Psalm 75 – Don’t Talk Out the Side of Your Neck

We give thanks to you, O God;
    we give thanks; your name is near.
People tell of your wondrous deeds.

At the set time that I appoint,
    I will judge with equity.
When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants,
    it is I who keep its pillars steady.
I say to the boastful, “Do not boast,”
    and to the wicked, “Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high
    or speak with insolent neck.”

For not from the east or from the west
    and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
    putting down one and lifting up another.
For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed;
he will pour a draught from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs.
But I will rejoice forever;
    I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
    but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted. (New Revised Standard Version)

Way back in my college days, there were some lively characters within my group of friends and acquaintances. One of those friends had a phrase he called people out on, whenever he discerned there was some sort of insincerity or disingenuous talk… 

“Quit talkin’ out the side o’ ya’ neck!” he would say with a great deal of flavor. My friend’s phrase perfectly captures the psalmist when he exhorts the boastful person not to speak with an insolent or haughty neck.

Indeed, God will judge everyone on earth with equity, without favoritism. The Lord has no tolerance for evil speech. 

A telltale sign of the wicked is that they show ingratitude; they aren’t thankful. An ungracious boss will always point out mistakes and missteps; and rarely or never seeks to affirm someone for a job well-done. In those rare times when a “thanks” is given, its so mechanical that the person receiving feels the abject insincerity of it.

The parent who sparingly expresses gratitude tends to liberally correct and discipline, leaving the child in a pool of guilt and shame. Folks who enjoy airing their own opinions are usually bereft of thanksgiving; they leave in their wake of harsh words a group of angry or discouraged people.

You will likely not hear any of the aforementioned persons forthrightly declare the mighty acts of God. Rather, they highlight their own actions, even stealing the deserved attention of another onto themselves. Yet, the arrogant and insolent person will meet their match with the sovereign God who humbles and exalts according to divine standards of justice, mercy, and love.

Instead of talking out the side of our necks, the godly use their tongues in a different manner: They give thanks and practice gratitude for God’s wondrous deeds. 

The way to avoid the hubris of the proud person is to use our speech for thanksgiving. Humble, encouraging, and generous words cannot co-exist in the same sentence as insincere proud boasting. 

Freedom from useless, selfish, and harmful gibberish requires more than a decision to stop talking that way; it also includes a determination to speak words of encouragement, gratitude, and kindness. The following can be helpful advice when facing our own pride:

  1. Confess when you’re wrong. Acknowledge and admit the sinful speech without trying to put a spin on it to make it sound less offensive. Ask what you can do to make it right. Ask for forgiveness.
  2. Lighten up, man. Don’t take things so seriously. Learn to laugh at yourself. We all have our quirks, and we all make mistakes. Most stuff isn’t worth getting upset over. And some people are definitely not worth giving the satisfaction of making you get in a huff. Let it go, dude.
  3. Be good to yourself. Treat yourself with greater kindness. Arrogance is often a byproduct of failing to practice healthy self-care. Whenever we are obsessed with looking good and being good, we place unrealistic expectations not only on ourselves, but others, as well. It comes out in a “I-know-what-is-best-so-do-what-I-say” sort of attitude.
  4. Wake up and realize you are not always right. Arrogant people tend to think they are right most of the time, that their truth is the only truth that really matters. You’ve probably been wrong more than you realize, but arrogance tends to blind us to our own shortcomings. Not every battle is worth fighting. Sometimes you just have to smile and let things go.
  5. Learn to delegate. Let other people take the lead. Humility allows us to serve under another person or as a less dominant member of a team. Other people are not nincompoops. You aren’t the only one who can do the job.
  6. Ask for help. It takes humility to ask for help.Arrogant people wrongly believe they can do it themselves, especially thinking they are the best person for everything. Old Satan still believes he can do a better job of running the world than God. Don’t be like Satan.
  7. Offer meaningful encouragement and thanks. Go out of your way to build up others and thank them for their efforts and the job they did.
  8. Treat everyone with respect. No matter their position or station in life, acknowledge each human being as worthy of kindness and respect.

Remembering God’s gracious works in the world, and using our tongues to recount them, has the effect of putting us in our proper place and shooing away the arrogance.

One way of expressing gratitude to God is to take a few minutes each day, pause, and give thanks for the things you notice. 

If you take a walk, be intentional about noticing God’s creation. Then, give thanks for the specific things you see. At your workplace, take note of the blessings around you, and express gratitude for each of them. At home, notice the simple pleasures of being with family and be sure to offer God praise for them. 

For, if we do not observe the Lord in the common and the mundane, we will likely miss God when he shows up in the dramatic and the awesome.

Almighty God, you are the rightful Judge of all the earth. Today I forsake all proud and haughty speech, and, instead, give thanks to you for your mighty acts of salvation and deliverance in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 138 – Humility and Hubris

I give you thanks, O Lord, with all my heart;
    I will sing your praises before the gods.
I bow before your holy Temple as I worship.
    I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness;
for your promises are backed
    by all the honor of your name.
As soon as I pray, you answer me;
    you encourage me by giving me strength.

Every king in all the earth will thank you, Lord,
    for all of them will hear your words.
Yes, they will sing about the Lord’s ways,
    for the glory of the Lord is very great.
Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud.

Though I am surrounded by troubles,
    you will protect me from the anger of my enemies.
You reach out your hand,
    and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
    for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Don’t abandon me, for you made me. (New Living Translation)

The God of Holy Scripture is no uppity highfalutin Being. However, amongst humanity, those with established pedigree, high position, and influential power tend not to hobnob with the common person. In their hubris, they believe themselves to be above the common person.

Not so with the Lord of the universe. God consistently cares for humble folk. The Lord intentionally seeks the average commoner and draws near to them. The Creator bends down to meet lowly creatures at their level.

Conversely, the Lord stays out on the margins of proud and arrogant people. God stands straight up and looks down from afar on the haughty who believe they are above others. The privileged and powerful in the world will experience divine distance, mostly because their attitudes and actions put the stiff arm toward God.

One of the most frustrating experiences in life is to have someone in power arrogantly misjudge you. Rather than carefully listening and offering gracious attention, the proud already assume they know what’s going on and what is best for others.

So, like a bull about to enter a China shop, or a timebomb ready to explode, human hubris of the heart violates and blows up another’s life based upon misinformation and faulty egotistical assumptions.

Yet, God sees. From a lofty place, clearly observing all creaturely activity, the Lord knows what is truly happening. And God is not okay with injustice perpetrated by cocky roosters and pretentious autocrats. Everyone will experience God’s power. It’s just a matter of what type of power one receives.

The Lord’s saving and sustaining power will uphold the humble of heart. However, the power of God’s wrath is the lot of puffed up peacocks who only care about getting their way. Their own puny power will be eventually stripped away and given to those who will wield it with grace.

The difference between the proud and the lowly is evidenced by their prayers. Megalomaniacs are concerned for material acquisitions, high positions, and fame. And their prayers reflect those ambitions. The meek, however, pray for increased spiritual strength to withstand trouble; enlarged hearts to hold more of God; and acceptance of whatever the Lord wants, whether it is for personal good or ill.

The arrogant may accomplish many good things. It’s possible for them to achieve greatness through outstanding work and incredible feats. Yet, God knows the real score. Jesus said:

“Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter God’s kingdom. The only people who will enter are those who do what my Father in heaven wants.On that last Day many will call me Lord. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, by the power of your name we spoke for God. And by your name we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ Then I will tell those people clearly, ‘Get away from me, you people who do wrong. I never knew you.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ERV)

Self-absorbed people enjoy their own presence and narcissistically believe everyone else should, too. Yet, ordinary people, being attentive to the common good of all persons, rely on the presence and protection of God for everyone and everything.

Whereas the vainglorious person trusts in their own ability to achieve and hold power so that they can smugly boast about their superiority, on the contrary, the meek are content to labor for the Lord in relative obscurity, to try and use their skills and aptitude for the benefit of their fellow humanity. God holds them tightly and securely. But not so with the egotistical. They will fall because they were never in God’s hand to begin with.

If the humble are weak, that’s okay. Because God is strong. If they are in trouble, no problem. The Lord has their back. They can let go, knowing there is a God who doesn’t. And that is the irony to the spiritual life – that in releasing and relinquishing we gain and acquire.

The truly humble of heart shall be vindicated by God from the wicked. For the Lord’s steadfast love will have the day.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are terribly sorry, and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us so that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Acts 7:54-8:1 – Humility and Hubris

A 10th century depiction of Stephen’s martyrdom

When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (New International Version)

Although I am a trained in biblical exegesis and hermeneutics (interpreting Scripture) I believe that most insights come from making simple observations about the text. So, I want to point out: Stephen was not martyred by the Romans, a religiously pagan group, or Gentile people; he was martyred by those of his own ethnicity, by the people of God.

They weren’t simply unhappy with Stephen. The Sanhedrin (the Jewish ruling council) were incensed with him, so mad that they were grinding their teeth at him. The council truly believed Stephen was a blasphemer of God, that what he was saying was so subversive and religiously radical, they could stone him to death with a clear conscience, as if it were upholding God and God’s Law.

The result was not only the death of a humble man; it also sparked an intense persecution against the church which caused a new Christian diaspora. Many believers in Jesus now found themselves as Christian refugees trying to eke out a living and worshiping Christ in foreign places.

I wish I could say the greatest opposition I’ve ever experienced as a Christian came from non-Christians who simply misunderstood and misinterpreted me. However, my most hurtful wounds have come from the hands of church folk, believing they were acting on God’s behalf by exacting an emotional martyrdom upon me with the stones of gossip, slander, backbiting, blame-shifting, and outright lying.

Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.

Whenever I encounter persons who no longer attend church and have no intention of ever returning to any local congregation, I get it. I understand. I’ve been there. Yet, although the church is sometimes like a woman of disrepute, I still love her, and will do whatever I can to edify her and not repay evil with evil.

Stoning a believer, either actually with physical rocks or virtually with metaphorical stones, is akin to persecuting Jesus himself. That’s because Christ so closely identifies with his people that it is as if he is a head, and his followers are a body – joined together in a vital union.

So, when Christ’s Body is subjected to hermeneutical hubris in which one group of people insists there is only one way to interpret Scripture, and then uses it’s authority and structures of power to force compliance on another group, the result is persecution.

And that is precisely why Christians can abuse other Christians.

Rather than discerning that all Christians belong to God, one narrow-minded and small-hearted group excludes all other groups who disagree with them as blaspheming the name of Christ.

Insisting, for example, that a literal interpretation in the only means of understanding the Bible’s authority is to ignore and abuse the actual and real authority which exists with the Bible. I am in no way encouraging an “anything goes” type of approach to Holy Scripture that lets it say whatever you want it to say. 

What I am stating is that the biblical writers themselves employed different methods of interpretation, as well as the early church fathers (which is one reason I hold to the interpretive guides of the ancient Christian creeds, i.e. The Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed).

Far too often churches stick to a particular interpretation because they believe they are keeping biblical fidelity. This is many times born of a fear that Christendom will be lost, and society will sink into an abyss of egregious sin. The irony is that many churches are sinking into forms of abusive and ungracious behavior by fighting battles that Scripture itself never calls them to fight.

The binary thinking of “I’m right and you’re wrong” is not an approach you’ll find in God’s Holy Word.

Even if the Sanhedrin in Stephen’s day intended on upholding the holiness of their God and the rightness of their cause, the impact it had on the church was death and diaspora.

Unfortunately, throughout Christian history, the tables have too often turned with Christians persecuting Jews. I myself would like to avoid being the persecutor. If I kill anything, may it be putting to death my own sin.

Gracious God, as your Son humbled himself on this earth, so may your church walk continually in such humility that believers everywhere work together in unity for the sake of gospel of grace as a blessing to the world in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 138 – The Lord Will Defend the Humble

I give thanks to you with all my heart, Lord.
    I sing your praise before all other gods.
I bow toward your holy temple
    and thank your name
    for your loyal love and faithfulness
        because you have made your name and word
        greater than everything else.
On the day I cried out, you answered me.
    You encouraged me with inner strength.

Let all the earth’s rulers give thanks to you, Lord,
    when they hear what you say.
Let them sing about the Lord’s ways
    because the Lord’s glory is so great!
Even though the Lord is high,
    he can still see the lowly,
    but God keeps his distance from the arrogant.

Whenever I am in deep trouble,
    you make me live again;
    you send your power against my enemies’ wrath;
    you save me with your strong hand.
The Lord will do all this for my sake.

Your faithful love lasts forever, Lord!
    Don’t let go of what your hands
    have made.
(Common English Bible)

“God opposes everyone
   who is proud,
but is kind to everyone
    who is humble.”

James 4:6, CEV

God Cares

God consistently cares for lowly and humble folk. The Lord continually draws near to them. God bends down to meet them at their level. Conversely, the Lord hangs out on the margins of proud and arrogant people. God stands straight up and looks down from afar on such persons. They will experience divine distance, mostly because their attitudes and actions put the stiff arm toward God.

One of the most frustrating experiences in life is to have someone in power arrogantly misjudge you. Rather than carefully listening and offering gracious attention, the proud already assume they know what’s going on and what is best. So, like a bull about to enter a china shop, or a timebomb ready to explode, human hubris of the heart violates and blows up another’s life based upon misinformation and faulty egotistic assumptions.

God Sees

Yet, God sees. From a lofty place, clearly observing all creaturely activity, the Lord knows what is truly happening. And God is not okay with injustice perpetrated by cocky and pretentious autocrats. Everyone will experience God’s power. It’s just a matter of what type of power one receives.

Saving and encouraging power will sustain and uphold the humble of heart. However, the power of God’s wrath is the lot of puffed up peacocks who only care about getting their way. Their own puny power will be eventually stripped away and given to those who will wield it with grace.

The difference between the proud and the lowly is evidenced by their prayers. Megalomaniacs are concerned for material acquisitions, high positions, and fame. And their prayers reflect those ambitions. The meek, however, pray for increased spiritual strength to withstand trouble; enlarged hearts to hold more of God; and acceptance of whatever the Lord wants, whether it is for personal good or ill.

God Knows

The haughty might do many things which are good. It’s possible for them to achieve greatness through outstanding work and incredible feats. Yet, God knows the real score. Jesus said:

“Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter God’s kingdom. The only people who will enter are those who do what my Father in heaven wants. On that last Day many will call me Lord. They will say, ‘Lord, Lord, by the power of your name we spoke for God. And by your name we forced out demons and did many miracles.’ Then I will tell those people clearly, ‘Get away from me, you people who do wrong. I never knew you.’” (Matthew 7:21-23, ERV)

Self-absorbed people enjoy their own presence and narcissistically believe everyone else should, too. Yet, ordinary people, being attentive to the common good of all persons, rely on the presence and protection of God for everyone and everything.

God Helps

Whereas the vainglorious person trusts in their own ability to achieve accomplishments and hold power so that they can smugly boast about their superiority, on the contrary, the meek are content to labor for the Lord in relative obscurity, to try and use their skills and aptitude for the benefit of their fellow humanity. God holds them tightly and securely, but not so with the egotistical. They will fall because they were never in God’s hand to begin with.

If the humble are weak, that’s okay. Because God is strong. If they are in trouble, no problem. The Lord has their back. They can let go, knowing there is a God who doesn’t. And that is the irony to the spiritual life – that in releasing and relinquishing we gain and acquire. We shall be vindicated by God from the wicked. For the Lord’s steadfast love will have the day.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are terribly sorry, and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us so that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.