Re-post: Is Our Problem Pride or Low Self-Esteem?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder - The Tower of Babel (Vienna)This month a teacher told her students that if they planned to give out Valentine cards, the cards must meet these rules: every card must be the same; every classmate must get one; and nothing must be written on them. She wanted to save any child from damaged self-esteem.

But recently Professor Baumeister at Florida State University studied levels of self-esteem among different groups of adults. He found the highest levels in … prison inmates! And the violent offenders had the highest perceived levels of them all.

Self-esteem is critically important. We are God’s creatures, bearing his image. Therefore it is right that we should carry ourselves with dignity and should be careful to honor the dignity and worth of our fellows.

But the Scriptures make clear that damaged self-esteem is not our greatest problem. According to the Bible we are the offspring of Adam and, although we bear the image of God, that image is marred; we are by nature sinners.

One consequence of that sin is that we have a proud desire to be independent from God — on our own in his universe. That was the error of the builders of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9).

The Genesis passage says the people moving eastward found a beautiful plain between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and decided to settle there, build a city, and erect a tower that would reach to the heavens. The up-reaching tower was a symbol of man’s thrust for autonomy.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, and he discerned the people’s intent to seek complete autonomy rather than living under his mandate to settle the earth he had given them. So he confused their language and “scattered them over all the earth” (Genesis 11:8).

We see this impulse toward autonomy early in children. One of our grandsons, at the age of only four, said to his mother in a commanding way, “Mommie, I want you and Daddie to let me and my sister do whatever we want to do.” It was given as a first cry of the heart for absolute autonomy — “Don’t fence me in.”

Theologians have followed the Scriptures in noting this impulse to pride which at its center resists the rule of God and his son, Jesus Christ. St. Augustine called human pride, “the love of one’s own excellence.” John Calvin defined it as an “innate self love by which we are all blinded.” John Wesley wrote: “The first advice I would give those who have been saved is to watch continually against pride.”

To be graciously delivered from pride by God is a worthy request because, as Charles Spurgeon said, “Humility is the secret of fellowship, and pride, the secret of division.” It is true that wherever there is unresolved conflict, whether in home, family, community or church, secondary causes might be teased to the surface. But at the base, this pride will be found to lurk.

Heart pride is divisive. It erects barriers. On the other hand, where there is heart humility there is joy and good fellowship among the people whether in family, community, or church.

Which makes the words of the Apostle Paul to the young church in the imperial city of Rome my favorite instruction to any church on this issue: “For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Romans 12:3).

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Beware of Spiritual Hackers!

I was on the phone with a banker to change a password. The officer I was speaking with suddenly informed me that my account had just been locked. Apparently an unauthorized party was trying to get into it.

After a few words of advice the call ended. Almost instantly there was a notice on my screen saying I should phone a certain number to obtain protection from a hacking attempt against my computer.

I didn’t suspect the banker. I had initiated the call to him. I also knew that clicking on a link is what you never do at a time like this. I also learned from a person of experience that you may take the risk to phone a number or receive a call so long as you provide the caller with zero information.

So out of curiosity that some might caution against, I phoned the number on the screen. When the voice on the other end of the line informed me that he was calling from “Mac” — I own an Apple — I began to sense I was in touch with the evil intentions of a hacker so I hung up.

That left me curious about the term. Where does it come from? What is its original meaning? I discovered a definition: “A malicious or inquisitive meddler who tries to discover information by poking around.” Our world has more than its share of computer hackers — clever but dishonest people who hone their electronic skills in order to cheat the unwary.

But does it occur to us that there is a Hacker prowling around in the spiritual realm and preying on the unwary, with even greater cunning, especially towards Christians?

I refer to a master spiritual hacker who goes by several names — Lucifer (star of the morning) satan (deceiver), the devil (false accuser). This evil force is known as well by many metaphors — wolves in sheep’s clothing, a (deceitful) angel of light, a roaring lion, a great dragon and a serpent.

Consider the Apostle Paul’s description of the spiritual environment in which believers in the city of Ephesus were to live out their faith: “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

The Scriptures exhort us to beware of these spiritual hackers! They repeatedly caution us that our only eternal defence is to avail ourselves by faith of the grace, peace, and truth lodged in our Lord Jesus Christ. And not only to believe in him, but to surrender our lives to him so as to live under his guidance. In all of this, we are assisted by His Spirit, His Word and Christian friends.

The caution is real. As Saint Peter exhorted the early Christians: Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

A loss of the contents of a bank account to a human hacker or valuable content in our computers could be costly–even devastating–in this life. But loss of faith and our very souls to the master of all spiritual hackers will be eternal and irreversible.

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Re-post: The Second Coming of Christ — Is it on Your Radar?

3184871233_83c52d668b_nIt’s been estimated that one out of every 28 verses in the New Testament has to do with the Second Coming of Christ.

I have three favorite verses that keep that hope vibrant and uncluttered in my heart. I call them my anchor verses on the subject.

First, there are the words Jesus spoke to his eleven disciples during their time in the upper room only hours before his crucifixion. He said, “I am going to (my Father’s house) to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2-4).

Can such a lavish promise be trusted? In his teachings Jesus constantly pressed the issue of truth. He often introduced his message with the words, “Truly, truly I say to you.” Or, “I tell you the truth.” He even testified, “I am the truth!” Is it not reasonable then to take him seriously when he says, “I will come back.” so that, “you also may be where I am”?

If he made good on the first half of his promise to ascend to the Father to prepare a place for us, then we can count on him to make good on his promise to return for his followers.

Second, two angels spoke to the disciples on the Mount of Olives at the time when Jesus was taken up into heaven. To the astonishment of the “eleven” these heavenly messengers said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

“This same Jesus.” Our Lord was fully human when he ascended. Why should it be hard to believe the promise of angel messengers that he will return “bodily.”

It was apparent that the brutal, disfiguring death Jesus had suffered had not in any sense diminished him. His identity was fully preserved, even though his distraught followers had to clear their vision to see it. In fact, by his resurrection they saw he had obviously been endowed with new qualities of life (Luke 24:30,31,36; 1 Cor. 15:44-49).

The Apostle Paul, taking his cue from these facts, later referred to a resurrected body as a spiritual body with new properties and capabilities. And — good news for us — Christ himself said to his followers, “Because I live, you too will live” (John 14:19).

The third scriptural portion I hold dear on the Second Coming of Christ was written years later by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. He compared living in this mortal body to living in a tent (2 Cor. 5:1). Tents can provide shelter but they are fragile. A sudden wind storm can blow them away. Then what?

By contrast, the Apostle visualized our state of living in heaven as living in “an eternal house, not built by human hands” (1 Cor. 5:1). The difference between living in a tent and living in a house built by God — a resurrection body — is infinitely great.

But what about the interim between “tent” and “house?” My third verse fits here. We are left to wonder about the intricacies of what some call the “intermediate state” — the time between the believer’s death and resurrection when Christ appears in his glory. The Apostle covers the interim adequately with the words, “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:8).

For the true believer that assurance is enough. We may not be told when or where or how, but we have the assurance that during the waiting time, for those who have died in Christ, the situation will be, “absent from the body, (but) present with the Lord.”

Some say it’s all a myth. A fairy tale. A cover for the fear of death.

In response: I believe in the resurrection of the body because our Lord promised it, the apostles proclaimed it, the early martyrs died believing in it, and through the ages the church on earth has born witness to it as an ongoing anchor point for faith.

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Re-post: God Knows Everything

When we were little children in Sunday School seventy years or so ago we used to sing a chorus that went like this:

He sees all you do, He hears all you say,
Our God is writing all the time, time, time.

Sometimes, in that simple little one room church in a prairie town in Western Canada, the superintendent would add a few words of earnest counsel. He wanted to be sure we understood. We would gaze up at him wide-eyed. God knows everything. It was a heavy message for little impressionable minds.

Choruses like these formed an early chapter in our moral training. The bottom line issue was that God knows us altogether and we can’t hide anything from him so we should keep this in mind when we go about our daily activities. I thought of those early lessons this morning as I read about the outrageously wicked King Herod the Great, and the innocent little Baby Jesus in Bethlehem.

They called him Herod “the Great” for good reasons. He built the seaport at Caesarea and wisely named it after the emperor. He built a theater in Jerusalem and an amphitheater outside the city. He set in motion the rebuilding of the temple which became a magnificent structure for the Jewish people. Herod was an exceptionally skilful administrator and diplomat.

But power was his issue, and he used it ruthlessly. His police were everywhere. Purges were frequent. His own wife, Mariamne, was marched off to execution because he suspected her of plotting against him. Her three sons also, and five others of his children from various unions met the same end. He even had all but two members of the ruling council of Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin, murdered. Herod’s viciousness was about on a par with the viciousness of a Saddam Hussein.

So, when some mysterious figures called Magi arrived in Jerusalem coming from a land as far away as Persia, the word spread through the city fast. The place must have buzzed. And when Herod learned these Magi claimed to have been divinely guided by a heavenly light to come to the birthplace of a baby born to be King of the Jews, his paranoid tendencies flared.

No matter that the child the Magi sought was a miracle baby sent by God to be the redeemer of the world. How could such an infant be safeguarded against the murderous jealousy of a powerful sovereign who would stop at nothing to keep his shaky throne secure?

Here’s how: God in Heaven knew what was in Herod’s mind. God knows everything. He sent a warning to the baby’s human father, Joseph. He sent it by means of a dream in the night: Get up right away and get out of town; head for Egypt; the murderous Herod intends to find and kill the child. Joseph obeyed and the child’s life was spared.

Today we have a more sophisticated word for the belief that God knows everything. We say he is omniscient. But he can’t be omniscient unless he knows the end from the beginning, and the whole sweep of history down to its minutest detail. The psalmist, David, wrote, “Before a word is on my tongue/ you know it completely, O Lord.” (Ps. 139:4) Jesus said his Father sees the insignificant sparrow fall. He also said that his Father alone knows the future date for the end of human history.

The little choruses sung in Sunday Schools 70 years ago may not fit our present cultural moods. Times have changed. But the truth has not changed. It is still a cornerstone conviction of orthodox Christians that God knows everything. And when we operate on that conviction we handle the crises of life better and our daily walk is more stable.

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Did God Really Become Man or Is That Just a Manner of Speaking?

Mary Comforts EveIt’s hard to comprehend that the Lord and Creator of the universe would descend from on high to enter the human family as a baby. And that as a result of such a miraculous birth and subsequent life he would so clearly reveal God the Father to us.

In a brief sentence at the outset of his Gospel, the Apostle John makes the point that Jesus, the Word, was (1) before creation, (2) was with God, and actually (3) was God! (John 1:1)

So from John’s introductory sentence comes our triple assurance that Jesus existed eternally, had the elevation and likeness of God, and was in very fact the eternal God.

John goes on to say that this Jesus became flesh and pitched his tent among us (John 1:14). Thus as a result of his miraculous birth and his life as a man on earth, he clearly revealed God to us. Stanley Jones got it right in saying “When I say God, I think Jesus.”

It was only at his incarnation — we call it his enfleshment — as newborn infant that he became fully human, subjecting himself to all things human from infancy forward — though, unlike every other human, he did not sin.

So, he clothed himself in our humanity without surrendering up his deity. He became the one referred to by the ancient church father, Origen, as the God-Man.

Christian orthodoxy across the centuries has believed with joy that Jesus, is very God of very God and very man of very man. That means, in the fullest sense he is God and in the fullest sense he is man.

Christians have believed across 2000 years that in him, two natures, the divine and the human, are joined in one person. Neither nature is diminished by the joining. He is God. He is man. Charles Wesley put this truth into verse as follows:

          Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;

          Hail th’ incarnate deity.

          Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,

          Jesus our Emmanuel.


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Image info: “Mary Comforts Eve” by Sr. Grace Remington, OSCO. © 2005, Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey.

What God Says to Believers as They Leave a Service of Worship: In Praise of Benedictions

benedictionSunday morning services were basic in our church in the Saskatchewan town where I grew up. There was no printed order of service; no call to worship; no invocations, or prayers over the offerings. As I recall, the simple and informal style of that devout congregation reflected a desire to avoid “formalism” — the word they used — lest it encumber the work of the Holy Spirit.

But, as decades have passed, in my denomination such restrictions have dropped off in favor of more ordered services and the inclusion of such helpful aids to worship as the singing of the doxology over the offering, or the congregation‘s reciting of the Lord’s Prayer at the conclusion of a pastoral prayer. Then there’s the benediction (or blessing) to conclude a service of worship.

For many years, during early pastoral days I concluded worship services with a prayer or a benediction from the Scriptures, but I did not raise my hands over the congregation as the Old Testament priests were instructed to do (Leviticus 9:22). I suppose I feared appearing pretentious. Childhood influences are strong.

Over the years, however, my understanding of the importance of benedictions has grown in rich measure. Now, pronouncing a benediction over a gathering of the Lord’s people with hands raised toward them as a dismissal from public worship gives me joy.

Should benedictions be important? We get a cue from Numbers 6:22-27. The Lord said to Moses, Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites.’ Say to them:

‘The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face shine upon you

and be gracious to you;

the Lord turn his face toward you

and give you peace.’

In those few words there is a succession of six blessings. As well, the name of the Lord is repeated three times to emphasize that He, Jehovah, alone is the source of these blessings.

A benediction is therefore more than specially crafted words spoken over a congregation to give them a psychological boost. Man’s words alone are never enough. The New Living Translation clarifies Numbers 6:27 to show God is really the blesser: Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them”.

2 Chronicles 30:27 sheds further light. During a time of revival under King Hezekiah and at a moment of intense worship we read that the priests and Levites stood to bless the people…

Such blessings can be uttered in any part of a service of worship. In fact, the Scriptures are rich with benedictions (Psalm 121:7,8; 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13; Hebrews 13:20,21; 2 Peter 1:2; to cite a few). They have special meaning when used to send God’s people forth. Used in this way, a benediction tells believers that God has not only made his presence known to them while gathered for worship; he will also attend them as they disperse to go their various ways.

He will be with them even though this may mean they will be going back to a difficult job, a troubled home, or health uncertainties. In essence, the God who has made his presence known in the house of God assures them he can be counted on to make his presence known during the journey of the workweek, too.

For pastors, the benediction is a wonderful moment for the expression of holy love exchanged between pastor and people. It seals the service they have shared together.

Dipping into the New Testament, what more comprehensive expression of God’s ceaseless love for his people could a pastor call upon to bless his people as they depart than the benediction with which the Apostle Paul closed his second letter to the Corinthians:

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14). Amen!

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What Hinders Faith?

11774111985_16b3bbfe7a_mIt was Mark Twain who said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

Some adults hold Mark Twain’s opinion when it comes to Christian things. It is not clear whether the disbelief is from lack of understanding, disregard of evidence, or a bad religious experience at some time in the past.

There is, however, a fourth cause for unbelief which many times is the primary one, and it is moral in nature. It is an inner impulse to resist truth when the Gospel is clearly presented. Jesus faced this resistance many times.

The Apostle John tells of such a time in Jesus’ ministry when he performed many miracles. He opened eyes of the blind, healed the sick, and restored to the lame the ability to walk.

To many who were there, his miracles were obviously genuine, and witnessing them awakened faith in Jesus as the Messiah. But others who witnessed the same miracles in the same circumstances, were angered and contentious. John writes:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence they still would not believe. (John 12:37). A few words later John writes of the same people: They could not believe (Emphases added). It appears that the willful refusal of light brought darkness.

John offers the words of Isaiah as a reason for this resistant state of mind: They could not believe because, [God] has blinded their eyes / and deluded their hearts, / so they can neither see with their eyes, /nor understand with their hearts, / nor turn – and I would heal them. (Isaiah 6:10).

When we resist the Gospel, according to Isaiah, not only we but God blinds our minds. But, at the same time, he holds before us the promise to forgive and heal our blindness if we turn to him.

John reports a further reason for the defective or reserved belief of some in the crowd on that day of miracles. He writes: Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (John 12:42).

This brings to mind a young couple that came to see me many years ago. He reported he had intellectual problems with the Gospel and was seeking help. He was pleasant about it but when we considered the miracles of Jesus as the Gospels report them he grew resistant. He insisted he was unable to believe in miracles.

It was not until I drew to his attention the Apostle John’s explanation for why many who saw the miracles and were convinced that day would not openly acknowledge the truth: they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

For this young man, it was as though a light had gone on. His eyes widened; this was his issue. He was brilliant in the sciences with a promising career in view. His issue with the gospel seemed to me moral and an issue of his will more than an intellectual handicap. As I remember, he was aware that to believe openly might limit success in his career.

To my knowledge, he never reversed his response. He appeared pleasant and at ease when not discussing the Christian faith, but a door had been locked in his heart.

The good news of the Gospel is this: even though there were regions in which Jesus preached only to have his message rejected, both back then and today it remains that he is the Good Shepherd, always seeking to draw sinners to himself and thus to salvation and discipleship.

That is the kind of love that ever calls us to believe.

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Photo credit: William Warby