Humble Piety

Today’s readings:
Psalms 46 or 47; 147:12-20, Isaiah 65:1-9, Revelation 3:1-6, John 6:1-4


The Gospels may be “The Good News,” but many of the things Jesus taught us – or perhaps more accurately re-taught us – were good and old. Centuries before Jesus reminded the people of his day that true obedience to God meant embodying a spirit of mercy and justice – rather than mercilessly following the letter of the law – Old Testament prophets had tried to deliver the same message. Isaiah told the exiled nation of Israel she had lost God’s favor because of her “holier than thou” attitude (not even paraphrasing – see Isaiah 65:5). Their burnt offerings, once a pleasing fragrance, became a stench in God’s nostrils as they substituted superficial piety for love and mercy.

Flash forward 800 years, and no one seemed to have learned anything. The occupying force may have changed from Babylon to Rome, but the Jewish people still needed to hear they were like whitewashed tomb: dressed up on the outside, but decaying inside. Flash forward another millennium or two and – no surprise – followers of Jesus need to hear we might be a little too focused on displays of piety and not enough on mercy. Who are the prophets of the message this time? Certainly many voices from within the church, but more telling are the voices of outsiders looking in. Surveys consistently reveal that non-Christians perceive Christians as hypocritical and judgmental. When non-believers are filling in for Isaiah and Jesus, it’s time to take note.

Misplaced piety seems to be a chronic condition of the faithful. And lest we begin to feel too superior for reigning in our own pious impulses … that’s a form of it also. The good (old) news is that prophets speak because there is always hope we will listen and change our ways. Sowing mercy and justice is challenging work. It’s much more comfortable to check off lists and to follow familiar rules than to listen to the voices telling us we need to reevaluate what we think God wants from us – especially when that might mean others will look down on us. When we feel challenged, “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” (Rev 3:6).

Comfort: God’s message to us has remained constant.

Challenge: We have to do the work of properly understanding it.

Prayer: God of Grace, teach me to be merciful.

Discussion: We are all sometimes guilty of hypocrisy. What do you do when you find yourself acting like a hypocrite?

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Pie(ty) in the Face

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, 2 Kings 9:1-16, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


If a Christian prays in a forest and nobody hears, does she or he make a sound?

Maybe the answer to that question is, “God hears either way.”

Jesus taught his disciples not to be flashy about their faith, unlike the people who fasted and made sure to look miserable, or the alms-givers who literally trumpeted about their gifts, or the people who offered long and loud prayers on street corners. Instead he instructed them pray privately, fast discreetly, and give secretly. Ostentatious faith gathers the reward of attention, but not a heavenly reward.

It’s once we leave the seclusion of the spiritual forest that we learn whether we’ve spent our time there wisely learning to live and spread the gospel, or simply trying to persuade God to notice us. Flamboyant demonstrations of faith move the spotlight off of Christ and onto us. The evidence of a heart transformed by Christ is in how we love people, regardless of whether anyone ever acknowledges or even knows we’ve loved them. Is it possible to spread a gospel containing the idea the last are first and the first are last if we always seem to be going for gold in the piety Olympics?

When Elisha dispatched a young prophet to tell Jehu in private that God had anointed him to depose King Joram and become the new king of Israel, Jehu played it down to his fellow commanders. He dismissed it by saying, “You know how those prophet types are!” but his colleagues forced a confession out of him. Though he died about 800 years before Christ was born, Jehu understood the power of spiritual humility.

In her song These Old Bones, Dolly Parton sings about a woman with a prophet-like gift for seeing the truth. The woman says, “But unless somebody just plain out and asked me, well, I just figured there ain’t no point goin’ around actin’ like you know everything, just ’cause you might.” Humble authenticity, not an overwhelming display, is the key to winning people over. Though our witness is certainly part of our evangelistic toolkit, the moral of our story is not “Christ saved me,” but “Christ’s sacrifice was for everyone.”

Comfort: You don’t have anything to prove to anyone.

Challenge: So stop trying.

Prayer: Lord where there is despair, let me sow hope. Amen.

Discussion: Where and how do you like to pray?

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TV or not TV?

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 97; 147:12-20, 1 Samuel 2:27-36, Acts 2:22-36, Luke 20:41-21:4


There are two kinds of people who tell you they don’t own a television. (OK, there are probably more but they don’t help further this illustration). The first mention it matter-of-factly because it is pertinent to the conversation. The second deliver the information kind of smugly, often unnecessarily, and their tone lets us know they feel a bit superior about it.

The scribes Jesus criticized fell into that second camp. Televisions weren’t an option, but their public prayers were overloud and overlong, their tasseled robes (a symbol of piety) hung longer than necessary, and they generally made sure the world knew they were that little bit extra. Jesus told them the recognition they sought in this life would be the only reward they received.

Our expression of faith should not be a performance. There’s no medal to be won in the piety olympics, and we don’t get a better table in heaven because we looked down our noses at non-believers. On the other hand, we shouldn’t make an idol of humility either. Everyone knows the martyr who just won’t die – the person who constantly abases him or herself unnecessarily and obviously. The one who misses dessert at every church social to personally wash the two hundred dirty dishes – even if they have to block the kitchen door to do it.

So if we are to live lives holy and apart, yet not be showy, what’s the balance?

Maybe it’s not spending any time at all worrying about whether or not people see what you do. Say grace in a restaurant, but keep it to the table. List volunteering at the homeless center on your resume,  but don’t humblebrag it. Share stories about your church group’s mission trip, but tell them in a way that glorifies God, not your self-actualization. Work with disadvantaged youth, but don’t use them as props in selfies. Wash the dishes, but welcome the help.

Jesus praised the widow who quietly gave her last cent. When we serve as faithfully as she did, we stop focusing on our own pride or humility and start focusing on Christ.

Read more on today’s passage from Luke in Puzzling It Out.

Comfort: God knows your heart. That is enough.

Challenge: Think less about yourself.

Prayer: God, I humbly offer my hands and heart for the work you would have me do. Amen.

Discussion: Have you ever done something for the wrong reasons?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!