Saturday, March 15, 2008

Appropriate Smallness: Part 1

[Number eighteen in a series]

I am beginning to look at Chapter 7 ("Appropriate Smallness: The Practice of Servanthood") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

Appropriate Smallness

If you want to be your own god, you have to settle for living in a tiny universe where there is room for only one person. Your world could grow infinitely bigger if you were only willing to become, in the words of a friend of mine, "appropriately small." -- John Ortberg

I. The Oldest Sin:
"The writer of Genesis states that it was through pride that the serpent tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden: 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.'" -- John Ortberg

Question 1: Read Genesis 3:1-7. How did Satan use the human tendency for vanity as leverage in his temptation of Adam and Eve? How does the enemy still use this same tactic for temptation in the world today?

Starting with the lesser versions of pride:
  • Vanity
  • Stubbornness:
    "One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing," says the writer of Proverbs. Stubbornness is the pride that causes us to shun correction. It renders us unable to stop defending ourselves. When someone points out an error or flaw, we evade or deny or blame someone else. (This is difficult to penetrate. Defensive people rarely thank us for pointing out their defensiveness.)" -- John Ortberg
  • Exclusion:
    "At the deepest level, pride is the choice to exclude both God and other people from their rightful place in our hearts. Jesus said that the essence of spiritual life is to love God and to love people. Pride destroys our capacity to love. . . . pride is a form of antilove. Pride moves us to exclude instead of to embrace. Pride moves us to bow down before a mirror rather than before God. Pride moves us to judge rather than to serve. Pride means not only that we want to be smart and wealthy, but also that we will not be satisfied until we are smarter and wealthier than those around us. Pride is essentially comparative in nature"

Question 2: How does comparing ourselves to others do one of the following:
  • Breed pride
  • Destroy community
  • Function as a kind of anti-love

II. That Confusing Thing Called Humility:

Question 3: How does our society affirm and even encourage a prideful spirit? What consequences does this pride-affirming ethos have on the fabric of our culture?

What does it mean to "humble yourself' in everyday life? Let's say we take this seriously. Someone compliments us on the way we look. We are trying to live in God's kingdom and respond as Jesus would if he were in our place. What do we do?
  • Look down at the ground, shuffle our feet, and say, "I'm not really attractive. It's just that the light in here is pretty dim."

  • Boldly speak the truth by saying, "I'm terribly interested in what you say. Tell me more, and let us celebrate this good news together."

  • Quote Proverbs 11:22 in order to correct the other person's superficial focus on physical appearance: "Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without good sense." (This will pretty much remove any problem of receiving too many compliments.)

  • Be direct and to the point: "You are giving me a swelled head. Get behind me, Satan."

  • Smile, say "thank you," then be quiet.
Humility is not about convincing ourselves - or others - that we are unattractive or incompetent. -- John Ortberg
Ortberg points out that this is an elusive pursuit because, how on earth do we pursue humility?
One of the hardest things in the world is to stop being the prodigal son without turning into the elder brother.

III. Following Jesus into the Practice of Servanthood:
More than any other single way the grace of humility is worked into our lives through the Discipline of service. . . . Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. -- Richard Foster

Question 4: How can service - and specifically hidden service - act as a remedy for pride? What keeps us from offering more acts of secret service?

Philippians 2:6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross! -- NET Bible
Ortberg talks about a different way to view that second passage:
"Jesus did not take on the "outward form" of a servant. Paul uses the same term to describe both Jesus' servanthood and his Godhood. (It is the word morphe - our little morphing word again.) When Jesus came in the form of a servant, he was not disguising who God is. He was revealing who God is.

I remember hearing a Christian speaker say once that pride is forbidden to human beings, but is okay in God because, after all, he is God. This is wrong. God is the Infinite Servant. God is the most humble being in all the universe. Jesus did not come as a servant in spite of the fact that he is God; he came precisely because of the fact that he is God." -- John Ortberg

Question 5: Besides Philippians 2:6-11 above, read Mark 10:45. What are some of the acts of service Jesus offered when he walked on this earth? What was his heart and attitude when it came to serving?

  • Jesus' Plan for His followers
    "Jesus knew that his own followers would wrestle with the messiah complex, so he decided to put them in a small group together. For two years they ate meals together, met together daily for group discussions, went everywhere together. And sure enough, one day they "argued with one another who was the greatest." It will happen in any gathering of human beings: Hang out with a group of people long enough, and the messiah complex will rear its ugly head.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this:
    'We know who it is that sows this thought in the Christian community. But perhaps we do not bear in mind enough that no Christian community ever comes together without this thought immediately emerging as a seed of discord. Thus at the very beginning of Christian fellowship there is engendered an invisible, often unconscious, life-and-death contest. "There arose a reasoning among them"; this is enough to destroy a fellowship.'"
  • I'm Not Superman
    "There is another way to help people out instead of trying to be the Superpeople we aren't. The primary reason Jesus calls us to servanthood is not just because other people need our service. It is because of what happens to us when we serve."

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly