Thursday, July 22

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

The sisters, Patience and Kindness, lead the way. They are members of Love’s family. But Envy wants to be included and tags along after them, bringing her siblings, Boasting, Arrogance, and Rudeness—who also want to join the party. Lastly come Irritability and Resentfulness, a set of surly, distant cousins who are always jockeying for position. Their constant quarreling will result in their needing a taxi later. They tip poorly, by the way.

Paul names these good and bad qualities in one of the most timeless and beautiful passages in the entire Christian testament, if not the entire Bible. He presents them as a way to teach what love does and doesn’t look like. It gives me joy that such beautiful, noble, and inspiring words, read by the whole world over, also includes a set of humanity’s more ill-natured and irritable qualities.

But here they are, warts and all. And what does Love do?

Love goes out and meets them coming up the walk, invites them inside and makes a place at the head table for all of them. They are family too, Love insists. This is a disarming and gracious gesture which even Envy can’t find anything wrong with.

Perhaps Paul’s chapter on love is appreciated as much as it is because it includes these lesser qualities, which, if we’re honest, we recognize as some of ours.

Consider

Can I honestly say that all of my thoughts are on behalf of love? When I feel envious of another person’s happiness, how might I bring love into my thoughts?

Pray

God of love, thank you for coming to meet me regardless of whether I am at my best or my worst. Help me in my relationships to set aside my lesser qualities, that I might extend your greater ones. Amen.

Wednesday, July 21

Mark 7:14-23

Comedian Flip Wilson had a successful career in the ’70s as a standup artist who created some memorable characters. One of them was “Geraldine,” a proud, sassy woman, who did whatever she wanted to do and answered anyone who questioned her motives with an air of righteous indignation, asserting: “The Devil made me do it.” 

Who could argue? And if Jesus were in the audience at the time (which I believe he was), he would surely have laughed too. Wilson had a comic gift. 

All laughing aside, Jesus was familiar with evil. He’d seen it up close and personal in the desert at the outset of his ministry, encountered it in the envious hearts of stoutly religious men, and seen its system of abuse imposed upon those whom he pronounced blessed. He had even heard it hiding behind the words of his beloved friend Peter, to whom he rebuked, “Get behind me, Satan!” (8:33).

Jesus isn’t worried about evil sneaking up from behind, as Flip’s Geraldine said happens. He isn’t concerned about it being in something you eat or drink, as he tells his disciples. Rather, he tells them he’s concerned about its presence in the human heart (v. 21).

And lest any of them should think, not my heart, he continues by listing a dozen sins, beginning with the big ones. They all nod in agreement, likely thinking, “Yep, that’s bad.” But about halfway down the list, the garden variety of sins begins to show up—including envy—which they do recognize in their hearts. Jesus knows his audience and makes sure his words hit close to home. No joke.

So don’t blame the Devil. God knows we don’t need help from anyone when it comes to making mischief on our own. 

Consider

Who, other than me, is responsible for my sinful thoughts? 

Pray

God of Laughter, purify my heart from the sin inside it and walk with me on my path today. Amen.

Tuesday, July 20

Proverbs 23:17-18

When I was a child, I was happy to put on the clothes my mother provided me. But at some point, I began to turn my gaze to see what others were wearing. In some ways, my life went downhill from there.

The hand-me-downs or knock-off brands that I wore didn’t fit right. I wanted to wear Levi’s jeans like the cool kids. I wanted to sport the shoes with three stripes, not four. I asked for the toys my friends had, the shows they watched, and wanted to do the things they did that I somehow missed out on. I wanted to be like other people, and long story short: I learned you can’t always get what you want. (Cue the Rolling Stones song.) 

Looking back, I had everything I needed and am filled with gratitude for the home I was raised in. I eventually learned to distinguish between wants and needs, which is an important stage of development. But oh, how that lesson flies out the window when a person’s sense of social status kicks into gear! 

Sadly, some people never get to the gratitude, devoting more attention to keeping up with the Joneses than to keeping up with their friendships, marriages, or debt load. Wisdom says not to envy sinners, but that sounds judgmental to me, a sinner. Rather, I suggest adding an extra comma so it reads thusly: Do not let your heart envy, sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord (v. 13). Or continue in the way or worship of the Lord. That’s where your hope and future are.

No, you can’t always get what you want, I learned, but we are loved and cared for. And we will always get what we need.

Consider

How important to me are my possessions or my social status? What possessions could I let go of?

Pray

Generous God of every perfect gift, open my eyes to the gifts of relationship in my life and close my eyes to the clutter of unnecessary things that distract from those relationships. Amen.

Monday, July 19

Proverbs 14:30

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. (NIV)

Caution: Envy rots bones! It should come with a warning label, like the bottle of an industrial-strength cleaning product you know better than to buy. Antisthenes, a Greek philosopher, said that envy consumes you “as iron is eaten away by rust.” Clearly, the caustic properties of envy are not good for your physical health.

Tell that to Antonio Salieri, a character played by F. Murray Abraham in the 1984 movie, Amadeus. Salieri, once a respected court composer, reflects on his contemporary Amadeus Mozart’s superior genius from the psychiatric hospital where he is staying following an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Bandaged from his self-inflicted wounds, he is utterly depleted and still fixated by his envy of Mozart. 

While Amadeus is a biographical fiction about famous people, its themes are common to us regular folks. We resent the recognition someone receives. Or we compare the ease with which they carry out the things we labor hard to do. We notice, keep score. Left unchecked, envy stews, gets bitter, and robs us of rest. When it gets out of control, we get sick. 

Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, the psalmist says. And they are capable of holding a remarkable mix of power and sweetness which, adds Mary Oliver, includes “vanity and virtue.” Envy is among the powerful things we may naively entertain, then take to heart. It doesn’t belong on a shelf in our homes and should never be embodied. 

Consider

When have I felt envious over the recognition of another person’s talent or achievement? What are signs that such feelings have become toxic?

Pray

God of every good and perfect gift, thank you for the talents I have and for the opportunities and abilities I have to use them. Help me to also appreciate the gifts you’ve given others. Amen.

Sunday, July 18

Exodus 20:17

If there were a museum of the Seven Deadly Sins, the wing for Envy would be empty most days. That is due (in part) to the displays lining its walls, dull compared to those of Greed or Lust, bland in contrast to the tasty exhibits in the Hall of Gluttony. But the main cause of Envy’s unpopularity is the way it makes you feel. As a sin, it runs a swift course down a spiral of loneliness. Envy slays itself with its own arrows, an old proverb says. When we look at its displays, we see ourselves.

Human beings possess an innate ability to make social comparisons—a useful tool for a species wired to live in community. But self-centered perspectives may lead to unhealthy experiences of envy. We know this about ourselves, and more importantly, God knows it too—which is why the tenth commandment warns us not to covet what belongs to our neighbor. Or to our spouse or friend, coworker or family member.

Their house, or car, or promotion, or opportunities are wonderful things to notice and celebrate, but the moment they become a problem to us, our problem with envy begins. The thing about envy is that it not only ruins your relationships, it spoils how you feel about yourself and even about the original object of your envy. Anne Lamott once said, “The secret envy inside me is maybe the worst thing about my life.” 

If you visit this museum, spend some time alone with envy. Notice how it makes you feel. Then look for Jesus, who is waiting for you nearby, so you can pray. Then go together to visit the Museum of Grace across the street.

Consider

What secret envy have I harbored or harbor still? 

Pray

God of Grace, help me to remember that I am your child, loved and chosen, and to remember that my neighbors are also. Amen.

Saturday, July 17

1 Peter 5:3-7

I’ve been thinking about two simple, declarative statements: Be humble. Lean on God. 

Each day this week, we focused on the first of the Seven Deadly Sins. We sought prayerfully to submit the sin of pride—our sin, in all its manifestations—to the light of Holy Scripture. As we conclude, I can’t imagine a more fitting word than these verses from 1 Peter. You and I cannot serve two masters, pride and humility. We make daily choices about which one sits on the throne of our lives, shaping and directing our attitudes and our actions. 

Some of these choices are self-evident, and we make them willfully. Others are subtle, embedded in mixed motives. Pride, especially spiritual pride, hides in unexamined places in our minds and hearts. It disguises itself, even cloaking itself in the garb of righteousness that is really self-righteousness. Like the other deadly sins, pride is devious.

As we consider this choice between pride and humility, keep in mind the clear, consistent message of Scripture: God is on the side of the humble. And God doesn’t just give an approving nod or a pat on the back to them, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. 

The writer of 1 Peter offers another insight. Whenever we choose pride, arrogance, self-centeredness, and hypocrisy, we also get the burdensome anxieties that sooner or later emerge from those choices. Blessedly, however, our choices of humility, love, and unselfishness also come with a benefit—the liberating freedom from debilitating anxieties, worries, and fears that rob us of life abundant.

Be humble. Lean on God. And remember that, ultimately, it’s all about grace.

Consider

What “clothing” might you need to discard in order to be wrapped in the God-given grace of humility?

Pray

God, I have much to learn about your way of humility. Today I take my seat at the feet of Jesus. Help me to be a good student and a faithful disciple. Amen. 

Friday, July 16

Romans 12:3-8

The Apostle Paul was not an anatomist or an organizational theorist. He was, however, a brilliant communicator of the Gospel. Like other effective communicators, teachers, preachers, and missionaries, Paul drew illustrations from everyday life to convey spiritual truths. In this paragraph in his letter to the Christians in Rome, he uses the human body as a metaphor for the church, the Body of Christ. 

It’s a familiar metaphor that I can readily run with: a body of believers blessed by a rich variety of spiritual gifts invested in dynamic worship, compassionate mission, and prophetic witness; a spiritual organism in which each member contributes faithfully and sacrificially to the whole, united in common vision and shared purpose.

All well and good, but this model of the Church must be applied and actualized in the real world by real human beings. First, I hear Paul saying, maybe we need to do some internal work. Yes, we are each uniquely gifted and equipped for the work of the church. But, he reminds us, a spirit of humility is a prerequisite. 

Humility is the lubricant required for the various parts to work together harmoniously, effectively, and joyfully. Pride, which Paul describes as thinking too highly of oneself, is the grime in the gears of the church. Pride encourages comparisons, pettiness, and jealousies. It creates friction, confusion, and conflict.

With humility, am I eager to acknowledge the gifts, voices, callings, and contributions of others? Do I affirm their distinctive and varied roles in the mission of the church? Do I go out of my way to praise them, encourage them, and thank them? If not, maybe the first step is to check my pride at the door.

Consider

Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but…think with sober judgment
(v. 3). What does that mean to you?

Pray

Loving God, help me to do my part as a member of your Church, the Body of Christ, with humility, grace, and gratitude. Amen.

Thursday, July 15

Philippians 2:1-13

This text stands as a highwater mark in the New Testament letters we traditionally attribute to Paul. The apostle likely incorporated a hymn first composed for early Church worship. Like a good hymn, these lines convey profound truth.

With so much to unpack, I tried to be open to the preface (vv. 3-4) and the heart of this passage (v. 8). “Pride” isn’t mentioned, but Paul appeals to its opposite attitude, its spiritual alternative: the humility of Jesus who chose a path that led to his death, even death on a cross (v. 8), that  brutal instrument of capital punishment the Roman Empire used to make an example of anyone who defied its authority. 

Such a mindset doesn’t come naturally to weak, self-centered human beings. It originates in the Divine Creator, is embodied by the Incarnate Christ who became like the enslaved of humanity, and is instilled in us as a gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Yes, Christ-like humility can be modeled by the saints who preceded us and live among us. We can pray for it to blossom and flourish within us as well. We can pursue, practice, and perfect it as learners and disciples of Jesus. But the power to choose the path of holy humility is first and foremost a grace-gift of God.

How can I find and follow this path? Start, Paul says, by choosing to put others first. That’s not my natural inclination. But being “full of myself” leaves no room for others and “selfish ambition or conceit” inevitably comes at the expense of others and my true self. Ultimately, pride and self-centeredness betray my motivations as counterfeit to the self-emptying Christ whose name I claim.

Consider

What one choice can you make this week to put another person first? What in  you needs to be “emptied” for this to be an act of spiritual humility?

Pray

God, I’m drawn to “upward mobility,” fueled by pride and selfishness. Give me courage to move toward the“downward mobility” Jesus embraced. Amen.

Wednesday, July 14

Luke 14:7-11

During my career of working for Baptist organizations, my position often included responsibilities for event planning. Additionally, my wife, Melanie, is an experienced wedding coordinator, meeting planner, and caterer. As organizers, hosts, and frequent attendees, we’ve had more than our share of seating charts and head table designations. 

I imagine it didn’t take long after the invention of the table (around 700 BC) for the idea of dinner parties to emerge, and for simple seating logistics to be overtaken by considerations of social standing. Whether the venue is set for a banquet, a conference, a political fundraiser, or, in Jesus’ parable, a wedding feast, the idea of a head table is simple: It’s where the most important people—dignitaries, guests of honor, keynote speakers—get to sit. 

We know how this works; we understand the power of status and the lure of recognition. Skeptics make the case that Jesus is merely suggesting a clever strategy that masks pride with a humble veneer. What if I test that notion by repeatedly volunteering for the “lesser” roles, the behind-the-scenes tasks? When my humble attitude and actions go unnoticed and unappreciated, what then? 

Jesus, as was his way, upends conventional wisdom and accepted custom. He flips the seating chart upside down and inside out. Guests invited to live in God’s Kingdom are to arrive with no expectations, no intent to finagle our way to seats of honor or tables of preferred guests. 

Humility is a spiritual posture that leaves room for surprise and grace. As for Jesus’ stunning “clincher” in verse 11, perhaps that also means leaving our notions about being “exalted” up to God.

Consider

What might be required for you to gravitate to a more “humble seat” in situations where your standing in the eyes of others really matters to you? 

Pray

O God, may I welcome Jesus’ invitation to find the humble seats in my life, and by doing so, glimpse him sitting with me at the table of grace. Amen.

Tuesday, July 13

Mark 12:38-39

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus calls out the pretentiousness and pride of the religious leaders of his day. Before I chime in with a hearty “amen,” or a “you tell ’em, Jesus!”, I need to listen to his warning more deeply. I don’t want to be like “those people,” the scribes and Pharisees. Yet, I have wanted to be like them, to benefit from the perks that come with positions of honor and influence. And while I pat myself on the back for recognizing an air of moral superiority in some of today’s influential religious leaders, I fail to apply the same standard of measurement to myself or others who share my beliefs, politics, and prejudices.

So, this may be an occasion to “back the truck up” and unload some extraneous baggage. After creating some space to learn, I hear Jesus warning me not just to beware of the pharisaical pride of those who occupy high places in the religious sphere, but to also guard against this sin in my own life. Spiritual pride can conceal itself in the assumptions I make about my place in the stories told by and about Jesus. I readily assume that I’m among the favored ones: those God surely values for their devotion; the ones who are certain to hear the divine affirmation of “well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).

Truth be told, it feels good this side of heaven to be liked, especially to be liked, respected, and recognized as a religious leader, a person of influence in writing and speaking, someone who prays well in public. So, before I cast my figurative stone at others, may I be open to the ways Jesus’ warning applies to me. That stone, then, probably won’t feel so good in my hand.

Consider

Richard Rohr notes our tendency to make ourselves “separate and superior,” dividing the world into good and bad, righteous and sinner, while assuming we are on the “righteous” side. How might you resist that temptation?

Pray

Teacher, help me hear and heed your warnings about how pride can creep into my life, even in my religious devotion and spiritual commitment. Amen.