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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pride & Humilty: Some Favorite Quotes

This morning during our worship service we took a look at a picture of pride & a picture of humility served up by Jesus himself in the Parable of the Pharisee & the Tax Collector (Luke 18: 9-14). I was looking over the wealth of quotes & stories I've collected over the years on pride & humility -- probably because I'm very 'familiar' with one of the two qualities (shhh...which one I'll never tell). I share with you some ones that have really impressed themselves upon me. Enjoy.

"Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall." - King Solomon, Proverbs 16:18

“Pride is seldom delicate, it will please itself with very mean advantages.” – Samuel Johnson, said through Imlac in Rasselas.

“God uses men and women who are weak and feeble enough to depend on Him.” - Hudson Taylor (Missionary)

In speaking to Brother Leo who felt down & out because of his own mediocrity and weightiness of sin, St. Francis says: “Leo listen carefully to me. Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire Him.”

Thus far, Dr. Jekyll had been able to somewhat control his manifestations into Mr. Hyde & then back into Dr. Jekyll. Bu then, a turning point in the story occurs. Dr. Jekyll has actually been doing a lot of ‘good’ up to this point. “After all, I reflected, I was like my neighbors; and then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect. And at the very moment of that vainglorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most deadly shuddering…I looked down; my clothes hung formlessly on my shrunken limbs; the hand that lay on my knee was corded and hairy. I was once more Edward Hyde.” - Dr. Jekyll in his letter to Mr. Utterson. Author Robert Louis Stevenson.

“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.” William Temple

“Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” - Pastor C.J. Mahaney

“In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison—you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” - C.S. Lewis

Speaking of the character Rev. Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter: “Among many morals which press upon us from the poor minister’s miserable experience, we put only this into a sentence: ‘Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred.” - Nathaniel Hawthorne

“There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who believe themselves sinners; the rest sinners who believe themselves righteous.” - Blaise Pascal

“A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.” - Thomas Merton

“Until you can listen to the praises of a rival without any desire to indulge in detraction or any attempt to belittle his work, you may be sure there is an unmortified prairie of egoistic impulse in your nature yet to be brought under the grace of God.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does not assert is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason…We are on the road to producing a race of man too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.” - G.K. Chesterton

“I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I would like to be. But I am not what I was: and by the grace of God I am what I am.” - John Newton (writer and composer of "Amazing Grace")

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Desires & Reading the Bible

While I want to assure anyone reading this post applies to both genders, you can really tell that the Book of Proverbs was originally written from a man (father) to a man (son). I've been trying to meditate on Proverbs lately & I hadn't before realized how this large chunk of it (Chapters 5,6,7) is entirely dedicated to speaking to man's greatest day-to-day folly. It's not scheming, planning deceit, even jealousy, or egotism. It's really just base desire. (Not that desire is bad in and of itself -- more on that in a moment -- but a misplaced desire reeks havoc).

These chapters address the temptation and seduction of an adultress calling out to a man -- it even goes into the particulars with not a little steamy detail. Over the course of three chapters, the author moves from a real woman seducing to using the seductress as a symbol of foolishness/folly.

Any time I consider desires & passions, C.S Lewis' famous quote from his sermon The Weight of Glory comes to mind:

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of the reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lor finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Lewis' point is a biblical one. When Jesus speaks of His Kingdom as the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of Great price or of feasting at the Great Wedding Banquet to come -- all are analogies of making Him the object of our desires & passions.

Why am I bringing this up? Misplaced desires are the #1 reason people misread or misinterpret the Bible. Over the last couple months, I've encountered this in a few ways. First, the Lord has challenged me to check my misplaced desires at the door when reading His Word. Second, upon sharing a passage of Scripture that had a hard word or two in it, I heard it said, "Well, I guess that's why people have different interpretations of the Bible" (but left it at that).

Two guys talking about wealth. But the last situation was the most interesting to me. I have to say I am guilty of the sin of eavesdropping (is that a sin?? Chime in, I can always use a healthy rebuke). I was at the Christian Enlightenment Bookstore (if you don't live in Cayman, yes, that is the name and its our only Christian bookstore...I was however disappointed that the title didn't live up to its name -- unless you count a store still selling "WWJD" bracelets "enlightening"). Anywho, two guys were talking about whether God's desire was to bless each Christian $monetarily$. One was trying to justify that God does, in fact, want to do so but had conceded some points. Finally he said,

"It's hard. Most things in the New Testament talk about denying self, receiving treasures in heaven and that sort of thing. But then you read Proverbs and it talks about the righteous man getting wealth."

This was a fascinating and potentially insightful comment from which to learn on at least a couple levels, both of which I want to explore. First, he brings up a common confusion about Proverbs -- namely, that they are promises, which in fact they are not. Take for example Proverbs such as 13:22 - "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous." We all know plenty of examples where the good man gets swindled by the deceptive man. But we also know from experience that, generally speaking, such a 'sinner' generally gets caught up in his own web of deceit. My point is that here, the person was in honest need good tools to rightly interpret God's Word.

But when his friend pressed him saying, "Do you really believe that [that there is a contradiction in Scripture] or do you just want it to be true?", he then relented a little: "There's definitely some of that there too."

Which leads my second point: Misunderstanding or Misinterpreting God's Word is primarily a matter of misplaced, sinful desire. Jim Petersen, International VP for Navigator's Ministry, is right on when he says:

Have you ever noticed how the Scriptures point out that false teachings or false doctrines aren't the result of someone's honest mistake in interpreting the Scriptures? Rather they are elaborate creations for the sake of satisfying someone's sinful desire.

Hence the Apostle Paul says in II Timothy 4:3 (NLT): "For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear."

Be honest for a moment. Has the misplaced desire for peace (a.k.a. "the path of least resistance") affected how you read the Bible? So you don't want your interpretation to cause strife among you and your spouse, with your homies and homettes, or at your workplace. Hey, I get it -- especially if a plain reading of Scripture goes against the culture & society in which we we dwell. Has the misplaced desire to please yourself made you go to verses about freedom, grace & mercy while avoiding reading the rest of the passage that talks about the serious offense of sin and not using your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Has the misplaced desire of elevating self affected how you view your role in the Body of Christ its portrayed in Scripture?

Next time you want to Rightly Understand & Interpret God's Word -- you'll still want to purchase a good study Bible (like the NIV Study Bible at, ironically, the Christian Enllightenment Bookstore) and you'll still want to ask good questions, read a passage in its context (but that's a separate post - see for great tips here).

But perhaps the most important strategy we must employ when reading Scripture is asking the Holy Spirit to root out of us misplaced desires. To confess those desires, go to the cross & receive forgiveness from Him whose hand provides pleasures evermore (Psalm 16:11). Then idols of misplaced pleasure fall like a house of cards & we begin to delight in rightly understanding and rightly living out the Word at any cost because He becomes the object of our greatest delight.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The King seeks our Maximum Good

"The King seeks maximum glory - so what are you going to do about it?"

This was the sermon in a nutshell yesterday during our worship service, when we looked at Luke 20: 20-37. All about the Kingdom of God and how He seeks maximum glory through surprising means -- a crucified Savior -- and how are we are called to respond (if you wish, you can listen to the sermon here).

Frankly, His glory is the most important aspect of His Kingdom -- as God seeks Maximum Glory above all else (see for example Ezekiel 36: 22, 32; Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 48:11). But He also seeks our Maximum Good -- and He does so also through the Jesus Christ Crucified.

While studying this passage last week, I ran across this excerpt from 2nd century Greek Philosopher, Celsus, who said this about his perception of Christianity, which is ironically fairly accurate:

Those who summon people to the other mysteries [i.e. other religions] make this preliminary proclamation: "Whosoever has pure hands and a wise tongue." And again, others say, "Whosoever is pure from all defilement, and whose soul knows nothing of evil, and who has lived well and righteously." Such are the preliminary exhortations of those who promise purification from sins. But let us hear what folk these Christians call. "Whosoever is a sinner," they say. "Whosoever is unwise, whosoever is a child, and, in a word, whosoever is wretch, the kingdom of God will receive him." Do you not say that a sinner is he who is dishonest, a thief, a poisoner, a sacrilegious fellow, and a grave-robber? What others would a robber invite and call? Why on earth this preference for sinners?

Today people call the cross a scandal. And it was just as much so in the 2nd century -- literally "foolishness to Greeks" like Celsus, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:23. With the crucified Christ as the backdrop, Paul goes on to say in that same passage:

For consider your calling, brothers, not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose the what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (I Corinthians 1: 26-27)

He attracts us to a sign like the Crucified Christ for our maximum good. I was really struck by this today. There are so many who, by natural means, are more worthy of salvation than me. Perhaps you, like me, can go through a mental list of genuinely humble, nice, kind, hardworking people you've met throughout the course of your life. Yet, God doesn't require trust in one's behavior, one's works, or how one treats others -- but trust in a person, Jesus Christ, and his work on the cross.

The best thing I ever did for myself, then, was to realize how very much like a child I still am -- needy & incompetent to run my own life. The BEST thing!! Jesus says this is a most praiseworthy gift of grace:

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will." (Luke 10:21).

Why is this for our Maximum Good? I think I most like being a servant or slave because I was created to be so (see Romans 6 which describes people as having one of two options -- being slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness). The most freeing moments or seasons of my life are ones in which I'm okay with being a child, okay with being incompetent to run my own life, okay with being one who freely responds to a Master rather than working hard to master a sinful life -- (the latter done all in the name of pride).

The Crucified Christ represents God's curse upon Christ so we wouldn't have to endure God's curse for sin & it represents total humiliation so that God might forever identify with & draw near to Himself the despised & humiliated of this world. Thus, God through the Crucified Christ, earns our trust & allows us to be submit ourselves as children & slaves to a Merciful Master.

Any other way may have been good as it would have been from God -- but the Crucified Christ reminds us that the King seeks our maximum good.