Tag Archives: pride

Knowledge and Humilty 1

When I haven’t been working on funerals or preparing for Holy Week over the past few weeks, I’ve been focusing on the Christian ideal of humilty. Today follows that pattern, but I’m in Thomas a Kempis’s Imitation of Christ this time.

In chapter 2 of book 1, he starts with the idea that “knowledge is a natural desire in all people. But knowledge for its own sake is useless unless you fear God.”

He then compares an unlearned, humble peasant who fears God with a learned person who is proud of their learning but neglects their own soul. The peasant wins hands down, a Kempis writes.

For centuries theologians have quipped that pride was the first sin, and I never understood why. But as I have reread this section, it finally hit me. Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve weren’t content with God knowing best and them only knowing good. They wanted to be like God and know both good and evil. There was a developing pride that said ‘We want to know it all!’

a Kempis writes that the knowledge we really ought to be seeking is self-knowledge.

True self-knowledge makes you aware of your own worthlessness and you will take no pleasure in the praises of others. If your knowledge encompasses the universe and the love of God is not in you, what good will it do you in God’s sight?

I’m reminded of Paul’s words in First Corinthians 13, verses 1-3:

 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

In God’s view, based on God’s standard, my great learning is no advantage… unless I have love. My pride in my vast knowledge is a hindrance, not an asset.

 

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Augustine: Without Humility

Augustine Day By DayIn 1998 I picked up a little daily devotional book called: Augustine Day By Day, compiled and edited by John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (Catholic Book Publishing Co., N.Y.: 1986). I’ve used it as an everyday companion a couple different years, but I just happened to run across it again a couple of weeks ago and started reading some of the entries on which I had made notes. One of the first ones that caught me was titled “Without Humility Pride Will Win.”

This Augustine quote was the entry for January 8th and was drawn from Letter 118,22:

“Grasp the truth of God by using the way He Himself provides, since He sees the weakness of our footsteps. That way consists first, of humility, second, of humility, and third, of humility.

“Unless humility precede, accompany, and follow up all the good we accomplish, unless we keep our eyes fixed on it, pride will snatch everything right out of our hands.”

This has been a good reminder during this last week for me. On Saturday, my wife and I met with the Pastor-parish committee of the new church I’ll be moving to in June (First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA). The District Superintendent was there to introduce us and at one point he’s reading off a list of qualities, about me, that had made the bishop and his cabinet believe I might just be the right next pastor for this church. I can’t list what they were, I wasn’t taking notes. But I remember thinking as he finished, “Man, I’d like to meet THAT guy!”

Did he exaggerate? No. But I always see my flaws, my overweight body, and my list of things I want to do better. Augustine’s warning to do self-examination with “first, … humility, second, … humility, and third, … humility” is good counsel!

Now if we could just infuse our presidential candidates with a little bit of humility… !

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Do You Want To Get Well?

This morning I picked up the Freedom in Christ Bible as I sat down to spend some quiet time with the Lord. When I went to open it, I stumbled upon Jesus’ question to the disabled man at the pool of Bethesda: “Do you want to get well?

That verse comes from the passage in John’s gospel where Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for a Jewish feast and Jesus saw this man lying there and learned that he had been lying there for the past 38 years. (John 5:1-15) In response to Jesus’ question, he never did say “yes” or “no.” Rather, he gave an excuse why he could not get to the healing pool in those rare moments when it had been “stirred” by an angel, and thus be healed.

In the devotional on the next page, titled: “Do you want to get well?” the author says:
“People who cannot be helped fall into three categories.”

  1. “people who will not acknowledge they have a problem…”
  2. “people who know they are in trouble but their pride won’t let them ask for the help they need.”
  3. “people who really don’t want to get well.”

The first group reminds me of passages throughout the Bible which refer to forgiveness starting with a confession of sin… and then God can forgive. Even Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, have long taught that step one of recovery is to admit you have a problem. To not do so, is to live in denial. 
Much of the weight I carry continues to be with me, because I, through many years, have denied I really had a weight problem. Until I acknowledged (and confessed) that I had a weight problem, I could not be helped.
The second group reminds me of Scriptural passages like “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18) A lot of people (especially us men), who are obviously suffering with an ailment or injury are like that. They know they’re sick or injured, and yet cannot bring themselves to go see a doctor. there’s a heart attitude there that says ‘I can take care of this all by myself… I am all sufficient to meet my own needs.’ In truth, however, we can never meet all of our own needs. To refuse to look to others for help, we essentially make ourselves into a substitute god. After all, only God is “all sufficient.” 
When I was 11, I lived this out as well. I decided to go sled riding on a late Saturday morning after cartoons at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. Walking up the hill across the road from their place, I walked up beside the tractor path that we all rode on coming down the hill. I crunched my way up the hill. At the top of the hill you slid down and turned into the field off to the right of the tractor path.
It had been icy and snowy the night before and, unbeknownst to me, the tractor path was a sheet of ice with a little bit of snow cover over the ice. On to the sled I went and raced toward the turn off below. I turned the sled at the appropriate time and at the appropriate place, but the sled just kept going… the ice prevented the sled from being able to turn off the path.
Now, my grandparents lived one farm short of being at the top of a hollow on a dirt road in Potter County. I quickly looked ahead and to the sides and saw there were no cars coming. There seldom were any cars. So, in my 11 year old thinking I thought: ‘oh well, the road is cindered, that will stop me.’ It didn’t.
So I found myself in the yard plunging forward rapidly. So, in my 11 year old thinking, I thought: ‘OK, I’ll just turn the sled to the left and have all of that big yard to slide to a stop in.’ The sled (for the same reasons noted above) would not turn and I slammed into the cement porch of their house.  My grandfather, upstairs in the house and not the side near the porch, heard the thud and came to investigate. what he found was me unable to catch my breath, bleeding profusely from where my front teeth had been sheered off and cutting through my lower lip, and me holding my back because of the pain. (Years later, I would have to have surgery on my lip where teeth fragments had been lodged and eventually blocked off a salivary gland. Likewise, my back continues to hurt often decades later.) 
Looking back, I recognize that while I could have easily rolled off the sled long before the proch, I didn’t because i was convinced that I was actually in control. I could turn that sled, get stopped by the road, or turn the sled into the yard. I thought I was completely able and sufficient to care for myself. I was not. I continue to pay for my 11 year old pride. I wish I could say I don’t find myself in similar situations any more, but that would not be honest.
That third group, those who really do not want to get better, is where this paralyzed man is. All he has in response to Jesus’ question about wanting to get well is an excuse. And I think it’s pretty significant that the gospel clarifies that he had been in this situation for 38 years! Just lying there and begging for food or money or clothing is natural now. That was this man’s source of income and way of life.

Despite this, Jesus decides to heal the man. “To show his gratitude, the man turned Jesus in to the authorities for healing him on the Sabbath.”

The devotional goes on with a challenge for all of us who find ourselves in a place where we need healing or another chance in life. “If we really want to get well, we will make whatever commitment is necessary to overcome our infirmities or live productive lives through them. We won’t get mad at God or blame anybody else. We will choose to believe that we are overcomers in Christ and that we can do all things through Him who gives us strength.”

“We will do whatever it takes to become the person God created us to be because Jesus did what it took for us to be alive and free in Him.”

Denial, pride, or an attitude of not wanting to change a way of life; these are all signs of one who cannot be helped except by a Sovereign God.

O God, I personally have had times in all three of these categories. Times when I couldn’t believe I had a problem and so denied it. Times when I knew something was amiss, yet thought I could “take care of things” on my own. Times when i was so comfortable with the way things were in the status quo, that I couldn’t bring myself to face the uncertainty that change might bring and so opted to stay longer in whatever situation I found myself. Forgive me. Clarify my thinking. Help me to see my own life as you do. And when I need your healing in my mind, in my heart, in my body, help me to quickly recognize when I’m in denial, feeling self-sufficient, or becoming too comfortable in the status quo. AMEN!

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The Freedom in Christ Bible, Neil T. Anderson, general editor (Zondervan: 2001) pp. 1204-1205.

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Learning From Old Mistakes???

This was my pastor’s letter in our church’s monthly newsletter for this month…

My daughters and I visited the ruins of the Austin Dam earlier this summer. Located in Potter County, not far from where I grew up, the failure of the Austin Dam and the disastrous flood that resulted on September 30, 1911, was part of our local history. But what started as a quick stop to stretch our legs as we drove home from grandma’s house, became an emotionally moving experience… and a reminder of spiritual truths.


According to the “experts” of the time, when the dam was started in 1909, it was deliberately designed backwards from conventional wisdom. The flat side of the dam wall was built to face the water and the wall’s sloped section faced downstream. The idea, supposedly, was that this would provide an even greater strength to the structure. It was claimed that this would be a “dam that could not break.” In fact, when flood survivor Marie Kathern Nuschke wrote her eyewitness account of the event almost 50 years later she entitled it: The Dam That Could Not Break.

When people would question the logic and/or the safety of the dam, the engineers and owners (and even other residents) would simply laugh and say things like: “That dam will stand when you all are dead.” Nuschke wrote that there were two people who were adamant in their concerns about the dam, Sarah Willetts and William Nelson. Not only were they summarily dismissed, but most of the rest of the community laughed at them as well. And despite their misgivings, they stayed in Austin. Later, when the flood did in fact come, they were killed as well.

As I stood there in the midst of those remains, reading names of those who died in this tragedy, I was reminded of the many times we have seen such conceit and overconfidence… with equally disastrous effect.

I’m reminded of the arrogance and pride of the builders of the Titanic who claimed that “Even God couldn’t sink this ship.” And yet, sink it did. The lack of concern over the safety of the local residents reminds me of the stories of the owners of the South Fork Club that disregarded safety warnings and their dam eventually burst and wiped out much of Johnstown, Pa. in 1889.


What did the Lord speak to me in this visit? First, just because “experts” claim something is safe or “everyone else agrees” with an idea, neither makes it safe nor right. Second, Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.” (NLT) Unbridled arrogance and pride, especially without compassion, is a disaster just waiting to happen. Third, I sensed a great deal of grief for those two people who had seen the danger and had tried to warn others, and yet did not escape. It reminded me that it’s not enough to know of the danger or even to tell others. We need to also take care of ourselves. Spiritually, it’s the same way. It’s not enough to know that there is a Hell or even to warn others, if we haven’t accepted Christ and established our own place in eternity then we won’t escape either.


Finally, as I left, I stopped at the little bridge that leads into the park and snapped this picture of Freeman Run, the water source the Austin Dam had tried to block to harness the power of the water. Yet without the proper respect and attention to its dangers, this tiny little brook caused the death of dozens. It was a reminder to me of the effect and importance of paying attention to the little things in our lives.

There was a lot for me to think about and pray about as I drove away from that memorial park that day. How about you? Can we learn from history? Or do we have to make our own mistakes every time?

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