Saturday, March 29, 2014

Pride and Humility

This week we take a look at pride and humility.

James 4:5-8 The spirit that God placed in us is filled with fierce desires. But the grace that God gives is even stronger. As the scripture says, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." So then, submit yourselves to God. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Purify your hearts. Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up.
Easier said then done. We have so much responsibility in our lives. We have to be "in charge" to get it all done and we feel proud of ourselves, we see our greatness when we are successfully juggling and managing all of the pieces of our lives. "Hey, look at me, I am AWESOME!" Now there is a measure of self confidence that is healthy and needed. It is the over exaggeration of this confidence that causes us pain. Pride is thinking it is only our efforts or our greatness with no awareness of God's grace and greatness. We develop an attitude of self reliance.Our focus revolves around our ego and how to keep it satisfied. Sooner or later life will throw us a curve ball to steer us back to a God focus and an attitude for seeking His grace.

Nothing is possible without God. God is in all things! That means everything.

I could tell my son was in debate mode when he spoke about evolution.
He thought he was pushing one of my many "buttons" and he knows every single one very well!
I said yes, evolution, God got it all started and we continue to grow and evolve through God's grace. "Crickets." PHEW!

How many times a day am I aware of God in the thing I am doing or thinking about?

Being humble is realizing that we are not doing it or thinking it on our own. God is right beside us, lifting us up. All we have to do is invite Him to 'come near.'

Tina takes a look at how Jesus taught the Apostle Paul, aka Saul, about pride and humility.

Before you get started reading;
Do you ever feel like you wear two personalities in your life?
We welcome your comments and questions below. Let's get a conversation going.
(The Life, Times and Revelation to Saul, the Apostle St. Paul)
The Proud Man From Tarsus
Saul was strong, short, stocky, broad-shouldered, slightly bald, with fair skin, a aquiline nose, and a dark, medium-length beard that was just starting to grey. He spent his childhood in Tarsus, a port city about twelve miles inland, off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus was famous trade center, and the capital city of Cilicia, a province in the wide-spread pagan Roman Empire. 

He was born between 5 BC and 5 AD to a family from the stock of Israel (or Jacob), in the tribe of Benjamin, a tribe that, along with part of the tribe of Levi (Levites) and the larger tribe of Judah (Judaeans), were set free from captivity in Babylon when the Persian Cyrus rode into that city, took over, and granted them full liberty to return to their homeland of Judah. Settling mainly in Jerusalem, the tribes built the second Temple and, in time, they settled Judaea. Saul was descended from the first king of ancient Israel, whom he was named after. Saul was proud of his illustrious ancestry.

His family was from Galilee, in Judaea, which was north of Tarsus. For generations, his family was attached to Judaean Pharisaic traditions and observances, and they had connections among members of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council and court of justice among the Judaean Jews. 

In the bustling port of Tarsus, Saul learned Greek, the 'lingua franca' of the empire, adding it to his Aramaic tongue and to Hebrew, the language of his parents and of their religion. He probably was familiar with Latin, the language of the empire. Multilingualism bestowed different names on him. He was Saul in Aramaic and Hebrew, and Paul in Greek and in Latin. Saul was proud to be from Tarsus. 

His family sent him to Jerusalem for his education. During those years, he learned to make the mohair that was used in tent-making, his father's trade, a trade his father taught him. Because his family was so well-connected, he was educated by Gamaliel, the honest, kindhearted, and very famous Jewish teacher, and Saul advanced beyond his age group. Gamaliel was a leading authority on Judaism in Jerusalem and beyond. He was a Pharisee doctor of Jewish Law, and he taught Saul according to the strict manner of the law of Judaism, the only revealed religion at that time. 

Saul became a rabbi, extremely zealous for the Judaean Pharisaic traditions of his ancestors, and proud to be attached to the synagogues and the Temple. He was a staunch defender of the Pharisee sect. He made a business out of mohair and tent making that supported him well enough that he could live his life in the manner he cherished: traveling the empire. 
He was a king in his own right. He could go where he wanted at will, because he was a citizen (a subject) of the Roman Empire by birth, a very rare status for a Jew. Citizenship protected Jewish citizens, like Saul, from accusations and charges at lower-level jurisdictions, like the jurisdiction of the Jewish high priest. Saul had recourse to "Caesar", as the pagan Roman government was called. He was beyond reproach, and he was proud of it; and by his early 30s, he let his thick, twisted pride slither into false pride; false because he allowed it to lead him to commit unconscionable horrors. But his conscience would, one fine day, sting him like a constant thorn in the side; and yet, unknown to him at this time, and despite the constant (future) sting, and because of all his abilities, he was chosen to become part of the greatest story ever told.   
Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth?
In Judaea, starting around 25-27 AD, a movement had emerged that, at first, appeared to those outside it to be just another Jewish sect, like the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Adherents of the movement were followers of Jesus Bar-Joseph of Nazareth (b. circa 3 BC), a carpenter and a rabbi, who had twelve talmidim (disciples), instead of the usual one or two. He taught in the Temple until the crowds that came to hear grew so large, teaching had to be taken outdoors. The rabbi rankled the Judaean Jewish establishment by instantly healing the sick and raising the dead, foretold of the Messiah. 
Those loudly opposed, hassled the rabbi to no end. They  were constantly looking for those who even slightly disagreed with them, in order to call, "Blasphemy!", in the hope that their opponents would be stoned to death. In this violent atmosphere, the rabbi called some of the Judaean Pharisees and all the Judaean scribes hypocrites because, unlike the Alexandrian Jews, they had suppressed important parts of the historic and prophetic books of Hebrew scriptures, and for generations. As a result, the rabbi taught the adherents of the movement the full text from Alexandria. 
For all these 'reasons' and more, the rabbi was unjustly crucified under Caesar. But the rabbi's body disappeared in the sealed tomb, guarded by Roman soldiers; and eyewitnesses said the rabbi rose from the dead in the flesh, bodily resurrected. He appeared and disappeared at will, walked through walls, and ascended into Heaven. Based on these events, along with ancient historic events and events prophesied to the Hebrews throughout the centuries, and on the rabbi's lineage which matched that of the prophesied Messiah, the adherents said the rabbi was the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And even the rabbi admitted it twice, once each at two different trials, just prior to crucifixion.
The rabbi's talmidim, called Apostles (who were bishops), established Christian communities throughout the region, called Churches. It was obvious by then that the movement was not a sect of Judaism, yet adherents were persecuted by the Jews. They were also persecuted "as Jews" by Caesar, until the leading Apostle, Simon Bar-Jonas, or Cephas (Kipha in Aramaic for rock), also called Peter, explained dogmatic differences to the pagan authorities. The differences led members of the movement to be called "Christians", a designation coined in Antioch (in Syria, between Tarsus and Judaea). And although the pagan authorities understood that Christians were not Jews, they were still chased out of their homes and scattered far and wide with Jews whenever Caesar felt like doing so.  
The Proud Christian Persecutor 
To Saul, the promised Messiah would not be a common criminal, let alone crucified. Such a thought would have never crossed his mind. He was a Pharisee and the Messiah would be a national hero, of course. It was so obvious to him, he never gave the matter a second thought.
In Jerusalem, the Christian Church was growing by leaps and bounds, and the Apostles gathered together and established deacons. One deacon, a young man filled with the Faith and the Holy Spirit, was Stephen. By God's grace and power, he preached the Gospel of Christ, performing great miracles and signs among the people. There were those who came forward to debate with him, some of the synagogue of the Freedmen (Libyan Jews), as well as others from the far reaches of the empire; but they were no match for Stephen’s wisdom, and for the Holy Spirit who spoke through him.
The Jewish authorities weren't happy in the least with Stephen. He roused the feelings of the people, and of the elders and scribes, so they grabbed him and brought him before the Council. There they employed agents to say they had heard Stephen speaking blasphemously of Moses, and of God; and the Council put forward false witnesses, who declared, "This man is never tired of uttering insults against the holy place, and the law. We have heard him say that the Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place, and will alter the traditions which Moses handed down to us." 
Saul was there and witnessed Stephen's long discourse, (despite a couple of minor errors), reminding them of their history which Judaean scribes had suppressed; and just as Christ quoted, and just as the Apostles taught, in his discourse, Stephen quoted parts of the Alexandria Hebrew text (later called the Septuagint, and found among the "Dead Sea" Scrolls), which is the most ancient translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Council didn't like this. 
But the Holy Spirit continued speaking through Stephen, reminding them it was Moses who told the ancient Israelites, "God will raise up from among you, from your own kinfolk, a prophet like me. To him you must listen."  And Stephen reminded them, "It was this prophet who took part with the angel that spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, where Moses received words of life to hand on to us and yet, our fathers would not give him obedience. They disowned Moses. They wanted to be made gods; so they intentionally offered sacrifice to an idol; then they ate and drank, and loudly celebrated, day and night." 
At the conclusion of his discourse, Stephen called his audience stiff-necked, for ever resisting the Holy Spirit, just as their fathers did. He said, "There was not one of the prophets they did not persecute; it was death to foretell the coming of the righteous one, whom you, in these times, have betrayed and murdered; you, who received the law dictated by angels, and did not keep it."
Upon hearing this, they were infuriated, and ground their teeth in rage at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, fastened his eyes on Heaven, and saw there the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. "I see Heaven opening", he said, "and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Then they cried aloud, and put their fingers into their ears, the sign used when what is said is considered to be 'blasphemy'. They landed on him together, and threw him out of the city, to stone him. 
Saul joined the mob outside the city. They put their coats down at the his feet, a sign that they recognized Saul was consenting to the act and overseeing it. By that, Saul took an active part in the stoning even though, deep down inside, he knew that Stephen was not guilty of blasphemy according to the Jewish Law and he didn't stop the act because, being a staunch Pharisee, Saul held that the Messiah would be a national hero, who would satisfy the long frustrated desires of His 'chosen people'. He also had to have known about the suppression by the Judaean scribe; it was part of the platform of the reigning Judaean party: the Pharisees; so Saul knew that Stephen was truthful about the suppression.
Stephen was buried by devout men, who mourned greatly over him. The Church in Jerusalem became even more persecuted starting the day Stephen was stoned, and all except the Apostles were scattered over the countryside of Judaea and Samaria; but from there, they spread the Gospel of Christ from place to place. 
As a result of the incident, Saul found another application for his Pharisaical zeal: he launched his fury on the movement; and he determined to eradicate 'this Jewish heterodoxy', even though, again, the movement wasn't a sect of Judaism and, as such, just like the pagans (the 'Gentiles"), the Christians were also not under the jurisdiction of the Jewish Law; not in the least. 
Although fully cognizant of his guilty knowledge that Stephen was, indeed, murdered, and of his guilt about his role as an accomplice in it, Saul's false pride still meant more to him than the truth. Even though his honest, kind-hearted teacher, Gamaliel, was not in favor of Christian persecution, it didn't change Saul's mind on the matter. With every breath he took, Saul threatened the disciples of Christ with massacre. He continued making havoc of the Church, going into house after house, ripping Christian men and women out of their homes and sending them to prison to be questioned, whipped, and perhaps assaulted in every way, tortured, and even executed. 
Saul's persecution of the Christians "as Jews" was unlawful, and his only 'reasons' to do so must have been because he wanted a Pharisee to be the Messiah, a national hero; and thus, wanted Judaean scripture to continue being suppressed on particular histories and prophesies, like his ancestors did for generations: pride; pride that had nothing to do with justice, nothing to do with truth; a proud persecutor of Christians, "justified' by his false pride". 

Blinded by the Light  
Not long after Stephens' murder, Saul and two companions were headed to Damascus (in Syria, circa 35 AD), with letters of commendation from the high priest in Jerusalem to the synagogues at Damascus, allowing him to arrest all Christians he found there, men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners for questioning and possible execution. 
Nearing the trees of the city's out shirts, at around noon, suddenly great light from the sky shone about Saul. He fell to the ground, and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? This is a thankless task of yours, kicking against the cattle prod" (meaning, Saul's conscience, a 'cattle prod', was badly bothered about Stephen; Saul knew it; and to Saul's astonishment, this voice knew it as well).
Saul's bewildered companions were speechless. They saw the light and heard a sound like a voice, but didn't understand what it said, and there was no one else there. Saul answered the voice and asked, "Who are you, sir?" ("sir", a term of respect towards those in higher positions, as Saul immediately surmised about the man with the divine voice.). And the voice said to him, "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting." Dazed and trembling and, no doubt, scared to death, Saul asked, "What will you have me do, sir?" (or, "What do you want with me, sir?"), and Christ commanded, "Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything you are to do." When he rose from the ground, although his eyes were open, proud Saul could see nothing; and his companions had to lead him by the hand, like a child, to take him into Damascus. 
A Humbled Man from Tarsus
In Damascus, Saul stayed for three days at the house of a man named Judas; a total stranger.  Saul had to have been in a state of shock, shaken to the soul.  Being a Pharisee, he remained in prayer and neither ate nor drank; he fasted. The practice may have helped calm him a little, if that had been possible since, the shock probably caused flashes in is mind of the event, over and over. And sitting there, for hours on end, without sight, and thinking about what must have been, for him, a totally degrading scene on the road, and in front of others, no less, and contemplating on what the voice said about 'kicking against the cattle prod", the proud Saul was greatly humbled.
He may have thought of his honest, kindhearted  teacher, who didn't favor Christian persecution. But, as a Pharisee it was through zeal that he persecuted Christians; so he thought it was the right thing to do. Yet, when his fury was at its height on that road because he had letters of commendation from the high priest in Jerusalem, giving him authority to arrest Christians, he was halted, and by Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ. He was later to say, and to write that he saw the risen Christ on that road. 
He couldn't deny to himself that he received that divine revelation from Jesus of Nazareth; and because it was a divine revelation, he knew Jesus of Nazareth had not been a crazed cult leader, not with divine revelations like he had just experienced; and it wouldn't be a jump to assume that he had been given, through thought transfer, a wealth of Christ's teachings when he was halted. So Saul may have been given the ability to reason that, like Judaism, the movement was also Monotheistic, of the God of Abraham, and thus, the same God; and the movement had to be of a revealed nature, like Judaism; a revealed religion, like Judaism; and therefore, the second (and the final) revealed religion: the Messiah had come and revealed One God in Three Persons, for starters.
Saul knew the voice was Christ's, the Messiah, a crucified criminal, not the national hero he envisioned his entire life. He knew he had to accept that, and yet, the revelation from Christ engendered his faith in Him; so he knew Christ is the Son of God; and he knew the Son of God had communicated with him, Saul, the murderer of Christian Stephen and of untold numbers of other Christians executed because he committed them to prison. It may have taken him hours to reconcile this; but eventually he realized that the revelation was by the grace of God. He realized, given what he had been doing, that he didn't deserve God's grace in the least, yet he was given it; and by it he was shown Christ's mercy for him because he had been acting ignorantly in unbelief. So, to him, Christ's mercy had no end.
Way more than likely, if he didn't know as a rabbi, he had to know aside from it that he his pride in his roots, his status in the empire, and his own accomplishments had developed into false pride.  And it must have started to dawn on him that the Church, consisting of Jews and of Gentiles alike, was not separatist like his beloved Pharisee sect, but all-inclusive, and unified; and he was, indeed, kicking against the cattle prod on that as well. He had no choice but to face the fact that his conception of the ethnic superiority of the Jewish people was out of line.
Most likely, he wondered what would happen to him, surrounded by Christians and those sympathetic to them, and he, being their deadly enemy; but, at some point in the course of the three days, he was given a vision about a man named Ananias coming to him, laying hands on him and curing him of blindness; another revelation. 
Sting Operations
A man named Ananias, living in Damascus, and a disciple of Christ, received a vision. In it Christ told him about Saul, where he was located, and what He wanted Ananias to do. At first Ananias was greatly concerned because he heard all about this Pharisee from Tarsus, an enemy of the Church. But Christ said to him, "Go on your errand; this is a man I have chosen to be the instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel too. I have yet to tell him how much suffering he will have to undergo for My Name’s sake."
So Ananias went to a sad and humbled Saul, and said to him, "Brother Saul, I have been sent by that Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here. You are to recover your sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And with that, a kind of film fell away from Saul's eyes, and his sight was recovered. He rose up, and was baptized by Ananias; and after he ate, his strength returned to him. For some days Saul lived with the disciples at Damascus, and in the synagogues, he preached that Jesus was the Son of God. All those who heard it were amazed; They said, "Isn't this the man who brought ruin on all those who invoked this name?" But Saul was inspired with great strength, and silenced the Damascus Jews by showing them clearly that this was the Christ. 
The Damascus Jews plotted against his life, a sting operation; and they watched the city gates for any sign of Saul leaving. Saul was made aware of the plot; another revelation, perhaps. The Christian disciples devised a successful escape plan for him. He went to Jerusalem (circa 37) to see Peter. He tried to attach himself to the disciples there; but they couldn't believe he was a true disciple, and all avoided his company. Then Barnabas, a Levite Jew converted to Christianity shortly after the First Pentecost (about A.D. 29 or 30), and a post-Ascension Apostle, ordained and appointed by the Apostles, brought Saul to Peter and the other Apostles, and Saul told them how, on his journey to Damascus, he was given a revelation by Christ and talked with Him, and how at Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Christ. 
So he came and went in their company at Jerusalem, and spoke boldly in the name of the Christ. He preached, besides, to the Jews who spoke Greek, and disputed with them, till they set about trying to take his life. So he remained only fifteen days, because of those threats. The brethren took him to Caesarea, and put him on his way to Tarsus (circa 37-43) and is lost to sight for a handful of years. Perhaps he was in voluntary seclusion; in contemplative prayer toward total reconciliation with God. As he was to teach and write, perhaps he was working out his own salvation in fear and trembling, and perhaps what he means by the 'thorn in his side'; all while still receiving revelations from Christ.
The Church of Revelation
As Christ told Ananias, Saul, who became known as Paul,  was to suffer greatly for His Name’s sake; yet the twelve-year period between (circa) 45 and 57 was the most active and fruitful of Paul's life. He left Tarsus (circa 43) and joined Barnabas at Antioch, the apostolate Peter established; and it can be correctly surmised that Paul was ordained a priest and then a bishop by the Apostles Peter and Barnabas. Paul continued travelling the empire in his trade; but now, he helped establish and edify Christian communities and Churches, in person and through writing pastoral epistles to them, all the while, being chased from one end of the empire to another by the Jews and even by Caesar. His Roman citizenship meant nothing because he was charged with 'subverting Caesar's rule', and he was imprisoned by Caesar a number of times, lasting years, until his final arrest and imprisonment (circa 66). 
But before then he went everywhere on visits and missions: the first visit, already mentioned, to Jerusalem (37); a second visit to Jerusalem (45-46) when a famine struck Judaea and he and Barnabas went there to deliver financial support from the Antioch community; first mission, 45-49, to the island of Cyprus; third visit to Jerusalem, 49 or 50; second mission, 50-53; (1 and 2 Thessalonians); fourth visit to Jerusalem, 53; third mission, 53-57; (1 and 2 Corinthians; Galatians); (Romans), 57; fifth visit to Jerusalem, arrest and imprisonment, 57; arrival of Festus, departure for Rome, 59; imprisonment in Rome, 60-62; (Philemon; Colossians; Ephesians; Philippians), 61; second period of activity, 62-66; (1 Timothy [whom Paul ordained]; Titus), second arrest and imprisonment 66; (2 Timothy).
On his third visit to Jerusalem (circa 49-50) with Barnabas, they attended the First Church Council. The Apostles Peter, James and John were there. Most likely, it was at this council that Paul was appointed "Apostle to the Gentiles" by Peter, James and John. Peter presided at the council, and on a main matter before them, Peter told the others of the revelation he received from Christ (Acts 10) and because of the revelation, he had baptized the pagan Cornelius and his household without circumcision. They discussed the revelation. Paul knew all too well what they were like, and after some thought, he and the others agreed: Peter's revelation on this matter of Faith, was from Christ. They decided that Gentiles would be accepted without the need of circumcision. The decision is the first canon of the Church, based on Peter's revelation from Christ. Paul couldn't have been happier with the canon. He and Barnabas hurried off with letters about it to some Churches; and from that moment, with the 'gates of Christendom' opened to all, the converts poured in from all over.   
From False Pride To Profoundly Humble
As the other Apostles, under Christ's Great Commission to go to all nations, teaching and baptizing, Paul also went forward, teaching Christ and baptizing all over the then-known world; to Arabia and Malta; to Spain, on a very probable but short sojourn, and to other parts of Europe, even if just passing through. Whenever he returned from such journeys, he went back and forth through the empire and stayed at places like Rome. While in Rome in 66, at around the age of 68, he was arrested and imprisoned by Caesar for the last time. But because he was a subject of Caesar's, he couldn't be martyred crucified, as the Jews would have like, and as Peter was (voluntarily upside-down, circa 67), also in Rome and about the same time as Paul. Instead, martyrdom for Paul (circa 67) was beheading; much quicker and way less painful.

Indeed, as Christ said to Ananias, the Saul with false pride was to suffered for His Name's sake, suffer unto death. At the same time, Paul also continued to receive revelations from Christ, which kept him profoundly humbled, just as Christ wanted, because St. Paul (like all the Apostles) was a vital, crucial part of Christendom, a teacher and defender of the Faith, a Christian mystic, a martyr; all in the greatest story ever told. 
Tina Irene Williams
From ©WilliamsScript, the author's private collection of writings
Copyright © Tina Irene Williams 2014 All Rights Reserved. 
No part of this document may be reproduced without Tina Irene Williams' written consent.