“A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE”

JAMES 4:1-10

SEPTEMBER 2, 2012

 

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Forty-three years ago this month, my best friend, Rol Gillum finally turned twenty-one.  I had done so two months earlier.  A couple days after his twenty-first birthday we jumped into his powder blue Volkswagen Beetle and headed to Las Vegas, from Southern California, to have the time of our lives.

            The trip turned didn't turn out too well for me.  In the space of six hours I had lost most of what I had saved that summer at the blackjack table.  Thankfully, I had enough foresight to keep some money aside to see one Las Vegas show.  The show Rol and I wanted to see was Nancy - These Boots Were Made for Walkin' - Sinatra.

            We tipped the maitre d so we would be close to the stage, and she was good, but to tell you the truth, the opening act was better.  That night Rol and I were introduced to an unknown songwriter, who had decided to try his hand at singing.  At the time the most famous song he had written was the Elvis Presley hit, "In the Ghetto."  Within months after we saw him, however, this curly-haired, singer-songwriter would rise in popularity as quickly as Nancy Sinatra descended into obscurity.  He went on to make countless appearances on the Tonight Show and he even had his own variety show for a few years.  His name was Mac Davis and one of his most notable songs went as follows ...

 

            Oh, Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you are perfect in every way.

            I can't wait to look in the mirror, I get better looking each day.

            To know me is to love me, I must be a heck of a man.

            Oh, Lord, it's hard to be humble, but I'm doing the best that I can.

 

            The song reminds me of an incident in the life of Frank Lloyd Wright.  During a trial Wright was called as a witness and sworn in under oath.  "Your name?" he was asked.

            "Frank Lloyd Wright."

            "Your occupation?"

            "I'm the world's greatest living architect."

            Later a friend asked Wright how he could say such a thing.  He replied, "I had to.  I was under oath."

            Well, this morning James addresses the Mac Davis's, the Frank Lloyd Wrights and the Richard Meyers of the world - people who could benefit from a lesson or two on humility.

            It appears human nature has not changed all that much over the years.  It seems like the modern church is a lot like the church James describes in this fourth chapter - a church which was a quart low on humility.  So let's turn to our text and see why James highly recommends this virtue.  In so doing we are going ask four questions of our text: #1 What is humility?  #2 What does humility promote?  #3 What does humility require? And #4 What does humility promise?

            Let's take our first question.  What is humility?  Well the first thing we can say about humility is that it is at the heart of the Christian faith because Christianity is the only major religion to have at it's center the humiliation of its God.  The cross, the events surrounding the crucifixion, no other religion comes close to that.  Furthermore, Jesus throughout his life, oozed humility.  In his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul described him as one who "humbled himself and became obedient."  Of all the theological virtues this is one of the most coveted and it is encouraged twice in our passage for today: verse 6, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and verse 10, humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

            But what is it?  Well, Webster defines it as "having or showing a consciousness of one's defects or shortcomings; not proud; not self-assertive; modest."  The famous inventor Samuel Morse comes to mind in this regard.  Morse received many honors from his invention of the telegraph but felt undeserving.  He said, "I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other people but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and God was pleased to reveal it to me."

            George Whitfield also comes to mind.  George Whitfield was one of the best known preachers in the early years of our nation and he sometimes disagreed with John Wesley, one of his contemporaries, on theological matters, yet when someone asked Whitfield if he thought he would see Wesley in heaven, Whitfield replied, "I fear not, for he will be so near the eternal throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him."

            Humility.  A consciousness of one's defects.  Not proud.  Modest.

            That leads us to our second question:  What does humility promote? 

            We can answer that in one word: unity.  Humility and unity are like siamese twins, perpetually connected.  Both, however, seemed to be lacking in First Church Jerusalem.    James writes in verse one,

 

            Those conflicts and disputes among you, where to they come from?

 

            He then goes on to answer his own question.

 

            Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder.  And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

 

            In other words, we push our agenda.  We become self-assertive.  I've seen it a number of times in churches.  I've witnessed first hand church committees fight over $40.00 worth of paint and a $5.00 door handle.  I've watched people stop worshipping because they erected permanent walls in a church basement for classrooms rather than moveable walls.  I've watched people take their ball and run because they did not like where the American flag was placed in the sanctuary.  Can you imagine?

            Hudson Amerding, former president of Wheaton College as well as the National Association of Evangelicals said,

 

            I am persuaded that much of the confusion and conflict which besets the Christian church today is not due to the great issues of theology.  Instead, it is because Christians have not been willing to act with meekness.

 

            Humility and unity walk hand in hand.

            Question #3:  What does humility require?  Well, James tells us in verses seven through nine and we can summarize what he says there in three words: submission, resistance, and repentance.

            First he says Submit yourselves therefore to God ... draw near to God and God will draw near to you.

            The word "submission" is not a very popular word.  The Greek word literally means "to rank under, to take your post."  It's a military term. 

           My wife, Trudy, was the youngest of four sisters.  Being the youngest she was constantly told what to do, not only by her parents, but also by her three older sisters, and one day as a little girl, after being told to do something, she walked away and said, "I can't wait until I have kids and have someone to boss."

            Deep down most of us would rather boss than to be bossed.  We much rather rule than submit, but let me remind us all of the life of Jesus.  Jesus lived the majority of his life in Podunk, Israel - Nazareth it was called - submitting to God, learning carpentry.  After leaving Nazareth he submitted himself to three years of people-serving: teaching in synagogues and under the stars; touching lepers; mending mad minds; and laying down his life for others.  His life was a life of submission.

            So humility, according to James, requires submission.  Second it requires resistance.  Verse seven once again:  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

            Of course, that's a challenge because Old Redleg's favorite strategy is disguising himself as an angel of light, something good rather than something bad.

            One of the people who had a significant impact on my life was a man named Alan Loy McGinnis.  He performed our wedding ceremony and he went on to write a number of books including The Romance Factor, The Friendship Factor and The Power of Optimism.  In one of his books he penned the following.  Listen to his words.

 

            Pop psychology has produced a new wave of self-help books that advocate asserting yourself, doing your own thing, taking advantage of another person before they take advantage of you ... actually the movement is not entirely new.  Arrogance has been around for a long time.

            But there is a pathos to such a philosophy.  It is the attempt of unhappy people to find some joy for themselves.  Someone has told them that they will find it by elbowing their way to the front of the line.  But my experience in counseling is that when they push others away, they get to the front of the line and discover that there is no one there to hand them anything.

 

            Who has perpetuated this lie?  Who has made it so attractive?  Someone disguised as an angel of light.  Humility requires resistance.

            The third requirement is repentance.  Verse eight:  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Lament and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy into dejection.

           In other words, humble people face their shortcomings.  We are not to be like the man who was extremely proud of his hunting abilities, especially his marksmanship.  One day he took his pastor along with him and as a passing duck flew overhead he said, "Watch this," and he aimed his guy and fired his shot and nothing happened.  The duck kept flying.

            The cocky hunter turned to his pastor and said, "Pastor, you are witnessing a modern miracle.  There flies a dead duck."

            That hunter was not exactly the poster boy for facing one's defects and shortcomings.  So what does humility require?  Submission.  Resistance.  Repentance.

            That brings us to our fourth and final question:  What does humility promise?  Well, it promises an "atta boy" or "atta girl" from God.  Verse ten: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

            In God's world the way up is the way down.  To gain the high road we must take the low road.  I'm really dating myself here, but remember the Limbo dance craze of the early '60s?  You couldn't go to a party during this time without being forced to do the Limbo, or at least watch someone else do it, or try to do it.  The Limbo was often characterized as a dance, but it would be more accurate to call it the combination of a line dance and an exercise set to music.  You needed good balance, strong ankle and leg muscles, and a willingness to embarrass yourself in front of others to do the Limbo.  Chubby Checker jumped on the craze and came out with a album, "Limbo Party" featuring his hit single "The Limbo Rock" complete with the repeated refrain, "how low can you go?" 

            When it comes to humbling ourselves, "how low can we go?"  Hopefully, low enough to put a smile on God's face.  Amen.