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Archive for the ‘Humility’ Category

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.(Romans 12:17-18,21).”

This Saturday morning I feel as if I have been hit by a truck — a big one. My brain is fizzled, my body is fatigued and my emotions are as if they just went through one of those ringers in the old washing machines.

It’s been a rough week, especially at work. Things have not gone well.

A little background is necessary. I teach English to international students at a major university. It’s really important that the students feel comfortable in the classroom, otherwise they won’t learn the language.

Thus, the chemistry must be right among the students and teachers. However, with my classes this week it is as if my chemistry experiment blew up in the lab.

Yesterday I received the following Email from my boss: “I have had a lot of students complaining about your classes, so I’d like it if you could come and talk to me about the specific complaints.”

Now, I obviously wasn’t a happy camper, for the reasons stated above. In addition, as I had only been teaching for two days, I felt hurt and misunderstood. How could anyone judge my performance in two days?

 During the afternoon I stewed about this matter. I tried to see my boss, but couldn’t because she was busy.

I needed to vent. We were preparing to go into  long holiday weekend, and I wasn’t about to have this hanging in my brain for three days.

Since I couldn’t see my boss, I did what I do best: I began to write. I wrote her a long Email in reply.

I expressed my frustration. I mentioned how unfair this was. I discussed my thoughts on particular students.

Finally, in the quiet of the late afternoon my boss came walking into the computer lab. I told her I was writing her an Email.

She invited me to talk. She went to get a cup of coffee and we sat down in her office.

In essence, my boss told me that my students were uncomfortable in my class. Now, this wasn’t good news for me, not only personally, but also because I knew that the term would be a disaster if the dynamics in the classroom weren’r right.

I knew instinctively what the problem was, and I said (to paraphrase) to my boss,”Let me guess: I intimidate them”. “Yes”, was her reply.

I had heard this before. As both of us (i.e., my boss and I) know, I am a curmudgeon. I joked with my boss. I told her,”I am an acquired taste.”

All joking aside, I still was a bit frustrated with this. What was I supposed to do? If the main problem was “me”, and not my methodology or process, or too much homework or something, I thought I had better start updating my resume.

My first inclination, which I guess is normal, was to blame my students. I thought how immature they were. But then, I realized that it is quite difficult to approach someone you don’t even know and tell them,”You make me uncomfortable” or “you intimidate me”.

I also interpreted things through my personal grid. In my view, men are wimpy today. Since a couple of the complainers were guys, I mused that my estimation of  today’s young male had been confirmed.

Further discussion with my boss helped to clear my head on this entire matter. My previous Email (which never got sent, by the way- a smart move. I told my boss that I wish I had a nickel for every vent Email I had put in drafts of trash) also unmuddled my brain.

Dawson Trotman, founder of the Navigators, was correct when he wrote that “thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and across the fingertips.” I now know that I have to at least make an effort to be what my boss termed “more warm and fuzzy”.

My vent Email w0uld have been completely off target. I would have come across as a fool. Even though Eliphaz’s opinion was wrongly placed when he said, “Would a wise person answer with empty notions or fill their belly with the hot east wind?” (Job 15:2)  since he applied it to the innocent Job, he  could have said it to me with impunity.

Sometimes we are falsely accused. Even Jesus was. Yet, He didn’t reply to his critics because He knew the truth about Himself (Mark 15:1-5).

The mature person is comfortable in his own skin. I know I look like a curmudgeon, and sometimes act the part. But I also know that I have many good relationships with students.

Every new term I must  prove myself all over again. My students are in many cases young and immature and need to be trained. It’s my job to do it.

The early church leaders knew this about their charges as well. When some of them had a disagreement on how to best approach mingling the old Jewish religion with the new faith in Christ, the main factor considered was the welfare of the new believers.

These leaders didn’t want to burden them, so they wrote them a letter telling then not to be troubled and lightening their load. The result is documented in the book of Acts: ” The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message (Acts 15:31).”

Sure, maybe my students need to grow up some. But even at my age, so do I.

As their leader I should set an example by helping them to become comfortable in my presence, and showing them warm affection. It’s my goal for them to walk out of my classroom from now with the warm fuzzies.

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“Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth (Psalm 26:2,3).”

Yesterday I got into a discussion with a colleague about my leadership style. I currently hold an unpaid role as a team leader.

You never know what God is going to use to teach you. But it’s important to keep a humble and open mind, especially to Him.

This colleague intimated to me  that she would like a little direction as to  task we were to require of our students. I said to her that I believed in “academic freedom”, and that as long as she fulfilled the objectives I was fine with that.

Later, as I left the building we were in, she motioned me over to her car. She asked me if I had locked up. I told her that so and so was still in the building. The rule is that the last person out locks up.

“Does she have a key?”.  I told her I didn’t know.  This teacher remaining in the building is returning after a long absence.

My colleague’s reply was,”This is what I mean. Heavy is the head that wears  the crown. You should have asked her.”

I quickly defended myself, telling her that I didn’t think that being responsible for seeing that someone locks up a building was part of my job in this particular academic leadership role I had. I then joked that instead of someone wearing a crown, I felt more like one of the Thai women who wear brass coils around their necks.

These women are portrayed in one of our textbooks. From a young age they wear  these metal bands. As they grow, their necks stretch. When they reach adulthood, removing the coils would be fatal. Their necks are no longer strong enough to support their heads.

My first inclination was to brush off my colleague’s statements. After all, I thought, “who am I to tell other teachers how to run their classes”? Besides, my management style has always been somewhat “laissez faire”.

Upon reflection, however, I have realized my colleague was right. I didn’t ask for the leadership role I have been given but, since I have it, I should exercise leadership. Ignoring my fellow teachers and what they are up to is not leadership.  

Unlike me, Jesus was a great Leader. I have a lot to learn from Him.

In the period before His crucifixion, Jesus tried to instruct those around Him about what He and they were up against. He kept persevering despite the ignorance, apathy and inattention of his compatriots.

In once incident, woman anointed Him with some expensive perfume. The unthinking louts around Jesus rebuked her for the waste of the expensive aroma. Jesus in turn rebuked them.

He made them think deeper. Jesus told them that the woman was preparing His body for burial, and in fact she would be remembered forever for her actions. They are indeed recorded in Scripture (Matthew 26:6-13).

Later, on the night in which he was supping with His disciples prior to His arrest and trial, Jesus again had to get through to His disciples about the momentous events about to occur. He told them they would deny Him that night.

Again, the disciples were indignant. They replied that there was absolutely no way this was going to happen.  Not long after, they ran away at the time of His arrest (Matthew 26:31-35,56).

The disciples were a sleepy bunch during the trials of their Leader. While Jesus was agonizing over His coming crucifixion in prayer, literally sweating blood, they were nearby, napping.

Jesus didn’t ignore it. He could have. After all, in a few short hours He would be hanging on a tree, dying. Instead, Jesus said to them,”Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer (Matthew 26:36-46)!”

Jesus led right up to the end. In fact, as He was being arrested he chastized one of His followers for their violent resistance to His arrest. Jesus had to be chagrined that His disciples didn’t get the nature of His kingdom after all those years following Him.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”

In truth, the above expression is a misquotation from Shakespeare.  According to Yahoo,”In Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, Act 3, Scene 1, the king has a soliloquy. It begins, ‘How many thousand of my poorest subjects / Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep, . . .’ At the end, he declares, ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’

Being a leader is an uncomfortable position to be in. In this context, though, I am exhorted by another famous quotation.

This one comes from US President Harry Truman. He had a common rejoinder: “If you can’t stand the heat , get out of the kitchen.”

On at least one occasion Truman used this phrase with his staff to not concern themselves about their decisions. He said to them,”I’ll stand by you,but if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen.”

Truman also is known for saying,”The buck stops here.” Although as President he was unpopular, Truman was not afraid to make decisions. He took his leadership role seriously.

I am grateful to my colleague for waking me up to my responsibilities as a leader. She taught me a valuable lesson.

Indeed, I believe God used her. What I have learned has valuable application to not only my workplace, but also to my home life.

I never know who or what God is going to use to teach me. It’s important to keep a humble and open mind to Him. I have to consider the Source. He loves me.

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 “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor (Proverbs 18:12).”

I have very bad memories of the 7th grade. That year I moved shortly after the beginning of the school year.

My family and I left a small city in the mountains of southwest Virginia for the the urban sprawl of Baltimore. It was the ultimate culture shock.

It was bad enough that I was experiencing all the effects of entering puberty at the time. Add to this sudden exposure to new ethnic groups I had never encountered before, a penintentary-like junior high school, and being made fun of because of my “southern” accent, and life became rather droll.

The above memories were raised when I watched the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with my family over the weekend. I think this flick portrayed what is now called “middle school” to a “T”. It was hilarious.

Greg is your typical self-absorbed teeny bopper.  Yet, he”s smarter than most. He has a plan to navigate the social minefield of middle school and make himself popular.

His problem is that his best friend is Rowley, who is still stuck maturity-wise back in grade school. Being connected with Rowley is bad for Greg’s ratings among others at the school.

While Greg continues in his self absorption and tries to reform Rowley, the latter remains who he is. Rowley has few issues with self acceptance in his ignorant condition.

Greg’s selfishness ends up causing Rowley problems. Greg knocks Rowley into a snow drift, breaking his friend’s arm. Rowley is also kicked off the safety patrol when he gets the blame for directing kids in his charge to hide in a mudhole, something Greg actually has done to avoid his own harm when some bullying teenagers come by.

Greg remains unrepentant, however. He doesn ‘t apologize for breaking Rowley’s arm and he let’s his friend “take one for the team” instead of confessing his wrongdoing to the teacher in charge of the safety patrol.

Greg also refuses to cooperate with Rowley on a competition to become the new cartoonist for the school newspaper. He dismisses Rowley’s ideas and the two submit separate cartoons in the contest.

Despite Greg’s preoccupation with his own social standing, Rowley thrives. The girls fawn all over him about his broken arm. He wins the cartoon contest. Rowley, just by being himself, becomes popular.

In fact, he is maturing also. He sees through Greg’s selfishness and breaks off their friendship.

In the meantime, Greg slides far down the social scale. He is lumped in with the nerdiest kid in school popularity-wise.

Greg’s problem is that he has lost sight of the truth about selfishness, Self-love  is extremely unwise. If one is to make friends, he or she  has to be friendly.

The wise man of Proverbs understood this. He wrote,”An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment (Proverbs 18:1).”

Jesus was the King of the Universe, but in His darkest hour even He didn’t look out for Number 1. He was more concerned with the welfare of his friends than His own hide (John 18:8,9).

In some ways, Greg’s efforts to succeed at climbing his school’s social ladder was meant to make a mockery of the whole warped scheme of things.  However, the narcissistic way he went about it caused him no end of grief.

Robin Gibb once got an idea for a song sitting on an airplane. He listened to the engine drone on, got the melody and later finished the lyrics with his fellow Bee Gees:

“I started a joke
That started the whole world crying
But i didn’t see…
That the joke was on me
I started to cry
That started the whole world laughing
If i’d only seen
That the joke was on me.”

Says Gibb, “To me, that was a very spiritual song, about faith and survival in life. It wasn’t a love song, it was one of the first songs we wrote about struggling to survive emotionally alone in the world.”

Greg’s motivation in middle school was to survive. However, his methodology was flawed.

 His excessive concern with his own well-being without regard for others set off an odd cause and effect in which his plans negatively boomeranged on him. Ironically,  his buddy Rowley benefited.

(SPOILER ALERT!)

At the bottom, Greg finally learns what is important.  His lesson comes from a moldy piece of cheese.

This piece of cheese has been sitting on the playground forever. It has developed a horrible aura similar to cooties. If a kid touches it, they become infected and thus ostracized.

One day a group of teenage bullies haunting Greg and Rowley forces the latter to eat this piece of cheese. As a crowd of kids gathersd, Greg does something completely out of character: he takes the wrap.

Greg says it is in fact he that has consumed the cheese. He says this to protect his friend. He then lectures the kids about the folly of the whole culture they have developed at the school.

The kids don’t  buy Greg’s sermon. They flee in disgust, perpetuating the cheese myth.

In the end, however, Greg gets what he is looking for. He receives notoriety in a place he never thought of: in the school yearbook, he is pictured with Rowley. The caption reads,”Cutest Friends.”

Greg learns he doesn’t have to be Mr. Popular. He just needs to love and be loved by those who care for him.

One day he gets out of bed and understands the wisdom of  the Proverb which says,”A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).”

Robin Gibb finished his lyrics this way:

“I looked at the skies
running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed
hurting my head
from things that I’d said

Till I finally died
which started the whole world living
Oh if I’d only seen
that the joke was on me.”

Sometimes we have to die to live. We definitely have to die at times if others are to live. Jesus knew this.

If there is a formula in the Christian life. it is this: we die so others may live. Then God looks out for us.

Practically speaking, this means we use our resources so that others in our sphere get their needs met. We then let God take care of ours. To me, it’s an exciting adventure to watch how God will go about doing this!

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“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;  someone else, and not your own lips (Proverbs 27:2).”

Newsweek just announced that in their estimation, Finland is the best country in which to live. While these results are debatable, what is even more interesting is the response of the Finns themselves.

In typical fashion,  the Finnish media is doing a lot of handwringing over the label given to them by a popular worldwide media outlet.  One commentary in the international edition of the Helsinki newspaper is titled “The Best or the Happiest”?  The emphasis in this article is that the results in the Finns eyes are indeed questionable.

In another article from the same newspaper, Finns are described as “torn” by the results, even though the main subject of the piece is that immigrants consider Finland to be “something out of a fairy tale”.

The Helsinki paper says the Finns themselves know their own drawbacks.  For example, their citizens are prone to depression and their are cutbacks in social services.

I am amused by the response of the Finns to the praise they are receiving in the worldwide media because I know them so well. I am married to one, and have lived in the country. It is funny to me because we Americans are so different from the Finns. We crave praise and have it for breakfast.

On the other hand, The Finns are embarrassed when the microscope is put on them.  They don’t like to be singled out. Yes, they are extremely proud of their country, but they’d rather not talk about it, or much of anything else for that matter. They are a very quiet, introspective clan.

While the navel gazing of the Finns is humorous to me , it is also admirable.  These people look for the truth when others assess them.  The Finns don’t just take everything at face value, good or bad. They analyze it.

The wise man of Proverbs says that praise is a form of testing. When others lift us up, our response tells others if we have a good character, or if we are foolish (Proverbs 27:21,22).

Jesus Himself did not go around flaunting His deity.  At his trial before execution, He kept quiet about His true nature, until the Roman governor asked Him directly. At this point, Jesus responded with a truthful, forthright answer (Matthew 27:11).

 We Americans would do well to be a little more like the Finns. We may get passed over for a promotion at work are lose a girlfriend or boyfriend  because we didn’t toot our own horn.

However, in God’s scheme of things, we just aced an exam when we let Him and others single us out for special praise.

With God, a little humility goes a long way.

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