Thursday, September 24, 2009


I’d like us to talk about pride.

I once heard someone express the sentiment that pride was the root of all sin. The more I think about that the more I see a lot of truth in it. It was a proud king that acted on the notion that he had a right to take Bathsheba for Himself1. Pride preceded the fall when Eve’s desire to “be like God” opened her to temptation2. And every day pride is at the center of what leads neighbor against neighbor and nation against nation.

Our culture maintains condemnation of pride when it is overtly and crudely expressed, such as the arrogance of the wealthy or the ugly boasting of a poor winner, but much more normal than that is the silent conceit that rests in a person’s heart and the frivolousness of ardent devotion such as seen in the #1 fan or the nationalist.

Therapists in the modern culture strongly encourage people to take some time for themselves or to build their own self-esteem. These themes are regurgitated by the culture at large—as if thinking highly of one’s self and providing more comfort for ourselves would cure the person and the world of the most significant problems. A prominent “Christian psychologist” expresses in one of his publications that the one thing women in the country need more than anything else is self-esteem—silly of me to imagine that he might mention something of the cross before that.

Along with feeling good about ourselves we are naturally inclined, and yet encouraged more still, to not only love ourselves but to love anything we associate with ourselves. I am apparently supposed to have pride for and allegiance to my family, my town, my school, my local sports team, my state, my country, and my ethnicity; not because there is necessarily any intrinsic reason that any of those things are better than the next but simply because they are mine.

No, the issue is not thinking too little or too much of ourselves, but rather thinking of ourselves. We all love ourselves. Even the ability for someone to feel poorly about their self for some perceived fault or failing requires that person to love their self enough to care. I’m not suggesting that self-love is a bad thing, but when it is put out of its proper place it develops into a sort of self-worship. Or more simply: pride.

In Luke 22 when Jesus was challenged by a Pharisee as to the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied that it is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and that the second greatest was to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Did you catch that? Jesus didn’t say to love yourself, but rather He took it for granted that you already do. Our inherent self-love is the standard for which we are to love others. And I would say pride is us moving our love for self past our love for others and especially our love for God.

All throughout scripture we are warned against pride and encouraged towards glorification of God and denial of self. Luke 9:23 tells us to deny ourselves daily. Again and again Jesus tells us that “the last will be first, and first will be last”3. The wild man John the Baptist joyfully proclaimed that “He (Christ) must become greater; I must become less”4. And as our example, Jesus himself shows us the purest form of humility:

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very naturea]">[a] God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very natureb]">[b] of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Certainly we might remark that if any man has a right to his pride, it would be the only man who was also God. But instead, He did the exact opposite. While God was here among us He lowered himself to a degree that we are incapable of comprehending. The distance between a corrupt creation and an eternally perfect God is infinite—that is, we’re infinitely less than Him. God’s example was to cross that chasm and become “nothing”, or as we know it, human.

Our pride takes innumerable forms. Worship of self is normative and widespread throughout the “pagan” world. It comes in big ways and small ones, in colorful boasts and in secret conceits. But it is not our position, we who are followers of Christ, to condemn the pagan culture. The distressing thing, though, is that in too many ways there is no counter to it in our Christian culture. We accept without question many of the self-serving values that are found in this world we are domiciled in. I think we are tempted to tone down the intensity of the expression of our conceits as if by that, in contrast to the world around us, we can claim a degree of humility.

But maybe worse yet are the ways in which pride is dividing and conquering the church from the inside out. I might call myself a Baptist and you might call yourself a Methodist, and might both of us be quite happy to identify ourselves in this manner. But why? Is there any better reason for me to take pride in a certain denomination than there is for me to feel good about myself for wearing a Redskin’s jersey on football Sunday? Am I likely to be so adamant about the superiority of the local church that I associate myself with because doing so would bring honor to God or bring honor to me? Can we seriously believe that anyone standing outside the church ever looks in on this mess and finds our disunity in Christ to be attractive or the answer to their problems? Did not Paul have something to say about this when he asked the church at Corinth “is Christ divided5”?

All across this country we will find churches sitting across the street from each other filled with true brothers and sisters that will never fellowship together in unity under the name of Jesus Christ. I posit that it is, at the heart of things, our pride that keeps us there. Imagine how the church could be used if we who profess to follow Jesus could set ourselves aside long enough for God to make a difference.

Of course I say all this as “we” and “us” because we believers are truly tied in together on all this. We rise and fall as one church and if there is a problem in this body it is one we all have the responsibility to fix. My perspective is not from the outside but as a young man that has already contributed more than my share into making the problem what it is.

I would like to finish my comments by taking a look at the best example of conceit and humility that I can think of. At Luke 23:39-43, we see the ultimate contrast between the pride natural to man and Jesus’ example of obedience and humility. Here we read of Jesus hanging on a cross between two other men:

39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.]43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Can it be anything else but the fruition of pride that could allow a guilty man, who is hanging on a cross moments from death, to still find it within himself to mock the man next to him? Even here conceit has welled up inside of him as with his last energy he yet still attempts to glorify himself by tearing someone else down. To think that the man he mocked was the only innocent man that’s ever lived. A man who sis God. A man whose very existence was a constant state of humility just simply for being here as a human. A man now allowing himself, in obedience to the Father, to die the death of a nobody. The picture of pride and the picture of humility.

And what of the third man? Well here is where we see the response to Jesus on the cross that will save us, too: “Remember me when you enter your Kingdom”. There was no pride in this man, only a simple understanding of the reality of his situation and of the realty of who Jesus is. But still, his humility is not quite that of Jesus’, nor could it have been. For this man’s humility was not that of a king bringing himself down to the level of a peasant, but rather that of a peasant coming to terms with his actual lowly position.

We too are peasants; criminal peasants. We deserve to have a cross reserved for each and every one of us. The option for every person is this: we can respond like the fool and try to exalt ourselves above God and curse him as we’re perishing, shaking a fist of defiance until our last. Or we can simply acknowledge our position and give to Him, whom would take us off our cross and give us our lives back, everything that he deserves: everything that we have.

Scripture: It’s meant to read. SO LOOK IT UP!

1 2 Samuel 11
2 Genesis 3:4
3 Matthew 19:30
Matthew 20:16
Matthew 23:11,12
Mark 10:31
Luke 13:30
4 John 3:30
5 1 Corinthians 1:10-17

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Cost of Following Christ is Great

Recently I’ve had one of those experiences where the same topic keeps coming up over and over again. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this phenomenon, but I’ve always noticed it since I was a child. For example, it seemed like sharks where effectively absent from my daily life until we started studying them in grade-school. Then I couldn’t get away from them. Shark TV shows, shark themed story-books, traveling shark themed circuses and shark fin soup seemed to suddenly overrun my young life all at once and stayed until we moved on to the next subject.

I may have just employed a healthy dose of hyperbole put hopefully you’re getting my point. Well recently a certain passage has kept coming up in reading and studying, in listening to lectures, and in my own conversations. While I don’t believe the full assault of shark mania upon my young life had much ecclesiastical purpose, I think that perhaps as I sit down and contemplate a point at which to launch this periodical discussion there is a reason for the reoccurrence. At any rate, this passage is the topic I have decided upon and if you are reading this then I must not have become compelled to change my mind.

The passage is Luke 14:28-30:

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

I am continually impressed by the multifaceted nature of scripture: its ability to having meaningful application on several levels from the simplest pragmatism to the loftiest theology. Just recently the occasion for considering a future building project of my own has arisen, and that’s interestingly one of the contexts in which this passage has been nudging me. In my vanity, one of the thoughts that actually ran through my mind is how ridiculous I’d look to “everyone who sees it” if I started trying to build a place but didn’t have the money or capabilities to finish it.

But what did Jesus mean when he spoke this to the crowd of followers? If you read the rest of the chapter, which I heartily encourage you to do, it’s clear that He is using this analogy to speak of the high cost of being his disciple (or student, if you will). Unlike an ordinary rabbi, Jesus welcomed and invited everyone to follow Him, but the words He spoke in this passage might not be appealing to most. Likewise, I will be careful not to sugar coat the matter as well; neither for you nor for myself.

It seems that the average evangelical ministry today employs several kinds of marketing strategies or coercive tactics to “win people to the Lord”—as if he couldn’t make do for himself. From the extreme to the subtle, both the counterfeit and the sincere ministry leaders across the church are actively, and sometimes aggressively, engaged in trying to bring in as many new men, women, and children as they can possible fit into their ever expanding worship facilities. I do not mean to paint every fellowship from here to Papa New Guinea as being lead by nothing more than the likes of shady used car sales men, but I do believe that there are important parts of the Gospel that tend to get left behind. We’re going to discuss just one.

It is my experience that these new attendees will very rarely hear the simple truth of the few passages we are going to address in the discussion: The cost of following Christ is great. In fact, the cost is everything. Jesus says so himself in the very next passage of Ch. 14. The analogy mirrors the first:

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus is saying that it’s basically common sense to make sure you can see any big decision through to the end before making a commitment. These two passages, back to back, highlight the importance of understanding just how much this endeavor will ask of us before we start and then answering our inevitable next question of “Well how much is that?” with a simple word: “everything”.

You see, Jesus wasn’t interested in piling on the followers just for the sake of adding arbitrary numbers. He didn’t care about giving a report on Sunday morning about how many children were coerced into raising their hands and repeating a canned prayer that they won’t begin to be able to understand for several more years. He didn’t have a mortgage on a church building to pay and thus had no need to increase any coffers. In fact, it was just the opposite.

In verse 25 we see that at this time Jesus already had a large following. I imagine there being present enough people to make most ministers today envious. Instead of trying to convince, coerce, or beg them to stay, He needed to make sure they knew how great a price would be asked of them if they continued with Him. By actually reading the words Jesus speaks throughout the gospels it almost makes one wonder if he wasn’t sometimes trying to actually get rid of people. We know He wasn’t. He loved every single person and desired a relationship with each, but that being so they needed to know the truth about the standard He’d set with His coming.

If you’re reading this you’re probably someone close to me that I care a great deal about. If you have already begun to follow in the footsteps of the Rabbi, these passages are important for us to remember. We are asked to abandon everything we might otherwise call ours and make Him our sole desire. This pilgrimage is not called Christianity Plus Comfort or Christianity Plus Popular Culture. On the contrary, Jesus told his followers that “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”1.

For those that might be reading this who don’t call Jesus their Lord, I assure you that He is waiting for you. But it is important to know, whether you think you are light years away from even admitting God is or you’re actively hiding from the Savior who you hear knocking at your back door, you understand that the Kingdom of God, the Gospel of the Lord, is about you giving yourself up to share in His life—and in that, you ultimately find the self you’d never had before. And if you ever accept the ransom He came here and provided, you do so as an exchange. All you are for all of Him. That is the price of the ransom he paid for you, and that is what you owe to Him if you accept his freedom.

Many people might think this is not the best place to start in a discussion that I believe is going include some people very dear to me that I hope to eventually see join me in following Jesus. It would probably also be argued that there is no need to talk about the hard truths of the gospel so long as soft evangelism is “bringing souls into heaven”.

To the latter I’d argue that the church is now seeing the results of their abandonment of scripture as the greater culture is migrating in a mass exodus away from what the modern church is offering as religion. Inside the church there is a lack of substance and truth, and those outside seem to recognize the familiar void.

If we decide to run this race we are to run with abandonment. This is an all or nothing deal. To borrow a phrase from an old football coach: at the end of this game, we’re asked to “leave it all on the field”. Is it worth it? Absolutely. The Kingdom of God is the pearl of great price and that great treasure buried in a field2. But don’t just take my word for it.

1. 57As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
59He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61 Still another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family."
62Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."

2. 44"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.