The irony of God’s strength

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In, Psalm 8:1-2, David gives God praise, describing the gloriousness of His nature and the majesty of His name. And almost immediately, he presents us with a curious irony: God’s strength is displayed in weakness:

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (emphasis mine)

Notice how God has established his strength—”out of the mouth of babies and infants.” God reveals His majesty using the “weak” and “foolish” things of this world. He uses voices that don’t matter, at least in worldly ways. He revealed himself to the world through the nation of Israel—redeemed slaves taken out of the land of Egypt. Through Moses, God revealed himself to Pharaoh with power and authority. Moses, a man who stuttered. Later, as Israel’s earthly throne was established, God rejected Saul, who was the epitome of what a human king should be, and gave the throne to David, a lowly shepherd boy.… On and on we could go through the Old Testament as God consistently used seemingly insignificant voices within the culture of the time—the poor, women, children—to reveal his power and majesty to the world.

And today, it’s no different. God continues to reveal his strength through the weak things in the world. He reveals himself through the church. A church founded by uneducated fishermen, a former tax collector and zealots, with a message that sounds like absolute lunacy to most who hear it: that God would come in human form, suffer and die on a roman cross to pay for the sins of the world, and rise again from death.

In his excellent book, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life, Dale Ralph Davis describes the day General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s world came crashing down around him. His wife had given birth to a stillborn son, then she suffered an uncontrollable hemorrhage. In the span of a few hours, Jackson went from joyful expectant father to crushed widower.

The next day he wrote his sister Laura; he told her he thought he could submit to anything if God strengthened him for it; but he made no attempt to cover his sad despair. But then there in the middle of his note, there is a most moving one-liner. He says: “Oh! my Sister would that you could have Him for your God!”

Can you imagine that? Can you think of anything weaker than Jackson dashed and devastated by the Lord’s “taking away”? Here is a man beaten and crushed who nevertheless says, Oh that you could have him for your God.

This is one of the great ironies of the gospel: God’s strength is made known in weakness. That is what God has entrusted to us. Fallible, foolish, sinful people, who, by God’s grace, have been saved and redeemed by this foolish message of good news and great joy. And so, like David, we give God praise because of the irony of his strength.


Photo credit:__o__ via photopin cc

What makes the humble cry out for grace?

spurgeon

It is not fear of damning, but fear of sinning, which makes the truly humbled cry out for grace. True, the fear of hell, engendered by the threatenings of the law, doth work in the soul much horror and dismay; but it is not hell appearing exceeding dreadful, but sin becoming exceeding sinful and abominable, which is the effectual work of grace. Any man in his reason would tremble at everlasting burnings, more especially when by his nearness to the grave the heat of hell doth, as it were, scorch him; but it is not every dying man that hates sin—yea, none do so unless the Lord hath had dealings with their souls. Say, then, dost thou hate hell or hate sin most? for, verily, if there were no hell, the real penitent would love sin not one whit the more, and hate evil not one particle the less. Wouldst thou love to have thy sin and heaven too? If thou wouldst, thou hast not a single spark of divine life in thy soul, for one spark would consume thy love to sin. Sin to a sin-sick soul is so desperate an evil that it would scarce be straining the truth to say that a real penitent had rather suffer the pains of hell without his sins than enter the bliss of heaven with them, if such things were possible. Sin, sin, SIN, is the accursed thing which the living soul hateth.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus, 81–82.

Orthodox Heads and Unorthodox Hearts

If God will help us in our future duty, he will first humble us for our past sin. He that hath not so much sense of his faults as unfeignedly to lament them, will hardly have so much more as to move him to reform them. The sorrow of repentance may exist without a change of heart and life; because a passion may be more easily wrought, than a true conversion. But the change cannot take place without some good measure of the sorrow. Indeed, we may here justly begin our confessions; it is too common with us to expect that from our people, which we do little or nothing in ourselves. What pains do we take to humble them, while we ourselves are unhumbled!

…I must needs say, though I condemn myself in saying it, that he who readeth but this one exhortation of Paul to the elders of the church at Ephesus, and compareth his life with it, must be stupid and hard-hearted, if he do not melt under a sense of his neglects, and be not laid in the dust before God and forced to bewail his great omissions, and to fly for refuge to the blood of Christ, and to his pardoning grace. I am confident, brethren, that none of you do in judgment approve of the libertine doctrine, that crieth down the necessity of confession, contrition, and humiliation, yea, and in order to the pardon of sin!

Is it not a pity, then, that our hearts are not as orthodox as our heads? But I see we have but half learned our lesson, when we know it, and can say it. When the understanding hath learned it, there is more ado to teach our wills and affections, our eyes, our tongues, and hands. It is a sad thing that so many of us preach our hearers asleep; but it is sadder still, if we have studied and preached ourselves asleep, and have talked so long against hardness of heart, till our own has grown hardened under the noise of our own reproofs.

Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (Kindle Edition)

My Memory Moleskine: God’s Timing for Certain Texts

Memory Moleskine - Image by Tim Brister

This week I’ve been working through Philippians 2:19-30 while at the same time preparing to preach on Psalm 1:1-6.

What’s been interesting is how God’s been using Psalm 1 to apply the principles I’m learning through memorizing Philippians. Here’s what I mean:

In Psalm 1, the Psalmist writes that the man who delights in the law of the Lord, who meditates on it day and night is blessed. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is working on him and in him, conforming him more and more to the image of Christ, giving him a heart for the things that He cares about. The man who delights in the Word of God bears much fruit.

In memorizing Philippians this week, that’s what I’ve noticed in Timothy and Epaphroditus. There is no one like Timothy, Paul says, “who will be genuinely concerned for your [the Philippians] welfare.” Likewise, Epaphroditus longs to see the Philippians again and is “distressed because [they] have heard he was ill.”

These two model the command Paul gives in Phil 2:3-4. In humility, they count others more significant than themselves, and look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others.

They are, as the psalmist wrote, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (Psalm 1:3) The Spirit’s work is evident in them and they are bearing fruit.

Anyway, that’s pretty much been my week in the text. Like I said, I’m preaching this weekend, so if you could keep me in your prayers, I’d greatly appreciate it.

What’s God been teaching you through your memorization this week?

Think Hard, Stay Humble: Francis Chan on the Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride

Audio: : (Download to listen later)

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3

Francis Chan’s message at Desiring God’s 2010 National Conference, Think Hard, Stay Humble, is incredibly challenging and more than a little convicting for me as one who is very much a “love the Lord with all your mind” kind of guy.

A few standout remarks from the notes:

Some of you in this room think really hard through the Scriptures. My challenge to you is, How hard do you think about people? About the lost? When was the last time you wept for the lost?

It’s so easy to seclude ourselves from the world of lost people. We step out of it for a season to think hard about the Scriptures and keep going on in school to learn more, and we eventually get to the point where we realize that we don’t love the lost like we should. The point isn’t that we shouldn’t pursue learning, but we ought to be able to do both, to love people and know the Bible better.

John MacArthur wrote years ago, “Knowledge is essential, but it’s not sufficient.” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:2, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Some of you could be brilliant and worthless. You could be like a great basketball player that never misses a shot but always shoots at the other team’s basket. He’s a great shooter, but he’s killing the team.

Why did God gift you the way that he did? It’s for us, not for you. We should constantly be thinking, How can I build up other people?

Now here’s the big question that Chan’s talk has left me with:

Does my knowledge of God my study of theology lead to an increased love for God and for His people?

Am I “puffed up” by my knowledge of God—or does it break me?

Watch the message and leave your thoughts in the comments.

Humility and Notoriety: The Danger of Pastor as Rock Star

Mark Driscoll and Dustin Neeley sat down at the recent Acts 29 Boot Camp and discussed the need for humility as a church planter and pastor—and how difficult it is to cultivate when you’re considered a rock star.

Questions to consider:

  1. What level of scrutiny is appropriate when looking at “celebrity” pastors and leaders?
  2. Are you naturally more inclined to be critical or encouraging?
  3. Have you ever found yourself intentionally looking for things to criticize about a pastor or leader?
  4. In your own sphere of influence, are you open to hearing from your critics?

HT: Z

Genuine Humility

When is humility genuine? How do you know the difference between pride and loving correction?

James MacDonald and C.J. Mahaney sit down and discuss how to offer guidance and correction to those we love in a way they can receive—and how we can do so with godly motives.

HT: Collin Hansen

“Who Am I that I Should Have Been the Object of His Mercy?”

C.J. Mahaney is the founding pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland and the author of several books including Humility: True Greatness.

His testimony is a powerful testimony to God’s grace in saving the ill-deserving.

"I’m a Christian and I want to apologize…"

microphone

A young man walked onto the stage at the front of the crowded room. All eyes were fixed on him. He smiled awkwardly and wondered, can I really do this? What will people think?

Heart racing and palms sweating, he gathered up his courage and began to speak softly into the microphone.

“I’m a Christian,” he said, “and I have a confession to make.

“I apologize for the Crusades and political action being confused with Christian faith. I apologize for hate crimes being perpetrated in the name of Christ and for slavery. I’m sorry for everything that we’ve ever done that has made life difficult for anyone.

“But I want you to know something. We’re really not all that bad. I hope you’ll forgive us.”

As he exited the stage, people came up to him, congratulating him on his effort. “I don’t know if I would have had the courage to say that,” they said. “That was so humble of you.”

The young man blushed and thanked them for their kind words. “I just want to be real. Authenticity is important to me.”

You’ve probably seen, heard or read something similar to this before. The Christian confessional.

This idea was most recently popularized by Donald Miller in his too-young-to-write-a-memoir memoir, Blue Like Jazz. Miller describes setting up a confession booth on a college campus where he and others would confess the sins of Christendom and ask for forgiveness.

Since the book’s release a number of similar things come out of the woodwork, whether it’s a video of a guy confessing the institutional sins of Christendom on youtube or a pastor publishing letters he wrote to people he’s sinned against in a book.

While I don’t want to judge the motivations of people who have done things like this, I have to ask the question:

Is it really authentic to publicly confess sins you didn’t commit to people who were not sinned against? [Read more…]

Defensiveness: A Sign of Pride or Immaturity?

Convicting and thought provoking.

Two questions for you, dear reader:

When you’re challenged, do you offer a defense or are you being defensive?

How do you know the difference?

HT: Joel @ 5Pt Salt

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: What Comes of Humility?

What comes of humility? “Before honor is humility.” Humility is the herald which ushers in the great king; it walks before honor; and he who has humility, will have honor afterwards. I will only apply this spiritually.

Have you been brought today to feel, that in yourself you are less than nothing, and vanity? Art thou humbled in the sight of God, to know your own unworthiness, your fallen estate in Adam, and the ruin you have brought upon yourself by your own sins? Have you been brought to feel yourself incapable of working out your own salvation, unless God shall work in you, to will and to do of his own good pleasure? Have you been brought to say, “Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner?” Well, then, as true as the text is in the Bible, you shall have honor by-and-bye.

“Such honor have all the saints.” You shall have honor soon to be washed from all your guilt; you shall have honor soon to be clothed in the robes of Jesus, in the royal garments of the King; you shall have honor soon to be adopted into his family, to be received amongst the blood-washed ones who have been justified by faith. You shall have honor to be borne, as on eagles’ wings, to be carried across the river, and at last to sing his praise, who has been the “Death of deaths, and hell’s destruction.” You shall have honor to wear the crown, and wave the palm one day, for you have now that humility which comes from God. You may fear that because you are now humbled by God, you must perish.

I beseech you do not think so; as truly as ever the Lord has humbled you, he will exalt you. And the more you are brought low, the less hope you have of mercy; the more you are in the dust, so much the more reason you have to hope. So far from the bottom of the sea being a place over which we cannot be carried to heaven, it is one of the nearest places to heaven’s gate.

And if you are brought to the very lowest place to which even Jonah descended, you are so much the nearer being accepted. The more you know your vileness; remember the blacker, the more filthy, the more unworthy you are in your own esteem, so much the more right have you to expect that you will be saved.

Verily, honor shall come after humility. Humble souls, rejoice; proud souls, go on in your proud ways, but know that they end in destruction.

Climb up the ladder of your pride, you shall fall over on the other side and be dashed to pieces. Ascend the steep hill of your glory; the higher you climb the more terrible will be your fall. For know you this, that against none hath the Lord Almighty bent his bow more often, and against none has he shot his arrows more furiously than against the proud and mighty man that exalteth himself.

Bow down, O man, bow down; “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from the sermon Pride and Humility,
delivered on August 17, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: True and False Humility

I do hate, of all things, that humility which lives in the face.

There are some persons who always seem to be so very humble when you are with them, but you can discover there is something underneath it all, and when they are in some other society, they will brag and say how you told them your whole heart. Take heed of the men who allow you to lay your head in their lap and betray you into the hands of the Philistines.

There is a kind of oil, sanctimonious, proud humility, which is not the genuine article, though it is sometimes extremely like it. You may be deceived by it once or twice, but by-and-bye you discover that is a wolf dexterously covered with sheep’s clothing. It arrays itself in the simplest dress in the world; it talks in the gentlest and humblest style; it says, “We must not intrude our own peculiar sentiments, but must always walk in love and charity.” But after all, what is it? It is charitable to all except those who hold God’s truth, and it is humble to all when it is forced to humble.

True humility does not continually talk about “dust and ashes,” and prate about its infirmities, but it feels all that which others say, for it possesses an inwrought feeling of its own nothingness.

Very likely the most humble man in the world won’t bend to anybody. John Knox was a truly humble man, yet if you had seen him march before Queen Mary with the Bible in his hand, to reprove her, you would have rashly said, “What a proud man!”

Cringing men that bow before everybody, are truly proud men; but humble men are those who think themselves so little, they do not think it worth while to stoop to serve themselves. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were humble men, for they did not think their lives were worth enough to save them by a sin. Daniel was a humble man; he did not think his place, his station, his whole self, worth enough to save them by leaving off prayer.

Humility is a thing which must be genuine; the imitation of it is the nearest thing in the world to pride.

Seek of God, dear friends, the gift of true humility.

Seek to have that breaking in pieces by the Holy Spirit, that breaking in the mortar with the pestle which God himself gives to his children. Seek that every twig of his rod may drive pride out of you, so that by the blueness of your wound, your soul may be made better. Seek of him, if he does not show you the chambers of imagery within your own heart, that he may take you to Calvary, and that he may show you his brightness and his glory, that you may be humble before him.

Never ask to be a mean, cringing, fawning thing: ask God to make you a man—those are scarce things now-a-days—a man who only fears God, who knows no fear of any other kind. Do not give yourselves up to any man’s power, or guidance, or rule, but ask of God that you may have that humility towards him, which gives you the noble bearing of a Christian before others.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from the sermon Pride and Humility,
delivered on August 17, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: What is Humility?

 

Now let us briefly enquire, in the first place, what is humility?

The best definition I have ever met with is, “to think rightly of ourselves.” Humility is to make a right estimate of one’s self.

It is no humility for a man to think less of himself than he ought, though it might rather puzzle him to do that. Some persons, when they know they can do a thing, tell you they cannot; but you do not call that humility? A man is asked to take part in some meeting. “No,” he says, “I have no ability;” yet, if you were to say so yourself, he would be offended at you.

It is not humility for a man to stand up and depreciate himself and say he cannot do this, that, or the other, when he knows that he is lying. If God gives a man a talent, do you think the man does not know it? If a man has ten talents he has no right to be dishonest to his Maker, and to say, “Lord, you have only give me five.” It is not humility to underrate yourself.

Humility is to think of yourself, if you can, as God thinks of you. It is to feel that if we have talents, God has given them to us, and let it be seen that, like freight in a vessel, they tend to sink us low. The more we have, the lower we ought to lie.

Humility is not to say, “I have not this gift,” but it is to say, “I have the gift, and I must use it for my Master’s glory. I must never seek any honor for myself, for what have I that I have not received?” But, beloved, humility is to feel ourselves lost, ruined, and undone. To be killed by the same hand which, afterwards, makes us alive, to be ground to pieces as to our own doings and willings, to know and trust in none but Jesus, to be brought to feel and sing—

“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

Humility is to feel that we have no power of ourselves, but that it all comes from God. Humility is to lean on our beloved, to believe that he has trodden the winepress alone, to lie on his bosom and slumber sweetly there, to exalt him, and think less than nothing of ourselves. It is in fact, to annihilate self, and to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ as all in all.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from the sermon Pride and Humility,
delivered on August 17, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark

Charles Haddon Spurgeon: If You Desire Shame, Desire Pride

 

[Pride] is a brainless thing as well as a groundless thing; for it brings no profit with it.

There is no wisdom in a self-exaltation.

Other vices have some excuse, for men seem to gain by them; avarice, pleasure, lust, have some plea; but the man who is proud sells his soul cheaply. He opens wide the flood-gates of his heart, to let men see how deep is the flood within his soul; then suddenly it flows out, and all is gone—and all is nothing, for one puff of empty wind, one word of sweet applause—the soul is gone, and not a drop is left.

In almost every other sin, we gather up the ashes when the fire is gone; but here, what is left? The covetous man has his shining gold, but what has the proud man? He has less than he would have had without his pride, and is no gainer whatever.

Oh! man, if you were as mighty as Gabriel, and had all his holiness, still you would be an arrant fool to be proud, for pride would sink you from your angel station to the rank of devils, and bring you from the place where Lucifer, son of the morning, once dwelt, to take up your abode with hideous fiends in perdition.

Pride exalts it head, and seeks to honor itself; but it is of all things most despised. It sought to plant crowns upon its brow, and so it hath done, but its head was hot, and it put an ice crown there, and it melted all away. Poor pride has decked itself out finely sometimes; it has put on its most gaudy apparel, and said to others, “how brilliant I appear!” but, ah! pride, like a harlequin, dressed in thy gay colours, thou art all the more fool for that; you are but a gazing stock for fools less foolish than yourself. You have no crown, as you think you have, nothing solid and real, all is empty and vain.

If you, O man, desire shame, be proud. A monarch has waded through slaughter to a throne, and shut the gates of mercy on mankind to win a little glory; but when he has exalted himself, and has been proud, worms have devoured him, like Herod, or have devoured his empire, till it passed away, and with it his pride and glory. Pride wins no crown; men never honor it, not even the menial slaves of earth; for all men look down on the proud man, and think him less than themselves.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from the sermon Pride and Humility,
delivered on August 17, 1856, at New Park Street Chapel, Southwark