The Sin of Self Love

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
(Philippians 2:3)

Last week I began reading and commenting on Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions, exploring the destructive power of the chief sin of Pride. Continuing to examine the causes of divisions in the Christian’s heart and fellowship, Burroughs next turns to the dividing distemper of Self-Love.

I think this chapter is particularly relevant today. Our culture encourages “self-love” as a base of therapy. How often have we heard it said, “you have to learn to love yourself before you can love others”?  The popular mantra of the day is that healthy self-esteem is a prerequisite for a healthy relationship; that without sufficient self-love, we’re not capable of truly loving others.

The problem is, this is exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures say.  It’s not that we have to learn to love ourselves more, but that we loves ourselves too much.  Please understand me, I don’t mean that we should become self-loathing people without any self esteem. Indeed, the Scriptures show us that we were created in the image of God (Gen 1), with dignity and honor just below that of the heavenly beings (Psalm 8:5), and for those in Christ Jesus, God has set His love and affection on us since before the world was created (Eph 1:3), and has demonstrated that love by sending His Son to redeem us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Rom 5:8).  As comedian Brad Stine once said, “If the creator of matter thinks that you matter, that is the source of your self esteem.”

The problem of the human condition is not that we love ourselves too little, but that we love ourselves too much.  This self-love is the root and cause of nearly every public strife.  When we are motivated by self-love, Burroughs says, we have “no common ends to join us.”  If two people are filled with self-love, they will both be seeking their own ends, and therefore will eventually be at odds with one another.

It’s very interesting that Burroughs fills this chapter with illustrations from those serving in the public/political arena.  He writes of politicians who start with great intentions, saying they are there to serve the people, but end up serving only themselves.  (It’s a good thing that doesn’t happen these days.)

How does this Self-Love show itself?

  • Self-Love results in wickedness in men’s hearts: “Even those things that men acknowledge to be right and good in the general, yet if they shall not particularly suit with something they would have, it will put men upon the opposing.”  Driven by selfishness, we will abandon what we know to be right and good if it stands in the way of personal gain.  We will do wrong to get what we want rather than to do what is right and learn to be content with what we have.
  • Self-Love leads to blindness: “It causes men not to see their own evils, or if they do, to indulge themselves in them; but to be quick-sighted and severe in the discovering and opposing those evils that are in others, and this causes many breaches and fallings out.”  Think of Jesus in Matthew 7, all we can see is the speck in our brother’s eye, while we are blind to the plank in our own.
  • Self-Love makes us schemers: “It sets men’s wits on work, in all cunning craftiness, to fetch others about to their own ends.”  We use other people to achieve our selfish desires, and see others only as a means to our own ends, then discard them as soon as we have reached our goal. “Crooked windings are the goings of the serpent: but if a man shall not only seek to make use of another to serve his own turn by him, but after he hath done that, then to cast him off to shift for himself; this is so provoking a thing, that it makes breaches irreconcilable.”

This Self-Love, rather than being a cure to our personal problems, leads only to broken relationships.  “It is vile,” Burroughs says, “in the eyes of God.”

So what is the solution to this Self-Love?  Quite simply, the cure of Self-Love is Christ.  Were we to fix our hearts upon Him, to make His glory, His honor, His Word, His pleasure our chief delight, then our hearts would be unified under one Lord, one Savior, one Spirit, one Love.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”  Burroughs offers that as the answer to selfishness.  “If we owned [our selfish concerns] less; He would own them more. The more we deny them, the more hath he a care of them. We may, by our giving them up to the honor of Christ, make them to be among the number of his things, and then they would be precious indeed.  Let us make his things ours, and he will make our things his.”

Give your selfish cares to Christ, let Him attend to your every need.  Seek first Christ and His kingdom, and He will give you all things!


From the Pastor’s Desk – Some things I’ve been reading lately.

How the Two-Hour Marathon Limit Was Broken – Okay, so technically this is a video, and not something I read, but still very impressive. Consider, you have to run under a 4:35 pace per mile to do this. It is inspiring, and I can take comfort in the fact that my half marathon is still faster than this (barely).  Now it will be interesting to see if someone can break the 2-hour barrier in an actual race.

Disciple your Children – Here’s an encouraging and informative article for parents who feel unprepared to disciple their Children.

The Conversion of Kanye: There has been a lot of talk lately about prominent Christian leaders who have walked away from the faith.  Now there is news that Kanye West, hip-hop performer and producer, has come to faith in Jesus Christ.  This article is more about the Pastor who has been working with Many.  I think it is appropriate to rejoice when anyone who is lost comes to salvation, so I rejoice that Kanye has come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.  Still, I am leery of any kind of “celebrity culture” in the Church, so I pray that God will sustain Kanye, and help him to grow in grace, giving glory to God in all that he does.

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The Perilous, Pernicious and Pervasive Problem of Pride!

Following the recommendation of a fellow pastor, I have taken up a book by the great Puritan writer, Jeremiah Burroughs, and committed to reading just a section of his book each day.  Burroughs (1600-1646) was one of the Independent members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and a Congregationalist. He was so highly regarded by his peers that they published 13 volumes of his sermons after his death. The book that caught my attention was “Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.”   Like a good Puritan writer, Burroughs thoroughly explores each topic in depth before moving on to the next, but does so in a way that is relatable and applicable to our lives today.  

“Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions” examines the roots and effects of division in the body of Christ, and offers a forward-looking approach for healing the divisions. Burroughs’ study makes suggestions for greater unity, challenging the church to focus on moving ahead in its essential work. Just looking through the contents page will give some indication of where the book is going.  Under the Causes of Divisions, Burroughs addresses Pride, Self-love, Envy, Passion, Jealousy, Whispering, Meddling, and Revenge, just to name a few.

As I read through this work, I’ll give a brief reflection on Burroughs’ work, and I pray that God may bring healing, to our divided hearts and churches, through this study.

The first cause that Burroughs address is pride, which he calls “the chief dividing distemper.”  “It is the great incendiary in the soul of man, in families, in towns, in cities, in all societies, in church and state: this wind causes tempests to arise.” It is pride that hardens our hearts to the needs of those around us; pride that makes us blind to our own sinfulness; pride that keeps us from being useful to the Lord and His Church.  If we are to identify what causes divisions in our relationships and in the Church, the chief and underlying cause will always be our pride.

How does pride work in us? This is one of the great strengths of the Puritan writers: they don’t just name the sin, they examine how the sin really affects us.  Pride, Burroughs says, works in the following ways:

  • Pride makes a man think too great to be crossed:  its is beneath a proudful person to bear any injuries or offenses that others might cause.
  • Pride makes men swell beyond their bounds: “the way to keep all things in union is for every man to keep within his bounds: the swelling beyond tends to the breaking all in pieces.”
  • Pride hardens men’s hearts: “If you would have things cleave, you must have them soft; two flints will not join.”
  • Pride causes men to despise others: Seeking honor for himself, a proud man cannot tolerate other’s success, and cares nothing for others’ sufferings.
  • Pride causes every man to desire to be noticed: One way or another, either through good works that bring fame, or through clamor and opposition, a prideful person must be noticed.  “Proud spirits will venture the setting the temple of God, yea, church and state, on fire, that they may have a name; whatever they do or suffer to get a name, they will rather venture, than die in obscurity; that above all things they cannot bear.”
  • A proud man makes his will the rule of his actions, and would have it be the rule of other men’s too.

This, then, the perilous, pernicious and pervasive problem of pride.  It is worked into each and every heart, and must be driven out by God’s redeeming and purifying Spirit of grace.  Burroughs calls “every man look into his own heart, and see what pride hath been, and still is there, and be humbled before the Lord for this. All you contentious, froward, quarrelsome people, you are charged this day from God with being men and women of proud spirits, and what evil there is in our sad divisions, that pride in your bosom is a great cause of it.”

As we allow the Spirit to show us how deeply pride has set into our lives, we know that God’s work is not merely to crush us under the burden of sin.  “The Lord humbles us, that he may reconcile us, not only to himself, but to one another.”  When we realize how pride as come between us, and between us and God, it is so that we may repent, turn from our prideful ways, and be reconciled and restored by His great grace for us in Jesus Christ.  

SDG

Burroughs, Jeremiah. Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. New York: Carlton & Phillips, 1855. Print.
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Do You Do Well To Be Angry

And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
(Jonah 4:4)

I began to write some reflections on this passage today, when it all started to sound somewhat familiar.  I did some searching through my old posts on the blog, and found this article from over 12 years ago.  Two things came to mind: 1) I am grateful for the way in which the writing has held up over the years, and 2) I am saddened that I still struggle with the same prideful heart these 12 years later.

We are all in the midst of God’s transforming work, He’s not done with us yet.  May this word be cause for reflection, and a source of hope in overcoming anger.


In C. S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce, Lewis has a dream in which he finds himself on a bus ride from hell to heaven.  Along the way, he observes as various passengers on the bus either decide to turn back to hell because the transition is too much for them to bear, or they are transformed into those prepared to dwell in heaven forever.

During one such encounter, Lewis watches as a woman passes by, grumbling and babbling about nothing consequential, while her angel companion cannot get a word in edgewise.  He writes,

The shrill monotonous whine died away as the speaker, still accompanied by the bright patience at her side, moved out of sight.

‘What troubles ye, son?’ asked my Teacher.

‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation.  She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into the habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.’

‘That is what she once was.  That is maybe what she still is.  If so, she certainly will be cured.  But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’

‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’

‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me.  The questions is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble.  If there is a real woman – even the least trace of one – still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again.  If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear.  But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our eyes forever.  They must be swept up.’

‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’

‘The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing.  But ye’ll have had experiences… it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it.  And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it.  Ye can repent and come out of it again.  But there may come a day when you can do that no longer.  Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.’

C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.  (The Macmillan Co., New York, 1946)

I am always surprised to find how writers like Lewis, Brennan Manning, Blackaby, or Chambers seem to be writing specifically about me.  Perhaps Lewis struggled with grumbling and anger the way I do, that is how he could write with such wisdom.

I would not describe myself as an angry person.  I don’t yell and scream at people, I am usually considered pretty easy going.

But I know myself.  I know the rage that festers and fumes within, needing only the slightest catalyst to set it off.  Maybe its the lady at the grocery store with 25 items in the express lane, or the guy who parks his truck in the middle of the school parking lot, gets out of the truck, and casually walks his children to the door, meanwhile blocking the ten people behind him from dropping off their children and getting to the office on time.

I find myself fuming over the littlest of things.  It began as a grumbling mood, but I am afraid I have embraced it.  I pray I have not reached that day when I can no longer repent of it.  Then there will be no me left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.

God warns us against rage and anger.  In Genesis 4, Cain is angry with the world because God has accepted his brother’s sacrifice and not his own.  Gen. 4:5-6 reads, “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”

Wow – do I know that feeling.  Sin is crouching at the door, waiting to jump out and consume me.  God says I must rule over it, I must conquer this beast.  But it’s so difficult.  Part of me likes the rage, maybe I’m holding out for that moment when I get so mad I’ll start turning green, rip through my clothes and become the incredible Hulk (yeah, I read too many comics as a kid).

But getting angry at least gives me the feeling of having power.  I can fume and fuss and cut someone down and feel really good about myself – but that feeling is temporary at best.  I’ve held on to this anger for so long, now I don’t even know what I’m angry about, and the satisfying feeling that comes with the eruption is less and less each time.

I need a change of heart, a change of perspective.  I need God to soften my heart.  I need a little time under Jonah’s shade tree.

You see, I think Jonah had the same anger issues that I am dealing with.  Jonah was a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord called Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh.  As the story goes, Jonah refused to go and preach to his enemies, so he went the opposite direction, hiring a ship to take him to Tarshish.  While at sea, a terrible storm raged, and Jonah confessed his sin and was thrown overboard, only to be swallowed by a whale.  After three days, Jonah was thrown back out on the shore, and God told him again to go to Nineveh.

This time Jonah went, and he preached God’s message – a threat of impending doom if the people of the city did not repent of their evil ways.  Sure enough, the people repented, and God relented of the disaster.

Now, you would think that Jonah would be happy that over 120,000 people had responded to his message, but instead he was displeased, and angry with God.  He told God that he would rather die that see the Ninevites repent.  And God said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

So Jonah went out to a hill overlooking Nineveh, and he sat there, waiting to see what would happen.  As he waited, God planted a shade tree for Jonah, and this made Jonah really happy.  The next day, God put a worm in the tree so that when the sun came out, the tree withered and died.  Again, Jonah grumbled against God, “I would rather die…”  And God said again, “Do you do well to be angry?  You complain about a tree that you did not plant.  Should I not be concerned for Nineveh, for the 120,000 souls that are there?”

What Jonah needed was a change in perspective.  He was concerned with his reputation as a prophet, he didn’t want to be associated with these despised Ninevites. He was more concerned with his comfort and his reputation than with the souls that needed saving.

I need a change in perspective.  My anger comes from that deceptive and pervasive sin of pride.  I have put my needs, my comfort, my advancement, myself, above the needs of everyone else.  I only get upset because I don’t feel like I get the respect, the response I deserve.  God is saying to me again, “Do you do well to be angry?”  It is foolishness to hold on to this rage.  Prov. 14:29 teaches, “Whoever slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”  What a fool I’ve been.

‘Do you do well to be angry?”  I know the answer is “No.”  I pray that God will help me to rule over it.  This can only be done through the power of Holy Spirit – I can only conquer my fits of rage as the Spirit of God develops in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:21-22).  While I hold on to my anger I cannot hold on to Christ.  When I take up my ax, I cannot also take up my cross.  As long as the greenie-meanie lives I cannot say, “I have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

SDG

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Maintaining a Vibrant Worship Lifestyle

I’ve recently finished rereading A.W. Tozer’s book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship, a short but excellent book on worship, both public and private, as the goal of the Christian’s life.  Though Tozer died in 1963, his writing is still relevant for the church today.  Today, I’d like just to give a “Reader’s Digest” presentation of Tozer’s final chapter, Maintaining a Vibrant Worship Lifestyle. I find this both refreshing and challenging, and pray that his writing may inspire and encourage you in your life of worship before our Lord.


… Worship is not an event but a lifestyle. The more we treat worship as an event, the more it becomes a caricature of God’s intention, and is unacceptable to Him.  To maintain a lifestyle of worship, we must attend to it on a daily basis. If you regulate worship to a once-a-week event, you really do not understand it, and it will take a low priority in your life.

By nature, worship is not some performance we do, but a Presence we experience.  Unless in our worship we have experienced the Presence of God, it cannot rightly be called Christian worship… It is my contention that once we experience the actual presence of God, we will lose all interest in cheap Christianity with all its bells and whistles vainly trying to compete with the world.

For worship to be a vital part of everyday life, it must be systematically and carefully nurtured.  These are a few things that have helped me in my journey along the way with God.

Quiet: I firmly believe it is important to get still and wait on God. Noise is the enemy of the soul… Cultivating quietness is a missing discipline in today’s Christian church. There seems to be a wretched conspiracy in many churches to rob the saints of the quietness necessary to nature their inner life, which is hind in Christ in God.

Scripture:  All worship should begin with the Bible. This divine roadmap leads us to God. Put the Bible in a prominent place in your daily life and allow nothing to interfere with reading it and meditating on it. Our reading here should not be a marathon, but a slow, deliberate soaking in of its message. Bible reading calendars are no help here.  Often we regiment ourselves to a daily Bible reading schedule and hurry on in our reading to keep up. The importance of reading the Bible is not reading but fellowship with the Author.

Prayer: In your prayer life, quickly move beyond the idea of “getting things” from God. Prayer is not a monologue where we tell God what we think or want. Rather, it is a dialogue between two friends; an intimate fellowship that more often than not surpasses words.

Hymns: Let any new Christian spend a year prayerfully meditating on the hymns of Watts and Wesley alone, and he will become a fine theologian. It has been a successful ploy of the enemy to separate us from those lofty souls who reveled in the rarified atmosphere of God’s presence. I suggest you find a hymnbook and learn how to use it.

Devotional Reading: The devotional works of bygone saints can help us on our way. I am not thinking of those daily devotionals popular today. They have value for those just beginning their spiritual pilgrimage, but the growing Christian needs strong meat.

Simplify Your Life: The average Christian’s life is cluttered with all sorts of activities.  Too many things in our life just suck the life out of us and are not essential to wholesome living. We find ourselves rushing through the devotional aspects of our life to give predominance to mere activities.

Friendships: It is easy for our friends to distract us from our walk with Christ and from maintaining a vibrant life of worship. Cultivate friendships with this who have made He who is the Friend of sinners their constant companion.

Adapted from: Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Bethany House; Bloomington, MN. 2009) pages 177-185.

Readings from the Pastor’s Desk – Here are a few of the interesting articles I’ve come upon this week:

3 Things Not to Say at the Start of Worship: This one caught me short – do I say any of these things when we come together for worship?  Sometimes, as a worship leader, it’s difficult to know what to say, and you don’t wan to fall into a routine of saying the same thing every time you come together.  Just some food for thought.

Who is Richard Rohr?  I was recently asked this, and while I had heard the name, and was leery of his teachings, I wasn’t sure why?  Here is an article looking into the teachings of Richard Rohr that may be helpful.

What is the Emerging Church?  This is another question I was asked this week, and I wasn’t really prepared to answer.  While the Emerging/Emergent Church Movement was all the talk more than 10 years ago, you don’t read much of it today, though it still has left lasting effects on the church.

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I Am Your Greatest Good!

In the 2004 Disney Movies, The Incredibles, you will hear arguably the best line in an animated movie spoken by a character you never see.

As the final battle begins, the character Frozone frantically searches for his super-suit, so that he can assist the incredibles in saving the city.  Searching room to room, he cries out to his wife, “Honey, where is my super-suit.”  When she won’t tell him, not wanting him to leave, Frozone argues, “It’s about the greater good.” His wife’s reply, “Greater Good?! I am your wife! I’m the greatest good you are ever gonna get!”

greatest good

This scene was running through my mind as I was reading the opening chapter of Paul David Tripp’s, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands:

What is the best news you can imagine? What is your “If only….” dream? Is it becoming a multi-millionaire and buying the house of your dreams?  Perhaps it would be the job you have always wanted. Maybe your spouse would suddenly become the person you always hoped for, or your child would finally turn out all right, living responsibly and married to a wonderful person.  What would be your best news?

The way we answer that question says a lot about where we’ve placed our hopes, our expectations, our faith.  Our prayers, our longings before God, are usually fixed on the things we see right in front of us.  We pray for health, that we would know healing, strength, and peace; and we only feel like that prayer has been answered when we feel better.

We pray for our families, and expect that God’s blessing will result in success, a modest level of comfort and tranquility, and the absence of conflict or affliction.

We feel like God has fully blessed us when we have a happy and successful marriage, well-adjusted kids, the bills are paid, and we get along with everyone around us.  We tell ourselves, “This is as good as it gets. Who could ask for more?”

To be sure, all of these good things are blessings from God, who is the giver of every good gift and perfect gift. We should, indeed, be grateful when our lines fall in pleasant places.

Knowing, though, that our hearts are “natural idol factories” (thank you, John Calvin), we must recognize our propensity to turn the good gifts that God has given into gods themselves, thinking more of the gifts than the giver.  We receive His blessings, then think that the blessings are greater than the one who Blesses, and we miss the greatest blessing of them all, knowing and communing with Him.

Abraham was a man who lived trusting in the promise of God – a promise to make him into a great nation, to give him land, family, blessing.  Abraham trusted this promise, even when, after years, there was no fulfillment.  He knew great blessing, he knew victory in battle, he knew God’s provision.  Yet, He had no son.

You can imagine then, that Abraham said in his heart, “This is God’s blessing, this is as good as it gets.” He was grateful, and he didn’t waver in faith. Abraham simply told himself that the descendants would come through his servant Eliezer (Gen 15:2).

But God promised more.

In coming to Abraham, God said, “I am your shield, your reward shall be very great.”  Abraham thought he had all he could ask for, but God had a greater blessing in mind. It wasn’t tied to riches, land, or even the coming child, Isaac.  No, God’s greatest blessing was in the giving of Himself.  Abraham had just come through battle; God himself would be his shield.  Abraham had given up all the spoils of war; God himself would be his provision.

We are still like Abraham.  We see the good that God has given, and we become satisfied with the good, while forsaking the greatest good God has in store for us, a closer, fuller, richer communion with Him.  We fill our lives with the good stuff, and leave no room, make no thought, of the great.

Psalm 16:5 says, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.”  What is our chosen portion?  What is our “If only…” dream? It is more than just that job you’ve been hoping for. It is more than a clean bill of health. It is more than finally getting that weekend away, or that cabin by the lake.  Our chosen portion, our greatest good, is God Himself.

He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the very image of God, the incarnate Word of God, through whom God was reconciling us to Himself.  Because of Christ, the dividing wall of hostility, the curtain that kept us from God, has been town down, and we can have fellowship with God once again.   There is no greater good that we could know than to know the saving, redeeming, and faithful love of God through Christ Jesus the Lord.

There’s no need to scramble around for the sake of finding the greater good.  Rejoice in God’s goodness toward you, and press on to know Him better.  He is your God, your Creator, your Savior, your Friend. He is the greatest good you’re ever gonna get!

SDG


From the Pastor’s Desk – Here are some of the articles I’ve come across this past week.

Self-Examination – As we just celebrated the Lord’s Supper in worship, I thought this was a timely article.  We call the congregation to examine themselves as they receive the sacrament, so that they may receive in a worthy manner, but what does that really mean?  This brief article gives some helpful insight into our practice of examination.

On Sanctification – What role do we play in our own sanctification? This is a helpful article from Crossway that serves as a good reminder of our part in our own growth in holiness. “The reality is that our sanctification is ultimately dependent upon God. He is the one who brings us moment by moment, day by day, and who enables us to do those good works.”

A Gospel Driven Church – Here is an article that might help us refocus our ministry.  Why do we worship the way we do, do the ministries we do, do church the way we do? If it’s for anything other than the glory of God, we’re missing the point.  “A gospel-centered church is okay with its own decreasing – in reputation, in acclaim, in legacy, even in (gasp) numbers, but especially in self-regard – so long as it serves the increasing of the sense of the glory of God.”  Amen. Let it be so.

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Believing in The God of Creation

The day got away from me, and I jettisoned several attempts to write a new post for my blog. Since that wasn’t going to happen, I thought I’d “repost” something that I wrote about 9 years ago.  We’re staring out evening youth ministry tonight (thus my failed attempts at blogging), and our lesson tonight is on Genesis 1, the story of creation.  Here’s my article on the Benefits of Believing in a creator God.

Because the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth…

This is probably the most important reason.  God says it, that settles it.  It is often difficult to balance faith and reason, the weight of scientific evidence and the Word of God, but I must remember that this is the Word of God, and it is the rule of faith and life.  All of my thoughts and actions must be brought into submission to the Word of God.  In the end, all truth is God’s truth, so faith and science must lead us to their author.  For the time being, both my understanding of science and of God’s word are imperfect, so I must default to an inherent trust in the infallible Word of God.

Someone other than me is in control

What a relief to know that I am not at the center of the universe, that I am not the one responsible for causing the stars to shine and the worlds to turn.  Now sometimes I may think that I am, but believing in the God of Creation helps to bring me back to reality.

Francis Chan, in his book, Crazy Love, (chapter 2), puts it this way.  When we are stressed, we are saying that “the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control…How is it possible that we live as though [this life] is about us?… Frankly, you need to get over yourself.  The point of your life is to point to him.”

The God who created me, cares for me

This week I was reminded of the tornado that struck Wichita and Andover back in 1990.  I see on the news today that the volcano in Iceland continues to spew ash into the air, causing worries of water pollution, more volcano and earthquake activity, and financial crisis in Europe.  There are continued reports of war around the world and violence in our own communities.  If I did not know that the God of all creation called me His child, I would easily lose hope.  But God does know me, and in Jesus Christ, He saves me, He calls me by name, and He seals me with His Spirit that I may be assured of my salvation for eternity.  As Brad Stine says, “my self-esteem comes from the fact that the God of all creation loves me and esteems me.”

I have a purpose in life

I heard Cal Thomas say something along the lines of, “If you believe you came from slime, then to slime you will return.  But if you believe that God created you, you will live your life for Him.”  If God created us, it must have been for a reason (Jer 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you…”).  God has given us a purpose, and this is more than just a sense of calling or vocation.  Our purpose in life, to quote the Westminster Divines, is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Better yet, to quote scripture, is to be “conformed to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29).  We will find different ways of doing this; but our ultimate song will be “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

May your faith in the Creator God bring you strength and comfort today. 

SDG


From the Pastor’s Desk – Here are some of the things that have come across my desk this week:

Love Believes All Things: I found this to be a refreshing take on what Paul means when he writes in 1 Corinthians 13 that loves believes all things.  To think the best of others, and to give them the benefit of the doubt, is this not what it means to love and live in the community of Christ?

Why I’m Still an Evangelical: The way the word Evangelical is used today, there are many who would rather not be called by that name. It has taken on political baggage that does it a disservice.  Here the author writes: “An evangelical, by common definition, is a Christian who reads the Bible as if it’s actually true. This doesn’t mean that all evangelicals agree on everything the Bible says, but it does mean that we use it as our foundation of Truth. It’s a way of seeing and understanding the world: A worldview.” This is a helpful correction.

10 Things to Know About Reformed Theology: Like the previous article about Evangelicalism, I think Reformed Theology gets a bad reputation, and representation, sometimes.  Here is a neat little summary of what we mean by Reformed Theology.

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I don’t think that word means what you think it means…

i-do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means

Yes, I’m quoting Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride.

This line has been going through my mind all weekend as I was reading through David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character.  This book was assigned for a reading group that I am a part of, and it was challenging, and lead to great discussion.  In case you’re interested, here is my summary:

The gift of David’s Brooks, The Road to Character, is that the reader can get a glimpse into the struggle of a worldly man to improve himself using entirely worldly means.  Brooks gives the reader a gospel, albeit stripped entirely of the holiness of God, the destructive capacity of sin, the redeeming and saving work of Christ, and the transforming grace of the Holy Spirit. His is a secular, humanist, nihilist, and moralist gospel that, while using religious terms like holiness, sin, and grace, strip them entirely of their meaning and power. His biographies, while interestingly written, betray his own personality: a skepticism of faith, a fixation on sex, coupled with an unfounded optimism in human potential. The Readers Digest version would simply say: “We’re all messed up. Try harder.”

I think what bothered me most about the book was how close Brooks comes to the truth, but how far he lands from it in the end.  Like that one voice in a choir that is just off the note, slightly out of tune, that it makes the spine tingle.

Brooks talks of sin, but in very unbiblical terms.  We are not sinners, we are simply victims of sin.  “Sin is communal, while error is individual. You make a mistake, but we are all plagued by sins like selfishness and thoughtlessness… To say that you are a sinner is not to say that you have some black depraved stain on your heart”* (Page 54).  Brooks does his best to show that sin is something that needs to be addressed, but refuses to identify clearly what sin is. For Brooks, sin is a part of our soul that must be battled in moral decisions.

Our confession clearly teaches us that sin is “any want of conformity unto or transgression of God’s law,” and the Scriptures show us that the “wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).  We know futility of trying to wage the moral battle in our own strength, because we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1).  Our only hope is putting our faith in the sinless one, Jesus Christ, through whom we are counted as righteous in the eyes of God (Rom 4:23-25).

Throughout the book, Brooks also uses the term grace, but it is really hard to get an idea of what he means by that word.  In his conclusion, Brooks writes,*

We are all ultimately saved by grace,” but it’s what follows that makes me wonder if what he means by “grace” is what the Bible says about “grace.”  Brooks continues, “You are living your life and then you get knocked off course – either by an overwhelming love, or by failure, illness, loss of employment, or twist of fate… In retreat, you admit your need and surrender your crown… You are accepted. You don’t have to struggle for a place, because you are embraced and accepted. You just have to accept the fact that you are accepted (Page 265).

So close… and yet so far way.

Grace is that free gift of love, acceptance, and forgiveness that is the foundation of our hope for deliverance from sin, of security in this life and the next. I applaud Brooks in his insistence on grace as that which saves.  But any notion of grace that does not demonstrate the costliness of that acceptance, that is, grace without the cross of Jesus Christ, is a cheap, ineffective, and unsaving grace.

I read this and immediately thought of Bonhoeffer:**

Cheap grace is the preaching for forgiveness without requiring repentance; baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchants will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

It is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son… and it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God (Page 45).

Ultimately, Brooks’ book makes me grateful. I am grateful for the blessing of having a Biblical Worldview, a God-centered perspective of the world and of myself.  I am grateful to stand in the Reformed Tradition, with the Westminster Creed and Confession that help me to define and articulate my faith. I am grateful for the saints of God who have gone before me, and who walk with me still, who help me to know the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and to rest in that grace as I continue to battle against sin in my own life, all the while relying on Christ who has conquered the power of sin and death for me.

Let us know what we mean when we say things like sin, holiness, grace, and salvation, so that we can be clear in our witness, and so that we can rest secure in the grace of God for us in Jesus Christ!

SDG

* Brooks, David.  The Road to Character. (Random House; New York, 2016)
** Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship (Touchtone; New York, 1959)

From the Pastor’s Desk

Here are some articles from the past week that have caught my eye:

Preaching the Gospel and the Law: As I continue to preach through the Letter of James, I try to maintain the balance between the Law and Gospel, between grace and obedience, faith and works.  These aren’t contradictory themes, but doctrines that, rightfully understood, go hand in hand.  This article came as a good reminder in the midst of the study.

10 Things to Know About Church Discipline: After a great time of fellowship and prayer with a group of fellow pastors, I was reminded of the importance of the ongoing, faithful, and prayerful practice of Church Discipline.  As this article points out, there are two main types of discipline, Formative and Corrective, and both need to be maintained for a healthy congregation, but also for healthy individuals within the congregation.

SmarterEveryDay: I try not to spend a lot of time on YouTube, otherwise I get sucked into a time-consuming vortex of videos.  Still, every now and then, you come across some videos that are terrific.  I love watching Destin with Smarter Every Day. His curiosity is contagious, and we all should have such a desire to learn and understand the world around us. I love that he involves his families in a lot of the videos too. Enjoy!

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