Steve Macchia Blog

In Humility

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Philippians 2:3.

After sitting in my prayer closet today with this verse from Philippians I saw with my very own eyes a delightful sampling of it lived out as an illustration for my prayerful reflection…and now it’s offered for you too.

How was it illustrated? Well, this morning our church services were canceled due to Hurricane Irene’s descent upon our region. It appears that our neighbor’s church wasn’t taking that precaution.

As I stood by our kitchen window cleaning out the coffee pot, I first noticed one of the young boys next door leap out of the garage into the torrential rain. He was apparently testing for the rest of the family how hard the rain was falling. He had a huge grin on his face and a delightful frolic to his aerobic movements. After running back into the garage, he and his older brother reemerged in the rain and jumped into the car. A moment later, their father appeared just outside the garage holding an open umbrella. Within a few seconds, his wife (the boys’ mother) stood reflectively under the umbrella and then nodded her readiness to make their way to the car. Her husband graciously put his left arm around her back and they proceeded together to the passenger side of the car. After safely and without unnecessary raindrops falling on her head or shoulders as the door was opened, she slipped into her seat. He gently closed the door, walked to the driver’s side and off they went to church (their weekly pattern all the years they’ve been our neighbors). You get the picture.

Humility at its root is a choice of the heart to consider the humility of Christ and determine in heart, soul, mind and strength, to follow his costly example. Unselfish consideration of the needs and interests of another are the fruit of humility. The attitude of the God-honoring heart, inclined continuously toward Christlikeness, is what features life-changing service to another (from the simplest of tasks to the more onerous, challenging, pride-popping ones).

In our prayer books this past week there was a reading by Kallistos Ware that arrested me in its profundity. “At the sight of human sin (or need, my insertion), one wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ If you resolve on that once for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing like it.”

In humility…consider Christ and in turn consider others better than yourselves. Leap out in the rain for another; lift up an umbrella of loving protection; guide another to safety; and don’t let selfish ambition or vain conceit ever get in the way. There is nothing else that comes close to the gracious power of humble love offered in the name of Christ. Make that your single focus today!

Competition in the Body

There’s a contest going on right now among ministries who are all vying for a $50,000 grant. The contest was set up by a foundation, with the hope of finding the best ministry making the most life change somewhere in the world. The campaign organizers are getting ministries to sign up, submit application, and then encourage their respective members and friends to go online and vote for them. The one with the most votes wins (with second and third prize winners too).

I’ve been troubled by this approach to grant proposal writing since the day I first heard about it. We (LTi) were asked to be in the beta test group. We denied the request. I sent in my comments, even voiced my concerns to one of the organizers on the phone. But to no avail…the contest was launched and a few dozen organizations to date have subscribed. I’ve seen a few ministry announcements about the contest enter my inbox and was even invited via email to quickly go and vote for one ministry vying for the big prize. Each time I’ve seen or heard about this contest, I’ve had a check in my spirit.

Does this competitive approach belong in the Christian community? For that matter, does competition of any stripe belong among Christians, churches, or organizations? In the case of this one particularly blatant competition, it appears to me that all should be winners since I don’t see anything that smacks of loser anywhere among their applicants. Isn’t there a “better way” to approach this form of generosity? Isn’t there simply a better way than competition?

Frankly, I see zero evidence for promoting competition within or among the body of Christ in the biblical text. In fact, quite the contrary. Instead, I hear for example, Jesus’ words that speak of unity and oneness, and from the Apostle Paul teachings on humility and favoring others above yourself. In John 17 we listen in on Jesus’ prayer for unity among the Godhead, his 1st Century disciples, and among the church today. In 1 Corinthians 12 we read about the body of Christ, where every part matters, all are necessary to the functioning of the whole, each member interdependently connected to one another by God himself. In the body there is to be no division whatsoever.

The enemy of our souls – the only one we’re to be in competition with – loves to stir up competition among the body of Christ. And, unfortunately, the body is riddled with competition today; not just in the foundation mentioned above. Competition’s everywhere you turn…Christians, churches, schools, publishing houses, and organizations all vying continuously for what’s perceived to be limited time, talent and treasure.

Most specifically, a spirit of competition resides within your heart and mine. If we’re honest with ourselves and one another, we too struggle with competition and a drive to be seen, heard, and recognized more than others. Where are you most competitive today? Why? Confess that before the Lord, ask for his gracious forgiveness, and lean instead in the direction of open-handed generosity of heart, mind and will to all who cross your path.

Instead of competition in the body of Christ I would suggest there is a higher calling…and it includes such virtues as lovingly gracious cooperation, patiently prayerful community, and an over-the-top generous commitment to one another no matter what. That’s how and when the world will truly come to know Christ. This, I suggest, is the better way.

Not in part, but the whole

In a recent conversation with a leader who confessed his sin to me, I quickly assured him of God’s cleansing work of grace-filled forgiveness. I reminded him that his honest, candid authenticity will lead him out of the dark chamber of shamefulness and into the wide open space of salvation-filled freedom. Yes, his sin is to be recounted with a heartfelt voice of deep remorse, but the fruit of his confession will lead him to joyful freedom and release from the captivity of sin. Sin creates bondage; confession and forgiveness leads to the emancipation of the heart and renewed life in Christ.

“As far as the east is from the west” – that’s the distance that God removes our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12). God is short on memory and long on forgiveness. Why are we so consistently the opposite: short on forgiveness and long on memory?

When Horatio Spafford wrote the hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul” he was reeling from two major traumas of his life…the great Chicago Fire in 1871 which ruined him financially; and, while crossing the Atlantic, all four of his daughters died in a collision with another ship. “Saved alone” were the two sole words of the telegram he received from his wife Anna. Several weeks later, as his own ship passed near the place where his daughters died, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write this hymn. It’s a classic hymn, filled with hope and promise no matter the circumstances of one’s life here on earth.

In the middle of the hymn are the words, “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

The next time you find yourself confessing your sin to God or a trusted confidante, know with great certainty and growing confidence that your sin – not in part, but the whole – is nailed to the cross, forgiven, and forgotten forevermore. May these words breathe comfort and joy into the depths of your too-oft-sinful-being. Hallelujah! I’m forgiven! It is well with my soul!

Unless the Lord…

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” Psalm 127: 1.

How would you fill in the blank above? The psalmist reminds us that unless the Lord is the builder of the house, and the protector of the city, those who toil in the same fashion do so in vain. Yes, in vain.

As I have sat with this psalm in my prayer closet recently, I’m reminded of the many times I’ve attempted to labor on my own strength. How many times I’ve disregarded the Great Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – God himself – and lived life, made decisions, built relationships on my own will-power. Absent from any true attentiveness to the Lord.

Leadership Transformations comes alongside leaders and teams and reminds them that “unless the Lord….” is at the center of their lives and ministries, they will indeed strive to build (ministry, relationships, households, etc.) in vain. God wants us to be totally dependent upon him; not just partially or when it’s most urgent or convenient. 24/7 we are to lean on the Lord for daily sustenance, wisdom, joy and peace.

Just this past week I was with one of the leaders we serve and we were commenting together about the significance behind the phrase “Unless the Lord…” We both agreed that if this were the posture of our daily prayers and service to the body of Christ, we would become all the more attentive to the Lord’s ongoing provisions and grace.

When we acknowledge our need for the Lord to build and protect, he gently and generously provides. In Psalm 127, the gift he gives as a result of trusting him is “sleep to those he loves” (vs. 2b). Rest. Sleep. Comfort. Peace. What a great image…those who trust in the Lord find genuine rest in him!

God bless you with the abundance of his grace, mercy and peace. Trust him every step of the way. The journey is lavishly rich when we’re wide open to say “unless the Lord…” and then receive his abiding rest in all our ways.

Entrees to the Soul

What is it for you that opens up your soul, the place where God alone seeks to reside? For me, in addition to personal and corporate worship, there are two major entrees: creation and music.

In creation, when I am near any body of water (stream, brook, river, lake, ocean, cove, etc.) there’s something about this part of creation that stirs my soul. As I’m writing this blog I’m looking out on a Cape Cod (MA) inlet with swans gracing the placid sea marsh, a handful of sail boats moving slowly across the salt water, and green foliage everywhere surrounding this small body of water. This sight is brimming with vitality and my soul comes alive when I consider how creative God is in designing this luxurious setting for his people to enjoy. in addition to bodies of water, my soul sings with majesty and awe at the sight of dramatic mountains, dynamic storms, four-legged creatures, birds in flight, blooming gardens, delightful sunsets, and wide open spaces. God’s creation is amazing to consider.

In music, when i hear God-honoring lyrics harmonizing with the sounds of instruments being played by those who are gifted to compose and play their songs, I’m brought to a sense of worshipful wonder. My soul especially resonates with the great hymns of the church, written over the centuries to emphasize good theology and meaningful praxis for the body of Christ. Singing alone, in choruses and in congregations makes my soul swell with joy – whether in absolute delight in God or as I’m touched in a deep and tender place within. God’s gifted song-writers, singers, and instrumentalists bring music to our ears and minister grace to our souls.

The most natural default of my innermost being, drawing me into the presence and praise of God, is through the mediums of creation and music. These two entrees into my soul bring to life the reading and receiving of God’s Word, my ability to listen for God’s still small voice in prayer, and my inmost desire to become ever more reflective about my life in Christ.

What are the entrees into your soul? Pay attention to the ways you invite God into the place he longs to reside: at the center of your heart and soul. He’s more than eager to meet you there!