need more than ever the Spirit to empower our lives. Without HIM this is a nonsense.

Before we close let us also remember someone is tolerating us right now!

Even great men and women of God are irritating! The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth believed in the sinless perfection of the Christian. I wonder if you would have believed in his sinless perfection if you had entertained the General in his finery and majesty. This is what one lady said of her experience. “On arrival William Booth virtually took over the management of the household. He demanded dinner at once and simply wolfed it, putting his knife in the salt and in his mouth. He next retired upstairs but didn’t like the bedroom I had prepared as it was at the front of the house. So he took possession of the rose room …. . During the afternoon the fire must have annoyed the General in some way because he put it out by throwing water over the fire and hearth … . Nearly all our doors had to be padded with dusters to prevent them banging and orders were sent down to shut the dog up.”

Finally, let me go back to my barbeque. You see, we bear with one another but remember God tolerates us.

Isaiah 42: 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.

You may feel like you are a smouldering wick. Maybe you feel to God you have become ineffective with little impact on the lives of others apart from being an irritation.

However, the good news is that Jesus will never break you nor snuff you out. He will never give up on you nor turn His back on you. He is for you, believing in you till the very end.
He loves and uses the weak and broken.
He started His life on earth weak and vulnerable and he ended his life broken and in pain.
He is with you because He has gone before you. He tolerates you for the glory of God.

I Am Patient

How can we achieve these traits? How can we say I Am? We cannot without God. But with God we can.

“… be patient …” (Ephesians 4 v2)

Again, a fruit of the Spirit as He produces in us as Christ dwells in us.

Ever rolled your eyes at someone’s social media status? I have.

Ever tempted to tell someone, “you’ve told me this before’ when they attempt to tell you the 5th time? I have.

Ever tried to stifle a yawn when someone insists on going into every detail of the story? I have.

Ever become annoyed at being interrupted in that was your own amazing story? I have.

Ever stood in line in a supermarket panicking wondering if it is the fastest lane? I have.

The moment I think I have it is the moment it seems to disappear.

Maybe you wake today to another day of battling the discouragement and disappointment of what is now on you. Within you is patience that will not give up. It never admits defeat. It is not finished off by disappointment or discouragement.

Circumstances is one thing but people are another and they are even more annoying at times. To be patient means to hold out under trial before giving into the passion of retaliation. It is not easily offended.

Circumstances, people and then there is your own life. What will you wait for?

A woman rushed up to famed violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) after a concert and cried: “I’d give my life to play as beautifully as you do.” Kreisler replied, “I did.”

If you plant a Chinese bamboo seed, it will sit in the ground for five years and appear to not be making any changes. Then, over a six-week period, it will grow 90 feet.

There is a giant Himalayan lily which spends most of its life looking like nothing at all but then after 5-7 years it grows to 9-10 feet tall and produces the most amazing delicately shaped flowers.

However, when it comes to human achievement and maybe even our own process of maturing, we are the most impatient.

Yet no human, not even Jesus moves from baby to man without the need to grow. This is done before God and man.

Within that growth comes many challenges and pains attached to the process. These are necessary for development.

The truth is one day you will stand before Him the finished article. Until then you are in the growing phase, being perfected for eternity.

Today is another day to grow. Embrace it

I Am Gentle

Obviously we are not collecting character traits that we can wear as a badge nor would this be part of our status on social media. We have all failed in the beatitudes of Christ and maybe that’s why we make the kingdom. The fruit has all gone bad at some point in our lives. Nevertheless as a follower of Jesus we should not be declaring over ourselves we are not humble nor that we are not gentle or anything else. So we declare it and aspire to be so with the work of the Spirit in our lives for the goal is Paul’s command:-

“Be completely … gentle” (Ephesians 4 v2)

It’s a difficult word to translate apparently. Some translations have meekness. Paul’s use of the word is also used for the brokenness of a horse. Power that is under control. But the problem with that is the word power. How do we handle power? How do we control that?

I think where humility recognises the value of others above our own value; gentleness doesn’t even look at our own value and therefore there is no insistence about our rights in a situation.

Have you ever become cranky with someone? Of course we have. I love the word cranky but not the emotion. People do drive us crazy! Knowing how to keep one’s emotions under control is going towards being gentle.

One of the tasks of the Christian is knowing how to be angry at the right time in the right way and for the right reason and that’s not easy at all! It is probably best not to try it for failure is ever before us.

How do we respond when hurt has come into our life? Bearing injuries without anger or revenge but with a forgiving spirit and truly believing that God has a purpose for this is the hallmark of being gentle.

The Amplified uses the word ‘unselfish’ to help us understand more of what it means. It is not to be impressed by the sense of one’s own importance because one thing you know, you are not that important.

It really is a good thing that Paul has spent 3 chapters on what Christ has done and especially how He is dwelling in us. Without him these instructions are totally impossible!

I Am Humble

“Be completely humble …” Ephesians 4 v2

I was recently speaking with a Pastor and his assistant in one of my regions. I asked the assistant if he would ever like to lead his own church. Within his response he said these words, “the Pastor always gives me opportunities, he is always asking me to preach, he is happy to lead me from behind me.” It didn’t fully register with me until last week when for a 3 day prayer event we were holding this Lead Pastor emailed their church prayer requests that I had asked all the Pastors for. I had asked them to name their ministerial teams. He put his name last behind the other assistant pastors on his team. I flipped it around as I produced the schedule and put his name first (so the Pastors of mine will not be able to identify him in this blog!) This of course doesn’t mean that all the others were in any way arrogant by putting their name first ahead of their assistants. Not at all. I would probably do the same. However, it does reveal what this word humble means. It means lowliness of mind in the recognition of the value of others.

I remember sitting with a leader on a journey who was passing on his leadership ability to me. He told me of his many fights with people and how he had won the arguments. I could see how people wanted to be like him for his rhetorical skills, his dogged determination to deal with any slight confrontation and his strength of character for any situation.
But I wondered if he ever wept. What broke his heart?
Good leaders weep.
Until racism and every other negative ism brings us to tears we will never understand humility.

Maybe Paul is thinking back to when he had said goodbye to the Ephesian elders after he asked them to meet him at Miletus. In a very moving farewell speech he says these words, “I served the Lord with great humility and with tears …” (Acts 20:19)

When Paul wrote these prison words the culture of the day was that the word was always used disparagingly and often towards a slave. That attitude of the world threatens the Church even today. Being humble is obviously a trait we all believe in but it doesn’t get a huge mention and we never talk about it as something to aspire to. In fact if you were to say I am humble well that just proves you are not. But why is this so? I think we need more people in all spheres of society, in the Church and outside of it, who will stand up and say one of the hallmarks of their life, the axis of their worldview is that they are lowly in their thinking of themselves and they recognise the value of others above their own value. What’s the worst thing can happen? The response is ‘No you’re not, I can prove it.’ That will only serve the humble well as we work on being more like Christ. The humble will never fight over whether they are humble or not they will just try and be even more for to be humble is to be like the Lord Jesus Christ.

We don’t pride ourselves on our works. We also tell the stories of our failures. Paul was continually aware that he was a sinner, the persecutor of the church and of Jesus Christ, the least of the apostles etc.

I try to be true to the story of my life. We tend to hide our failings and talk of our successes. Our failings that are mentioned only put us in a good light as God brought good out of them. We are afraid of losing friends and fame if we mention when we had failed.

As we carry the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives then we must also carry those sins that he redeemed us from. Paul in his other writings from prison will remind us of how Jesus lowered himself, abased himself is a beautiful word, made man, made flesh. We don’t fully realise the abasement of these words (I needed to use the word again!). We preach Christ crucified, we pray in our imagination to a human Jesus, a servant, the Son of Man. We carry those earthy, human images in our mind because that is true. Yet what is true is He is God!

If we carry the cross in our hearts then why do we only speak of our exaltation? Of course I am not suggesting we create badges saying ‘I am humble’. But I do think when people ask us what has been the thing that has brought exaltation in your life we say it is because I became humble. (Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10) But also that I am working at being completely humble and that may take some time yet!